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Sunday, 31 July 2016

Make yourself clear!

One of the many privileges that I have enjoyed during my increasingly long life was sitting under the ministry of the late Rev. George B.Duncan (in the original St George's-Tron), and the tutelage of the late Rev. Prof. William Barclay in the University of Glasgow.  Both men instilled in me the need to speak that others might understand.  You see, there is no point in talking to people who can't understand what you are saying.  I have been discovering that, all too often, since I came to live in France!  I speak to someone - and receive blank looks; they respond - and I look just as blank!

Paul writes to the early disciples of Jesus on the great city of Corinth, and asks: "Now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how shall I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will any one know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves; if you in a tongue utter speech that is not intelligible, how will any one know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning; but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me." (I Cor 14:6-11).

Paul was making reference to the specific gift of speaking in a spiritual language (the gift of tongues), but the message may well be expanded.  We who are preachers have a special responsibility to keep our message so simple, and interesting, that even a child will be able to grasp it.  I have listened to many preachers who have been so intent on displaying their own academic excellence that they have simply talked "over the heads" of the gathered congregation!  But God's people are described, not as giraffes, but as sheep!  We who give out the Gospel message must keep the feed at a level that the sheep can reach!

Of course, this doesn't only apply to preachers!  All of us are preaching the Gospel, all of the time, whether we are aware that we are doing so, or not!  In the workplace; at our leisure activities; in the home (especially if we are the only disciples of Jesus there); wherever we may be, if people know that we claim to follow the Nazarene, then they are reading us, and listening to us, all of the time!

There is an old poem - that I may well have quoted on this blog before - that reminds us of this:

“Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today;
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way.
He has no tongue but our tongues to tell men how He died;
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.

We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s Gospel; we are the scoffer’s creed.
We are the Lord’s last message given in deed and word;
What if the type is crooked?  What if the print is blurred?”

The story is told of a judge who, having listened to the arguments in a divorce suit, said to the husband: "I have decided to give your wife £400/month in maintenance."  The husband's face brightened.  "That's very kind of you, your Honour.  I'll try to slip her a few quid, myself, now and then"!    A misunderstanding that may cause us to smile.  However, when it comes to the preaching of the Gospel, lack of clarity may lead to disastrous results.  Whether it is from a platform or a pulpit; in our general conversation; or when someone has asked a specific question, and we need to "... make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, ... with gentleness and reverence;" (I Peter 3:15); let us make clear that each of us is born a sinner, destined for hell (eternity without God); but that, out of His unsurpassable, immeasurable, love for us, Jesus died (and rose from the dead!) to pay the penalty for our sin.  Salvation, therefore, is the free gift of grace to all who will receive it, by faith.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph 2:8-9).

Jesus said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes Him Who sent Me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24).   That's pretty clear!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Screwtape on Democracy!

During this year, I am using a book of Daily Readings from the works of C.S.Lewis as a part of my personal devotions.  Some of it, of course, is very difficult to fully understand (he was a "rather clever chap"!).  However, there are some of the excerpts that are all too easy to grasp.  Such a one was the reading for today.

It's an excerpt from "Screwtape proposes a toast".  For those who are unfamiliar with any of the works of C.S.Lewis (apart from the Narnia Chronicles, of course!), Screwtape is a senior devil who passes on advice to his juniors (see The Screwtape Letters).  The passage to which I was directed this morning is on the topical topic of Democracy!  Here is the final paragraph:

"You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power.  It is a name they (humans) venerate.  And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated.  You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal.  especially the man you are working on.  As a result, you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading(and also the least enjoyable) of all human feelings ... The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I'm as good as you.  The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good solid resounding lie."

That, it may be argued, is the problem with modern democracy.  It moves the goalposts.  The American Declaration of Independence to which I referred earlier this month, has those well-known words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, ..." However, is this really true?  One does not require the brain of Einstein to know that it is not.  I am certainly not considered by anyone of whom I am aware, to be the "equal" of Bill Gates (certainly not by my bank manager!).  I am not the intellectual equal of Stephen Hawking; I do not have equal political influence to the Prime Minister; I am far from the spiritual equal of many of the believers whom I am privileged to know!

However, in any "democratic" society, I ought to be treated equally with everyone else.  If I commit a crime, I ought to be punished for it - and not "let off" because I am the spouse of a former president of my country, and a current candidate for that same high office.  If I do the same work as my fellow- employee, and do it as well, then I ought to be paid the same rate - and not less on the basis of my gender.  If I spend my spare time helping those who are in difficulties of one kind or another, then I ought to be deemed as worthy of a civil honour as some failed politician, mediocre "celebrity", or "party benefactor"!

This is one of the wonders of the Christian Gospel.  We are all equal, and are treated equally, by Almighty God.  He knows that each one of us (yes, even you!) is a sinner in His sight.  He sees our rebellious nature.  He recognises our attempts to make ourselves the centre of the universe.  Yet He still loves each and everyone of us (yes, even you - again!), equally, and with an everlasting love.  He doesn't love Bill Gates more than He loves me because Bill Gates is a billionaire, and I am never going to be even a mere millionaire.  He doesn't love Stephen Hawking more than He loves me because Stephen Hawking has an IQ of around 160 while I linger at a lowly 125 (last time I checked!).  He doesn't love the Prime Minister more than He loves me because she has an authority that effects the whole of the UK while I have authority over no-one.


There is only our place where we will not be treated equally - because we will not be equal!  That is at the Great White Throne of Judgment.  John records, for us, the great vision he received while he was exiled on the Isle of Patmos: "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it; from His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done." (Rev 20:11-13).


David Robertson, minister of St Peter's Free Church, Dundee, has been mentioned - and quoted - by me before.  I was interested to read (after I had decided to publish a post along these lines) his most recent posting.  It is on the subject of hell, and he also quotes from C.S.Lewis: "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. ” “The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven." (The Great Divorce).

Are all people created equal?  In the sight of Almighty God, we are - and He treats us as such.

Will all people spend eternity in the same place?  No!  That is the great distinction. The written Word of God (the Bible) makes it perfectly clear.  Those who have established a living, and loving, relationship with Him in this life, through the salvation that is offered in the Lord Jesus, the Christ, will continue in that relationship (enhanced beyond our wildest dreams!) in eternity.  Those who reject - or even neglect, Him here will be rejected by Him on that Day.

Where will you spend eternity?  In the heavenly realm, worshipping the Lamb?  Or will it be in hell, with the devil and all of his minions?   I trust that, as you have read this post, you will have either the assurance of full salvation - or the desire to make that salvation your own.  If the latter, please feel free to contact me at author@minister.com or check out some of the relevant links further down the page.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Stop the world - I want to get off!

Was it a film?  Was it a song? I can't recall, but the phrase (or something very similar!) was certainly in vogue when I was a lot younger.  "Stop the world - I want to get off!"

As I try to keep abreast of contemporary world news, it is a sentiment that any sane person would surely understand - and with which many would readily identify.  Today's, apparently co-ordinated, attacks in the German city of Munchen (Munich) are but the latest in an ever-lengthening catalogue of violent and fatal incidents.  We have witnessed an abortive coup in Turkey; police officers murdered in the USoA; Bastille day celebrations in Nice cancelled because of another mass murder, using a bus.

Yes - will someone please stop the world.  I, for one, would be happy not to be here!

Of course, we know that such a wish is impossible to fulfil - at least in physical terms.  However, as Shakespeare has his character Hamlet say: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." (Hamlet: Act 1, scene 5).

Yesterday morning, I completed a period in which I have been using the "minor" prophets of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures) as the basis of my private devotions.  It has, at times, been like reading the morning newspaper!  

The book of the prophet Joel is particularly applicable, as he writes about the coming "Day of YHWH".  His words are, of course, the words most quoted by the apostle Peter in the first Day of Pentecost of the Christian era.  That "Day of YHWH" has two applications.  The first may be seen as the destruction of the Second Temple and the dispersion of the Children of Israel when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D.  However, that date and event does not exhaust the prophetic word.   Those words of Joel also point to the end-times - times in which many believe we are currently living.

Obadiah - the shortest book in the Tanakh - also speaks of "the Day of YHWH", and makes clear that, while the forthcoming destruction of Edom would be the immediate fulfilment of the prophetic word, that it also applied to the final move of Almighty God before the end of time itself, and the judgment of mankind.   

However, there is also a message of hope.  Obadiah assures his listeners and readers that "... in Mount Zion there shall be those that escape, and it shall be holy; and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions." (v.17).  The later equivalent of that promise, that goes beyond the Children of Israel (Jacob), is found in the letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus who, the writer claims: "... have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a Judge Who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel." (Heb 12:22-24; emphasis added). 

Joel also makes clear that if we are to escape that great judgment, then we must repent: "'Yet even now,' says YHWH, 'return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.' Return to YHWH, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil." (Joel 2:12-13). 

That, of course, is also the message of the Christian Gospel - that we confess that we are sinners; that we are, of ourselves, unable to do anything about our sin; that we accept that Almighty God, in the Persona (not a typo!) of the Son has, Himself, graciously paid the penalty for our sin; and that we need only come to Him, with repentant hearts, to receive cleansing and forgiveness, and begin a new life under His control.  If we have done that, then we need have no fear.  John writes that: "... He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." (I John 4:4).

The crucial question is this: Have we found that salvation, deliverance, shelter, and strength only the Lord can provide when the final “day of the Lord” comes?   If not, then remember that "... now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (II Cor 6:2; emphases added).

If I may be of any further assistance, please feel free to contact me at author@minister.com Alternatively, there are some useful links further down the page.  May you know the prompting of God the Holy Spirit.  May He give you no rest until you have accepted the great gift, purchased at such great cost.

Monday, 18 July 2016

A (very!) short poem!!

As, yesterday, my wife and I walked back from the nearby village to the campsite in which we are currently enjoying temperatures in the high 30s C, a little creature was spotted - and prompted this shortest of verses!

Today I saw a butterfly.
In front of me it fluttered by.
With wings a sort of 'primrose yellow';
It really was a handsome fellow!

Much too hot for any serious posts.  However, we return home before the end of the week!


Monday, 11 July 2016

Solar-powered lighting!

The French-speaking Fellowship in Bergerac, of which my wife and I are members hold, from April to September (or thereabouts!), a monthly bi-lingual worship service with everything translated, and the songs sung in a combination of French and English.  The July service was held yesterday. Although not the main speaker, one of our English friends who is married to a Frenchman - and whose French language skills are considerably better than average - was translating the early part of the service into English.  At least, that's what I thought was happening!  The pastor would say something in French, and she would provide an English-language translation.

Then I realised that the roles appeared to have changed!  Suddenly, she was sharing in English, and the pastor was translating into French!  It was an excellent message and I want to now share it - with my own additional thoughts!

It was based on solar-powered garden lamps that she and her husband had purchased - and, she confided, they were no the most expensive ones!  Indeed, she wasn't certain that they would work for long at all - but had, happily, been proved to be wrong in her expectation!  As she pointed out, there are a number of lessons that disciples of Jesus may learn from those little lamps.  Let's think of a few.

Solar-powered lamps only work if they have been exposed to the light.  This is what is used to charge their batteries.  No light in; no light out!  The disciple of Jesus needs to be constantly walking "in the light".  "... Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  (John 8:12).  It is as I spend time in His light, that I am able generate light that may help others.

Lamps don't have to be expensive to operate successfully.  My friend had been perfectly candid about the low cost of her lamps - and her concern that they would not function satisfactorily.  She was, to her relief, proved wrong!   Sometimes, I suspect, we think that one requires to have been walking with the Lord for many years; or have a certain level of theological education; or hold a particular position in society; in order to be of any real use to the Saviour.  Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.  As used to be said, He is not as interested in our ability as in our availability!  If He calls me to a particular task, then I may be assured that He will equip me to complete it.

Being inexpensive lamps, the ones in question stayed lit for as long as there was power in the battery. They didn't have an "on-off" switch!  As a disciple of Jesus, I have to ask myself if the same thing is true of me?  Am I always "switched on" for Him?  Or are there days when I don't even attempt to shine?  We sung the Graham Kendrick song "Shine, Jesus, shine" at yesterday's worship service - but I wonder if He sometimes has to shout: "Shine, Brian, shine!"  

I don't know exactly how many lamps my friends purchased, but I do know that, regardless of how dark the night, just one little lamp will dispel that darkness.  John writes: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:1-5).  As a disciple of Jesus, I should bring light into even the darkest of situations and circumstances!

A final thought - for which there isn't really a direct connection to the lamps.  Jesus said, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven." (Matt 5:14-16). Even when I do shine for Jesus, it is not in order that I may receive pats on the back, and be told what a fine disciple I am.  I am called to let the light of Jesus shine through me, that others may see more and more of Him in me - and that they may glorify God for His beneficence.

So, how is your light right now?  I hope that it is shining - every day of the week, and in every way possible.


Sunday, 10 July 2016

Hopelessly in debt!

During my years as a teacher of Religious and Moral Education, I had to teach about belief-systems other than the Christian Faith.  One of those was Islam - and I think that I can claim to know a wee bit more about that religion than does the average westerner!

One of the teachings of Islam has to do with a final judgment.  It is claimed that each Muslim has an angel on each shoulder (the Kiraman Katibin).  The angel on the right shoulder keeps a record of every good thing that the person does; the other angel keeps a record of every bad thing that the person does.  At the judgment, the records are added up and, if there are more good things than bad, the person goes to paradise; if it is the other way around, the person goes to hell.

This is not, of course, the kind of teaching in the Christian Faith.  However, some people determine to try something similar.  One man, intent on recording his experiences with God, decided to keep a daily "balance sheet"!  On one side, he listed all that he did for God; on the other side, all that the Lord did for him.  If some small need was met by His gracious hand, it was noted.  All favours and mercies were thus recorded.  However, after just a few weeks of this book-keeping, he gave up."It's no use", he said, I can never get ahead.  I am always hopelessly in debt"!

If we are ever tempted to add up the instances of God's goodness in our lives, we must not forget that the heavenly Father can cause even adversity to be an asset. Someone has said: "I willingly bear witness to the fact that I owe more to the fire, the hammer, and the file, than to anything else in my Lord's workshop.  I sometimes question whether I have ever learned anything except through the rod. My trials have often brought me my richest blessings."

It would be an interesting exercise to take time, for just one day, to note the benefits of God's favour upon us.  Actually, it would be an impossible task - but it would be profitable in sharpening our spiritual perception!  I suspect that we would quickly find that we are the recipients of abundant treasures - some clearly defined; some well disguised! Even if we were to spend every remaining second of our earthly lives in dedicated service to Him, we would never be able to show our full gratitude for his wonderful provision.  Considering all that He has done for, and given to, us we can only acknowledge that we are hopelessly in debt to Him.

We can never earn our eternal salvation; it cannot be bought.  It is a gift of grace from the One Who loves us so much that, in the Persona (not a typo!) of the Son, He gave Himself to pay the penalty for your sin, and for mine.  As the Graham Kendrick song reminds, and encourages, us: "The price is paid!  Come let us enter in to all that Jesus died to make our own.  For every sin, more than enough He gave; and bought our freedom from each guilty stain".

Have you accepted that salvation - freely offered, yet purchased at such great cost? It is there, available to you right now.  Do something about it - for the sake of your eternal destiny, and that glory may be given to His Name.                                                                

Monday, 4 July 2016

Independence - in the U.S.o A.

July 4th - and celebrations all over the United States of America as they recall the signing of the Declaration of Independence (although that signing did not actually take place until Aug 2nd, 1776!) from Great Britain.  

Perhaps the best-know section of the Declaration comes from the preamble: 
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. 
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."  

Some of those words, by the way, may be considered to be particularly appropriate within the context of the result of the recent U.K. referendum on continued membership of the E.U.!  However, I would also have to contend that the "just powers" of any government are derived, not "from the consent of the governed", but from Almighty God! (see Rom.13:1).

Today, for citizens of the USoA, is a reminder of the liberties that such a people, in general, enjoy. Indeed, all of us who live in "the West" enjoy freedoms and rights that are still denied to millions of people in many countries around the globe!  The problem is that most of us tend to take such things for granted, and display little concern for those who are not likewise blessed!  Often, we insist upon our own rights, and make unfair demands on others without due regard for their interests and welfare!  However, is it not true that few of us are concerned about the rights of Almighty God?

In the book of the prophet Isaiah, is a song that pictures the nation of Israel as YHWH's vineyard.  It contains these words: "... He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes." (Isa 5:2).  The song teaches us that God has a right to expect love, worship, obedience, and willing service from those whom He blesses. Sadly, like those in Isaiah's day, most of us show little gratitude, but flagrantly break His laws.  When we do so, God has the right to act in judgement - and the histories of the nations reveal that whenever they choose to deny His existence, and reject his Word, they do indeed reap a bitter harvest.

Disciples of Jesus, at least, surely need to recognise that He is the Lord of the vineyard, and expects us - as He expected the Children of Israel - to produce "... the fruit of the Spirit [which] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law." (Gal 5:22-24).

It is interesting that it is in Isaiah 5 that we find words that I have seen quoted, frequently, in recent months: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" (5:20).

Dr Jim Denison, in his "CulturalCommentary" for today ends with these words: "The greatest gift we can give our nation is to help her citizens be people God can bless. So let's choose to reverence God and place our hope in his love. Let's pray for others to do the same. And let's pray what we sing: "God bless America." Today and every day, to the glory of our Lord."  Let even those of us who are not citizens of the USoA pray for our own nations; and let us not forget the rights of God!