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Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Amazing!

I confess to having recently become a most ardent fan of Amira. If the name means nothing to you, then permit me to enlighten you. Amira Willighagen, to give her her full name, is a Dutch girl of only 13 years of age who, since her appearance in "Holland's got talent", about four years ago, has taken the classical music world by storm. Even at nine years of age, the maturity, tone, and richness of her voice was amazing. In the ensuing four years, it has only improved - especially with her breath control (as this clip displays!)!


Amira really is, in my opinion, amazing! She is extraordinary! I wonder, are you amazed by the extraordinary? Perhaps it is not in the sphere of classical music, but in sport; in culinary art; in literary output; or whatever. 

What about the words and miracles of Jesus, the Christ? Sometimes, is it not the case, that in our relationship with the central Figure of human history, we have developed, if not contempt (and I trust that that is not the case!) but a familiarity that is not too far removed from it?  Sometimes, is it not the case, that we fail to respond with amazement as did the first-century eye-witnesses?

For example, those early witnesses marvelled at His miraculous power. Four friends brought a lame man to Jesus for healing, letting him down, on a pallet, from the roof. "And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in His spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” - He said to the paralytic - “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this! (Mark 2:5-12; emphasis added).

They were awestruck by His presence. After the record of the Transfiguration, we read that: "... when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd about them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Him, were greatly amazed, and ran up to Him and greeted Him." (Mark 9:14-15; emphasis added).

They were astounded by His extraordinary knowledge. "And when Jesus had finished these parables, He went away from there, and coming to His own country He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?" (Matt.13:53-54; emphasis added).

Sadly, some who were astonished by Jesus' words and works later became offended by His teachings, and turned away for Him in unbelief. However, for others, their amazement led to faith, and new life, and worship.

How long has it been, I wonder, since you and I have been truly amazed by the live of Jesus; by the thought of His atoning sacrifice; by the evidence of His wonderful care? May we join our voices with ".. the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, “To Him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!” (Rev.5:11-13).

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Don't miss the flight!

A little earlier, I was speaking on the 'phone with my younger daughter. She was in the Departure Lounge at Glasgow International Airport, awaiting her call for the flight that would take her to her holiday destination. As we ended the call, I commented: "Don't miss the flight!"

As I made that "throwaway" comment, I realised that it was more significant than had been intended. I thought of all of the speculation about what may happen on Sept. 23rd - now less than four weeks away. By the way, "Answers in Genesis" have published their own response to the many questions that they have received about this date. You may read that response at


I liked their final point - a point that I made when I posted on the subject almost a fortnight ago: "People who get excited about supposed signs miss the point that Jesus made (Matthew 24:36–51). Instead of setting dates, we ought to be ready for His return at any moment. Are you ready?"

My daughter had certainly made certain that she was ready for her flight. She was at the airport in plenty of time; she had checked her boarding pass; she had handed over her hold baggage; she had checked that there was nothing that was forbidden in her cabin baggage; she had already made her hotel reservation.

We have no way of knowing what, if anything, will happen on September 23rd, 2017. However, there is one certainty - that a day will come, and perhaps it is sooner than many suspect, when: "... the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the shofar (ram's horn) of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord." (I Thess.4:16-17). 

On that day, it will only be those who have prepared who will rise. That preparation involves an acceptance of my own sinfulness, and the confession of my sins. I involves the acceptance that I can do nothing about my sin, that separates me from the heavenly Father; that my "... iniquities have made a separation between [me] and [my] God, and [my] sins have hid His face from [me] so that He does not hear." (Is.59:2). I then need to believe, and accept, that in Jesus, the Christ, Father God has paid the just penalty for my sins, and that submitting myself to Him, as Saviour, and as Lord, makes me justified in the eyes of the Father.

If I have not taken those steps; if I have not accepted 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." (Eph.2:8-9), then I am going to miss that flight - not to a holiday destination, but to my eternal destiny!

So, are you ready? Have you made all of the necessary preparation? Please, whatever you do, "Don't miss the flight"! Be able to sing, with the Gaither Vocal Band (Bill Gaither, Mark Lowry, David Phelps, Guy Penrod):



Friday, 25 August 2017

Seven lessons from seven letters!

Having completed, in my personal devotions this morning, chapters 2 and 3 of the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to John, I want to share just a little about them. These two chapters contain the seven letters to seven different Christian Fellowships, sent by the Lord Jesus and, while one may preach a sermon on each them (and I have done so, on more than one occasion), I want to share just one lesson from each that will, I trust, prove to be of some help, encouragement, or even challenge, to those who read this post!

1. The church at Ephesus

The main lesson here is that this was a church that was "resting on its laurels." Having commended them, the Saviour then shows that He knows all about them: "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first." (2:4).

How easy it is, at the beginning of any project, to be filled with excitement and enthusiasm. However, as days become weeks; weeks become months; and months become years; some of that excitement and enthusiasm fades. In a specifically Christian context, this surely applies to the devotion to the Lord Jesus that is often so characteristic of the new believer. Sadly, some can "get into a rut" - even in Christian service. They go through the motions - but it is all a routine, without true love and fervour.

One of the lessons from the Lord's letter to the Ephesians (and Paul's letter majors on the same theme!) is that we must keep the fire burning brightly, if we are to serve fully, and faithfully.

2. The church at Smyrna 

The main lesson here is that appearances can be deceiving. However, for Smyrna, the deception is on the positive side: "I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) ..." (2:9). This group of believers were apparently weak and without influence. They were a very small minority. Yet - they were rich with regard to eternal matters. It is so easy for a minority (and true disciples of Jesus are certainly a minority in the UK at the present time!) to lose heart; to imagine that their cause is hopeless; that they might as well submit to the current "zeitgeist". 

This letter is an encouragement to perseverance. Perhaps that is why the Lord exhorts them: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer." (2:10) - words that are undoubtedly much more meaningful to those in the persecuted church of some 215 million people in more than 50 countries worldwide - and assures them that even our testing is under His control, and limited according to His will. (see the rest of v.10).

3. The church at Pergamum

This is a church that compromised. Oh, the letter starts off with commendation that shows that even the death of one of their number had not encouraged any other to deny the Lord. However, Jesus goes on to say "But I have a few things against you ..." (2:14-15). What He had against them was the tolerance (now where have I heard that word before?!) shown to heretical teachers. I have written in the margin of my Bible: "Even a church that withstands external pressure may be infected by internal heresy. The same is true of an individual!"

The lesson we may take from this letter is that it is always dangerous to compromise. Yet, as I look at so much of the established denominations in the UK, I see a great deal of compromise; and, sadly, I see a lot in the lives of individuals as well.

4. Thyatira

Here, again, is the accusation of compromise. However, it is towards the end of the letter that we read: "... I am He Who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve." (2:23; emphasis added). I was involved, recently, in an online discussion with a gentleman whom I have never met, and whom I may never meet. He was objecting to another contributor's reference to 'good works' in the context of the Christian faith. Now, I agreed fully with him 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." (Eph.2:8-9). However, I had to point out to him that Paul continues, in that same letter: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph.2:10; emphasis added).

Our good works do not, and cannot, save us. Only the shed blood of the Lord Jesus is sufficient for that. However, I am saved to serve - and that involves the good works that Father God has prepared for me. When I stand before the Judgement Seat of the Christ, I will be judged according to what I have done "... in the body". (II Cor.5:10).  The apostle also writes that: "... no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (I Cor.3:11); but continues: "...each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done." (v.13 - read the whole passage!)

So, one major lesson from this letter is the need to remember that being"in Christ" and with Him in me, is not an excuse to sit back and do as little as possible!

5. Sardis

This letter begins, in some ways, in a similar manner to that to the church at Smyrna - but it is a mirror image! "I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead."! (3:1). Appearances are, once again, deceptive. This time, however, external activity is covering up internal decay, and even death. This was a church that had grown comfortable, and content, and was living on the reputation of former days. My marginal note here is that "It is possible to be active without being saved", and I refer to Matt.7:21-23.

The lesson from this letter is , surely, that we should not allow ourselves to become so comfortable in our churches, and in our personal lives as disciples of Jesus, lest we find ourselves shrivelling up and dying!

6. Philadelphia

If I could choose to be a member of any of these seven churches, this would be my choice! The believers in Philadelphia was a church that seized its opportunities. It is the only one of the seven that receives no criticism whatsoever. It was not a powerful church in worldly terms, but it was a faithful church. "... I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept My Word and have not denied My Name." (3:8). This is why the Lord has set before them an open door (v.8) - the symbol of opportunity! It is surely true that, those who are faithful in small things are given greater responsibility. That is certainly one of the lessons from Jesus' parable of the Talents (see Matt.25:14ff).

One lesson from this letter is that we should seize every opportunity for service that the Lord lays in our path. Indeed, we should be constantly looking for such opportunities for service, that others "... may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt.5:16).

7. Laodicea

This is the church that was so mediocre, the Lord was ready to spew it out of His mouth - in other words, He was saying "You make me sick!" (3:16). What a sorry state this church was in! They said: "... I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing;" (3:17); but the Lord saw that they were "... wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." (v.17). What an indictment for a group of people who claimed to be disciples of "... the faithful and true witness ..." (3:14)!

When I read about this church, I find myself thinking of the so-called "mega-churches" that seem to abound in our own day - and I wonder is the Lord saying the same thing about some (if not all) of them! However, note that certain familiar words are from this letter: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears M y voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me." (3:20). These words, used so often in evangelistic rallies, were spoken to a church! My marginal note: "The tragedy: Jesus, the Lord, the Light, the Life of the church is locked out." However, there is always hope. So, in v.19 we read: "Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent." The footnote that I have written for that verse reads: "The Lord still loved these 'lukewarm' believers - but chastens as a sign of that love" cf. Prov.3:12; Heb.12:6ff; (inter al)."


And one lesson? We must always beware that we do not spend so much time building our own 'kingdom', that we forget the Kingdom of God.

Seven lessons, from seven letters. May they be blessed to the hearts of all who read them.




Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Game of Thrones.

The more we look at the world in which we live, the more we might conclude that the people who are corrupt, and violent, and untrustworthy, outnumber those who are not! What else would account for the real-life evil and violence that fills our newspapers, and other news media, and that forms so much of the make-believe world created by the entertainment industry - with the exponential increase in computerised graphics taking the whole genre to a frighteningly new level.

One example of the latter is, I am led to believe, the almost cultic "Game of Thrones". I have never accessed this "programme", and have neither the intention nor desire to do so. However, Jim Denison wrote about it, just last week. In that post he explained that "... Internet reviews are so abundant that it's not hard to identify reasons for the show's enormous popularity. Each of them says something frightening about our culture today.

One: The plots are unpredictably complex. As Forbes notes, "Central characters are killed, psychopaths claim power, weddings become bloodbaths, and bad guys develop consciences as time passes." The show is built on the premise that there is no logic to life, that we live in a chaotic world with no central purpose or direction.
Two: The show embraces amorality. "Good" characters make horrific mistakes, while "bad" characters act redemptively. One psychologist lauds the "progressive tolerance" the show legitimizes. In a postmodern culture that views all truth as personal and subjective, the characters legitimize our rejection of right and wrong.
Three: All sexuality is endorsed. Rape, lesbianism, sex between siblings, prostitution, and other acts so despicable I won't mention them here—all are regular fare. As millions of people watch such perversion, they are desensitized and far more likely to embrace the "sexual liberation" the show articulates.
Four: Violence is normalized. Heads are crushed, people are stabbed through the eye, victims are burned alive, mass murder is depicted graphically. Why is this a problem? Exposure to media violence is clearly linked to violent acts as watching violence changes brain patterns and alters behaviour." (Denison Forum, 13-08-17).
Of course a disregard for God's standards, and the lack of godly fear, are not just modern phenomena that depend on modern technology and communications! The same kind of situation prevailed several thousand years ago, in the time of Noah. Indeed, the situation then was even worse! The only person who found favour with Almighty God was Noah himself. (Gen.6:8)! However, because Noah believed God's warnings about the flood that would destroy human, and animal, life on planet Earth (with the exception of those who were to be in the Ark) he took God seriously and prepared the Ark in accordance with God's directions. 
Noah displayed at least two character traits that should guide your life and mine. First of all, he  "... was a righteous man, blameless in his generation;" and one who "... walked with God." (Gen.6:9). Secondly, when he received a command from God, he didn't organise a consultation; form a committee; or look the other way. He was "... moved with godly fear, ..." (Heb.11:7; ASV) to take action. This "godly fear" was not some kind of cowering dread, but a healthy reverence and respect for the holy and omnipotent Creator.
As various cities around the world are shocked at the deaths and injuries caused by Muslim extremists in just the past few days, are we willing to obey God, as Noah did, and take a stand against the tide of evil in our world? Do we pray for those who have been bereaved; those who are injured, and traumatised? Or are we content that it is NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)?
Of course, as the Book of the Revelation of Jesus, that I am currently using in my private devotions, makes clear, these are all indications that we are in the "end times". That being the case, we should surely ensure that we are ready for the rapture of the saints of God, and that as many others as possible are also ready. Then we can truly say: "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev.22:20), and be among those "... who have loved His appearing." (II Tim.4:8). 

Friday, 18 August 2017

Revelation - Part 2

It is highly unlikely that I will be able to publish a post every day until I reach the end of the Book of the Revelation of Jesus, or even until September 24th, but here goes with a second offering!

This morning I read the remainder of what we refer to as the first chapter. Of course, the original was not written in chapters and verses - that was a much later innovation to make it easier for a specific phrase, sentence, or paragraph, to be looked up.

Turning to the margin of my study Bible (a wide-margined one) I have noted, beside vs.12-16:

"Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands One like a Son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round His breast; His head and His hair were white as white wool, white as snow; His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters; in His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength."

that this is a word-picture of "The majesty of the King of kings, and Lord of lords. His garments symbolise a Judge-King." He is, indeed, the risen, glorified, exalted Son of God Who has the authority to judge all of mankind - including His own people (see I Peter 4:17). 

The Revelation is, of course, full of symbolism - which is why many today find it difficult to understand, and why so many interpret it to suit their own ideas. In v.20, the risen Saviour refers to "... the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, ..." However, as I have noted in the margin, the word 'mystery' "... is not used in the modern sense of 'something that cannot be understood' (the very opposite of 'revelation'!), but as something that is waiting to be revealed and which will, when correctly explained, convey understanding."

Of course, as I pointed out, yesterday, it was initially sent out to a Church that was undergoing great persecution from the Roman authorities. The late John Stott comments: "The placing of this vision of Christ right at the beginning of the book is significant. This book is an unveiling or revealing. The Christians were a pitiably small remnant, persecuted by mighty foes. To all outward appearance their situation was hopeless. But it is only as Christ is seen for what He really is that anything else can be seen in its true perspective. So for these persecuted ones it was important that first of all the glory and the majesty of the risen Lord be brought out." 

You and I may not be undergoing the persecution that believers at the end of the first, and beginning of the second, centuries suffered - and that so many, in some fifty countries around the world, are suffering today - but we, too, need to be constantly reminded of Who Jesus is. He is not merely a great man; an excellent teacher; a good example. He is all of that - but He is also God the Son, the second Persona (not a typo - see my book, "Great Words of the Faith", the chapter on the Trinity) of the Godhead; the Saviour Who voluntarily gave His life that your sins, and mine, might be forgiven.

Of course, that wonderful free gift of salvation, whilst available to all, is only realised by those who come to Him, in repentance and faith, and who seek to live their lives for Him. Have you done that? If not, why not?! It would be the most momentous decision of your life - and the only one, the results of which stretch into eternity.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Revelation - is it really about the future?

Yesterday, I completed my journey through the Book of Psalms during my private devotions. The question, then, is always "To which Book/theme do I now turn?" In the light of the previous post,I found myself, this morning, in the Book of the Revelation! This post is just sharing some thoughts on the first few verses - but I may well return to the Book (at least until Sept 23rd!).

The opening words of the Book are of great importance - but are often quickly skimmed over! They read: "The revelation of Jesus Christ, ..." Did you notice that?  Beside these words, in the margin of the specific copy of the Word of God that I use for my personal devotions, I have noted: "The prime purpose of the Book - a Person, not a prophecy!" Of course, as is not unusual in the words of the Bible, there is another meaning that does not contradict the first, and that is that the revelation being given proceeds from the Lord Jesus - having been given to Him by the Father. However, it is important that, in reading this amazing, and often confusing, Book, that we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

We may also note that, although the Revelation is sent to seven specific Christian fellowships (v.4), it is also meant for any reader: "Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near." (v.3). Those last five words have caused some to doubt the whole Book! If, as is as certain as is possible, John received this revelation towards the end of the first century AD, how could the time be "near"? We are now living at a time more than 1900 years later! Did John get it all wrong?!

The answer, not unexpectedly, is "No! He did not get it wrong." What the sceptic overlooks is the fact that God sees everything from an eternal perspective and, in the light of the very timelessness of eternity, a couple of thousand earth years are as nothing. Peter reminds us to "... not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (II Peter 3:8). This, I would suggest, is not to be taken absolutely literally, but as making the point that our sense of time is not always how Almighty God views it!

Peter's subsequent words are also often forgotten: "The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." (II Pet.3:9). These end times have not yet been fulfilled because Almighty God, in His love, and grace, and mercy, is giving people time to enter into the saving relationship with Him, through the Lord Jesus, the Christ, that is the only assurance of eternal life - rather than eternal damnation.

Finally, for now (!), we must remember that this revelation was given to a church that was undergoing great persecution - the reason why John had been exiled to Patmos. Thus it came as a great source of encouragement to its readers as they (and we) were (and are) assured that, in spite of appearances, God is still on the throne; that Jesus will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. On a day when I have read of the atrocity in Barcelona; at a time when such atrocities have become almost common-place; at a time when there are concerns about an imminent WW III; at a time when disciples of Jesus continue to be persecuted - often in ways that those of us who live in the relative safety of "the west" can barely comprehend - such assurance is just as relevant and encouraging as it was to those who first read the Revelation.

I trust that you are ready for His appearing. If not, then I urge you to do something about it. "Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (II Cor.6:2).

Monday, 14 August 2017

September 23rd!

It started with a a link that I was sent, that took me to a YouTube video clip, that turned out to be one of many on the same theme! That theme was September 23rd and the claim that some momentous event is scheduled to take place on that date!

If you haven't viewed any of these video-clips, please permit me to save you the bother! According to those I have watched, on September 23rd, there will be the fulfilment of some of the prophetic words from the Book of the Revelation of Jesus:
"And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery." (12:1-2).

We are informed that, on that day, two constellations - Leo and Virgo - will be close to one another, with Leo being above the 'head' of Virgo. This is then interpreted as Virgo being the woman of the prophecy, and Leo being the crown of twelve stars. It is claimed - and I have no reason to disbelieve these claims - that on September 23rd, the sun will be at the head of Virgo, and the moon at the feet of the constellation. This will all be visible because there will be three hours of darkness, just as there was at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. That I find more difficult to accept!

The constellation Leo, with its nine stars, will form the crown on the head of Virgo. The three "missing" stars will be provided by Mercury, Venus, and Mars being in a conjunction with the constellation.

There will also be a star in the heavens that has only been seen twice before - at the time of Abraham, and at the incarnation of God the Son. This is the "Bethlehem Star", and it has allegedly been around for two years (well, since September 23rd, 2015!).

To be fair, none of the contributors to whom I listened specified exactly what would happen on September 23rd, 2017 - but they are all convinced that there will be a major, and cataclysmic, event.

Okay, let's look a little more closely at some of these claims. First of all, we are actually dabbling in the area of astrology, here. There is one fundamental problem with astrology - it is based, totally, on false premises! It is based on the ancient idea that the sky was a crystal semi-sphere upturned and sitting on a "flat" earth. All of the heavenly bodies moved on that sphere, and all were exactly the same distance from earth. Now, let me add that this is a totally unBiblical picture - but that is another story!

We know that this is not so. We know that, apart from our own Sun, the stars are all light-years away (a "light-year" for anyone who does not know, is the distance that light travels in an earth-year. As light travels at approximately 186,000 miles every second, that makes a light-year to be 186,000 x 60 x 60 24 x 365.25 - an amazing 5,869,712,600,000 miles! Actually, as the speed is a little above 186,000 mps, the light year is approximately 6,000 trillion earth miles!). The closest star to our solar system is a faint red dwarf star, Proxima Centauri. It is a "mere" 4.24 light-years away - that's well over 25,000 trillion miles!

When we look at what are called "constellations", we are the victims of a perspective-based optical illusion. Imagine yourself at one side of a very large field. You look at the other side, and you see a horse grazing beside a tree. However, when you walk over to the horse, you realise that it is actually much closer to you than the tree. So it is with the "constellations". The individual stars in any "constellation" are many light years away from one another, and all are many light years away from the Solar System.

That leads us to the next relevant point. Mercury, Venus, and Mars are not stars! They are planets that orbit our Sun. None of them ever "pass through" any constellation. They only appear to do so from our earth-bound perspective! So, if Leo is to have twelve "stars", then these three planets are non-starters! Nor, of course, do either the Sun or the Moon appear at the head, feet, or any other bodily part, of Virgo! We are also informed that Jupiter will be between the "feet" of Virgo, and that it will represent the child to whom she "gives birth".  Of course, Jupiter will not be within thousands of trillions of miles of any star in the "constellation" Virgo!

There is much more, but I hope that the above is sufficient to make clear that I do not accept these "prophecies" with regard to September 23rd. Of course, it may be that, on September 24th, I shall be obliged to "eat humble pie" - that is if I am still around to do so! Let me add a little more. I believe that, if there is indeed some significant event that is going to happen on September 23rd, that any "portent" in the sky will not be a simple alignment of current celestial bodies and/or "constellations" (that do not, in reality, exist). Whatever that sign is to be, I believe that it will be something totally new. However, I also believe that we will not receive any forewarning of it. It will come as a total surprise. Like the Rapture of the true disciples of Jesus, it will happen "... in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye ..." (I Cor.15:52);  like the Second Advent, when the Lord Jesus returns as King of kings, and Lord of lords, it will come "... like a thief in the night ..." (I Thess.5:2). 

A long time ago, I read some sound advice that I pass on to you: "Live as if He is returning today; work as if He will not return for a hundred years."! If we do that, we will not be sidetracked by attempts to "second-guess" the Omnipotent Creator and Sustainer of all that exists. We will also be ready to meet with Him, whether when He takes us to Himself in the air, or calls us home through that portal that we call physical death.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Prayer works!

On one of my study wall, above a large map of the world, is a wooden plaque that I have had for so long I am unable to recall its origin! It has just three words burned on to it: "Prayer changes things"!

The news of the past few days would certainly give credence to that claim. As some are aware, I have a long-standing interest in the persecuted church, and pray on a daily basis for my brothers and sisters in Jesus who suffer for their faith in ways that I am unable to fully comprehend. One of two specific individuals for whom I have been praying, is 39-year-old Maryam Naghash Zargaran who, in spite of various physical health issues, has spent the last four years in prison in Iran. There were occasions when she was permitted to be taken to hospital - albeit, chained to her bed - but she was then brought back to prison even although doctors insisted that she was not fit for continued incarceration. I, along with many others, was thrilled to learn that Maryam was released from prison on August 1st. 

The second person is a South Korean pastor in his sixties, Hyeon Soo Lim, who holds Canadian citizenship. Although he had visited North Korea on more than one hundred occasions, to do humanitarian work, in 2015 he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to hard labour for life. As anyone with any knowledge of North Korea will be aware, hard labour in the hermit country is no "open prison" life - even for a much younger man. My prayer, for some time, has been that this dear brother would be released, and permitted to return to his family in Canada - in spite of the life sentence. That, I was fully aware, was asking for a miracle. You may imagine my delight to learn that, on August 9th, Pastor Lim had been released and was on his way back to Canada.

Two wonderful "answers to prayer". However, what about others who remain in prison - someone like Asia in Pakistan, arrested and incarcerated in 2009 for the heinous crime of having offered a co-worker in a field a cup of water. The problem was that Asia is a disciple of Jesus; her co-workers were all Muslims. They claimed that her act was insulting to Islam, and she was tried, and found guilty, of "blasphemy"! She continues to await a date - that would be kept - for her final appeal to the Pakistan Supreme Court. I pray for Asia on a daily basis - why has that prayer not been "answered"?

The difficulty, it seems to me, is that so many only consider a prayer to have been "answered" if they get what they want! This, of course, is just silly. When my daughters were young - and even now, as adults in their own right - they did not always have their request fulfilled. However, they always received an answer! Sometimes that answer was, indeed, positive, and the request was granted. However, there were times when they were told that they would have to wait until they were older; and times when they were told, quite plainly, "No!". Always, however, as a loving father, I answered their requests.

Prayer, I would contend, is (as far as requests are concerned - of course, true prayer is NOT a "shopping-list" to be presented to Almighty God!) like that. Sometimes, in His infinite wisdom, God denies me that for which I have asked. His answer is "No!". That means that, whatever I in my human frailty and ignorance, may think, this is not good for me. On other occasions, the answer is "Wait!". I am asking for the correct thing - but my timing is wrong. Praise God for those times when I am walking closely enough to Him that I am in tune with His will, and His timing, and the answer is "Yes!". However, there is no such thing as "unanswered" prayer!

I recall the story - which I believe to be true - of an Episcopal Bishop in, if memory serves me well, Dublin, in the 18th century. A sceptic challenged him about prayer. "What you consider an answer to prayer is just coincidence", he claimed. The bishop was a much wiser man than I am. Instead of entering into a debate on the subject (as I would undoubtedly have done!), he merely responded: "You may be right. All that I know is that when I pray, the coincidences happen; and when I don't, neither do they. So I'll just keep on praying, and thanking God for His coincidences"!

If you are a praying person, who believes in the power of prayer, then be encouraged that no prayer reaches the Heavenly Father that is not answered in accordance with His perfect will, knowledge, and purpose. Do pray for those in the persecuted church. When some of them are interviewed by "westerners" that is their constant request - not that their suffering should cease (they may not have a Bible, or even be fully literate, but they will know the words of James: "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." [1:2-3]) but that we should remember them in prayer. 

Remember, too, those other words of James that: "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." (5:16). You and I have no righteousness of our own - but if we are truly "in Christ Jesus", then we are clothed with His righteousness - and that assures that we are accepted by the Father, and our prayers will rise to Him as incense.

Let us pray!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Everlasting life!

There is a Greek story of a goddess who fell in love with a mortal. The problem, of course, was that they both knew that he would eventually die, while she enjoyed immortality. The goddess went to Zeus, the chief god, and asked if she might be granted a request. Zeus agreed - but told her that she could have only one request granted, and was never to come back for another. Happily, the goddess agreed - and asked that the object of her love be granted everlasting life. Zeus granted her request, and the couple were married.

At first, all was well. However, as the years passed, they realised that they had made a major mistake. The husband lived on - but he kept getting older. His body deteriorated; his mind became fuzzy; while his wife lived on in her eternal youth. The point of the story, one may assume, is that everlasting life - in itself - is not something to be desired.

That story came to mind when I read a newspaper headline, earlier today: "Scientists find way to STOP ageing in development which could lead to everlasting life." Now, to be fair, they do claim to have found a way by which the actual process of aging may be stopped. It's all to do with telomeres - fragments of DNA which cap both ends of each chromosome and protect against the wear and tear of natural ageing. However, even the thought of "being around", in this human life, for thousands of years, is surely off-putting! And, of course, there is the practical consideration of population growth!

It may be more than coincidence that I came across that headline, and article, so soon after my previous post on the Final Frontier! Perhaps the Lord is speaking to someone specifically through this blog! Are you concerned about death? It isn't unusual! However, for those who have come, in repentance and faith, to Jesus the Christ and received the new life that He offers, there is no need to fear. He offers us, here and now, "life in all its fulness" (Jn.10:10) and, when our mortal life has ended, a continuing life in His nearer presence. It's not "everlasting" life, but "eternal life" - the Life of God Himself. and it is something that we enter as soon as we accept the gift of salvation that Jesus gained for us on the cross at Calvary.

Have you accepted that gift? If not, why not?! Perhaps you think that you are not good enough! Well, I'll not argue with you on that score! You see, neither am I! Paul wrote to the Roman believers (!) that "all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one;' " (3:9-10) and, again, that "... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," (3:23).

That's why he made clear, in his letter to the Ephesians, that it is "... by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God -" (2:8). This year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation,and one of the great principles of the Reformers was "Sola gratis" - "Grace alone". Taste of that grace for yourself - you will never regret it, and you will know life that is truly rewarding (although not necessarily easy!), and that will be yours for all of eternity!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Final Frontier!

I suppose that I was, in its early days, a bit of a "Trekkie" - a fan of the TV series Star Trek. Some will recall the opening words: "Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its 5 year mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life, and new civilisations: to boldly go, where no man has gone before."

"Space. The final frontier"! Yet, is it? Many years ago, I regularly purchased copies of the Readers' Digest Condensed Books. They looked good on my bookshelves, but I never got around to reading them - until now. Over recent months I have read about a dozen - with three/four (condensed!) books in each volume. Today, I completed a true story, written by a medical doctor. The story is entitled "A Parting Gift" and recounts the short life of a boy named David who died, at eight years of age, from leukemia. Having had, myself, a cousin (who was, in effect, the sister I never had) who died from that same cancer of the blood cells, I was especially interested.

However, it was what Dr Sharkey learned, herself, that touched me most. The prologue reads: "During ... five years Dr Sharkey battled with every weapon at her command to save his life and, through helping David and his family cope with tragic illness, she finally confronted her own deep fears about death."

So, is space the "final frontier"? In one sense, it may well be. But, of course, few - if any- of us will have the opportunity to explore it. Death, on the other hand, comes to each one of us - at least until the Rapture (you may read more about that in my first book: Great Words of the Faith - details at the top of the blog!). So, might it be more relevant - and of greater importance, to consider death to be the true "final frontier"?

Of course, it is a subject about which people, in general, tend to avoid talking. When we do, we use euphemisms: "So-and-so has 'passed away'"; " I 'lost' my grandfather (etc)"; "Did you hear that Jimmy has 'kicked the bucket'?" So why should this be? It certainly was not the case in an earlier generation. Dr Sharkey writes: "I've stood before century-old (this was in the early 1980s) paintings showing deathbed scenes and thought how different those scenes were from what usually happens now when someone dies. In those days, no one kept family and friends away or asked them to step outside as the moment of death approached. In the old pictures, instead of the anonymity of a hospital room, there are always people grouped around the dying person. Death was important and something one's whole life moved toward, something one prepared for. People thought and talked about it openly. It was accepted; it was not a sign of anyone's failure."

I suspect that the problem for most of us, concerning death, is the "unknown" factor - and there is always an element of fear in the unknown! Yet for the disciple of Jesus, the Christ, there is no such fear. He is the only One Who has suffered death - even death on a cross - and risen from the grave (okay, the tomb, before some purist takes me up on my terminology!), never to die again (Rev.1:18). However, in John chapters 13-17, which is sometimes called the "Upper Room Discourse", Jesus gives comfort to His disciples by telling them two things. First, He told them that His death was to be the means by which they would dwell with Him forever. Second, He told them that during the time of His physical absence He would be even more present with them through the sending of His Holy Spirit, to dwell not only among them, but within them (see John 14:16-31; 16:7-15).

Paul wrote: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.(Phil.1:21-23; emphasis added).

On my Study bookshelves is a slim booklet by the late Rev. Tom Swanston, entitled "Death with a Steady Eye". At the end of the booklet, he writes: "The illustration on the front cover of this booklet suggests men facing a firing squad. Three are blindfolded, perhaps by choice. The other faces death with a steady eye. He out of the four is not afraid. Who is this man? ... he is the man in Christ; the man who has hope for his future (Jer.31:17). ... ... because he has learned what so many fail to learn, that Jesus teaches us to die well because He teaches us to die safely. His own death was a safe death, since He died without sin of His own. That death becomes our safe death exactly because the sin with which He died was ours. ... For those who apprehend this and make it their own there is nothing to fear."

We will either face our own death with fear or with faith. It all depends on our response to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus told His disciples that He is the way, not just a way to heaven. Our response to the death of the Lord Jesus, the Christ determines our response to death, especially our own. Those words of the Lord Jesus, recorded by John, are the solution to the fear of death. I pray that you will trust in Him, in His death for your sin and in His resurrection that ensures eternal life for His own. Death will no longer be your enemy, because the death of the Saviour overcame death and its terror, to all who believe in Him.