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Friday, 15 December 2017

Meet the Nativity.

Thank you to David Robertson who introduced me to a series of videos produced by "Speak Life" - an organisation that I have known for many years. The videos are available on YouTube, but I plan to publish them here, on my blog, over the next few days. I just know that you will enjoy watching them - I trust that they will speak to every heart. Ignore the date mentioned at the end!!



For our free book offer, visit http://MeetTheNativity.com

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

So, when was Jesus really born?!

Less than a fortnight to go - and it will be Christmas Day. That, of course, as everyone knows, is the day on which the Baby Jesus was born. Well, actually, there are two mistakes in that statement! First of all, there are very many who do not know that this day celebrates the incarnation of the unique Son of God - coming into the world that He had created, in the human flesh that He had created. Many, sadly, seem to think that it was when "Santa Claus"(aka "Father Christmas") was born; or that it is just another excuse for a break from work, parties, special food, loads of alcohol, and presents.

The second error in the statement is that Jesus was born on Dec. 25th. Many will claim that we simply do not know the date of that momentous event, but accept that Dec. 25th. is one of the least likely contenders. However, it is possible to deduce, if not the precise day, certainly a very limited period in which the Christ-child was laid in an animals' feeding-trough.

As I have been discovering over the past few years, one of the problems we face as disciples of that same Jesus is that, too early in its life, the church lost sight of its Hebraic roots. It may be said to have started with a Hellenistic ("Greekised") Jew named Philo of Alexandria who lived from about 20 BC until 50 AD - covering the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus. It was he who, through those who followed his teaching, introduced Greek philosophical ideas into the the church from its earliest days. This led to a departure from the Hebrew mindset, which was totally different from that of the Greeks.

So, we find that if we revert to Hebraic thinking, we can indeed, place the birth of the Lord Jesus to within a week or two! How may we do so? Well, let's start with the record of Luke where we find, in the first chapter, the account of the birth of John, who was to be known as the Baptiser. Zacharias, John's father, was a priest on duty in the Temple in Jerusalem (N.B. the cult of Islam had not yet even been dreamed of!). Luke records that "Zacharias was a member of the Abijah division of the Temple service corps." (1:5; Living Bible Translation). Scholars can show us that this division served in the month of Tamuz - the fourth month in the Hebrew calendar. Elizabeth, Zacharias' wife, conceived shortly after his encounter with the archangel Gabriel (v.24) and, in due course, gave birth to her son.

However, after six months of Elizabeth's pregnancy, a young girl named Mary - a close relative of Elizabeth - also conceived supernaturally. In her case, the conception was even more amazing, as no man was involved. Rather, she conceived through the activity of God the Holy Spirit (v.35). Her conception may be dated as during the month  of Shvat and, nine months later, the Child was born - in the month Tishrei. This is the time of year which, in our Gregorian calendar, is marked by the period of September/October. 

Tishrei is also the time of the year when the Jewish people celebrate Succoth - the Feast of Tabernacles. Is it merely a coincidence that John, in his account of the Gospel record, states that "... the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth;" (1:14), when we know that the word translated "dwelt" is the equivalent of "tabernacled"? We would also note that the original Tabernacle - the forerunner of the Temple - signified the presence of YHWH, the Covenant Name of God, with His chosen people.

I am learning, in these days, to try to see the Scriptures of both the Tanakh (the "Old Covenant") and the Brit Hadashah (the "New Covenant") with a more Hebraic mindset. It doesn't just help me to realise that Yeshua (Jesus) was born at a specific time in the Jewish calendar. It also helps me to understand more of what God would say to me, and us, in these end times. Glory to His Name.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Advocate

The third volume in my "Getting to know you ..." series is almost ready for publication. Regretfully, it will now be into the new year before it is available - too late for a Christmas gift! It is a devotional commentary on the letters of the "beloved disciple", John. Early in his first letter, the apostle makes an amazing statement: "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (2:1).

I am reminded of an incident concerning President Abraham Lincoln of the United States of America or, to be more precise, his son. Apparently, in those far-off days, it was pssible for anyone to come and seek a meeting with the President. One day, a soldier entered the large room, outside his office, and sat down among the many who were waiting to see Mr Lincoln. Shortly afterwards, the President's young son, Tad, came in and was immediately attracted by the soldier in his uniform. Approaching the veteran, he noticed that he had lost an arm in the war. 

The friendly soldier talked with the lad for some time, with no idea as to his identity. He eventually told Tad that he hoped he was not waiting in vain, as he needed to see the President about a very important matter. "That's no problem." the boy exclaimed. "He's my father. I can get you in!" He then ran off and gained admittance to the inner office using a private entrance.

Eventually, a secretary came into the room and notified those who were waiting that the Chief Executive had only a few minutes left, and that he could not consult with anyone else that day. Everyone left the room - except the soldier. The aide assured him that it was useless to wait. The man replied, "The President's son was here, and he has assured me that I could see his father." "You mean little Tad?" asked the aide. "Yes", came the reply. "Well then, you will indeed get in, for he loves that boy, and always yields to his wishes!"

As a disciple of "... Jesus Christ the righteous.", I have Him as my heavenly Advocate. He is the Father's "... beloved Son ..." with  Whom He is "... well pleased." (Matt.3:17; inter al). With Him constantly pleading my cause, I may be assured that each request will be heard - and answered in accordance with the Father's will and purposes. Has He not said that: "... whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you." (John 16:23)? The greatest, most influential Advocate will see that my prayers "get in". 

Is He your Advocate? He can be. If you wish to know more, please feel free to contact me using the e-mail address at the head of the blog.


Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Scottish Saltire.

Here in France, every day is dedicated to one of the "saints" of the Church of Rome. Of course, as I frequently point out, when we turn to the written Word of God, we discover that every true disciple of the Lord Jesus is a saint. Yes, you are reading the words of "St.Brian"!!!

However, today being November 30th means that today's "saint" - Andrew - is also celebrated in Scotland. He is, after all, the patron saint of the country. There is one legend that states that he actually visited Scotland, and preached there. However, whilst that is certainly not an impossibility, other legends are more likely.  One of these claims that, in A.D. 345, Saint Regulus (also known as St.Rule) was instructed by an angel to take some relics (bones) of Saint Andrew from Patras, in modern Greece, to a far-off land. He eventually arrived in Fife on the east coast of Scotland, where he founded the settlement now known by the name of the apostle. Another version recalls how in the 7th century, Saint Wilfrid brought the saint’s relics home with him following a pilgrimage to Rome. The Pictish king, Angus MacFergus, subsequently had them installed at his new monastery of Saint Regulus at Kilrymont, later renamed St. Andrew's. It is unlikely, however, that we shall ever know for certain what the precise link is.

When it comes to the national flag of Scotland, we are on somewhat firmer - if still tenuous! - ground. When Andrew, one of the apostles and brother of Peter, was being crucified by the Romans in A.D. 60, it is said that he believed himself unworthy to be crucified on a cross like that of his Saviour, and so requested that he hang on a ‘saltire’, or X-shaped cross which became his symbol.

Another legend links the adoption of Saint Andrew’s cross as Scotland’s national flag. This recalls that, in A.D. 832, on the eve of a battle between a combined Picts and Scots (Highlanders and Lowlanders. "Sassenachs" are, properly, Lowlanders, and not the English!) army and an invading army of Angles led by King Aethelstan of East Anglia, Andrew appeared to the Pictish king, Óengus II (Angus) and assured him of victory. The following morning a formation of clouds gathered against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, depicting a white saltire that was visible to both sides. The omen inspired the Picts and Scots to win a famous victory over the Angles of King Aethelstan and so the white cross on the blue background was adopted as the national flag of Scotland.

Following Robert the Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the Declaration of Arbroath officially named Saint Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland. However, it was not until 1385 that the saltire appears to have become the official national flag, when the Parliament of Scotland agreed that Scottish soldiers should wear the white cross as a distinguishing mark. In such times flags and banners were important to identify opposing forces in heat of battle.

Whilst its exact origin may have been lost in myth and legend, the flag of Scotland is generally regarded as one of the oldest national flags still in modern use.

So much for the brief history lesson!! The question that may legitimately be asked is "So what?"! To answer that question, I would point to what we really do know about Andrew. As I have already stated, he was the brother of Peter, who became the leader of the apostle band after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus. However, he was so different from his brother! Whilst Peter jumped in with both feet (sometimes in his mouth!), Andrew preferred to stay in the background. Whilst Peter was comfortable speaking to crowds of thousands, Andrew was more of a "personal worker". 

Of course, it was Andrew's "one-to-one" approach that brought Peter into contact with Jesus! (see John 1:41). He was also the one to whom Philip went some Greeks told him that they wanted to speak with the Saviour (Jn12:20ff). And he was the one who had discovered that a young lad had a packed lunch, and brought the boy to Jesus so that thousands could be fed - with loads to spare! (John 6:1-14). He didn't acquire that information by making a public announcement!

Not too many of us are gifted to be a Peter, or a Paul. All of us, surely, if we dare to claim to be disciples of Jesus, ought to be Andrews - people who don't hog the limelight, but who are willing to speak about Jesus to just one person (even if that person is a biological brother!); people to whom others - including co-workers - are willing to turn for assitance; people who are able to get down to the level of a child - and then discover that that same child holds the resources that we need, if we are willing to turn them over to Jesus.

Quite a man was our Andrew! Of course, he is also considered to be the patron saint of Greece, Russia, Barbados, and the ancient Italian town of Amalfi (south of Naples), in whose cathedral, it is claimed, the apostle's remains are entombed.

May each of us endeavour to emulate him, in at least one of his attributes - to the glory of our common Saviour.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Four Gospel records.

It was quite recently that I saw the question: "Why are there four Gospels?" My first response to that question is that there are not "four Gospels", but four accounts of the one Gospel - the Good News about Jesus, the Christ. However, the question is still a valid one: "Why are there four Gospel records?"

The simplest answer comes from the world of policing, where officers will endeavour to obtain as many witnesses as possible to any crime, or incident. Doing so ensures that they have as complete a picture as possible of what happened. Each witness will provide evidence that comes from a slightly different perspective than that of other witnesses.

Chronologically, Mark was the first to write the Gospel record, followed by Matthew, and then Luke. In these three records, known as the Synoptics, the emphasis is on the human nature of the Lord Jesus; in John, the last to be written, the emphasis is on His deity. However, we then discover that each was written for a different "audience"! Matthew wrote especially for Jews; Mark for Romans; Luke for Greeks; and John for disciples of Jesus. All four wrote for the whole world.

In Mark, the Lord Jesus is depicted as the Servant of God; in John as the Son of God (God the Son). In Matthew, He is portrayed as the Ruler of men; in Luke, as unique among men. Matthew and Mark provide the record of His official glories; Luke and John show His personal glories, as Son of Man and Son of God. The 19th century French philospher, historian, and writer, Ernest Rénan, described Matthew's account of the Gospel as "the most important boook ever written", and Luke's account as "the most beautiful book ever written." (although I would certainly not subscribe to many of Rénan's other views!)

Marks record may well be described as "the most concise book ever written"; while John's record surely deserves the description of "the most heavenly book ever written."!

I came across this, anonymous, poetic piece in one of my reference books:

"Matthew - Messiah, Israel's King, sets forth, by Israel slain;
but God decreed that Israel's loss should be the Gentiles' gain.
Mark tells us how, in patient love, this earth has once been trod
by one Who, in a Servant's form, wasyet the Son of God.
Luke, the  physician, writes of a more skilled Physician still, 
Who gave Himself, as Son of Man, to save us from all ill.
John, the beloved of Jesus, sees in Him the Father's Son,
the everlasting Word, made flesh, yet with the Father One."

Why are there four Gospel records? So that the fullest possible picture might be provided of the One Who came that you and I might have - if we choose to accept it - eternal life. Not "pie in the sky when you die", but the very life of the Creator of all that is, in you, here and now!

So the really important question is: "With all of that information, have you accepted His wonderful gift of salvation from sin, and a life so new that it is described as being "born again"? 

And, if not, why not?!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Get back to the Maker's Manual!

This is the last of my wee series based on the writings of the Old Testament prophet, Malachi. We may consider ourselves to be indebted to him for underlining the importance of living in obedience to the commands, and principles, of Almighty God. There were those among his contemporaries - as, indeed there are many today - who attempted to achieve happiness and success by ignoring the moral laws that God has built into the universe. But such a way - then as now - was a way of failure and discontentment. 

That begs the question: "What is involved in living responsibly in an age in which moral issues are somewhat vague, and blurred? An age is which, to refer to the apostle Paul, the bugle is definitely giving an indistinct sound (see I Cor. 14:8). An age in which sexual deviants are deferred to at every turn - in spite of the statistical fact that they make up less than 5% of the population. An age in which so-called "foreign aid" goes from the UK to countries that have nuclear and space programmes, and a despicable record on even the most basic of human rights."

May I suggest that it means developing a set of values based on the written Word of God - and sticking to them even when it is difficult, and costly, to do so? In our 'modern' society, it is often easier to conform than to resist. But we are enjoined to "... not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Rom.12:2). We live at a time when it is more comfortable to compromise than to disagree - but the duty of those of us who make the claim to be disciples of Jesus, is to obey God, and follow His principles, regardless of the personal consequences. By the way, if that sounds even remotely hard, or legalistic, let it also be said that God not only raises the standard to great heights - He also provides, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, the power by which we may attain it. 

The fourfold standard that Malachi raised, almost 2,500 years ago, surely needs to be raised again today. Until we learn to honour God as God; until we make up our minds to expound, and explain, in our congregations and fellowships the importance of walking in His ways; until we resist the pressures of today's society and view marriage as a solemn and binding relationship between one man and one woman; until we recognise that our material possessions are not ours to own, but ours to use; we will remain, and become increasingly, spiritually impoverished and indolent. The time has come - indeed, it may be said to be long past - for disciples of Jesus to have our vision refocused. This can happen, only when we get back to the Bible - the Maker's Manual.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

It's about the money, of course!

The previous three posts have been about the word off YHWH to His people, the Children of Israel, through His prophet Malachi - and some lessons that we may learn for our own situations today, especially if we claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus, the Christ.

The last of YHWH's criticisms concerned the failure of the people to give to Him their tithes and offerings. Indeed, He had a name for such people - he called them "robbers"! "Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing You?’ In your tithes and offerings." (3:8).

As its Creator, everything that exists belongs to God. He is the proprietor; we are the stewards. The giving of the tithe (one-tenth of our income) is an acknowledgement of His ownership over all that we have - including the other nine-tenths of our income! I recall, very clearly, when I was a student at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow, over fifty years ago, the then Superintendent of the Tent Hall - I think that his name was Stanley Collins - came to speak to the student body. The topic he chose was "Tithing"! It was the day that I determined to adopt this Old Testament practice - even although he pointed out that some of us might think that being Bible College students meant that we were giving greatly to the Lord's work, and that with College fees to pay, most of us had little spare cash with which to play about! "You might be given £1 towards your College fees, and think that that was okay. But 2 shillings of that £1 is the Lord's, and should be given directly to His work outwith your College courses. The other 18 shillings may go towards your fees!"

There are, of course, some disciples of Jesus who claim that tithing, as an Old Testament principle, ought not to be carried over into New Testament teaching on the subject of money. After all, they would claim, we live under grace, not law - and that, of course, is correct. However, tithing is a good place to start with one's giving as it establishes a principle that, when learned, opens up the way to bigger and better things. As a disciple of Jesus who has some awareness of what my salvation cost my Saviour, I do not tithe as a matter of law, but as a response of love!

The tithe, of course, is only the starting point! After that comes the freewill offering! Anyone knows that my tithe (in practice, "our" tithe, as my wife and I tithe together!) is 10% of my income. However, the freewill offering is between me and the Lord! One Christian businessman reportedly commented that "God has prospered me so much - now I want to know how much of God's money I may legitimately keep for myself and my family." That is the New Testament order - "How much of God's money may I legitimately keep for myself?" There are those who give their 10%, and think that the remaining 90% belongs to them. It doesn't! Everything that we have, and are, belongs to Him - and if we are to grow and develop spiritual values, then this is something that we must recognise. 

When, especially in the materialist society in which most of us live, you can let go of all of your possessions and let God have them, life takes on a sense of stewardship. Suddenly, you realise that you are handling something on behalf of Another! That does something to the whole of life - it puts sacredness into the secular. Money becomes a message! Jesus said: "You cannot serve God and mammon." (Matt.6:24); but you may certainly serve God with mammon!

YHWH throws out a challenge to the Children of Israel: "Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put Me to the test, says YHWH Sabaoth, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing." (Mal.3:20). This, I suspect, has been interpreted by some disciples of Jesus as a form of financial investment! However, treating it as such is, I believe, a certain way for the principle to fail - and fail utterly! As mentioned above, we must give because of our love for Him Who has given - and continues to give - so much to us.

Have you been robbing God? Perhaps it's time to take a careful look at your finances - and even realise why they may not be as healthy as they might be!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

"I hate divorce!"

The title to this post is in quotation marks because it is a quotation! It is, in fact, the word of YHWH, through His servant and prophet, Malachi, and is the third criticism of the Children of Israel of the time - their failure to uphold the sanctity of their marriage vows. And there are those, even within the church, who think that the Old Testament scriptures are irrelevant!! 

The people, it seems, were no better than the priests at whom we looked in the previous post. They, too, had rejected a solemn agreement given to them by YHWH and, as a result, He had withheld His blessing from them. His message, through Malachi, to those who had broken their marriage vows, was simple, straightforward, and incapable of misunderstanding: "... I hate divorce, says YHWH the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says YHWH Sabaoth. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless." It is interesting, is it not, that God even equates divorce with violence?!

What, we may wonder, would Malachi say if he were alive today? Statistics for the UK are not up-to-date, but the ONS (Office of National Statistics) estimate that some 40% of UK marriages end in divorce. There was a slight drop a couple of years ago, but I would suggest that that was because of the lower number actually entering into a marriage covenant, choosing instead to cohabit, as cohabitation separation is not included in the statistics.

Now I am aware that the issues relating to divorce are often very complex. However, it must be stated that the God-given pattern is one husband with one wife, for life. This is confirmed by the Lord Jesus, Himself: "And Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that He who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery." (Matt.19:3-9).

So, divorce, while hated by Almighty God, is permitted because of the hardness of the hearts of men and women. However, as is so often the case, Jesus takes the matter further by stating that a divorcee who remarries is committing adultery. Not only that, but it is, effectively, perpetual adultery! If I have a "one-night-stand", or even an affair that lasts for many months I am, as a married man, committing adultery. However, like the prodigal son, I may "come to my senses" and if I confess my sin to Father God, and am truly repentant, then I may receive His forgiveness. However, if I divorce my wife, and enter into a second marriage relationship, only a life of celibacy could stop me committing adultery on a regular basis!

I would suggest that if we saw divorce as God sees it, then we would approach marriage problems with a good deal more determination to resolve them than many appear to do at present. Human nature is such that when the initial romance - the "being in love" - begins to fade in a marriage, it is all too easy to develop a roving eye, and a flirtatious attitude, and so slip into an adulterous relationship. May I emphasise that I am not judging anyone! Jesus also made it clear "... that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt.5:28) and, by that standard I, like any red-blooded, heterosexual male, am a serial adulterer! However, the thought is not, in fact, as bad as the deed in God's eyes! Jesus made that point, and others, to show some Pharisees that, just because they did not physically commit certain sins, did not mean that they were sinless!

Divorce and "remarriage" also have a strong bearing on those who would be in leadership within the church - read I Timothy 3: 1-13; Titus 1:5-9. However, if we choose God's ways of faithfulness, and loyalty, then we shall experience His blessing on our marriages. In an age in which there is such an acceptance of divorce as the only viable solution to marital problems (and I reiterate, that I am aware that the issues relating to divorce are often very complex) let those of us who claim to be the adopted children of the heavenly Father, resist such a pressure with all of the energy available to us; and seek to resolve any marital problems by the Word of God, and in the power of God the Holy Spirit. Let us also encourage others to be faithful to their marriage vows, and to seek His help in any difficulty.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Doing it His way; and a massacre!

In the previous post, I mentioned that the Old Testament prophet, Malachi, had four main criticisms of the Children of Israel. The second of these was that they had failed to keep the covenant into which Almighty God had entered with them. 

"For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of YHWH SabaothBut you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says YHWH Sabaoth, ..." (2:7-8).

The covenant to which he refers was a covenant that YHWH had made, with the priests, through Levi (see Numbers 25. Phineas was a descendant of Levi. This is "another example of the Heb. concept of 'corporate personality'; Levi represents the 'tribe of Levi' of the Levites . . ." (New International Bible Commentary. Zondervan), that they would teach the people, accurately and faithfully, all aspects of the divine law. This they had patently failed to do, and so Malachi faces them with this challenging and strong indictment.

However, I would contend that we are experiencing a similar situation in the church in the 21st century (and before!). In an article that I had published, recently, I stated: "Surely the church is intended to be a prophetic voice to the nation – not a subservient reflection of the social norms that, sadly, are so much at odds with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, the Christ! Is it not the case that the established churches that are seeking to emulate society ... .... are slowly dying as they forsake the Word on which they should be founding their message to mankind?" One friend, here in France, often makes the point that the problem in the church is one of ignorance (in the correct definition of the word!) of the Word of God, and I believe that he is absolutely correct. But who is to blame? Surely it is those who have been charged with delivering, and explaining, that Word of God. Is it really being expounded in  the way in which it ought to be?

Now, of course, there are notable exceptions, and I could rhyme off a list of congregations/ fellowships in Scotland in which the Word is faithfully preached, without the addition of 'gimmicks'! However, there are far too many places in which the Word of God is so diluted, diminished, denigrated, denied, and even destroyed, that people leave having heard no divine challenge; no word from God; no revelation from heaven. We may have a semi-professional worship team (or a fine choir and an expensive organ); we may have hearty congregational singing; we may have our programmes to help the poor and downtrodden; we may have regular visiting of the sick; we may have a hundred-and-one wonderful programmes; but if we have no sound Biblical exposition and teaching, then our 'worship services' are a hollow mockery, and an empty pantomime!

I am convinced that, if Malachi were alive today, he would be thundering into the ears of the 'spiritual leadership' of our nations: "... you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your instruction; ..." (v.8). In that article already mentioned, I also wrote that when I consider "... the church adapting its beliefs and practices to conform with the current social zeitgeist, I wonder what Paul would think! That is the Paul who, under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, enjoined that we “be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom.12:2; emphasis added)."

Yesterday, in Texas, a young man deliberately murdered 26 people, and left another 27 seriously wounded in First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. This was no Muslim jihadist. This was no "gun-toting redneck". This was, it would appear, a young man who once taught briefly on a Christian vacation camp, but who had become a militant atheist. It begs the question - that doesn't apply only to the USoA - "What is happening to the teaching ministry in today's church?" Do our young people grasp the full meaning and implication of the Christian faith? Are they being shown how to live in accordance with the values revealed in the written Word of God? Do we provide them with clear Biblical instruction on how to cope with sexual permissiveness, and deviance; problems of authority; matters of morality?

Surely it is time that many in the church - and particularly in its leadership - became less concerned about changing the Gospel to suit society, and started to preach the Gospel that society might be changed! Paul's Holy Spirit inspired words are as relevant today, as ever they have been! It's time that we did it His way!


Friday, 3 November 2017

Only the best is good enough!

Throughout my increasingly long life, I have often been informed - in a negatively critical manner - that I am a "perfectionist"! I was reminded of that when I read these words, in a blog from David Robertson: "... please send us your best – no other sacrifice is good enough for the Lord."


The reason why those words resonated with me is that it is in that area that I willingly plead "Guilty", as charged. The Old Testament prophet, Malachi (he whose book is the final one in translations from the Hebrew), had something to say about the subject. The literal translation of his name is "my messenger", and his ministry consisted of calling God's people - the Children of Israel - back to their spiritual responsibilities, and to a fresh commitment.



Malachi wrote his prophetic message about 450 B.C., at the time when the Children of Israel had returned to the land of Judah, in Canaan, and had succeeded in rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. However, once this had been achieved the people, as had happened so often before in their long history, had become backslidden and idolatrous. Malachi is the prophet, chosen and called by YHWH (the LORD) to reawaken them, and to challenge them to live up to their God-given responsibilities as the Chosen People.



The prophet criticises the people in four main areas, the first of which was their failure to put God first in their list of priorities. They had begun to take Him for granted, and had lost their sense of spiritual need. Worst of all, it was the priests - those who should have been teaching the people and ensuring that they kept the Torah (which is much more than "Law" in our modern, Western, sense) - who were most guilty! Malachi's accusation is specific: "A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a Father, where is My honour? And if I am a Master, where is My fear? says YHWH Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts) to you, O priests, who despise My Name." (1:6). He goes on to make the accusation even more specific by pointing out that the priests, instead of offering unblemished animals for sacrifice, were palming off, on the Almighty, cheap and worthless beasts. "You say, ‘How have we despised Thy Name?’  By offering polluted food upon My altar. And you say, ‘How have we polluted it?’ By thinking that YHWH's table may be despised.  When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that no evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that no evil? Present that to your governor; will he be pleased with you or show you favour? says YHWH Sabaoth." (1:6-8).


Today, of course, animal sacrifices are unnecessary - certainly for disciples of Jesus whose voluntary death has fully paid the penalty for our sin. We are still obliged, however, to honour Almighty God as Father and Master. If we fail to do so, and neglect to give Him His due - in time, money, energy, talents, concerns - then we are no different from those priests from 2,500 years ago. If we are, indeed, disciples of Jesus, this may be the very moment in which we should re-establish our priorities! 

At the end of this section - what we know as the first chapter of the prophecy - are these words of YHWH: "Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to YHWH what is blemished; ..." (v.14; emphasis added). A man who offered an unfit sacrifice in Old Testament times was referred to, by Almighty God, as a 'cheat'! We, too, fall into this category when we refuse, or fail, to give Him our best. As David Robertson said: "- no other sacrifice is good enough for the Lord."

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Reformation.

Having commented, in the previous post, on the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Abortion Act in the UK Parliament, and the almost nine million deaths that have resulted from it, I want to comment, in this post, on a 500th anniversary - that of the nailing, by the German monk Martin Luther, of his "99 Theses" to the door of the church building at Wittenberg. It was that event that started what is known to historians as the Reformation (although there were a number of folk who had raised serious doubts about some of the teaching of the Church of Rome, prior to Luther. By the way, I deliberately use that term as "Roman Catholic" is, in fact, an oxymoron!).

Many are the books that have been written about the Reformation - both its history and its theology - so all that I wish to do is to look, briefly, at what are known as the "Five Solas". These are five basic doctrines/principles that sum up the difference between the Church of Rome and what the Reformers saw as the truth of the written Word of God. Undergirding these five solas is the phrase: ecclesia semper reformanda est, which means”the church is always to be reformed. The very authority of the written Word of God is the subject of the first Sola:

1. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).

Rome did not deny the authority of the Scriptures but, like others, they added to them! In their case, they taught the authority of the church (of Rome); its traditions; its councils; its pope. The Reformers disagreed! They claimed, and taught, that all Christian practice and doctrine should be based on the clear teaching of the Bible.
Of course, God Himself has established certain authorities: the state (Rom.13:1ff); elders in the church (I Tim.5:17; I Pet.5:5); parents (Eph.6:1); but Scripture alone is truly ultimate. If any of these other authorities depart from Biblical teaching, they are to be rejected.

The Scriptures are the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient Word of God. When the Bible speaks, God’s people should hear, heed, and obey the Word by His grace. Not only this - the Bible proclaims the Truth of the other solas, namely that salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ. Man has not been saved for his own purposes but for God’s purpose and glory. Also, from beginning to end, the Biblical record points towards the Lord Jesus. So, the second of the Solas concerned 


2. Solus Christus (Christ alone).

The issue that started Luther on his journey of discovery concerned the sale of "indulgences". Put simply, this practice stated that one could obtain forgiveness of sin by making a cash donation to the church, for which one received a piece of paper stating that the donor's soul was ready to be admitted to heaven! The practice was started by Leo X in order to raise funds to rebuild St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Failure to purchase indulgences meant that one had to pay for one's sins in purgatory - the unBiblical Roman concept of a "limbo" in which the dead may finish atoning for their sins.

Luther was passionately opposed to this practice, and he and the Reformers taught the Biblical truth that salvation is through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus, on the cross - and that alone! As far as I know, the sale of "indulgences" within the Roman church no longer takes place. However, there is still great store put on the intercessions of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and of the so-called 'saints' (every true believer is, in New Testament terms, a "saint" - just read the NT letters!). However Mary, though honoured among women, cannot help in the area of salvation. In fact, she herself had to be saved by the finished work of Christ in His perfect life and vicarious death. This is why she could say that she rejoiced in “God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47). What is true of Mary is also true of all the so-called 'saints' of the Church of Rome. There is no treasure chest of merit in heaven out of which the church can draw saving merit. Nor do we need a priest to intercede for us. Indeed, through Peter, God the Holy Spirit states clearly that all disciples of Jesus "... are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, ..." (I Peter 2:9; emphasis added). Salvation is through Christ alone Who is Himself “... the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6; note the definite article as emphasised).  Charles Spurgeon said, “I have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.”

The third of the Sola principles is


3. Sola Gratia (Grace alone).


Sinful man can never - absolutely never - be reconciled to Almighty God by his own efforts. I cannot earn His fellowship; I cannot buy His fellowship; I do not deserve His fellowship. All that I - and you! - deserve is His judgement and wrath. The only reason that I may be the recipient of His great salvation (Heb.2:3) is by His grace - His unmerited favour and blessing. This is often defined using the word as an acronym: God's Riches At Christ's Expense. In Jesus, Almighty God paid the penalty for my sin and so satisfied both His justice and His love. As Paul states, in his letter to the believers in Ephesus: "... 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." (3:8-9). What a wonderful gift it is - and it is yours if only you will open yourself to Him (Who already knows you through and through!) and, in repentance and faith, accept it. And that faith is the subject of a fourth Sola:


4. Sola Fide (Faith alone).


The Reformers rightly taught that all of our Christian life is by grace from beginning to end. Not only is the gift of Christ a gift from God, but the very faith required to lay hold of that gift is itself a gift. One of the great themes of Reformation theology was "justification by faith", and not by any declaration of the church (of Rome), or through penance, indulgences, or any other means. Justification is the declaration, by Father God, that we are treated as sinless in His sight because of the atoning sacrifice of the Son, at Calvary. In the English language, it is sometimes explained as God treating me "just as if I'd" never sinned - even although I have sinned; do sin; and will continue to sin while in this mortal body that I inhabit.. Of course, filled out correctly, the doctrine should be: "Justification is the act of God by which He declares sinners to be righteous because of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone." The final Sola is


5. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone).


The bottom line is that the Triune God receives the glory and honour for my salvation. Paul wrote to the early disciples in Rome: "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?' 'Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?' For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory for ever. Amen." (11:33-36; emphasis added). The Psalmist had the same aim in mind when he wrote: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give gloryfor the sake of Thy steadfast love and Thy faithfulness!" (Ps.115:1; emphasis added). This Sola emphasises the the glory of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - as the goal of true life. As the compilers of the Shorter Catechism were later to put it, in the Q & A form of the catechism: "What is the chief end (i.e. prime purpose) of man?" "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever." (emphasis added).


These five teachings were at the heart of the Reformation. Would that they were at the heart of the church, worldwide, today! As I look around, I see so much of the church that, rather than being a prophetic voice to the nations, is no more than a subservient reflection of the social norms that, sadly, are so much at odds with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, the Christ! T.F.Torrance wrote: “The world likes a complacent, reasonable religion, and so is always ready to revere some pale Galilean image of Jesus, some meagre anaemic Messiah, and to give Him a moderate rational homage. . . . The truth is that we have often committed adultery with alien ideologies, confounded the Gospel with the religions of nature, and imbibed the wine of pagan doctrines and false principles and deceitful practices. We have sought to bend the will of God to serve the ends of man, to alter the Gospel and shape the Church to conform to the fashions of the times. We have yielded to pride and to the lust for power. We have been intimidated by the might of the beast through society, or the crowd, or the state, and betrayed, again and again, the cause of our Saviour.” (The Apocalypse Today; James Clarke & Co Ltd; 1961; p.155). His words show, sadly, how far the church has departed from those early Reformation principles.

Let those of us who seek to see the Name of Jesus honoured and exalted pray that, in these last days, the Lord will move, by the Spirit, in cleansing and purifying power throughout the church in the UK, and elsewhere, removing all that would seek to dilute, denigrate, diminish, deny, and even destroy, the true Gospel message, and revive His true people that there might be, in these end times, a mighty ingathering of precious souls to the Kingdom of God - and all to His glory.

Footnote! To the best of my knowledge, there is no "set in stone" order to the Five Solas. However, the order in which I have given them above is not, I realise, the most common. I use it because I find it to be more "consecutively accurate"! By this I mean that it is the Scriptures that tell me of the Christ, and the grace of God that I may receive by faith, and all to His glory.

Some of the words and concepts used here are dealt with, more fully, in my first two books (vol.3 currently being proofread - available, DV, early in the New Year). Please see the links at the top of the page.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Remembered, not celebrated!

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passing into UK law of the Abortion Act - that heralded the deaths of almost nine million (9,000,000) human beings in the place in which they should have been most protected: their mothers' wombs. In the space of those fifty years, almost nine million  unborn human lives have been deliberately destroyed, in England, Scotland, and Wales - the vast majority of them for no other reason than being an "inconvenience" to the mother!

I published a four-part series of posts on the subject of abortion in August 2014. If you missed it, or have forgotten what I shared, then you might wish to scroll down to the Blog Archive (right-hand-side); click on 2014; then click on August; then click on the four relevant posts. Alternatively, you may try clicking on this link


and scrolling down to the first of the four posts before reading the others in chronological order.

Of course, fifty years ago, when the UK Parliament debated the Abortion Bill, introduced by David Steel (Liberal) as a private members bill, there were all kinds of assurances given. This was merely to take abortion out of the hands of the infamous "back-street abortionists"; there would have to be agreement between two independent medical practitioners; there would never be "abortion on demand". So much for the assurances of politicians! Of course, in the intervening years we have seen the same kind of situation repeated with "civil partnerships" that would never become "marriages"; with the decriminalisation of homsexuality that would never become the condoning of deviant sexual acts; with "human rights" (that are not, genuinely, human 'rights' at all) that would never infringe on the freedom of others; with no intention of introducing a ban on smacking - that, just months later, becomes the introduction of a Scottish Parliament Bill to do just that. You get the picture?!

Of course, changes have been made to the law over a period of fifty years. And further changes would be made if some people were to have their way! There are efforts made to make abortion legal - right up until the time of birth! Imagine, just before a sound and healthy child is to be delivered, it is murdered in its mother's womb - and that would be legal!

Some of the reasons given for abortion requests are, quite frankly, ludicrous. So many tests are available today, during the pre-natal period. So a child may be murdered because it is the "wrong" gender! That, of course, is still officially illegal; but the recent case brought by Aisling Hubert against two doctors who confessed, and were recorded, to performing abortions on these terms, was taken over by the English Crown Prosecution Service - and dropped "for lack of evidence"! Others discover that their unborn child will have some form of physical disability - and decide that parental love simply doesn't stretch far enough to handle the anticipated "burden" of caring for such a child. Far easier just to have it "dealt with" now! There are even cases of children being aborted because it has been discovered that they will be born with nothing more serious than a "hare lip"!

However, by far the greatest number of abortions (I have read figures as high as 95%) are for personal and social convenience. A female indulges in unprotected sexual intercourse; discovers, a couple of months later, that she is pregnant, and decides that her career/social life/personal selfishness is unwilling to accept the responsibility for this unwanted intrusion to her life. No problem! Just "get rid of it"! The final post in that earlier series mentioned above, deal with some of the common methods of abortion as carried out in the UK. I would love to have every female who seeks such a procedure to be obliged to sit through a full video that explained, graphically, those methods, before being allowed to make a decision on whether, or not, she really wanted to go through with the abortion!

Of course, there will always be those who insist that "It's the woman's body." Wrong! The unborn child is a totally separate, unique, individual that is, for approximately nine months, dependent upon it's mother's body to provide it with protection and nutrition. Of course this dependence continues for a considerable time after the birth! Is infanticide, therefore, fully acceptable?! Others will ask: "What if the female has been raped?" Personally, I consider rape to be a worse crime than murder, as the victim has to live with the memory of the experience for the rest of her (and sometimes, his!) life. However, this is certainly a case in which two wrongs do not make a right! Does having an abortion make the memory and the trauma of the rape disappear? Of course not. It only adds to it - and it makes an unborn child pay the ultimate price for the crime of its biological father!

Today's Scotsman newspaper, in what some may interpret as somewhat cynical timing, reports that the Scottish Government, yesterday, gave women in Scotland the right to take the so-called “abortion pill” at home. So, while Nicola Sturgeon insists that Scotland needs immigrants, she is encouraging the deliberate murder of the indigenous population! http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/scottish-women-can-take-the-abortion-pill-at-home-1-4597661

There is, in my opinion, only one valid situation when an abortion may be the lesser of two regretful options, and that is when the life of the mother can be genuinely shown to be at risk. However, that would cover less than 1% of the abortions carried out in Great Britain in any given year!

Abortion! A glaring example of "man's inhumanity to man", and something that saddens the very heart of Almighty God. In a couple of weeks we will be saying "We will remember them" as we think of those who died in two world wars, and in many other conflicts. Let us also remember those who have died before they even had the opportunity to breathe. We certainly cannot 'celebrate'!

Monday, 23 October 2017

Love - real love!

I suspect that most of us have had times in our lives when we have been really "down". It isn't a pleasant place to be - but we usually manage to rise out of those dumps again.

Remember Gomer? We thought about her a couple of posts ago. She was the wife of the Old Testament prophet, Hosea who, after bearing him a child was unfaithful to him and bore two more children - to other men! Each of these children was given, by Hosea, a prophetic name as they, like his marriage, were to be an object lesson to the Children of Israel. The threat contained in their names was of divine judgement on a nation that had been as unfaithful to YHWH, the Covenant God of their forefathers, as Gomer had been to Hosea. Her infidelity symbolised Israel's spiritual impurity and corruption; and the names of the children reflected God's revulsion at the moral and spiritual condition of the ten northern tribes.

We are not given any specific information on what happened to Gomer after the birth of her third child, but the language of chapter 2 of the prophetic book indicates that she left Hosea completely - presumably seeking out her old lovers (remember that she had been a prostitute before her marriage) and dropping back into her blatantly promiscuous lifestyle. Hosea, however, resisted any desire he might have had, to bring her back - because, of course, he was 'under orders' from God to await the right time. As Hosea waited, he came to understand that his own situation, painful and distressing 'though it was, was as nothing compared to the hurt in the very heart of YHWH.

God allowed Gomer to hit rock bottom before He impressed upon His servant the need to find her and bring her home. When Hosea tuned in to God one morning, he received the message "Go, and get your wife again and bring her back to you and love her." (3:1). Hosea sets out to find Gomer - and discovers her in a slave market - a piece of human flesh for sale! The purchase price was "... fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley." (3:2). Now that may not mean much to you and to me - but it was a very low price: she was nothing more than a knockdown lot, fit only for the bargain counter; or the bin in a bookseller's that is labelled "remainders" (books that are marked down to less than £1 because no-one is buying them at their marked price). We may only speculate why this was the case for Gomer. Had her profligate lifestyle taken its toll on even her physical body and looks? 

We may also speculate on the sight of Hosea walking into the market-place to buy back his bride! Doubtless the gossip-mongers would have carried the story far beyond the immediate locality! Can you imagine some of the things that they would have said? "How could Hosea - this man who claimed to be a prophet of God - lower himself to do such a thing? She simply wasn't worth it!" However, even as they would have talked among themselves, YHWH was quietly using the situation to bring home to there own hearts the message of His own faithfulness, and undying love.

When Hosea arrives home with his wife, he explains that there will be no physical relationship between them. To Gomer, 'love' appears to have been nothing more than a matter of sexual activity. This was what she had lived for in the past. Now, she must learn what love, and marriage, are really all about! God's bride needed to learn a similar message: Israel will be a long time without a king or a prince, and without an altar, temple, priests - or even idols! (v.4). Like Gomer, Israel - the Northern Kingdom - was taken up with the physical side of her relationship with YHWH: leaders, sacrifices, rituals, and ceremonies. She used religion as a substitute for relationship, as Gomer had used sex as a substitute for true love. 

So what has all of that to do with you and me in the early years of the 21st century AD? If we claim to be disciples of Jesus, it is surely a call to examine ourselves! Not other people, but ourselves. How easy it is to allow familiarity to breed - if not contempt, certainly a dangerous complacency! How easy it is to convince ourselves that "going through the motions" is sufficient. How easy it is to think that if we are saved, then that is all that matters! We forget, so easily, that we are enjoined, in the words of Paul, to "... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Phil.2:12-13). The apostle also remind us that, while it is true that it is "... 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." it is also the case that "... we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph.2:8-10; emphasis added). The problem arises when we depend on our works rather than His grace; when we 'put the cart before the horse'!

God has illustrated the depth of His love to us at Calvary. Let us seek, by the help of the indwelling Spirit, to return that love in all that we say, and do. It will be to His glory - and for our own good!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Propaganda!

Once again, the world is being urged to act on a lie! Someone named Mohammed Mahmoud has posted the following on Facebook:  

Mohammed Mahmoud: appealing to the world for funds for Gaza· 
Help make it happen for Gaza's children in need of clothes for Warm Winter.  FreeGaza

This is the accompanying picture - which would surely touch any but the hardest heart.


The only problem is that this picture was 'lifted' from The Los Angeles Times - and shows a boy in the Philippines, with the caption:

"A Filipino boy stands behind a vehicle to keep out the cold wind in a heavy downpour. Tropical Storm Meari will make its presence known as it strengthens into a Category 1 typhoon sometime between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. It will continue on its northwesterly course to the northeast of the Philippines."

The picture was taken on June 23rd, 2011 - more than six years ago!

It is yet another example of the blatant, and false, propaganda that is pushed out by those who wish only to see the nation State of Israel condemned and, eventually, destroyed. I am reminded of another "damning photograph" from a few years ago. It was captioned as being of a "Palestinian" home that, allegedly, had been targeted by Israeli troops who slaughtered the family of innocent "Palestinians"! However, closer inspection of the photograph showed a mezuzah on one of the doorposts of the home. For those who do not know, a mezuzah is a small container - made of wood, metal, or some other suitable material - that contains the words of the Shema written on a small piece of parchment. The Shema is the text of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, and is recited on a daily basis by every orthodox Jew (and even many who would not class themselves as Orthodox). It is certainly not something that would be found in, or on, any "Palestinian" Arab Muslim home! The picture was later shown to have been of an Israeli home, targeted by Muslim militia, and in which a whole family of Jews had been slaughtered! Of course, the MSM didn't see any need to publish that information!

It is also worth pointing out that the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza, and the dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the "Strip" had been completed by September 12, 2005. So much for Mr Mahmoud's tag of "FreeGaza"! More than twelve years out of date!

Please take the anti-Israel reports that you hear so constantly with a very large pinch of the proverbial salt. 50% of them are lies - and the other 50% are not true!

L'chaim Ysrael!

Sh’alu shalom yerushalayim.

Baruch Haba B'Shem Adonai.  

Gadol Adonai mehulal me’od.



Wednesday, 18 October 2017

"Telling", or "Showing"?

During some long-needed tidying-up in my study this afternoon, I discovered a piece that I had published in a church magazine - a very long time ago! However, as I read it, I decided that it might be worth publishing on this blog. It's a true story with, I trust, a clear lesson!

We were travelling through the Belgian city of Brussels, en route to visit friends in Germany, when we missed a turning! It was already quite late in the evening; it was dark; our children were young; and with neither map, nor knowledge, of the city we were completely lost!

I stopped at a petrol station and, in faltering French, asked for directions to the airport as we had arranged our overnight stop close to it. The directions were willingly given - but completely in French, and at a speed that left us barely any wiser than we were before. 

Our next attempt at finding help was somewhat better as, at an all-night café, we at least received some directions in the English language. However, by the time that we had crossed over the same little bridge for the third time, we had realised that we were getting no closer to our destination.

Eventually, just two simple words brought clarity to the situation. We asked a young man, who was topping up the radiator in his own car (it really was a long time ago!), if he could help. "Certainly", he replied, "Follow me!" and, as we did so, we quickly arrived at the main road leading to the airport, and were then able to find our planned destination.

FOLLOW ME! There is a world of difference between telling someone the way, and showing them the way. In I Cor.11:1, Paul issues an amazing invitation to his readers. "Follow my example," he writes, "as I follow the example of Christ." Writing to the believers in Thessalonica, he uses similar language: "You became imitators of us, and of the Lord." (I Thess.1:6). Jesus, Himself, not only said that the wise man is the one who "... hears these words of Mine, and puts them into practice." (Matt.7:24); He also said: "I am the Way ..." (Jn.14:6), "Follow Me." (Mk.1:17).

You (if you are one!) and I may be able to tell others how to live the life of the disciple of Jesus, but it is a different thing to show it! Paul was saying, in effect, "Doing as I do will ensure that you are walking in the footsteps of Jesus." It's as we live "... in the fear of the LORD." (Ps.34:11) that we "... live lives worthy of God, who calls [us] into His kingdom and glory." (I Thess.2:12), and are able to say to others who would seek Jesus - "Follow me!"