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Friday, 30 September 2016

Just an accident?!

It was our first stop in Spain, after having left Portugal.  We had stopped in Badejos on our way south, and knew that the fuel prices in Spain were considerably better than in Portugal (or, indeed, in France!).  However, there was also a large Retail Park - and my dear wife decided that she needed to have a wee look, and to purchase a couple of necessities!

We walked into the large Centre (glad to get out of the late September heat!), and walked along towards the shop in which she hoped to be able to purchase the items she wanted - Primark!  Yes, even in Spain the chain is apparently well-established. However, as we approached the entrance to the shop, our eyes were captivated by the display in the large plaza outside it and its neighbours.  It was a water and colour extravaganza that was absolutely amazing!  Please take time to watch the video.  It is a full six minutes long - yet I didn't see a repeat of one single sequence: even of those I had watched before running out to the car for my (very basic!) video-cam.  I had intended to place the video here - but the file is too large!  So, in a 'first' for me, I have uploaded it to YouTube, and you may watch by clicking on this link:

Of course, the most amazing thing about that magnificent display is that, according to Richard Dawkins (who just happened to be walking by - sorry, that's actually just a personal fantasy!), it was all the result of blind chance, and random mutations, that took place over millions, if not billions, of years!  Those coloured lights; the various rhythms of the water; the little fountains; the whole edifice in which they all operated; all the product of mindless chance!  Well, in my opinion, for whatever it is worth, anyone who genuinely believes that is in need of a deep reality check!  We might as well claim, for example, that the famous "Four Presidents" heads on Mt Rushmore, N.Dakota, are simply the random end-result of millions of years of wind and rain erosion!

No-one who has ever watched that display in Badejos, for more than a few seconds, would ever believe that it was not the product of intelligence.  I haven't checked but, although I am not a gambling man, I would readily bet all of my next year's pension that not just one person, but a team of persons, spent a great number of hours from the moment that the original conception was born in someone's imagination, until the putting together of the final product.  There is, I would confidently claim, a very large computer programme behind every sequence - every raising of a fountain; every change of the colour of the lighting; every movement of the downpour - a programme that was put together by an intelligent mind.  The engineering behind the display is also amazing, and must have taken many man-hours of planning, working to the finest of tolerances.  "Chance"?; "Random mutation"?  You have got to be joking!

Yet, as any reasonable, and basically-educated, person would surely agree, compared to the workings of the human mind; the amazingly complex structure of even the simplest living cell; the order of the celestial bodies; even that water display, in all of its awesome magnificence, is like something a very small child might produce from a piece of plasticine!

That is why, in one of my books, I make the claim that it takes a great deal of faith to be an atheist!  It takes a great deal of faith to genuinely believe that nothing became something, for absolutely no reason, and then produced other "somethings" - also for no reason at all!  It takes a level of faith beyond anything I have ever experienced to believe that the very laws of physics "just appeared"!

Yet that is the basic religious belief of the atheistic, humanist, evolutionist! 

My Bible makes the very simple statement: "In the beginning, God ..." (Gen.1:1). Only God is the uncreated One; the totally self-sufficient One; the One Who, alone, has the power to create.

The apostle Paul who, as the Pharisaic Saul of Tarsus may not have been an evolutionist, but was most certainly a persecutor of the early disciples of Jesus, made reference to this when he wrote to his fellow-believers in Rome: "They know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them. For, ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.  

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn't worship Him as God or even give Him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other's bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator Himself, Who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved." (Rom 1:19-27; NLT).   Sounds almost as if Paul had been reading a modern newspaper - or listening to Richard Dawkins, inter al!

You, of course, must make your own choices.  However, be assured that every choice does have consequences.  Be certain to make the right choices - the consequences are eternally significant!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Can you say it?!

Thank you; Merci; Vielen danks; Dank je wel; Obrigado; Gracias; Grazie.

Well, I don't quite qualify for the title of "Polyglot of the Year" - but I can express my gratitude in, now, seven languages.  It's a useful expression to know, wherever in the world one might be ('Please' is also helpful!).  I recall, a long time ago, hearing someone talk about developing "an attitude of gratitude".

The late Rev George B.Duncan would sometimes share an experience from his early days in pastoral ministry.  He had taken a group of boys to the beautiful Isle of Arran on the west coast of Scotland.  One evening on Goat Fell, he would recount, they were all seated around the camp-fire.  He suggested that, as the evening drew to a close, each one say, quite simply, "Thank you,Lord".  He always commented that it was one of his most moving experiences as, one by one, those young teenagers uttered the words.

A couple of years after my "retirement", I received a Facebook message from a former pupil who, I have to confess, I was perfectly happy to have forgotten!  He had been one of the most difficult pupils with whom I had ever had to deal.  However, I was impressed by what he had achieved in the ten years since I had last dealt with him.  We 'chatted' for a while and then he typed: "Any way, I'd better tell you the reason for me getting in touch".  He went on to explain that he knew that he had been an extremely difficult pupil (his actual wording was somewhat more colourful!) - and that he wanted to apologise!  I assured him that such an apology was totally unnecessary - but so very much appreciated!  

As a disciple of Jesus, I have particular reasons to be thankful.  I am thankful for my salvation - gained, for me, at the cost of the blood of Jesus.  I am grateful for the measure of health and strength that I continue to enjoy.  I am grateful for a loving wife and family.  I am grateful for every opportunity I am given to share the Word of God.  And I am grateful that, as the psalmist put it, "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;" (Ps 16:6).  

My contact with what we refer to as "the persecuted church" merely heightens that gratitude.  I think of Asia Bibi, a young woman in Pakistan who has been in prison since 2009 for no other reason than having offered a cup of water to Muslim women in the field in which they all worked.  I think of Gao Zhisheng, a pastor in China who has suffered great privation and torture and who, although now released from prison, is still unable to leave China to be reunited with his wife and children in the USoA.  I think of Farshid Fathi, an Iranian pastor who has also, finally, been released from prison but who, to the best of my current knowledge, is unable to go to Canada to be reunited with his wife and children. 

Such stories could be multiplied a thousand times over - and another thousand times after that!  I haven't even mentioned those who, every passing day, are murdered because of their faithful allegiance to the Lord Jesus.  Yes, I can be so grateful that "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;"

And what about you?!  Oh, your situation may be difficult; you may have problems that I do not understand; you may sometimes even feel as if you are alone in the world!  Permit me to add one further account.
In the book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells of an experience in the WWII Prisoner of War (Extermination) camp at Ravensbruck, where Corrie managed to conceal a Bible and some vitamin drops for her sister, Betsie.  After having spent more than a week in the quarantine compound, she and Betsie were among those moved to permanent quarters, in Barracks 28.  They were directed to their “bunks” – straw-covered platforms.  Corrie records: “Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above.  Something had pinched my leg.

‘Fleas!’ I cried.  ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle, and edged our way to a patch of light.

‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed.  ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place?!’

‘Show us.  Show us how.’  It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realise she was praying.  More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly.  ‘He’s given us the answer!  Before we asked, as He always does!  In the Bible this morning. Where was it?  Read that part again!’

I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch.” (Hodder and Stoughton & CLC, 1971, pps.184-185). 

The passage to which Betsie referred was I Thessalonians 5:14ff.  Betsie was particularly interested in v.18 “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 

“‘That’s it, Corrie!  That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’  That’s what we can do.  We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’”

And so Betsie started – thanking God that she and Corrie were still together; that there had not been an inspection on their arrival, and that they still had their Bible; for the many women who would be sharing the barracks with them who would have the opportunity to hear about the Lord Jesus.  Then she continued:

“‘Thank You, ‘Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for – ’

The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted.  ‘It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances’.  Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.’

And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas.  But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.” (op cit, p.185).

Later, the two sisters found themselves able to conduct worship services for the women in the barracks.  What surprised them was that no guard ever came near them.  Everywhere else, they were always present – but not in Barracks 28!  The guards didn’t want fleas!!

Why don't you give thanks, right now.  It doesn't matter which language you use - Father God understands them all!  If you haven't done so already, why don't you develop that "attitude of gratitude"?  It's not a 'magic pill' - but I truly believe that you will be better for it!

Friday, 9 September 2016

What is a "saint"?

As my wife and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary, the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta was being declared to be a saint, by Pope Francis.  Born in 1910 to ethnic Albanian parents, Agnese Gonxha Bojaxhiu grew up in what is now the Macedonian capital, Skopje, but was then part of the Ottoman Empire.  Aged 19, she joined the Irish order of Loreto and in 1929 was sent to India, where she taught at a school in Darjeeling under the name of Therese.  In 1946, she moved to Calcutta to help the destitute and, after a decade, set up a hospice and a home for abandoned children.  She founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. The sisterhood now has 4,500 nuns worldwide.

There have, of course, been critics of her canonisation - including the husband of one of the women to whose medical cure prayers to the Blessed Teresa have been attributed.  He, apparently, is not convinced!

Often, we hear it said of some person: "(S)He is a real saint!".  In my experience, this signifies only that the person to whom reference is being made is a kind-hearted, generous, helpful, kind of (wo)man.  

However, I too have been declared a saint!!!  Yes - on Feb 9th, 1960 I confessed my sins and sinfulness, and accepted the Lord Jesus as my Saviour and Lord: and I became a saint!  There was no ceremony at the Vatican.  There were no newspaper reports.  The "event" wasn't televised, and broadcast all around the world.  However, I am assured that there was great joy in heaven - maybe even a party! (see Lk.15:7).

You see, according to the New Testament, a saint is a disciple of Jesus.  One does not require to be "prayed to"; be held responsible for miraculous events; or be canonised by any group of men.  One does not even have to die, physically - being born again (spiritually) is the prime, and the only Biblical, requirement!  That is why Paul, in his letters, frequently refers to those to whom he is writing, as "saints".  "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:" (I Cor 1:2; emphasis added).  "To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colossae:" (Col 1:2; emphasis added).  The task, certainly, of "pastors and teachers", if not all of those to whom reference is made in the previous verse, is "... to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ," (Eph 4:12; emphasis added).

For the disciple of Jesus, being a saint is like being a witness.  There is no choice in the matter!  The only question is, "Am I a good saint; a good witness; or am I a bad one?!"  However, either way, my "sainthood" is assured!  It comes, not by my works or efforts, but wholly by the grace of God.

So, greetings from "St.Brian"!  However, while I am happy to pray for you (if requested): please do not pray to me!  As one of the Southern Country Gospel songs states: "I'm just an old sinner, saved by grace"!

Are you a saint?  If so, be a good one.  If not, I again commend my Saviour to you - and am always happy to provide any assistance I can if asked for it.  In the meantime, do scroll down to "My favourite links", where you will find some that may be of assistance to you.

Blessings, and shalom!

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Abraham - the father of the faithful!

Paul's words, in Gal 3:7 - "... it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham." - are among those that have given rise to Abraham being described as in the heading to this post.  But, having recently completed reading about Abraham in my personal devotions, I found myself thinking on Abraham's own faith.  What kind of example has he left to disciples of Jesus today?

Well, the first thing we may note about Abraham is that he was saved through faith.  Paul, this time writing to the believers in Rome, makes the point: "What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.' Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness." (Rom 4:1-5).  Abraham could not have been saved by the keeping of the Law - because that Law had not yet been given.  He could not have been saved by the ritual of circumcision, because God declared him to be righteous before he was circumcised (see Rom.4:9-12).  He was, like everyone else who is saved, saved through faith - faith in the Living God. (see also Heb.11).

But he was not only saved through faith, he also lived by faith.  Wherever he went, we read, he pitched his tent and built an altar to El Shaddai.  He let people know that he was a pilgrim and a stranger - even in the land that God had covenanted to give to his descendants.  His willingness to sacrifice Isaac, the son of promise, proved his trust in God - "He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him [Isaac] back." (Heb 11:19).  His works did not save him, but they proved that his faith was genuine.

Saved through faith; living by faith; and Abraham walked in faith.  Of course, he had lapses - some of them serious - but his general manner of life was one of faith.  "Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. ... So Abram went, as the LORD had told him;" (Gen.12:1,4).  That great eleventh chapter of Hebrews has more to say about Abraham than about any other of the individuals who are named there!

So what has all of that to do with you and me, so many millennia later?  Well, if we have no interest in the things of God - absolutely nothing!  However if, like me, you claim to be a disciple of the Lord, Jesus the Christ, descended, after the flesh, from this same Abraham, then his life must be a challenge to you, as it is to me. 

I must remember that my salvation is only by the grace of Almighty God to which I, too, must respond through 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).  I am not saved by my "good works" - and any service that I do render is only because I am "... His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works , which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10). I must learn to walk by faith - and that means walking in obedience. It means, as the hymn-writer put it, "Standing on the promises".  A friend of many years ago would often state that "God said it; I believe it; that's it; period!"  That's not a bad way in which to live!

I've been challenged, afresh, by the life of Abraham.  Perhaps you will be, as well!

Friday, 2 September 2016

A better place!

It's interesting, is it not, that in our "western" culture and society, with its apparent emphasis on secular humanism and so-called atheism, that there is still a desire to believe that physical death is not the end?   I was looking for something on YouTube last evening and, as usual, had loads of "recommendations" offered to me.  One that caught my eye was a clip of a news bulletin on the day of the death of the much-loved comedian, Ronnie Barker.  I watched most of the clip.  I also read a lot of the comments.  So many were along the lines of "RIP" ("requiescat in pace"; "rest in peace"); "You're in a better place"; "You'll be making the angels laugh"!

I have also seen so many intimations of the death of, e.g. a beloved grandparent whose spouse is already dead.  So many express the thought: "At least you're together again", and similar sentiments.  It would appear that the Preacher knew exactly what he was talking about when he wrote: "... also He has put eternity into man's mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." (Eccl 3:11; emphasis added).
What I find interesting is that, first of all, the folk who make these comments are assuming that physical death is not the end - as the Richard Dawkins followers would have us believe. Secondly, it is assumed, it would appear, that the abode of these departed spirits is a "good and pleasant" place in which one may rest peacefully; be with one's previously-departed loved ones; and have generally happy existence!   Of course, on the other hand, there are those of whom it may be said, with considerable conviction, "May (s)he rot in hell"!

So where is this "better place", and may we assume that all of the 'nice' people we know will go there when they "shuffle off this mortal coil"?  Speculation about heaven and hell has been rife for millennia.  But, without going into any specific detail, the Bible makes it quite clear that the former is the eternal abode only of those who have been accounted righteous by Almighty God, Himself - the Creator and Sustainer, of all that has ever existed, currently exists, and ever will exist.   For you and me, in the post-Calvary world, in which we have the opportunity to read the Gospel narratives; to hear the message faithfully preached (but be sure that you listen to those who are true to all of God's Word, and not just the little bits that suit their own message!); to discuss, and share, that message; then the only way in which we may be righteous in God's sight is through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus at Calvary.

Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, said: "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that He Himself is righteous and that He justifies him who has faith in Jesus." (Rom 3:21-26).
So that's the answer - "... faith in Jesus".  It's accepting that I am a sinner (and no human being knows that better than I!); that I am unable to either make appropriate amends for my past sins, or to stop myself from sinning; that Father God has done what was required by coming, in the Persona (not a typo!) of the Son and, on the cross of Calvary, taking upon Himself the punishment that I deserve.  Then, having accepted all of that, I respond with the genuine love of my own heart, to this amazing Saviour.  I place my trust in Him for the future, whatever it may hold.  I seek to live the rest of my life as pleases Him.  I claim His sacrifice for myself; I claim the promise/assurance that "... the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7; emphasis added).  The result is that I am justified in His sight - that just means that He treats me "just as if I'd" never sinned!

Do you want to go to a better place when you shuffle off this mortal coil?  There is only one way - Jesus.  I commend Him to you.