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Saturday, 31 October 2015

Reformation Day

It was 498 years ago, today, that the German Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed his now-famous "95 theses" to the door of the church building in Wittenberg, in his native country.  These "theses" are really a series of statements that Luther wished to discuss with others.  They are, however, also his response to the sale of "papal indulgences" - written documents that were supplied by the pope and not only provided for past sins to be forgiven but for future sins to be forgiven as well.  These indulgences also allowed the buyer to get his relatives out of purgatory!

Luther realised that, according to the teachings of the New Testament, such "indulgences" were a fraud.  In Theses 20 and 21 he writes:
"20. ... the pope, when he uses the words "plenary remission of all penalties," does not actually mean "all penalties," but only those imposed by himself.
21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences."

Luther had read the New Testament in Greek, and realised that the Latin language translation, the Vulgate - which was the official text of the Roman church - was wrong in a very important aspect.  In Matthew 4:17, the Greek word 'metanoeite' was translated as "do penance", when it should have been translated 'repent'.  Thus his first two Theses read:
"1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" ( Matthew 4:17 ), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy."

The Reformation had begun - even if Luther was not fully aware of the impact that his theses would have.  He was, effectively, bringing the Word of God to the fore, rather than the sacramental system of the church.  He had discovered, as a monk that, for centuries, the true teachings of the Word of God had been hidden by tradition. That’s what Reformation Day is about: it’s about pulling back the covers and releasing the power of the Word of God and the beauty and the truth of the gospel.

That’s why Reformation Day is celebrated - and I would suggest that, for the true disciple of Jesus, it is something much better to celebrate on October 31st than the modern "Hallowe'en" with its connections to the occult; to demons; to the satan himself!   Oh, I know that "It's only a bit of fun".  However, the same thing might be said about a seance, the use of an ouija board; and a number of other activities that no Bible-believer would even think of countenancing.  Instead of "trick or treat", why not spend some time, this evening, carefully and prayerfully reading the Word of God.  It will be "... a lamp to [your] feet, and a light to [your] path." (Ps 119:105).

Happy Reformation Day!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Strength out of weakness.

As I endeavour to set up the study in our new home in Gardonne, I am 'discovering' books that had almost been forgotten!  One of those is a book on the life of David Brainerd, a man whose ministry emphasises the words of Almighty God, given to His servant Paul, and shared with us in II Corinthians 12:9 - "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness".

David Brainerd was, for about four years, a missionary to the North American native people ("Red Indians"), and experienced a variety of physical ailments, as well as suffering from a form of mental neurosis.  He died when he was only 29 years of age, yet he did more for the Lord during his brief life than many other robust, and talented, men accomplish in 60 or 70 years of ministry.  Often desperately ill and, humanly speaking, alone, he repeatedly travelled deep into the forest, trying to reach tribes whose language he did not even speak.  At times, he records in his journal, he spent whole days in prayer,asking the Lord to intervene.  Once, the only interpreter available to him was so drunk that he could hardly stand up - yet scores were converted through the Gospel message.  Although Brainerd was extremely weak, God's strength was consistently manifested through him.

The truth that divine power is best displayed against the background of human frailty, was emphasised by Paul in his letters, and exemplified in his life.   He ministered to the Corinthians "... in weakness,and in much fear and trembling ..." (I Cor.2:3).  His speech was not with enticing words, and great oratory, yet he preached "... in demonstration of the Spirit, and power, ..." (I Cor.2:4).  In spite of suffering from "... a thorn ... given me in the flesh ..." (II Cor.12:7), he determined that the Lord would be glorified through his affliction.

Each of us has inabilities - even handicaps.  However, if we are disciples of Jesus, we have no right to sit around, wallowing in self-pity, and doing nothing.  We should, surely, gladly accept the Lord's will for our lives, and serve Him wherever we are, as He gives us opportunity.  Our very weaknesses are the Lord's opportunities to reveal His strength!

Remember, we may face situations that are beyond our physical strength; but they are never beyond His supernatural resources!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Steering straight!

In the Old Testament book of Daniel, we read of three young Hebrew men, Hananiah, Misha-el, and Azariah, (better known by the names given to them by the Babylonians: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), who were brought before the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, accused of not bowing to the great golden image that he had had erected, and which all of the people had been commanded to worship.  The punishment for disobedience was to be cast into a large furnace, and to be burnt to death.  Not a pleasant prospect!

The three young men, however, were not cowed by the king's threat - even although they were only too aware that he would carry it through.  Here is their recorded response:

"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If it be so, our God Whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.'" (Dan 3:16-18; emphasis added).

In other words, they were willing to place their trust, unreservedly, in Almighty God - regardless of the outcome!

In one of the old, mythological, stories, an old pilot was sailing his boat through a severe storm on the tempestuous Aegean Sea.  In his extremity, he was seen to stand erect and cry out, 'Father Neptune, you may sink me if you will, or you may save me if you will but, whatever happens, I will keep my rudder true!'

I wonder, are you facing a difficult situation, today?  Are you facing, albeit metaphorically, fire or storm?  Then be comforted (i.e. strengthened).  Almighty God is in control.  He is sovereign.  As Paul assures us: "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose." (Rom 8:28).

When our circumstances are difficult, it is tempting to compromise our principles, and depart from the course set out for us in God's written Word.  Let us not do so!  Let us, like those three young Hebrew men, continue to trust God in every situation.  Let us say, "I will keep my rudder true"!  That's the only way by which we may steer a straight course through life.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Playing with prophecy.

You may have read, or heard, of Pastor Salazar, from the Global Church of the King of Israel, in Tokyo, Japan, who claims in an online video that is going viral that, on May 16 2016, a five-mile wide "murderous" asteroid will crash into the Earth - wiping out life on the planet as we know it!

The horrific event will, he informs, initially kill 1,200 million people and leave a world at the mercy of famine and disease for four years before the Antichrist descends to Earth!

According to the predictions by an American preacher in the past few days, the world was to end on, I think, Wednesday.  Well, that one was wrong - as have been so many over the years.  Now, a serious study of end-time events can be fascinating; and novels such as those that were popular in the 1960s and 70s (In the Twinkling of an Eye; The Mark of the Beast; The Late Great Planet Earth: etc.) can make for enjoyable, and even challenging, reading.  However, trying to predict the precise date on which the world will end, or the Rapture take place, or any other cataclysmic event occur, is foolishness of the first order!

At the height of World War II, the German protestant pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was imprisoned for having taken a stand against Hitler and the Nazis.  A group of Christians, who believed that Hitler was the Antichrist, asked Bonhoeffer, "Why do you expose yourself to all of this danger?  Jesus will return any day, and all of your work and suffering will have been for nothing!"  The pastor replied: "If Jesus returns tomorrow, then tomorrow I will rest from my labour.  But today I have work to do.  I must continue the struggle until it is finished."

Jesus told the disciples, in advance, about his death, so that they wouldn't be alarmed by it, but they missed the message.  They didn't understand that HaMaschiach (the Messiah) had to die before He could reign as King.  Even after the resurrection, they wanted a Kingdom timetable (Acts 1:6ff).  Jesus informed them that such knowledge was the Father's, and His alone.

Prophecy is not for playing - and seeking to predict that which is only in the Father's domain is, surely, tantamount to blasphemy.  Prophecy is to keep us working, confident that God is in control.   Someone has said that we should, "Plan as if Christ's return were years away; but live as if it were today!"  That's not a bad position to take!

Monday, 12 October 2015

Latest Quiz - the answers!

Here are the correct answers to the wee quiz that I posted a few days ago:

1.   Andrew
2.   Isaac
3.   Ananias
4.   Aaron
5.   Elizabeth
6.   Elijah
7.   Uzziah
8.   Esther
9.   Obadiah
10. Agrippa
11. Absalom
12. Onesimus
13. Eli

Hope you managed to achieve a good score!!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Genuine - or imitation?!

Today, along with my wife and a number of other people, I attended a seminar on the Persecuted Church, organised by L'Église Évangélique Libre de Bergerac with the organisation Portes Ouvertes (the French 'branch' of Open Doors - founded by Brother Andrew).  It was a very interesting, if sometimes harrowing, time as we heard, by video, from some of those who have suffered greatly for the sake of the Lord Jesus.

In our new home in Gardonne, awaiting a place to be hung, is a painting by the great French artist, Monet.  Well, it would be very nice if it was a genuine Monet.  Such paintings sell at auction for millions of pounds sterling.  Ours is actually just a print - and worth less than the frame that contains it!  The genuine article is seen, by those who can afford the vast sums involved, as an investment.  Our print, being just a copy, is certainly not investment material!

There is, I would suggest, a parallel in the spiritual realm.  The world is filled with 'religion', and Christianity is, numerically, the numerically largest such group.  Many people talk about Jesus (to one another!); insist on 'clean living'; carry a Bible; and attend worship services in a local church building.  But, like our Monet, they are not the real thing.  They are only pretenders.

The beloved disciple, John, in his first pastoral letter, gives three marks of a true disciple of Jesus.  The first of these is obedience: "And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments." (2:3).   Secondly, a true disciple will display genuine love for fellow-believers: "He who loves his brother abides in the light, ..." (2:10).  The third mark given by the apostle is love for God, and not for the world: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever." (2:15-17).  If such qualities are not seen, consistently, in our lives, then we may need to examine our faith to check that it is genuine!

Those who suffer, as so many do, for the sake of the Lord Jesus are the real thing.  One would have to be, in order to remain constant and true.  Let those of us who live in the still relatively-safe 'western world' ensure that we, too, are true followers of Jesus - and not just imitations!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Foundations - and other thoughts!

This morning was spent on three jobs in the house and in the garden.  The first of these was the fitting of two new lamps in a bathroom fixture.  It was to be a straightforward process - until I realised that the lamps that were being replaced operated on 12volts, while the replacements operated on 220 volts.  Not a problem, some electrically-qualified reader may be thinking.  However, although it was easy to remove the transformer, it was not as easy to identify the various cables - that appeared to have been used because they were what was available!  Anyway, the lamps were eventually fitted; connected; and, I am happy to report, are working.

That job was immediately followed by the 'fitting' of a temporary work-surface in the kitchen.  This involved taking 3" off the end of a large sheet of contiboard; using blocks of wood on top of two camping tables to bring the board to an appropriate height; and fixing the board to the wall.   However, that wee job was completed - relatively easily.

Task number three was in the garden, and had been started yesterday.  It involved the digging of an area of almost 11'x 6' to a depth of 6".  This was then filled with a sand/gravel mix and levelled off.  A wooden frame was constructed, and also levelled off, before more of the gravel mix was used to fill it to within 2" of the top.  That mix was levelled, and tamped down, and, next week (we are out for the next three days!) 2" of concrete will be added and allowed to 'cure' for about a week!  That will then provide a good solid base for the new, metal, garden shed that we have purchased, and that I hope to erect during the week after next - weather conditions permitting!

So, why would I want to share all of that with you?  Well, I would suggest that each task has a lesson for life!  When I was working at the lights in the bathroom, I had to keep switching the power off and on again.   That, of course, was for my own safety.  However, the simple fact is that, without power, nothing happens.  Jesus said: "... you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses ..." (Acts 1:8).   Need power in your Christian walk?  Invite God the Holy Spirit to come upon you.

What about work-top 'fitting'?  Well, I would suggest that it is a reminder that Father God is willing to use us - just as we are!   Different people have different giftings, natural talents, training, and ability.  When exercising those giftings, etc., we are comfortable.  "This is what I was made for." we might even say!  However, is it not the case that, sometimes, we have to go beyond our comfort zone, in order to achieve a specific objective?  None of the items used to build that work-top were designed to be thus used.  However, you may be assured that they are doing the job, and doing it admirably!

Which leaves the 'outside work'.  No difficulty in seeing a lesson there.  In fact, it isn't even a new lesson.  Jesus taught it some 2,000 years ago.  It's to do with foundations!  If I want my new shed to withstand any storms that come to the area (yes, even the Dordogne does get some!), then I need to spend time on the base - the foundation.  If I get that right, it is probable that my shed will stand for many years.  If I get that wrong, then my shed is likely to collapse before very long.

Jesus' lesson on foundations is found in Matt 7:24-27: "Every one then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And every one who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it."

The best foundation for life is the Word of God.  Read it; study it; meditate upon it; commit it to memory.  It will be "... a lamp to [your] feet, and a light to [your] path." (Ps 119:105).

Be filled with the power of God the Holy Spirit; be willing to move out of your personal 'comfort zone' in the Lord's service; ensure that your life is built on the solid foundation of the Word of God - all of it!  Not a bad wee set of lessons from one morning's work.  May all who read, be blessed as they put those lessons into practice in their own lives.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Quiz-time (again!)

Okay, a little light relief for this belated start to October's posts.  Some fairly straightforward questions on characters from the Bible.  One clue - each answer begins with a vowel!  Correct solution in a few days' time.

1.   He introduced his brother, Peter, to Jesus.

2.   This man was deceived by one of his twin sons.

3.   Telling a lie about the money raised from selling some land cost this man a lot!

4.   This person was appointed as spokesman for his brother when they were used to free a nation from slavery.

5.   This woman's husband was struck dumb until their child was born.

6.   Who was the prophet who had to hide from an angry queen?

7.   In the year that this king dies, a famous prophet had a wonderful vision.

8.   This woman became queen after having been chosen in a beauty pageant.

9.   The shortest book in the Old Testament is named after this person.

10. This king was almost persuaded by the testimony of the apostle Paul.

11. He caused heartache to his father by leading a rebellion.

12. This man was a criminal who ran away - but returned, a changed man!

13. The boy, Samuel, told this man about a voice he heard.

Good place to stop (I am not superstitious!).

I wish you well.  :-)