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Saturday, 31 December 2016

Heaven - or hell?

It started with a Facebook post shared by one of my former pupils. The post gave a list of the good things that were apparently done by the late George Michael, but claimed "Yet today you read comments that he is damned because he was gay. I know in whose company I would rather spend eternity, and which behaviour I consider more "Christian"."

As some might expect, I responded to this! I pointed out that the person who originally penned the piece appeared not to understand what a Christian (better "disciple of Jesus") actually is. Biblically, being a disciple of Jesus means that one has been saved. That salvation, Paul reminds us, is solely and simply through the grace of God - "By grace you have been saved, through faith, not of works lest any man should boast."(Eph.2:8). Let's finish the year by unpicking those words a little.

"By grace ..." I give a full chapter in my book "Great Words of the Faith" (link at top of page: available as a paperback, or a Kindle e-book) to the word 'grace' (23 other important words are also dealt with!). At it's most simple, however, grace refers to my receiving that which I don't deserve; cannot earn; and could never purchase. In other words, grace has absolutely nothing to do with 'me' - what I have done for others; what I have given to others; how I have behaved. It has everything to do with the love of Almighty God, shown supremely in the willing sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ, at Calvary. When Jesus hung on the cross, He was paying the penalty for you sins, and for mine. He was doing what we could never do. He was satisfying God's justice, by the greatest expression of love in the history of mankind.

"... you have been saved ..." Salvation is also dealt with, much more fully, in my book. It is, of course, a concept with which we are all too familiar in a physical sense. There is a fire in a house, or a place of entertainment, or wherever. The Fire Brigade arrives and rescues all who were trapped in the inferno - and the newspaper reports inform us that so many people were "saved".  They were saved from serious injury, or even from death. However, the salvation to which Paul refers is of inestimably greater significance - it is salvation from sin: it's power; it's penalty; and, ultimately, its presence.

"... through faith ..." 'Faith' is actually the first word dealt with in the book already cited. It's something that we exercise every time we board public transport - 'bus, aeroplane, or any other form. When I flew earlier this year, I didn't meet the pilot of the aeroplane; I didn't personally examine the aircraft; I wasn't provided with the opportunity to ensure that it had sufficient fuel in the tanks to make the planned flight. Yet I boarded that aircraft; settled into my seat; and enjoyed the short flight. I trusted that all of those concerned had attended to all of the necessary checks. The writer of the great Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus gave God's definition of the word: "... the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb.11:1). It is taking, on trust, God's own Word about anything and everything!

"... not of works lest any man should boast." You see, if salvation depended on my "works", then the late Mr Michael would be able to claim that he had done more to gain his salvation than I had done to gain mine! And he would be correct. I have never been in the position to give the vast amounts to others that the post that set me off on this claims that he did - and I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the claim. I, of course, could then boast that I had given, and done, more than many other people. However, if salvation is NOT about what I have done, then we all stand at the same level. It;s not about me; it's all about Him!

I know very little about George Michael. I am certainly not in a position to state, emphatically, where he will spend eternity. However, I do know this much - if he had yielded his life to Almighty God, through the Lord Jesus, the Christ, and if God the Holy Spirit was living in and through him, then he is already in the presence of that same Jesus. Otherwise, he is not!

Whatever George Michael's eternal destiny, it is now too late to do anything about it. However, for you there is still time. If you wish to make a worthwhile "New Year Resolution", then I strongly urge you to consider your own eternal destiny. While you breathe, there is the opportunity to come before Father God, in repentance and faith, and receive the salvation that was gained for you at Calvary. God the Holy Spirit will then come into your life and help you to become more like Jesus, in the process that is known as 'sanctification' (yes - it is also dealt with in "Great Words"!!). If I can be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me through the contact e-mail address at the top of the page.

May you have a great 2017 - and walk with Him through every day.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Love came down at Christmas.

Human beings have many different ways of indicating their love for one another and, every now and then, someone comes up with a really original idea. I recall reading, many years ago, a newspaper report that told of a young lady who, on her birthday anniversary, received the largest parcel she had ever seen. The delivery men carried it, very carefully, into the house and, with mounting excitement, she began to open it. To her utter amazement - and great delight - the parcel suddenly burst open, and out jumped her boyfriend! He had decided that the best possible gift he could give her, in order to express his love for her, was himself.

For so many, the Christmas season has been wrapped up with ever-increasing commercialisation; with food, and fun, and festivities. However, if we remove the wrapping, we discover that is is, basically, Almighty God - the Creator and Sustainer of all that is - giving Himself in order to show His love for mankind. The angel's message to Joseph was that the Child to Whom Mary would give birth, would be called "Immanuel" - "God with us" (Mt.1:23); while my personal favourite "Christmas text" is found, not in the familiar birth narratives, but in that best-known of New Covenant verses, Jn.3:16 - "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."  And that "eternal life, by the way, is not some "pie in the sky when you die", but something you receive here and now!

"God is Love", John assures us in one of his letters (I Jn.4:16) and, in the Incarnation, He expressed Himself in Jesus, "His indescribable Gift" (II Cor.9:15). Christmas is the beginning of a love story that goes on to Resurrection Day, when the Babe in the manger becomes the Christ on the Cross, suffering and dying for our salvation - and rising from the dead, victorious over death, and hell, and the grave!

Most of those who read this blog will receive a number of gifts tomorrow, each of them an indication of the love of the giver. Be sure that, if you have never received it before, you accept the greatest Gift of all - Jesus, and the salvation He offers.

... and a Christmas thought: Wise men sought Jesus; they still do!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

I'm a male today; tomorrow, I may decide to be a female!

The heading is, I hope anyone would realise, something of a parody! However, it would appear that my contemporary society would be willing to accept such a statement. After all, why shouldn't I choose my own identity?!  Tomorrow, I may decide that I am something else; and I may change again on the following day!

I was alerted to this matter by David Robertson - who has been quoted before on this blog.  Last week, he reported that a debate had been held, in the UK Parliament, on a report from the Women and Equalities Committee which was the first "Transgender" debate in the Parliament.  David comments: "As I watched the debate it dawned on me that there really was no debate. A minority of people are going to drive through something that will cause a profound degree of harm within this country and make the fuss over same-sex marriage look insignificant (incidentally one of the reasons I opposed SSM was because I thought it would lead to further consequences such as this. At the time I was mocked for the ‘slippery slope’ argument but it turns out to have been right – we are not on a slope, we are on a helter-skelter to the pit)."

What is "transgenderism"? Well, if I understand the situation correctly, it is a 'popular' term for a recognised condition known as "gender dysphoria".  People who have gender dysphoria feel strongly that they are not the gender they physically appear to be, and the condition was earlier referred to as "gender identity disorder".

Such people require help.  However, there appears to be a move to make "transgenderism" a "norm"! This is, of course, completely contrary to Biblical teaching. In the beginning, we are informed in Gen 1:27, "... God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them." (emphasis added). Each of us is aware that we are born as either male or female, and what we are is defined, physically, by our genitalia! If a person is born with a penis, scrotum, and testicles, then that person is male; if a person is born with a vagina, then that person is female. Sufferers of gender dysphoria, as already stated, claim not to feel comfortable in the body with which they were born, but "transgenderism" is now pushing this so that I may "decide" my own identity, and gender!

Now, for a very long time we have had such facilities as "unisex hairdressers" where I might go in for a short back and sides, and be seated next to a woman having her hair permed. The difference, here, is that the push for "transgenderism" has led to situations in, e.g., the USoA with regard to washrooms, and showers in public buildings and in schools. The attempt by Barack Obama to enforce this was rightly resisted on the very sensible ground that it was "a pervert's charter"! I want to look at females in the washroom, or in the shower at a sports club? No problem - I just declare that I identify as a female, and I have immediate access to such areas!

This, it would appear, is the kind of situation that some in the UK would now like to see introduced! However, some go even further. It has been reported in the main-stream media (and I know that what is published by them is not always absolutely true!) that schoolchildren are being invited to state the gender, and identity, that they wish to adopt! I want to be a female Chinese ballet dancer.  Okay - I come to school tomorrow in a tutu, and with my eyes made up to look like a Chinese person. I also, of course, use the girls' toilets and showers!

All of this, it seems to me, is part of the so-called "sexual revolution"! It is also, of course, the inevitable result of departure from the Maker's Manual! We have had homosexual/lesbian so-called "marriage" foisted upon us; there are already moves to try to normalise polygamy; I read, not too long ago, of a woman who was trying to legally "marry" her dog! Another woman wants to be "married" to her adult son - a relationship that we used to refer to as "incest" but that she referred to as "genetic sexual attraction"! As David Robertson states: "we are not on a slope, we are on a helter-skelter to the pit."

This is a topic that is much too large for simple blog-posts, and I mention it only to raise awareness of it. However, it is a further moving away from the standards set down by the Creator and, I would contend, a further indication that we are in "the last days" when people do what "I" want - regardless of how it affects other people, especially my own family!    

If you wish to learn more, you may read David Robertson's very full contribution at 


Friday, 2 December 2016

So - what IS a "Christian"?

It was a headline in an online newspaper that first caught my eye: "A third of French ISIS fighters were born CHRISTIAN and converted to Islam, expert reveals." (emphasis in the original).

My first thought was, of course, that no-one is "born a Christian".  That, as Jesus pointed out very clearly to Nicodemus, requires that one be "born again"! (See John 3).  My second thought, coming from a Christian perspective, was that no-one is "converted" to Islam. If anything, one would be PERverted to that particular ideology.

So, what is a Christian?  Well, I am not the only preacher to have preached on that question - and on more than one occasion!  I could give a list of criteria that would define a Christian, in Biblical terms - and anything else is, at best, suspect!  My idea was to share some of the points that I have made, in the past, in this post.

Then I read today's 'Daily Article' by Dr Jim Denison - whom I have quoted before in this blog. In it, he refers to a couple who appear on American television.  He states that "Their HGTV show, Fixer Upper, is one of the most popular shows on the network. They are smart, funny, and entertaining. And the good they do in helping couples renovate houses into homes is terrific." We are informed, however, that this couple are "Christians" - and when Jim Denison uses the term, he knows exactly what he means!  He tells us that a reporter from a particular publication asked this couple where they stood on the issue of same-gender "marriage" (my quotation marks), and whether or not they would ever feature a same-gender couple on their show.    

The reporter then turned her attention to the Fellowship of which this couple are a part, carefully editing a sermon by the pastor that he preached on the Sunday after the USoA Supreme Court had declared that same-gender "marriage" was to be legal in all fifty States of the Union. (Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are all officially Commonwealths, but are counted as States for all administrative purposes!).

Now you may be wondering what has all of this to do with the question "What is a Christian?"? Well, Jim Denison makes the point that "Christians facing persecution is an escalating theme today." and, while he readily concedes that "... it is unfair to compare believers facing execution and/or confiscation of their churches and property with believers being ridiculed for their biblical beliefs regarding marriage.", he also concludes that "What the two kinds of persecution have in common is that both intend to pressure Christians to change their convictions."

That, as I read it, gave me a clue to the answer to my question. What is a Christian? A Christian is one who puts Jesus first - every time, in every situation, in every place. I recalled those young Egyptian Coptic Christians, murdered on a Libyan beach simply because they were faithful followers of Jesus. It was reported that they had the opportunity to deny Jesus, and recite the shahadah (the basic Islamic creed). Each one refused, even although they knew that it might be the means of saving their lives. I think of a Pakistani Christian named Asia, who has now spent about seven years in prison because she had the temerity to offer a cup of water to a fellow-worker in the fields, on a hot day. That fellow-worker was a Muslim - and was so offended by this, that Asia was reported under the "Blasphemy Laws" of Pakistan, and sentenced to death! She has been given many opportunities to become a Muslim, and be set free - but she has steadfastly refused to do so.

I wonder where you, and I, if we claim to be disciples of Jesus, stand in our faithfulness to Him? The anonymous (human) author of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus writes: "Consider Him Who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." (Heb 12:3-4; emphasis added). I wonder if, with the knife-blade of a fanatic already at my throat, I would be as faithful as those young Copts.  I wonder if, after about seven years in prison, in solitary confinement for my own safety, I would still be faithful to the Lord Jesus. I trust that I would - and believe that, if I were to be in any such situation, I would indeed receive the grace that I needed to remember to "... take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." (Eph 6:13).

Let us never forget those who, on a daily basis, are indeed called upon to show that they are truly His. Let us pray that we, who enjoy so much relative ease in the "west", will be likewise faithful if, and when, real persecution comes to us!