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Monday, 30 November 2015

The unpopular necessity.

Today, of course, is the Feast Day of St Andrew - the patron saint of Scotland.  My thought, earlier today, was to publish a post about him.  However, as I thought about what I might say, I remembered that Andrew is portrayed, in the Gospel records, as one who brought people to Jesus.  John tells us that Andrew was, originally, a disciple of John the Baptiser who, having spent a day with Jesus, "... found his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus." (John 1:41-42).  It is John who also tells us that Andrew was the disciple who found the young boy with five rolls of bread and a couple of small fish, and brought him to Jesus - Who then miraculously fed more than 5,000 men (plus women and children!), with twelve basketsful of crumbs gathered up afterwards! (see Jn.6:8 ff.).  On yet another occasion, some Greeks asked Philip if they could see Jesus.  What did Philip do?  He went straight to Andrew, who went with him (and, one must presume, the Greek seekers) to Jesus. (see Jn.12:20ff.)

So, I thought to myself, thought I: "If I could speak with Andrew, and ask him what he wanted me to publish on this "his" day, I suspect that he would simply say, 'Brian - point them to Jesus!'"

The anonymous writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus wrote: "... without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Heb 9:22).  As we begin to prepare for the Christmas season, with its focus (for some of us!) on the wonder of the incarnation - "Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see" - we do well to remember that it is only a part of the greatest story ever told!   If the birth of the Lord Jesus was the beginning, middle, and end, then it wouldn't be much more than a children's Nativity Play.  But, of course, it led to the greatest teaching that has ever been given on the face of this planet; and then to His passion and crucifixion; and on to His glorious resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father "from whence", as the Apostles' Creed affirms, "He shall come to judge the living and the dead"!  (see my second book, Foundations of the Faith, for much more on the Creed!).

Yes, the Babe in the manger became the Christ of the cross  And it had to be so.  Only His perfect, sinless, sacrifice could pay the debt that we owe, and bring us into a living, personal, fellowship with Father God.  How we need to emphasise, and appreciate more, that infinite Gift of grace that has delivered those who have put their trust wholly, and solely, in Him, from condemnation!  "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom 8:1; and I would encourage you to read the whole of that chapter!).  Regrettably, we live in an age when 'sin' is no longer recognised as such by the majority.  Because of that, there are too many who fail to understand their own need of redemption.

Without the all-sufficient sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, salvation is impossible.  That is a doctrine that does not find many friends today.  However, that does not make it any less true.  Think on these words of the old hymn:

"Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in Hid grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?"

I trust that you are able to answer those questions in the affirmative!  If you aren't, but you would like to know more, then either scroll down to the links on the right-hand-side of the blog; contact me at author@minister.com; or even treat yourself to either/both of my books (details at the top).  Alternatively, find a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching, Christ-centred, fellowship of God's people, and make enquiry there.  Whatever you do - do something.  Your eternal destiny depends on it!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Prayer - an essential part of life!

A small boy had been used to sleeping with a night-light in his room.  Eventually, however, his parents decided that he was old enough to dispense with that light, and sleep in the darkened room.  On the first night, as his mother switched off the light, he asked plaintively: "Mum, do I really have to sleep in the dark?"  "Yes", came the reply, "you are getting to be a big boy now!"  "Well", came the reply out of the darkness, "may I get up an say my prayers again - more carefully?"!

Many of us, I would suggest, "say prayers" when we should be praying - and there is a big difference!  And, too often, many of us pray carelessly.  That's one of the problems with "saying prayers".  The constant repetition of the same words may be okay for a child who is only learning to come into the presence of Almighty God in this way, but for mature adults who claim to be disciples of Jesus, it is surely not enough!  Most of us, I suspect, need to slow down, and to pray thoughtfully, and meaningfully.

Prayer, indeed, ought to be such a habit that it becomes as natural as breathing.  Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers to "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication." (Eph 6:18).  The disciples of Jesus in Thessalonica were likewise encouraged to "... pray constantly, ..." (I Thess 5:17).   He assured the fellowship in Colossae that he and his companions "... have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." (Col 1:9-10).

However, making prayer a habit ought not to make it any less meaningful.  We need to set aside a time to pray, making it a priority, and not something that we somehow manage to "fit in" if we happen to have time!  Prayer can probably never be quite as natural as breathing, but it is just as essential to our spiritual well-being as breathing is to our physical life, and we can make it such a habit that we never need to be reminded of it!

Some may recall the little one-liner of many years ago: "Seven days without prayer, make one weak"!  That is still true today.

Let us pray!

Monday, 23 November 2015

"Facts are chiels that dinna' ding"!

I posted this video on my Facebook page, last night, but believe that it should also be offered to a different audience.  Please feel free to share - at least by directing folk to the blog.

When Jesus of Nazareth appeared before the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, He was asked: "What is truth?" One answer to that question might well be: "Something that some people do not wish to have made public"!

This is a brief video that should be compulsory viewing for all of the anti-Jewish George Galloways, etc., of this world. It simply provides a number of easily-verifiable points.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Spectator - or Participator?

A scholarly bachelor was invited to write a major article on the theme "What is love?"  Like any good author, his research was extensive.  Numerous books were consulted, and many months were spent in the organisation and development of the material thus gathered.  Eventually, hie work was ready for submission to the publisher, and arrangements were made with a typist to prepare the manuscript (this was in the days before authors had their own computers and word processing software!).  Walking into her office for the first time, something unusual, and unexpected, happened.  Eyes met!  Hearts raced!   A strange reaction swept over each of them!  It was love at first sight.  Suddenly, the subject of the author's work was no longer mere theory to him; it became a reality as he discovered its joys for himself.  Through this exciting contact he learned, and understood, more about his topic in a few minutes than he had gleaned through all of his studying.  He was no longer a spectator- he was a participator!

Earlier this evening, I had a telephone conversation with a friend - that lasted almost an hour-and-a-half!  I had thought that last night's conversation with another friend had been long - but he and I didn't quite make it to the full hour!  This evening, my friend was commenting on "academics" who make pronouncements from their "ivory towers", while having no experience of real life as lived by the majority of us.  He might well have added career politicians into the same category!  They are spectators, who have never truly participated.

Reports that I receive would indicate that, in the light of the events that are occurring around us - whether it be the tragic events of Friday, in Paris; or the less dramatic (but more frequent!) in terms of the numbers involved, similar events in Israel, or Lebanon, or other parts of the Middle East, and other places; or the extremes of weather conditions that seem to be occurring with increasing frequency - are leading more and more people to ask serious questions, and to try to find out the answers. 

Many of those answers may be discovered in the written Word of God, the Bible.  However, it is possible to read, and study, and become an "expert" in Biblical Studies, yet never experience the life-giving experience of a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus, the Christ.  It is possible to be a spectator, without being a participator!

Alternatively, one may read those same words, and discover that Jesus really meant it when he said "I have come that they may have life - life in all its fulness."! (John 10:10).  They may enter into a love relationship that is like none other.  They may become members of the very family of Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists.  They may participate in the life of the followers of Jesus.

It isn't always an easy life - just ask those who suffer persecution for their faith, in about fifty countries in today's world - but it's a life that continues even when physical death, by whatever means, has overcome us.  It's a life that is filled with joy - which is not the same as joviality!  It's a life that makes us holy (set apart for God's use).  It's a life that is immensely satisfying, regardless of circumstances.  One of the passages at which we may look at the Fellowship Group that I hope to attend tomorrow evening, is Philippians 4:11-13 : "... I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.  I can do all things in Him who strengthens me."  Paul had discovered the joy of following Jesus, even when languishing in a Roman prison.  Of course, he was a full participator; not just a spectator! 

What about you (and me!)?

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Paris - the City of Lights.

My wife and I are both very fond of Paris, and have enjoyed a number of holidays there, in the past.  It is less than 400 miles from our home in Gardonne.  We know folk who live in what is still a beautiful city.

I suppose that having such connection has emphasised the horror of last night's massacre of so many by, apparently, terrorists from Daesh (the better name for the self-proclaimed "Islamic State").   The social media sites are filled with messages of sympathy; of outrage; of horror; and of disgust.  One newspaper reports that "World leaders including David Cameron and Barack Obama have expressed their shock and outrage at the atrocities in Paris."  The Prince of Wales is set to send a message of "profound sympathy and solidarity with the people of Paris" to French president Francois Hollande (and on his birthday anniversary, the dear boy - although why the newspapers should think that to be of great importance, is beyond me!).

As I read about the carnage, my thoughts and prayers go out, as do those of decent people everywhere, to those who have been so suddenly bereaved, and those who are suffering from life-threatening injuries.  I am also remembering those in the French emergency services who are having to deal with horrific scenes; and those who were caught up in the attacks - remaining physically unscathed, but carrying with them, probably for the remainder of their lives, the scenes of death and destruction that surrounded them.

I am also thinking back to other atrocities committed by Daesh.  I am thinking, for example, of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were murdered on a Libyan beach in February.  Each one, it was reported, died with the name of Jesus on his lips.  I am thinking of so many others, given the choice of denying that same Jesus, or dying - and gladly choosing physical death.  I am wondering how many of those in Paris, last night, were as well prepared to meet their Creator!

Such events must, surely, make any of us realise the unpredictability of human life.  How many of those who left for that concert gave even the slightest thought to the possibility that they would not survive it?   Even if that awful massacre had not occurred, any one of them could have been the victim of an accident; or of the mindless violence of an individual thug.

When I was teaching, one of my S1 (11-12 year-olds) courses had to do with "Rites of Passage" - when we looked at the four major stages that appear to be, and to have been, celebrated by every culture at every time - birth; coming of age; marriage; and death.   We spent some time on the subject of "death" (probably the only Department that did deal with it as a specific topic!).  One of the things we learned is what is discovered by those caught up in a situation like last nights - and there have been many of them just in the year that is rapidly drawing to a close - that our basic mind-set seems to be that death will not touch us; at least, not until we are in our eighties, or older!

May I lovingly say that each one of us needs to be prepared for the moment of our own death?  Not one of us knows when that will be.  I might live for another twenty years; I might die before I have completed typing this post!

How may we prepare?  By repenting (turning away from our sin) and placing our trust in the Lord Jesus, for salvation; obeying and serving Him.  You see, our Creator God is holy. Although He is Love, He also has wrath and anger over sin, and shows no partiality.  Listen to the inspired words of the prophet, Isaiah: "Listen! The Lord's arm is not too weak to save you, nor is His ear too deaf to hear you call.   It's your sins that have cut you off from God.  Because of your sins, He has turned away and will not listen anymore." (Isa 59:1-2; NLT). 

It is our sin that is the problem, and it must be dealt with.  I know of only one way - to come to Father God, confessing your sins and sinfulness, and seeking the forgiveness that was won for you, at great cost, on a hill called Calvary. Whoever you are, humble yourself before God. Realise that you are in serious trouble with God because of your sins - about all of which He knows! There are no secret sins before his eyes. Sincerely and humbly ask him for mercy and forgiveness. Commit your heart to him. Turn from all known sin. Ask God to also reveal anything in your life that needs to change. Do it today. Don’t delay. Tomorrow may be too late. No one is guaranteed another day to prepare for death.

I have often said that, in Victorian days, the taboo subject was sex, but that everyone was familiar with death because it was so common, and because families prepared the bodies of their loved ones for burial.  Today, everyone seems to know everything there is to know about the physical act of sexual intercourse; but because we have made an industry out of death, and someone else "undertakes" to make all of the arrangements, we are no longer familiar with it, and it has become the taboo subject.  Perhaps that simply adds to our confusion, and revulsion, when it occurs in our midst on such a large scale.

I grieve for those, in Paris, and in the Lebanon, and in many other parts of our modern world, who are bereaved and injured.  However, I grieve even more for those who will have been totally unprepared for the death that so swiftly overtook them.  

Are you fully prepared?  Are you?

 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Stop praying!

On Sunday, I had the pleasure and privilege of bringing the message to the Fellowship of L'Église Evangelique Libre de Bergerac.  It was the fourth in a mini-series on the very important topic - at least for those who claim to be disciples of the Lord, Jesus the Christ - of prayer.   On Sunday, we looked together at the prayer of a man named Simeon - you may read it in Luke 2:29-32 - a prayer that is often referred to by its opening two words in the Latin language: the Nunc dimittis.  The whole series has been intended to encourage people to pray!

However, as I continue to empty boxes in our new home, I come across photograph albums - almost fatal!  I can spend an hour just browsing through, and reliving memories with family and friends.  One such friend is a man named John.  We haven't had any contact for a long time, but I recall receiving a 'phone-call from him, one Sunday evening.  "The Lord spoke very clearly to me, this evening, at the worship service", he said, excitedly.  "That's great", I responded.  "What did He say?"  "He told me to stop praying", replied John!  

Well, I knew that John was a fairly recent convert, so I probed a little further.  The outcome of the conversation was that John had been told that, regarding a particular issue, the time for prayer was finished; it was now time for action!

In one of the local Fellowship Groups that my wife and I attend, we are currently looking at the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes - not the easiest of books to study!  However, one section that is better-known than most of it is the first nine verses of chapter three - the "There is a time ..." section.  It isn't mentioned by the writer of that book, but there is a time to pray, and a time to stop praying - and to do what we know needs to be done!

We see such a situation in another book of the Old Testament.  It is in Joshua 7 where, in vs. 10-11(a), we read: "YHWH said to Joshua, "Arise, why have you thus fallen upon your face? Israel has sinned;"  Israel had just experienced her greatest victory at Jericho, and her most devastating defeat at Ai - all in the space of a few days.  They were in deep shock!  Joshua was on his face, praying; 'reminding' (!) YHWH how bad this made both Him and His people look in the eyes of the surrounding nations.  God was not impressed!  He told Joshua, bluntly, that Israel had sinned (collective responsibility), and disobeyed His command regarding the spoils of battle from Jericho.  These things were the "firstfruits" of Israel's victory in the Promised Land, and should have been brought into God's treasury.  Instead, Achan had taken some and hidden them in his tent.  YHWH had been disobeyed and robbed, and His hand of protection had been lifted from the nation, resulting in their defeat by a mere village!  So YHWH told Joshua to stop praying, deal with the situation, and then come back to speak with Him.

Do you already know what the answer to a situation is - but you keep praying in the hope that God will give you a different answer, or even make the problem disappear?  Perhaps God will alter the rules for you!  No way!  He says "I the Lord do not change;" (Malachi 3:6).  So, if He doesn't change, guess who is going to have to!  If you want God's protection and blessing then, like my friend John, you may need to stop praying, and do what you know needs to be done.

It's a thought!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Why I post about the Christian Faith?

One of my Facebook friends - and, indeed, a full cousin - posted the following on that particular social medium.  I was unable to do a 'copy and paste', so I have merely typed it out again!

I know that not all of the posts that I publish on this blog are what may be termed "religious" - but the majority are!  I merely seek to share the truth, and message, of the Gospel with all who read.  Some appreciate, and come back for more; others have, in the past (when I could still receive comments!), disagreed with me.  As some know, one series even cost me my Police Force Chaplaincy, as a particular senior officer decided that my traditional views on marriage went against the Force's "Diversity and Equality" policy - more strength given to the "diversity" aspect than to the "equality"!

Anyway, I think that this explains my position rather well:

"Dear Facebook Friend

There will come a day when you’ll see that I posted all of my “annoying religious” posts because I have a deep concern for you.  I care about you so much, and you matter a great deal to God.  He created you!  As hard as this is to say, I would rather you hate me for telling you the truth in love, than to gain your approval while I lie to you.


Once a friend was gracious enough to share with me, and God removed the scales from my eyes so I could see.  It’s now my responsibility to do the same for you.  That’s what the cross of Christ is all about.


Sincerely"

As always, I would direct any interested person to a couple of the links at the bottom right of this page.  I am also ready to provide whatever pastoral assistance I can, on a personal basis, if you e-mail me at author@minister.com

Blessings, and shalom.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

"Real" teaching!

The English-speaking fellowship with which my wife and I are associated here in France, is trying to be as inclusive as it can.   I am not sure that I agree fully with that aim, but I do understand (I think!) what they are trying to do.   It has to do , I suspect, with what we refer to as "ownership" - allowing people to have some input to the decision-making process in order to avoid any sense of a few 'dictating' to the rest!

As part of this process we were invited, recently, to make suggestions, on Post-it notes, as to what we liked; what we didn't like; and what we would like to see happening; in Café Church.  I quite deliberately did not look at what anyone else had written. but I was informed that someone had placed, on the "What I would like" sheet, "Real teaching" (underlining in the original!).

It's an interesting comment.  What does it mean?  Well, one would have to ask the author what (s)he meant but, as the slips were posted anonymously, that would not be easy.  However, I think that reference was being made to the difference, in Biblical teaching, between milk and meat.  Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, has this to say to them: "But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk , not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?" (I Cor 3:1-3).  The Lord Jesus, in answer to a question by a lawyer, said: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." (Matt 22:37-38).    Did you notice?  He included the mind - that with which we think!

That, I would contend, is a problem in much of the "western" church.  Too many people want - and too many speakers oblige! - pleasant little homilies; something that will massage our own egos; soft words that leave us feeling nice and cosy!  What is needed is some teaching on the basic doctrines of the New Testament; exposition of the whole of the Bible; encouragement to study the Word of God for ourselves!   Perhaps that is what someone in Café Church is seeking!

We in the "west" live in a culture of instant gratification.  Whatever it is, I want it, and I want it now, and I want it with as little effort on my part as possible.  That is not, however, the way by which we grow as disciples of Jesus!   That requires work on our part, and a willingness to be open to God the Holy Spirit as He applies what we learn to our own lives!  It requires using our minds, and following the example of the Jews of Beroea who, when they heard Paul and Silas preach, "... received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11).

May it be that pastors and preachers will provide "real" teaching from platform or pulpit.  May it be that people will; respond to that teaching by using it as a springboard for their own private and personal study of the Word.