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Monday, 29 August 2016

Broken things!

One of the many interesting characters in the Tanakh (what many people refer to as the Old Testament), is a man named Gideon.  You'll find the full record in the book of Judges 6-8, but the incident that has grabbed my attention is in Judges 7.  YHWH had whittled the army that Gideon had raised from some 32,000 fighting men to a mere 300!  These 300 were equipped, not with spears and swords, but with earthen jars that contained burning torches!

Right away, there is a picture of the true disciple of Jesus.  Writing to the believers in Corinth, Paul says: "... it is the God Who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." (II Cor 4:6-7).   God the Holy Spirit dwells within every believer, and provides us with the power that we need to live victorious Christian lives.  Sadly, too many of us go through life without allowing that power to flow through us, and touch others.

The answer is found in this record of the life of Gideon.  The torches were there, but victory only came when the jars were broken!  Then the light shone out, and the Midianites (the enemy) fled in consternation.  Those of us who are disciples of Jesus also need, often, to be broken in order that the light of the Gospel might shine through us.  We complain about adversity; about challenges; about difficult situations.  Yet the written Word makes it abundantly clear that it is tried and tested individuals whom God uses most frequently!

Believers are in the light, but all too often we do not let it shine out to others.  In the home group in which I have the privilege of teaching, we are working our way through John's first letter.  It is John who reminds us, in that letter that if "... we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." (I John 1:7).  We might well add, "and others will see Him in us"!  We may have the light of Almighty God inside - but we need to be "broken" before we become completely useful to Him!

Are you being crushed by disappointment, bereavement, pain, sickness, financial difficulties, employment problems, or whatever?  Remember that, while such experiences seem to be tragedies, they may well be God's way of getting through to you - "breaking" you in order that, by His grace, you may display more of His light to others. How could that happen?  Well, Father God deals with each of us as individuals, so I am not in a position to provide a definitive answer to that question.  However, it may be that the way in which you cope with your particular difficulty will cause someone to ask you how you do so! That provides you with an open door to share with that other person, your own testimony to the grace and power of God.

The important thing is to trust Him in spite of the trial, assured that He will give you the power to go on and win new victories for Him.  When you stand before Him, you "... shall understand fully, even as [you] have been fully understood." (I Cor 13:12), and the "why" of broken things will be made plain.

The hymn-writer put it so beautifully:
"Not now, but in the coming years;
it may be in the better Land;
we'll read the meaning of our tears
and there, sometime, we'll understand." (Maxwell N. Cornelius).

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

At least I have a choice!



Working in the garden this evening, I checked the thermometer that is in the shade - 41C!   I brought out the one in the house, that was reading a comfortable 25C.  It rapidly moved to 41C.  I left it in the sunshine, just where I was working.  Before I knew it, it had reached 50C - the maximum for which it is calibrated.  However, it just kept climbing!  It stopped at what I reckon must have been 60C!!!  Little wonder that I was having difficulty working for more than fifteen minutes at a time!!

 However, I then thought of the hundreds, indeed, thousands, who must work in those kinds of temperatures without any breaks.  They have to do so because that is the only way in which they can earn even a meagre living; or because they are prisoners - many of them incarcerated for no other reason than their allegiance to Jesus the Christ, and their faithfulness in witnessing to Him.  I, at least, had the choice as to whether, or not, I attended to the work I was doing. They have no such choice.  I was able to stop when I wanted to.  They stop when they are permitted to do so.  I could enjoy a glass of fresh, ice-cold, water.  They can only dream of such a privilege.  I eventually came into a comfortable home.  They return to what may be little more than hovels; or to prison cells.
This all raises a very important question.  It's not a new question - I think of it every morning as I give thanks for, and ask a blessing upon, my breakfast.  It's a question that many have asked, and continue to ask.  It's the simple question: "Why?"

Why is it that I am so blessed, when others suffer in ways that I can barely imagine?  I wish that I had a nice easy answer to that one!  I don't!  David, the psalmist-king of Israel, wrote these words: "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage." (Ps. 16:6).  That is really all that I can say.  I do not know the mind of God.  I recalled, this morning, an old couplet that may be known to some: "That Thou shouldst love me as Thou dost, and be the God Thou art; is darkness to my intellect - but sunshine to my heart"!

What I can do is two-fold.  I can constantly thank Father God for His undeserved blessing and favour.  Indeed, I am certain that there are many who do not enjoy the material blessings that I enjoy, who are walking much more closely to Him, and are in deeper and sweeter communion with Him, than I will ever enjoy in my mortal body.  The other thing that I can do is ensure that I share the blessing that I have received, and continue to receive, with those who do not experience the same abundance of provision that is mine.  If you follow the links at the bottom of this page, there are some to a number of Christian organisations who work with the disadvantaged, the persecuted, the imprisoned, and who are able to provide much-needed material relief - provided that we who have so much are willing to support them in their work!

God willing, I shall be working in the garden again, tomorrow.  The indications are that it will be just as hot.  However, I shall not complain.  Rather, I shall give thanks to Him "... Who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy." (I Tim 6:17).  And I shall remember, especially, my brothers and sisters in the Lord who do not enjoy the privileges that are mine.  I am convinced that they will be closer to the Lamb, in Glory, than we who have so much here and now!


Friday, 19 August 2016

A fragrance of life and death.

The market for perfume is a large one - at least in the so-called "western world".  What self-respecting woman would go anywhere without at least a dab of perfume behind her ears?!  There is also a large market for candles that, as they burn, provide a fragrance that can permeate a large room - and even, if appropriately positioned, a full house!  Add to those the various aerosols that 'freshen' your clothes, your curtains, your furniture, your pets - and, of course, not forgetting "the smallest room" - and it is easy to understand why fragrances are so all-pervasive (and I haven't even mentioned the various toiletries for both males and females!).

The apostle Paul made mention of fragrance, in one of his letters to the early disciples of Jesus in Corinth.  He wrote: "... thanks be to God, Who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life." (II Cor 2:14-16).

So what was Paul saying with those words?  Well, he was using a metaphor drawn from a Roman triumphal march.  This was a parade that took place when a general returned after having won a major victory.  The high political officials would lead the procession, followed by trumpeters blowing their instruments.  Then would come waggons displaying some of the spoils taken from the conquered territory and, just behind them, soldiers and officers who had been captured alive.  They, of course, were in chains!  The priests, carrying burning censers from which a fragrance pervaded the air, were next in line.  Bringing up the rear would be a group of cheering military men of various ranks, delighted in the victory of their commander.

The smell of the incense symbolised joy, and triumph, and life, to the victorious general and his troops; but, to the wretched captives who knew that they were on the way to their own deaths, it savoured of nothing but that death.

A disciple of Jesus is, Paul is telling us, already in the victory parade.  Such a one is, him/herself, a fragrance that others will notice.  There should be something about the believer that is "fragrantly attractive" to others.   However, to any who do not, themselves, respond positively to that aroma; anyone who rejects (or even neglects!) the Gospel; it is "a fragrance from death to death" as they continue on their way to a lost eternity.  It is to those who do respond positively; who become children of God; that it is "a fragrance from life to life" as they have the assurance of a place prepared for them. (see John 14:2-3).

If you are a disciple of Jesus, please be aware of the tremendous responsibility that we have to make our lives as savoury as possible, by staying close to Him Who is constantly using us to influence the lives of others, for eternity.

Monday, 15 August 2016

A father's love.

It was a video-clip that a dear cousin posted on Facebook that reminded me of the one below.  I saw this clip many years ago.  I defy anyone, who does not have a brick in place of a heart, not to become at least a little bit emotional as you watch it. It is, of course, a genuinely true story!


So, did you manage to watch to the end with totally dry eyes?  I know that I cannot do so!  However, I see so much more in that clip.  It is, to me, a picture of, not just a father's love, but of THE Father's love.  For the true disciple of Jesus, the sequence in which Dick Hoyt carries his son, in his arms, from the ocean to the cycle, is surely a picture of our homecoming.  When I arrive in glory, I shall be all too aware that it is nothing that I have done, or ever could do, that has got me there.  It is the Lord Jesus, God the Son, Who has carried me.   I love the way in which so many are applauding.  I am reminded of those wonderful words penned by the anonymous author of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses , let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb 12:1-2).  

The story of Team Hoyt is, indeed, inspirational.  Dick Hoyt should be honoured, at least by his own government.  However, the story of the salvation that is made available to each and every one of us, is even greater.  Dick Hoyt has the personal pleasure of a great achievement (although I doubt that that is what is uppermost in his mind as he faces the challenge that the IronMan entails).  When the Lord Jesus "carries me over the finishing line" it will be to His glory.

Are you running the race - with Him?  If not, why not?  His love for you, and for me, makes even the amazing love of Dick Hoyt pale into insignificance by comparison!  He's a wonderful Saviour.  I commend Him to you.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The power of the Blood.

This morning, in L'Église Évangélique Libre, in Bergerac, was another first - for me! Having already been the first native English speaker to preach in French, I spoke this morning at the monthly bi-lingual worship service - in BOTH English and French (i.e. I provided my own translation of the English into French!). The response, I am happy to be able to say, was very positive - with one native Frenchman even asking me, afterwards, if I would give him some French lessons!!! (he was joking, of course!).
I'm not going to provide the text of the message here (it should be online at http://eel-bergerac.fr/apercu.htm within a few days), but do want to share a story that I included in the message which, itself, was on the Power of the Blood of the Christ. For the benefit of the few who follow this blog, and who speak French - either as a first, or second, language - I will provide both versions!
The story is told of an old woman who lay dying.  Her pastor visited her.  “I am told,” he said, “that you are dying”.  “Yes”, she replied.  “And have you made your peace with God?” asked the pastor.  “No”, came the simple response.  “And aren’t you afraid to meet God without having made your peace with Him?” “Not at all”, was the answer that startled the pastor.  He grew more earnest.  “Dear woman,” he asked, “do you realise that you have but a short time to live, and that you must soon meet a holy God?”  “I do.”  “And you are not afraid?”  “Not at all.”  “And you haven’t made your peace with Him?”  “No.”  “Whatever are you thinking of?” cried out the pastor.  A smile passed over the features of the dying woman.  “I have not made my peace with God because I do not need to do so. Jesus made peace, almost 2,000 years ago, through His blood, shed on the Cross, and I am simply resting in the peace He made!”

On raconte l'histoire d'une femme agée mourante. Son pasteur lui rend visite. « On m'a dit, » dit-il, « que vous êtes mourante ». « Oui », répondit-elle. « Et avez-vous fait la paix avec Dieu? » demanda le pasteur. « Non », fut la simple réponse. «Et n'avez pas peur de rencontrer Dieu sans avoir fait la paix avec Lui? » «Pas du tout». Cette réponse fit tressaillir le pasteur. Il devint plus sérieux. « Chère madame, » demanda-t-il, « ne réalisez-vous pas que vous avez peu de temps à vivre, et que vous devez bientôt rencontrer le Dieu saint?» «Je le sais.» «Et vous n'avez pas peur?» «Pas du tout. » « Et vous n'avez pas fait la paix avec Lui? » « Non ! » « A quoi pensez-vous? » s écria le pasteur. Un sourire s’afficha sur les levres de la femme. « Je n'ai pas fait la paix avec Dieu parce que je n’ai pas besoin de la faire. Jésus a fait la paix, il y a près de 2000 ans, par Son sang, versé sur la Croix, et je peux tout simplement me reposer sur la paix qu'il a faite! »
The lesson from the story concerned the happiness of those who have learned to thus rest in the peace that the Christ has made - peace between sinful people like you and like me - through His own blood, shed at Calvary. As Paul write to the early believers in Ephesus, "In Him [Jesus] we have redemption through His blood" (1:7). Jesus has paid the debt that we owe, but that we could never repay. Because of His perfect sacrifice, the just demands of God's law have been fully met, and we may enter into communion with our Creator.
Have you entered into that peace? It is available to all - regardless of your social position; your educational achievements; your employment (or lack thereof!); your financial standing; the size of your home, or car, or wide-screen television set; or any other of the many criteria by which society tends to measure and judge us. All that we need to do - but it is a BIG "all" - is to confess to our sinfulness; accept that we are unable to do anything about it; receive the offer of salvation that is made to us; and turn away from the sins that weigh us down. Not something that we are capable of doing on our own, but that can be achieved as we open ourselves to the working of God the Holy Spirit - the "Breath of God" in the Hebrew language - and let Him have His way in our lives.
Are you resting in the peace that is offered in Christ Jesus? You may do so - and you will never regret it, either in this life, or in eternity.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Heaven and hell; and what we deserve!

could still obtain them, but having read the provided synopsis, I don't think I want to do so!  

I'm referring to a couple of books that I was offered, online, earlier today.  
The first was:
Heaven and Hell, by Kenneth Zeigler, about which it is explained that "Chris and Serena Davis die in a crash — but while Chris enters Heaven, his wife is sentenced to Hell. Can Chris save his beloved?   A thought-provoking, intensely emotional Christian novel with over 200 five-star Amazon reviews!"
The second was:
Dancing with Jesus, by Linda Fitzpatrick, and the associated synopsis reads: "An enchanting work of biblical fiction: Abia is convinced that an accident has left her unfit to be loved. But one special person will renew her faith and show Abia just how deserving of happiness she is... "

Interesting titles; interesting subject matter.  The first book, with its "... over 200 five-star Amazon reviews!" would suggest that there is more interest in these concepts than would be expected by the constant barrage from secular humanists and atheists who insist that this life, itself the result of billions of years of random mutations and accidental meeting of sub-atomic particles, is less popular than they would have us believe, and would want to believe themselves!
However, both titles also display a lack of understanding of, at least, Christian theology as based on the written Word of God - the Bible.  Look at the first title and the little synopsis.  Can Chris, from the bliss of heaven, save his beloved wife Serena from the horror of hell?  Not according to the Bible!  It is in this life that we make the decisions that decide our eternal destiny.  If we have entered into a saving relationship with the Lord, Jesus the Christ. in this life then we will continue in that relationship after our mortal death.  If we have failed to enter that relationship here, then we have no further opportunity to do so!  In Hebrews 9:27 we read that "... it is appointed for man (generic - includes females!) to die once, and after that comes judgment,"  There is no "second chance" - through a loving spouse, or anyone else.  Paul reminds us, in Romans 2:6-8, that "He (Almighty God) will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury."
So what about the second book?  The words that made me raise my eyebrows were at the end of the synopsis: "... show Abia just how deserving of happiness she is."   The problem, here, is that none of us deserves anything but the wrath of Almighty God because of our constant sinning against Him!  His wrath is provoked when we rebel against His Word.  Of course, there are those who do not like to think on the wrath of God. They want a loving, fluffy, stuffed rabbit, kind of God who looks down benignly upon His erring creatures, and smiles understandingly at their faults and failures.  That, however, is not the God of the Bible.  Yes, He is Love - that is His essential Being.  But, as the totally sinless One, He cannot bear to look upon sin.  Sin must be punished. "... the soul that sins shall die." is His word through the prophet Ezekiel (18:4, 20).  Indeed, as a study of any good concordance will show, there are more references in the Bible to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness!
That is a major problem for "Abia", for you, for me, and for every other member of the human race. That's why some of us seek to share the Gospel message as often as we can. Because that message is the answer - not an answer that any of us can provide, but one that is provided by that same Almighty God.  At its most simple, it says that the same Almighty God Who is sinless, and holy, and just, loves us so much that, in the Persona (not a typo - see my book: Great Words of the Faith; chapter on "Trinity") of the Son, He came among us, showed us His love and compassion, and then satisfied His justice by paying the penalty that we deserved to pay!  It is summed up in that well-known verse: "God loved the world so much that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in (places their trust in) Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16). 
That involves, for us, the recognition that we are, indeed, sinners in the sight of God; that we can do nothing about our own debt of sin; that He has already done all in Jesus, and then accepting the salvation that is offered, so freely through Him.  The life we then lead is so totally different that we right speak of having been "born again".
There is a heaven, and there is a hell.  You and I deserve nothing but hell.  Praise God for His love and mercy that provide us with the opportunity to spend the timelessness of eternity, in heaven, with Him.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Being a good witness.

As I continued in my private devotional readings in the Book of Genesis, this morning, I was reading in chapter 12.  This is a very significant chapter as, after the first eleven chapters and their generally world-view, the record moves to the story of just one man and his descendants.  The man is Abram (later to be known as Abraham), and the interesting thing about his descendants is that he was childless!

I am an avid reader.  I love books.  I read almost anything that is readable.  But the Bible is different from any other book that I have ever read - and this morning reminded me of why that is.  You see, there are very few of the other books that I have read that I would return to - and even those to which I have returned have not provided me with any new insight in the second reading.  The Bible, however, is the living Word of Almighty God and, as such, always has something new to say to those who approach it with reverence.  I have absolutely no idea how many times I have read Genesis 12! Yet this morning, I realised something that hadn't hit me before (although countless others will undoubtedly have seen this in the past!).  It's to do with "being a witness".

Abram showed great faith and obedience when he left Haran at God's command.  I love the link between 12:1 and 12:4 - "Now YHWH said to Abram 'Go' .... So Abram went."!  No discussion; no consultation; no forming of a committee to discuss the proposition.  It was a command, and Abram immediately obeyed!  He arrived in the land of Canaan, and it was then that YHWH informed him that He was giving this land to Abram - and to his descendants.  Remember, he is now more than seventy-five years old, and still childless!  

As he journeyed, he witnessed by building altars to the one true God (vs 7 & 8).  But then famine struck the land.  What would this man of faith do now?  We might expect him to build another altar and call upon the Name of YHWH.  We might expect him to encourage his Canaanite neighbours to trust in the Creator God. What actually happens is that he goes down to Egypt!  

Worse is to come.  He realises that Sarai, his wife, is a beautiful woman (in this period relatively soon after the Flood, it would appear that time was not yet ravaging the human body, even if man's life span had been drastically shortened!) and that the Egyptians might kill him so that one of them could have her for his wife.  So, he hit upon a cunning plan - Sarai was to say that she was his sister (not wholly untrue, by the way: see 20:12) and thus his life would be spared.  

Do you see what has happened?  The man of faith has become a man of fear; the man who worshipped the Creator God has become more concerned about his own skin.  Regretfully, things didn't work out quite as he may have expected!  He was indeed spared - but the pharaoh took Sarai into his harem!  The result of this was that YHWH "... afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sar'ai, Abram's wife." (v.17) - not a punishment, but a warning.  The pharaoh was not a happy man!  He sent for Abram: "'What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her, and be gone.' And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him; and they set him on the way, with his wife and all that he had." (vs.18-20). 

It was one of those situations in which the unbeliever acts in a more godly way than the professed believer.  Abram's witness to the one true God was destroyed.  

So what has this got to say to you, and to me?  It is a reminder that, if we claim to be disciples of Jesus, then we are constantly witnessing.  There is never a time when we are not witnessing.  The only question is: "Am I being a good witness - or a bad one?"  Whether we are in the home, in the office, in the shop, at our recreational activities, or wherever, we are being watched by others who want to see what difference being a disciple of Jesus makes to one's life.  If they see nothing but a reflection of themselves, why would they want Jesus?

It was just on Sunday that I quoted the little poem that begins: “Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today;"  It is as  true today as it was then - and it always will be!   Do the people in the place where you work; the home in which you live; the places you frequent for recreation; know that you claim to be a disciple of Jesus?  If you haven't told them, would they know by your witness?  Do you always behave as if Jesus was beside you, in the flesh?  He is, of course, by the Spirit!

I was challenged, this morning, by reading again about Abram.  Perhaps I've been led to share it in order that you might be challenged too!




Monday, 1 August 2016

Rainbows!

As I look out of my study window, here in the Dordogne area of SW France, the last thing I expect to see is a rainbow!  All that I am able to see are some fluffy clouds, floating lazily across an otherwise blue, blue sky.  However, David Robertson (St Peter's, Dundee) has published one of his own blogs, that commences: "I don't often like writing about  my own congregation, St Peters.    But yesterday was such an encouraging day that I thought I would make an exception. As we drove home from the church, I saw this double rainbow in a perfect arch over St Peters -  it was a beautiful symbol, not of man's rebellion against God, but of God's grace towards humanity."

In my own devotions, this morning, I was reading in Genesis 9 in which it is recorded, some may recall, that Almighty God made the rainbow to be His covenant sign that He would never again flood the whole of planet Earth.  David mentioned that the rainbow is a symbol "... of God's grace towards humanity."  If that is true - and I agree with David that it is - then those of us who are disciples of Jesus must surely ask ourselves why we so often fret and worry.  God hasn't promised that we will never experience storms - but He has promised that they won't destroy us!  "When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you." (Isa 43:2).

Warren Wiersbe makes an interesting point about the shape of the rainbow!  He points out that the bow is normally thought of as a weapon; an instrument of war.  However, God has transformed it into a picture of His grace.  He writes: "God could certainly turn the bow of judgment upon us, because we've broken His law and deserve judgment.  But He has turned the bow toward heaven and taken the punishment for us, Himself!   When Jesus died on the cross, it was the Just One suffering for the unjust (I Peter 3:18) and bearing the suffering that rightfully belonged to us." (Be Basic; p.121. Emphasis in original).

Rainbows are also universal.  They may be seen all over the world.  This, surely, is a reminder that God's grace is offered to, and sufficient for, everyone - regardless of age, gender, nationality, skin colour, education, social position, or whatever.  That, in turn, means that it is available to, and sufficient for, you!  "For God so loved [YOU] that He gave His only Son, that [if YOU] believe in Him [YOU shall] not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16; slightly edited!).

Of course, in Genesis 9, I was reminded that God said: "When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth." (Gen 9:16; emphasis added).   The rainbow is not only a reminder to us of God's unfailing grace; it is also an assurance that He sees it, and will not ignore His covenant.  

I find it rather sad that such a beautiful symbol has, like a certain beautiful word, been "hijacked" by those who wish to legalise - and even encourage!- the practice of sexual deviancy.  However, we who know Him may rejoice that He is the One Who does not change (Mal.3:6); that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever." (Heb 13:8).  Hallelujah!  Glory to His Name.