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Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year.

The Children of Israel were about to cross the River Jordan, and enter the land that YHWH had promised to them so many years earlier.  But the man who had led them out of Egypt, with its slavery and hardship – Moses, the great prophet – was not to enter that Promised Land with them.  And so, before they crossed, he spoke to them – reminding them of all that YHWH had done for them, and of the laws and statutes that He had given them.  This long discourse of Moses has been handed down to us as the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, and as we approach the end of 2015 I want to leave you with a few words from that address: “You shall never return that way again” (Deut.17:16; RSV). With these words, Almighty God closed a gate on what lay behind His people, and set their faces towards what lay before.  What does it mean to us, this closing of the gate of 2015, and opening of the gate of 2016?  Well, it is possible that, for some, it may bring a measure of relief.

It may be that you are glad that the year is over; that 2015 is past and gone.  You wouldn’t want to live through that year again.  It has been too distressing, too traumatic, a year.  There may have been some experience that has become etched, almost indelibly, on your minds.   The actual circumstances, and situation, will differ from one person to another.  It may have been a bereavement, or an illness, or an injury.  It may have been redundancy, or a forced move to another area, or a major financial loss.  It may have been the way in which we failed the Lord, in one way or another.  

Whatever it was, God’s comfort and peace; His love and forgiveness; His mercy and grace; are available to all, and sufficient for all!  We’ll never walk that way the same way again.  He has closed the gate, and bids us march bravely into the future.

For others, of course, the ending of the year is a matter of regret. It may be that some of us would want to live the past year all over again.  It may be that, for us, it brought much delight.  Like Peter, on the Mount of Transfiguration, we want to stop.  “Lord,” we would cry, “it is good for us to be here” (Mt.17:4 inter al).  We’ve been enjoying this year so much; does it have to come to an end?  We were up on the hill-top, in the clean, fresh air – we don’t want to go down into the valley of human need, of personal responsibility.

However, no matter how, or in what context, we reach the mountain-top, we must always come back to the valley – and often it’s the valley of disappointment, or despair.  That great servant of God, Moses, found this to be so.  He went up on the mountain to speak with YHWH – and came back down to find the Children of Israel worshipping a golden calf that that they had made.  And even Jesus knew the contrast.  Wasn’t it immediately after the tremendous experience of His baptism, and His acknowledgement as the Beloved Son, by the Father, that He underwent the wilderness temptations?!
 
It’s good that we experience both sunshine and shadow.  The one brings the other into sharper focus.  But the gate must be closed.  “Today’s trouble is enough for today”, said Jesus (Mt.6:34) – and so is today’s grace!  Yesterday’s grace is not sufficient for today, yet so many seek to live on past experience.  I wonder if you are clinging desperately to  the enjoyment that the past year brought; or to  the achievement that the past year held?

The end of the old year, and the beginning of the new, can bring a measure of relief; it may be a matter of regret.  But surely it must also be  a moment of resolve.  New Year is traditionally the time for making resolutions and although, like many traditions, this one appears to be less popular today, I imagine that there will be some who read this post who will have made such resolutions.  I would suggest that we do need to make some resolutions, and that our resolve must be concerned with two specific factors.  The first of these concerns what we must leave in the past.

The past, as we have seen, has dangers.  Both success and failure in the past may hinder progress in the future.  If we have known failure, then we must have an assurance of God’s forgiveness for those who confess their faults, their failures, their sinfulness.  If we have known success, then we must remember that we are still totally dependent upon God.    He does not want us to live in yesterday, and lose today!  Paul knew this.  So we read in his letter to the followers of Jesus in the Roman colonial centre of Philippi: “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” (3:13-14). He knew that if he was absorbed in what lay behind, then he couldn’t have a real interest in what lay before.  And yet, if any man had reason to live in the past, it was Paul!  But he did not try to keep the gate open.  

Of course, although we ought not to live in the past, we may certainly learn from the past.  So I can remember what I have learned about myself – and about my Saviour; about my stubbornness and stupidity – and about His ways and wisdom.  I had thought that I was pretty wonderful – now I realise that I, left to my own devices, I am weak and helpless.  But my appetite for progress has been whetted.  Whatever God has done, it is nothing to what He can do!  And I’m encouraged as I recognise His workings in my own life.  As is often said - I’m a work in progress!
  
Not one of us knows what the coming year holds for us.  The signs, both nationally and internationally, do not provide much in the way of encouragement as we anticipate years of trying to repay the ever-increasing debt into which the nation continues to be plunged; as international terrorism continues to disrupt, and maim, and kill.

Some, however, may remember saying, “I don’t know what the future holds; but I know Who holds the future!”  Will you place your hand into His hand; trusting Him to guide you, strengthen you, help you into 2016?  Will you?  May each one of us be granted the grace to do so - to His eternal praise, and our eternal salvation  

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Name of the Lord Jesus

As we have been reminded over recent days, when Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth was informed by his betrothed, Mary, that she was already pregnant, he was prepared to quietly divorce her (betrothal was not marriage, but it was much more serious than our modern "engagement").  However, before he could do so, he had a dream in which an angel appeared to him, and said: "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matt 1:20-21).  
In Biblical times, a person's name expressed the character or attributes desired for a child by his or her parents. Thus the angel's explanation of the name "JESUS," which means "YHWH saves" or simply "salvation": "He shall save His people from their sins."
 
There is only one Saviour! As Peter informed the crowd at the first Pentecost of the Christian era: "... there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12); but His name does save!  John states, quite unequivocally, that: "... to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13).
 
Those who do receive Christ are thenceforth associated with His name - and therefore with His Person and work. First they are to be baptised "... in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." (Matt 28:19). They are then to order their lives in a way that honours His name. "Let every one who names the Name of the Lord depart from iniquity." (II Tim 2:19).

He has given many gracious promises of answered prayer if we pray in His Name: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He may give it to you." (John 15:16-17).

The final use of "name" in the Bible stresses our eternal identification with His name.  In the glorious revelation given to John, he sees the new Jerusalem, and can write: "There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall worship Him; they shall see His face, and His Name shall be on their foreheads." (Rev 22:3-4)  as we are united with Him in the age to come. 

Of course, Matthew also makes reference to another Name of the Lord Jesus -  "Emmanuel" which means "God with us".  If He is not with you, then you are not His; if you are not His, then you will not be in that new Jerusalem.   He has come that He might save you from your sins but, like the gifts you may have been offered just a couple pf days ago, His gift of eternal salvation may be accepted - or rejected.  It is a gift of inestimable worth.  Receive it now - and know His presence with you for the remainder of your mortal life; and then throughout eternity.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve

It's been a busy few days - travelling from the south-west of France to central Scotland.  Until we were about 100 miles south of Calais, the weather was still fine and sunny.  By the time we reached the north of England, it was a case of torrential downpour after torrential downpour!   And there have been those who have asked, in all seriousness, why we would want to go to live in France!  Well, of course, there was a lot more to it than what we wanted - but we are certainly happy with the weather conditions that we enjoy for most of the year!

However, here we are, in N.Lanarkshire, looking forward to the Christmas Eve Watch-night Service that will bring in Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve.  How many pictures those words can conjure up.  For many, of course, it means last-minute shopping; for others it is the excitement of "Santa Clause" starting his round; for, perhaps, too many, it is just another night of loneliness.  I wonder what it was like on that very first Christmas Eve?   We know that, in the hills around the Judaean town of Bethlehem, "...  there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, 'Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!'" (Luke 2:8-14).

Most of us have been conditioned to think of that "heavenly host" as cherub-like creatures, with wings and golden curls, holding hymn sheets in their hands, and accompanied by some of their number blowing golden trumpets!  Victorian card designers have a lot for which to answer!

So what did those shepherds see?  Well, it certainly wasn't that row of commercial Christmas-card choristers!  The clue is in the description - "heavenly host".   One of the many titles/descriptions given to YHWH is "the Lord of Hosts".  In some modern translations, that is given, quite correctly, as "the Lord of heaven's armies".  So, the "heavenly host" that appeared to those shepherds was, in fact, a multitude of armed warriors!  That's a somewhat different picture.  If those men were terrified by the sudden appearance of a single angel, I can't begin to even imagine their feelings when faced with a myriad of celestial combatants!

This, I would suggest, takes away some of the sentimentality of the Christmas story.  It also reminds us that this Child, Whose birth the host of heaven announced was, indeed, the King of Glory.  Only a King, surely, would have His birth announced in such a magnificent manner.

I trust that, this Christmas, you will join with me in worshipping the Babe in the manger - remembering that He grew to be the Christ of the cross, Who died for you and for me. 

However, remember something else.  That same Jesus has promised that He will return.  And when He does, He will take those who have placed their trust in Him, and in Him alone, to be with Him throughout the timelessness of eternity as, being His chosen Bride, they share with Him in His marriage supper.  Listen to part of the description as given to John: "And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.' And he said to me, 'These are true words of God.' Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, 'You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.' For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. 
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name inscribed which no one knows but Himself.  He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the Name by which He is called is The Word of God.  And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses.  From His mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; He will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name inscribed - King of kings and Lord of lords." (Rev 19:9-16).

Yes, the same Host of heaven that announced His birth will be there to see His ultimate triumph.  "Oh come, let us adore Him - Christ the Lord."

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

He knows the way.

Many will be familiar with the words that will, undoubtedly, be repeated by many as we draw towards the end of another calendar year - those words quoted by King George VI in his 1939 Christmas radio broadcast to the nation and the Commonwealth.   Those words, written by Minnie Louise Haskins, are:

"And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
'Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!'
And he replied:
'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'"

The Old Testament character, Job, would have agreed.  Indeed, he went even further!   In Job 32:10, we read: "But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold."  Job saw that the way, while safe in the hands of Father God, is not always, or necessarily, easy.  But he found infinite comfort in the assurance that He knows the way!

Too often, we want to know what God is doing to us and, in those moments of darkness, we may cry out: "Why is this happening to me?"  It is then that faith answers: "He knows"!

David, the Psalmist-king of Israel knew all about this.  The opening lines of Psalm 13 are a repetition of the question "How long?"  He saw the forces that were opposed to him.  He was concerned that YHWH had forgotten him.  He was in deep distress, and sorrow.  However, when we look at the end of the psalm we read these words:

"But I have trusted in Thy steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation.  I will sing to YHWH, because He has dealt bountifully with me." (vs.5-6).  David had become convinced that "He knows"!

Are you passing through some deep trial at this time?  Is the coming Christmas and New Year clouded with anxiety; with pain; with darkness; with uncertainty?  Do you not know in which direction to turn?  Then I would encourage you to memorise Job 23:10, and to keep repeating it to yourself until you really believe it.  Whatever the situation, or circumstances, it makes such a difference when we are assured that "He knows"!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

A near miss is as bad as a mile!

I was reading, the other day, about a game that, apparently, used to be played by children in England - in the days before iPads, and X-boxes, and multi-channel television!  The game, I read, was named "Saints and Sinners" - a name that, understandably, caught my attention!

The way in which the game was played was that a metal hoop was erected at a measured distance, and the children were given a bow, and ten arrows each.  The objective was to shoot all ten of your arrows through the hoop.  If anyone achieved that goal, and shot all ten arrows through, then that child was proclaimed a saint.  However, if a child missed just one arrow, that child was named as a sinner.  Of course, if a child missed with all ten arrows, (s)he was still designated a sinner!  That child was no greater a 'sinner' than the one who missed with just one arrow!  That was the rule of the game.

One of several words that is translated "sin" in the New Testament, is the Greek word "hamartia" (for others, see chap.4 in my book "Great Words of the Faith").  This word speaks of a 'falling short'; 'missing the mark'; 'going off the straight'; or 'going too far'.  It’s a word that comes from the world of sport.  In archery, the sport in which it was first used, there is a bull's-eye for which the archer aims.  Now, if my arrow hits the bull, or the mark, I gain the prize; but, if it misses the mark, whether by only a fraction of an inch, or by a couple of feet, then I don’t get anything!  And if it falls short of the target, or overshoots it, whether by six inches, or six yards, I am still not awarded the prize.

Sin is not only a breaking of God's Law; it is also a failure to attain the standard of perfection that the Law demands.  It may also be likened to a chain.   Even if only one link is broken, the effectiveness of the chain is ruined.  The Law demands continuous, uninterrupted, obedience.  If we fail to live up to that standard for only one minute, we become guilty sinners before God!   We do not need to commit murder, or adultery, or theft, or deceit to be unfit for heaven.  If we break even one of God's laws, then we are sinners in His sight.  That's why Paul could say, without hesitation, that "... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ..." (Rom 3:23).  To deviate from the way of perfection by one nanometre is to 'miss the target', and come short of God's standard.

In just a couple of weeks, people all over the world will be celebrating the birth of a very special Baby in the Judaean town of Bethlehem.  That baby grew to be the man, Christ Jesus.  He never "missed the mark", but kept God's Law perfectly.  He is the "... One Who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (
Heb 4:15).  All others have sinned, and 'come short'; so all of us need Him as our Saviour.

One of my favourite Christian songs is now a 'Golden Oldie'!  Its the hymn "When peace, like a river,...".  My favourite verse reads: 
"My sin - O the bliss of this glorious thought - 
my sin, not in part, but the whole 
is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more: 
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul." (Horatio G Spafford; 1828-88)

Whoever you are, you are a sinner because of your failure; but you can become a saint by His victory! 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Happy Hanukkah!



Not everyone will be aware that, as disciples of Jesus prepare for the celebrations that remember His birth as a helpless infant, Jewish people, all over the world, are beginning an eight-day festival known as Hanukkah, or The Festival of Lights. 

The origin of the festival goes back to the period between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament - in 168 B.C.  The Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. This upset the Jewish people, but many were afraid to fight back for fear of reprisals. Then in 167 B.C.E. the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offence punishable by death, enforcing idolatry, and forbidding the Jewish People from reading the Torah and following it. He also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods.  He even desecrated the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar.

Jewish resistance began in the village of Modiin, near Jerusalem. Greek soldiers forcibly gathered the Jewish villages and told them to bow down to an idol, then eat the flesh of a pig – both practices that are forbidden to Jews.  God delivered His people through a Jewish priest named Mattathias and his sons.  They led a small group of Jewish men (the Maccabees) to rise up against the 25,000 soldiers of the Syrian/Greek army, and defeat them  When the Jewish priests entered the Temple to re-dedicate it and light the Menorah (Candlestick), they found only one bottle of undefiled oil — enough to last just one day.

Miraculously, that tiny supply of oil lasted eight full days.  This gave the priests enough time to create more sanctified oil to keep the Temple Menorah burning 24 hours a day.
Over 100 years later, Jesus of Nazareth was in the Temple on Hanukkah when He was asked directly if He was the Messiah?  "It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly'."  (John 10:22–24).

The record continues: "Jesus answered them, 'I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness to Me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to My sheep'." (John 10:25-26).

On that Hanukkah, Jesus (Yeshua) confirmed to those asking that He is the Messiah, the Shepherd of Israel.  Other verses confirm that He is the Light of the World
(John 8:12) and also that through Him we can be lights shining in the darkness of these last days (Philippians 2:15).

The Shamash (servant candle) sits higher on the Hanukkah menorah than the other eight candles and is used to light them.  What a wonderful representation of Jesus, the Light of the World, and how He gives us the "light of life," through the Holy Spirit.

As many of us travel this Advent season, and look forward to our Christmas celebrations, let us remember that while "He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not." yet "... to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:11-13).

Have you yet believed?  Have you?


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Holding hands!

It was posted on Facebook by a former pupil who is now the mother of a little boy.  It read:

Well, as any regular visitor to this blog will understand, my mind went beyond a little boy and his mum!  I was immediately reminded of the relationship between Father God, and the one whose trust is in the Lord, Jesus the Christ, for salvation.

I sometimes read the truth that, as a disciple of Jesus, I am not perfect - but that I am forgiven.  As such, my hand is in the hand of the Father.  He is the One Who never lets me go; Who never lets me down; and Who, I must also remember, never lets me off!  Yes, even the believer is subject to the Lord's discipline.  And we should not want it any other way!

In the old Book of Proverbs, we read: "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights." (3:11-12).  The un-named writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus quotes those very words and goes on to say: "It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Heb 12:7-11).

Many years ago, a Christian singing group named "Harmony" sang a song that was titled (if memory serves me well!) The Man from Galilee.  The chorus went something like this:

"Put your hand in the hand of the Man Who stilled the waters.
Put your hand in the hand of the Man Who calmed the sea.
Take a look at yourself, and you can look at the others differently;
By puttin' your hand in the hand of the Man from Galilee."

It's a strong hand; it's a faithful hand; it's a hand that was once nailed to a cross - for you, and for me. Have you yet entrusted your life to Him?  Are you trying to hold on to His hand, rather than allow Him to hold on to yours?  His grip is, as the little boy understood with his mother, much stronger than yours.  If you yield your life to Him, He will never let you go - regardless of your situation and/or circumstances.

In just a couple of weeks, we will be celebrating His birth.  What better gift could you give to Him at this time, than your own life in total surrender, and full obedience.  You'll never regret it if you do!