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Monday, 17 July 2017

Growth, and maturity!

Two, totally unrelated, matters from this morning. First of all, our younger daughter contacted my wife to inform us that one of her former flat-mates had just given birth to a beautiful daughter - and that the baby was to be named after our daughter!

The second was in my personal devotions during which, at present, I am reading through the Book of Psalms. This morning I was reading in Psalm 120, and also noting the comments made by Warren Wiersbe - currently my favourite contemporary Bible Commentator.

Ps.120 is the first of a group of psalms - 120 - 134 - known collectively as the Pilgrim Psalms, as it is believed that they were sung by those making their way to Jerusalem for one of the major feasts of Judaism. This would have been an arduous journey, made on foot, climbing up to the Holy City after maybe weeks of travelling from whichever part of the Roman world they now knew as home.

In his general introduction to the group, Dr.Wiersbe writes, concerning current disciples of Jesus: "Too many believers today want to be 'settlers', not pilgrims and strangers (Heb.11:8-10, 13-196; I Pet.1:1, 2:11). We are happy enough to settle down in our comfort zones and live as though Jesus never died, Jesus is not coming again, and our lives will never end. We are guilty of what Eugene Peterson calls 'the tourist mindset', content to make occasional brief visits with the Lord that are leisurely and entertaining, all the while conforming to this world and enjoying it. (See A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, IVP, p.12). Our citizenship is in heaven (Luke 10:20; Phil.3:20; Heb.12:22-24), and that should make a difference in our lives on earth. We need to 'feel temporary' as we make this pilgrim journey called life."

So what is the connection between the birth of a baby, and Dr Wiersbe's comment? We received a photograph of the newborn child, lying peacefully as a newborn child tends to do. She will be fed and clothed by her mother (with, I would expect, assistance from her husband, the baby's father). She will 'Goo', and 'Ga', and everyone will say how cute she is.

However, imagine if, in ten years' time, that child was still lying in a cot; still being clothed and fed (and having nappies changed) by her parents; still able to make no other sound than 'Goo' and 'Ga'! That would no longer be a cause for great joy; that child would no longer be cute; that would be considered, by most, to be a tragedy. The beautiful baby that had failed to grow.

That, of course, is exactly what Warren Wiersbe is referring to in the life of a disciple of Jesus. It is, sadly, all too common for people to be born again of God the Holy Spirit; to have repented of their sins and sinfulness; to have received the new life that is available through faith in the Lord Jesus, the Christ; to have been baptised; to have become members of a particular fellowship of God's people - but never to have grown spiritually; to still be spiritual infants, dependent upon others to feed them in the things of God; unable to walk the walk of faith in a meaningful, and challenging,way. They are immature; their witness is compromised; they blow hot, and cold.

In a couple of weeks' time, I expect to be preaching on the power of the totally surrendered life - the life that is fully committed to Jesus. However, there is no power in a baby. It is at the mercy of its own environment - although, thankfully, that environment is usually provided by loving parents. Someone once said, concerning disciples of Jesus, that there are three types of Christian. There are third-class Christians, in whose lives Jesus is present. That is good. Then there are second-class Christians, in whose lives Jesus is prominent. That is better. Finally, there are first-class Christians, in whose lives Jesus is pre-eminent. That is best of all.

So, where do you fit in? Are you a spiritual babe; a third-class Christian? Or are you soaking yourself in the written Word; spending time in prayer to the heavenly Father; and showing, in your daily living, that Jesus is pre-eminent in your life? Do you have that 'tourist mindset'; or are you "... look[ing] forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." (Heb.11:10), that is "... eternal in the heavens." (II Cor.5:1)?

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Tour de France

Yesterday, and today, my wife and I have been involved in distributing Christian literature to those who came to watch the Tour de France cyclists arrive in Bergerac, and depart from Eymet. I am not even going to attempt to work out how many miles we have walked over the two days!

However, it was watching those cyclists that made me remember how much disciples of Jesus may learn from such sportsmen. Little wonder that Paul uses the Games as one of his own many illustrations of the genuine Christian life.

For example, as I watched those riders power their way into Bergerac, I was instantly aware that this was not a bunch of men out for a casual bicycle-ride together. They were putting everything they had into their attempt to be first to reach the finishing post for that stage - or, at least, to make the best showing of which they were capable. Not for the first (or last?!) time, I had to ask myself if I am truly giving 100% of myself in the service of the One Whom I call Saviour, and Lord! 

Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi: "Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus." (3:13b-14). He probably had a picture of the marathon in his mind when he wrote those words - but they would have applied equally well to the Tour de France!

Of course, those cyclists didn't just decide, on the day before the race commenced (in Düsseldorf!) that they would enter! They had spent the previous months - perhaps years - in training for what is the greatest sporting event in the world. The sheer logistics of the Tour make my own head spin! 

Paul, writing to his "son in the faith", Timothy, encouraged him to "… exercise yourself spiritually,"; "…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;";  "Train yourself in godliness;" (I.Tim.4:7). And what sort of training is that?   Well, the word ‘godliness’ is really a contraction, a shortened form, of ‘godlikeness’.  So the apostle urges us to train ourselves in godlikeness – we are to be like God!  And what is God like?  We could go on forever describing the greatness of God; His majesty and power; His holiness; His wisdom; His grace and mercy; all of His divine attributes.  But John, in his 1st letter, describes the character of God - God in essence - simply and succinctly, in the familiar words, "God is love". (4:8, 16).  "God is love" – and if we would be like Him, then we must love like Him; loving so much that love and ourselves are inseparable; that when those who know us best think of the one, they immediately think of the other.

One of the pieces of literature that was being distributed had, on the front, the words "You can be a winner!" In the Tour, there is a winner for each stage, and for various other categories during the 23 days before the final sprint up the Champs-Élysées in Paris. However, there is only one person who can wear the coveted Yellow Jersey at the end of the race. For disciples of Jesus, however, everyone is a winner.  I haven't checked what the final accolade is in the Tour de France. However, I know that it will be something that will, sooner or later, perish.

Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds them that "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." (I Cor 9:25-26).  And that imperishable prize that is promised is nothing less than “life; fellowship with God, in Christ; the love of God, shed abroad in the heart; the peace of God (that) passes all understanding.” (William Hendriksen)  And the promised prize isn’t just for this life, but also "…for the life to come", making it, quite literally, of infinitely greater value than any medallion of whatever precious metal.

"… I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day." (II Tim 4:7-8). May each of us, who claim to be His disciples, have the same confidence as we run the race of life in His name, and to His glory.  

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Am I a mum, or a dad?!

Just returned from a relaxing week at our favourite camp-site - so all relaxed and ready to go. The first thing I notice is an online newspaper headline: "British man makes HISTORY: Hayden Cross gives birth to baby girl."  

I was immediately reminded of a situation, many years ago, in which a 15/16 year-old girl in one of my classes in school insisted that men could have babies - because she had seen Arnold Schwarzenegger have one in the film "Junior"! She was not the brightest pupil in a low-ability class -and even her peers were (metaphorically, if not literally) "rolling in the aisles!"

This, however, is not a film, but real life! A man, has given birth to a baby! 
Except, of course, that a man has not done so. My Postgraduate M.Sc. is not in biology - but even I know that a man is, biologically, incapable of bearing a child. A man does not have a womb! Then, as I read on I discovered that "Former Asda worker Hayden Cross is legally a man, having begun hormone treatment after being born a girl." "Legally a man" - but still with those internal physical requirements that are part and parcel of a female of the species! The article even makes the point that the person involved "had asked the NHS to freeze his eggs". Sorry - only females produce eggs! 

I read on, and discovered that the person involved "... told The Sun on Sunday: 'I faced the prospect of not becoming the man I am supposed to be, physically, or a dad. So I didn’t feel like I had any choice but to have a baby now then get back to transitioning'."

The picture gets a little clearer. This is NOT a man! It is a woman who has decided that she would prefer to be a man and, in our brave new world in which, it would appear, almost anything is possible, she has decided to go for "transitioning", "gender realignment", or whatever relevant terminology one wishes to use. A woman - a human being born with the specific internal organs of a female - has given birth. I've got more news for those who are excited by the this particular news - it happens thousands of times, all around the world, in any twenty-four hour period! 
However, I also read that there are suggestions that men who have "transitioned" to be women, may have wombs implanted in their bodies! I am not even going to begin to go into the potential difficulties here. I will only point out that, to the best of my knowledge, the female bone structure is different to that of a male in order that a womb can grow. Will these 'men' have all of that done - and, it is also suggested, through the taxpayer-funded NHS?!
Where do we go from here? The Biblical position is perfectly clear - "... God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Gen.1:27). "This", writes Dr Peter Saunders, "is perfectly consistent with what we see in nature – male and female are different - genetically, hormonally and physically. Researchers have identified 6,500 genes that are expressed differently in men and women." That is no mean number!

Dr Saunders also points out that "... we must appreciate that we live in a fallen world where our collective rejection of God (Genesis 3) has affected the human race at all levels - physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual - so we should expect to find conditions like intersex and transgender. People affected by these conditions are often deeply hurting, and we need to treat them with the love and respect we would show to any human being made in God's image. We are all tainted by the consequence of the fall, and we are all sinners in need of God's forgiveness."  

He then goes onto claim that "... we must not capitulate to transgender ideology. Loving people does not mean affirming their false beliefs, using their chosen names, admitting them to their chosen facilities.allowing them to compete as the opposite sex in sports events, and offering them hormones and gender reassignment surgery. That is not love - it's actually a form of abuse. You might get called a transphobic bigot, or worse. But the Bible, science, and common sense, are on your side. God created us male and female. It's really that simple."

His penultimate point is that "... we must grasp the Gospel opportunity transgender[ism?] presents. Jesus welcomed everyone but, in so doing, He did not endorse all of their beliefs and behaviour. Rather, He called them to repentance and faith - to a life of obedience enabled by [God] the [Holy] Spirit, to be transformed by the renewal of their minds (Romans 12: 1-2). And He called them to find their identity, not in their chosen gender, or anything else, but in Him."  

Finally, he suggests that we need to get informed better about the issue, and offers some helpful links:

Gender Dysphoria – CMF File 59 – Rick Thomas and Peter Saunders
True to Form – FIEC Primer Issue 03 – Various authors
Transgender – Talking Points - Vaughan Roberts
Sexuality and Gender – The New Atlantis – Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh

These are serious matters and, I believe, they deserve our close attention. The most unloving thing that one can do to a person is, surely, to allow them to continue in what one believes is harmful behaviour. May we who hold to Biblical standards be able to speak, in love, a warning to those who would seek to go against their Creator.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

What price life?

This is the blog post from David Robertson that I thought that I had simply "Shared" on Facebook! However, only my own comment explaining why I had done so has appeared in the public arena! 
I share it here so that it may reach as wide an audience as possible. As always, he expresses my own sentiments better than I can do myself! Well worth the read. 

The Real ‘Dirty Deal’ – Abortion, Northern Ireland, the BMA, Killing white babies and Sacking the Disability Commissioner 

Wheeling and Dealing

Politics is all about deals and compromises – especially if you have a minority government, like the current UK situation. In such circumstances in order for a government to get their programme through there has been a great deal of wheeling and dealing. The Democratic Unionist Party are masters at this and as a result they have got the people of Northern Ireland a good deal. Despite the faux pas outrage of Labour and the SNP you have to admire the DUP for doing what politicians are supposed to do – get the best for their electorate.  And of course Labour and the SNP are being hypocritical as they too were previously prepared to work with the DUP as this clip so brilliantly puts it.

The Real Dirty Deal

But there was a real dirty deal done today. Labour’s Sheila Creasy took the opportunity offered by the vote on the Queens speech to put forward an amendment offering women in Northern Ireland, free abortions on the NHS in England and Wales (the Scottish government had already said they would do the same).   Northern Ireland does not permit abortion except is cases of danger to the mothers life and serious dangers to mental health.   It is a devolved matter and therefore has nothing to do with the UK parliament – which did not stop Labour promising to impose a liberal abortion law on Northern Ireland.  The Supreme Court recently decided that it was not a human right to have an abortion and that it was up to the Northern Ireland Assembly to determine about abortion.  The UK government were opposed to offering free abortions but because they feared that several Tory MPs would support the amendment the government, wanting to avoid defeat on this amendment, found the money to make that offer.

There are so many things that are illogical and immoral about this decision.

We are told this is an issue for justice. Where is the justice for the unborn child?  Parents occasionally show me the photo/scan of their child at 12 weeks in the wodownloadmb.  You can see the limbs, the features of a human being.  But people want to say that she is an it.  That he is not human but just a lump that can be removed.  The fact is that it is not just the woman’s body – there is at least one other human body involved.

We are told that the NHS is desperately short of money. Why then can £1 million be found to provide for babies to be killed?  People are rightly angry and asking about the justice for the 80 who died in the Grenfell tower fire. So why are we not upset that the UK government just offered to pay to kill around 1,000 Northern Irish babies in the womb in English hospitals?
We are told that the fact that the DUP are opposed to abortion is a sign that they are backward and out of step with everyone else.  Are Sinn Fein for abortion – given their Catholic roots? What about all the Labour MPs who are Catholic? Are they too spineless to stand up for their faith?   What is progressive and forward thinking about killing children in the womb? And why stop there? Why not have post-birth abortion if parents don’t want to keep their babies?

The BMA Betrayal

But it wasn’t only the politicians who were engaging in this culture of death – the BMA (British Medical Association) were joining in. BMA Votes to Decriminalise Abortion
In a decision that I suspect does not reflect many of the views of its members, but rather the politics of its leadership, the BMA this week voted to ask the government to decriminalize abortion. What many people do not realize is that abortion is illegal in the Dr-Peter-Saunders-Care-Not-Killing-AllianceUK – except when two doctors agree that the health of the woman or the baby is in danger (the latter part always confused me – killing someone to improve their health doesn’t really work logically!). The BMA in seeking to change that are in effect seeking to permit abortion on demand up to birth. If you really need to know what is wrong with this, my good friend Dr Peter Saunders sets it out clearly – Why Decriminalising Abortion is Harmful
The fact is that the BMA have gone against the Hippocratic oath – – “Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion”. They have gone against every principle of medicine, justice and humanity – just to go along with the current political and culture of death zeitgeist.

The Depths of Meduza

There was one other abortion story this week – which reaches even lower depths. The feminist magazine Meduza had an article that argued that white women should have abortions in order to bring justice to non-whites! I had assumed it was a spoof but apparently not. Abort White Babies
White women: it is time to do your part! Your white children reinforce the white supremacist society that benefits you. If you claim to be progressive, and yet willingly birth white children by your own choice, you are a hypocrite. White women should be encouraged to abort their white children, and to use their freed-up time and resources to assist women of color who have no other choice but to raise their children.

Who needs a Disability Commissioner?

Finally another note on the same issue – The Times reported that Lord Shinkwin, who is Britain’s disability commissioner has been fired from his role. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had decided that his role was no longer needed.   Lord methodesundaytimesprodwebbinea272442-58eb-11e7-806b-08bec0454923Shinkwin had argued passionately for equality for the disabled, including in the womb. Hence he needed to go. Because as I pointed out in this article in the Scotsman – Human rights are determined by the elites and are not subject to challenge. Some people have more rights than others. The child in the womb and the disabled do not share the same human rights as others (and I suspect that the poor, the elderly and the sick had better watch out as well).

What can we do in the midst of such rampant evil?

We must stand for the truth. We must speak up for the weak and defenceless.   Something which the church at its best as always done.   Traudl Junge (Hitler’s’ secretary) tells us what he thought about this Christian tendency.
“Sometimes we also had interesting discussions about the church and the development of the human race. Perhaps it’s going too far to call them discussions, because he would begin explaining his ideas when some question or remark from one of us had set them off, and we just listened. He was not a member of any church, and thought the Christian religions were out-dated, hypocritical institutions that lured people into them. The laws of nature were his religion. He could reconcile his dogma of violence better with nature than with the Christian doctrine of loving your neighbour and your enemy. ‘Science isn’t yet clear about the origins of humanity,’ he once said. ‘We are probably the highest stage of development of some mammal which developed from reptiles and moved on to human beings, perhaps by way of the apes. We are a part of creation and children of nature, and the same laws apply to us as to all living creatures. And in nature the law of the struggle for survival has reigned from the first.
Everything incapable of life, everything weak is eliminated. Only mankind and above all the church have made it their aim to keep alive the weak, those unfit to live, and people of an inferior kind.” (Until the Final Hour –p108)
Indeed. That is our aim.  To keep alive the week, those others consider ‘unfit to live’ and ‘people of an inferior kind’.   We are Christians.  We recognise that all human beings are made in the image of God.  All life is precious to us. On that we will not compromise or do deals. In the words of a far greater German than Hitler –  “here we stand, we can do no other”!

Monday, 26 June 2017

Good, or Evil?!

As I sit typing this post, I am amazed that it can be - and is! - read by people from all over the world; people whom I have never met, and am unlikely ever to meet. Of course, this same technology permits what is known as cyber-bullying, that has led to the suicidal deaths of many. It permits the ready availability of pornographic images of the most despicable kind, that lead to broken relationships, and to sexual activity of the most depraved types. It permits violence to be freely displayed, leading to acts of violence of all kinds.

When radio was first introduced, many disciples of Jesus said "It's evil! The satan is the prince of the power of the air." Some were so against this new invention (discovery?!) that they would not even countenance its use in the proclamation of the Gospel! What would some of them have thought about television - and the internet?!

Johannes Gutenberg, the "father of printing" was working one day, in his cell in the Monastery of St. Aborsgot when he seemed to hear a voice warning him that the power of his invention - the printing press - would enable bad men to propagate their wickedness, and that posterity would curse its inventor! He took a hammer, and broke the type into pieces. It then seemed that another voice spoke. It urged him to persist in perfecting his invention, and declared that although it might be used for evil, the Lord would also make it the fountain of infinite good, and that right would ultimately triumph.

The printing press, in itself, was neither good nor evil - and the same thing is true of radio, television, cinema, the internet, and almost any other invention/discovery that you may care to name. It is their usage that determines if they turn out to be a benefit, or a curse! [If you haven't already done so, you might consider signing the petition at ]

We are living at a time of unprecedented advances and developments. The question is; "What are we going to do with the fruits of all of this progress?" The same nuclear power that provides electricity, can also be used to destroy whole cities. The choice is ours! So, rather than condemn something because it is new, let us determine, with God's help, to use whatever He places in our hands - for good rather than for evil.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Well, he's a Christian!

One of the headlines in the MSM during the past week - later, understandably, overshadowed by the tragedy of Grenfell Tower - was to do with the resignation of of Tim Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrat party. His stated reason for having arrived at the decision to do so was that he felt it "impossible" to be Lib Dem leader while "living as a faithful Christian" and that he wants "to remain faithful to Christ".

How dare he?! What right has he to seek to live "as a faithful Christian"? I mean, how totally illiberal is that?!!

Being back in the UK for a brief visit, I was able to read today's edition of the free newspaper "Metro". In it, someone named Sophy Ridge defended a TV programme that she apparently hosts - "Sophy Ridge on Sunday". She confesses that, on her programme she "... pressed him for his personal views on abortion. Some viewers believed that I was wrong to do so - that his private belief should remain just that, private. Mr Farron accused me of 'banging on' about his faith. In his resignation statement he said: 'I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and Who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society."

I confess to having had no time at all for Tim Farron and the Lib Dem's insistence that the 2016 referendum result was the result of people not knowing what it was for which they were voting. I was extremely disappointed when he eventually gave in to the badgering and - it is claimed, on the advice of others - declared that the "marriage" of homosexuals or lesbians, is not a sin. In making that statement, he went totally against the teaching of the Bible (although not of certain major denominations!).

Ms Ridge continues, in an attempt to defend herself, by writing that "Voters have a right to know what their political leaders believe in. Gay men have a right to know if politicians believe they are committing a sin when they 'make love' (my quotation marks!), and women who have had abortions have a right to know whether politicians think they have done something wrong." She may have a point! However, when Muslim Sadiq Khan was campaigning for the position of mayor of London, I do not recall any reporter, journalist, or TV 'celebrity' asking him if he believed that homosexual activity is sinful! Considering the treatment of homosexuals - and adulterers (well, the female involved!) - by his fellow Muslims, I wonder what his answer would have been. If he had been interviewed by Ms Ridge, would she have pressed him for a definitive answer if he had prevaricated in the least? Somehow, I think not! It is, and for some time has been, "open season" on those who claim to be disciples of Jesus, while Muslims have become a "protected species"!

My friend, David Robertson, ends his own comment on the Tim Farron situation with these words: 

"Tim Farron has done us all a big favour.

His warm, clear and impassioned plea for religious tolerance is what needs to be said – and acted upon. His example of giving up his role as leader of the party when faced with the choice of his Christian faith or his political career is shining: "I joined our party when I was 16, it is in my blood, I love our history, our people, I thoroughly love my party.  Imagine how proud I am to lead this party.  And then imagine what would lead me to voluntarily relinquish that honour. In the words of Isaac Watts it would have to be something 'so amazing, so divine, (it) demands my heart, my life, my all'."
We need Christians who will get their hands dirty and get involved in politics (we really don’t need the opposite – politicians who get involved with and seek to use Christianity for political ends). We need Christians who will be faithful – even to the point of committing political suicide. The love of Christ demands our heart, our life, our all.  And we need a Church which, instead of turning itself inside out in order to fit the culture, seeks to turn the world upside down."
May all of us, who also claim to be disciples of Jesus, be prepared to put serving Him first; make Him our priority; serve Him above all else. Then, perhaps, the world will see that serving Jesus does make a difference - and a positive difference. 
Some eighteen hundred years ago, a man known as Justin Martyr claimed that good Christians make good citizens. Let those of us who follow the Saviour prove him right - whether we are in the political spotlight, or not.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Blood relatives.

Many of us will remember the tradition, in some cultures, of a "blood brother" - with the ceremony of cutting one's arm and mixing the  blood with the blood of another who had also cut his arm. Of course, in a western culture, the expression "blood relative", tends to refer to those who have the same parents, or grandparents, or whatever.

However, on Sunday, I listened to a young Afro-American refer to his brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus as his "blood-brothers and sisters". It was something of a revelation to me! Yet, I realised, instantly, how true the description is!

What is a disciple of Jesus? I have, in the past, preached a number of sermons seeking to answer that very question. Indeed, I suspect that I have dealt with it, over the years, in this blog! However, the very least that one may say is that a true disciple of Jesus is one who has been washed in the sacrificial blood of the Saviour. It is that blood that, "... cleanses us from all sin." (I John 1:7). It is that blood that is the "crimson flow" of which the hymn-writer speaks: "Oh precious is the flow that washes white as snow. No other fount I know; nothing but the blood of Jesus." (Robert Lowry:1826-1899).

The same blood is necessary for all, and available for all. It is necessary because "... without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Heb.9:22). It is available for all because "... Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit;" (I Peter 3:18).

This, of course, ties in with the whole idea of disciples of Jesus being brothers and sisters; adopted into the family of Father God. We are "... all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal.3:28). I now realise that we are "blood relatives" - not because we have shed our own blood (although so many in the persecuted church in more than sixty countries around the world, are faithful to the Christ, even to the shedding of their blood, and physical death), but because, on a hill called Calvary, almost 2,000 years ago, He shed His.

Are you my blood-brother/sister? Please don't be put off by what you know (or even think you know!) about me! Look to Jesus "... the pioneer and perfecter of our faith Who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb.12:2). If you are washed in His blood, then you are His blood brother/sister also. Now that is something really worthwhile!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

It would be nice to be able to claim that the heading to this post is original! It isn't - but it surely sums up the results of Thursday's General Election from a Conservative Party perspective. When Mrs May(be; maybe not) decided (having constantly said that she would not do so) to go to the country, the Conservatives had a substantial lead, in the polls, over Labour. During the campaigning period, the PM seemed to work hard at reducing that lead - and, in that she did have considerable success! The result is that we have a minority government in Westminster, dependant upon the DUP to survive! Now, if "the big fella" (aka the Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley, decd.) was still in charge, that would be, in my opinion, a much more interesting situation!

So what went wrong? Well, political pundits have been speculating on that for more than 24 hours and, from the perspective of most (all?!) of them, their conclusions may have much validity. One could say, fairly, that the PM was badly advised. It might be claimed that she ought not to have called the General Election in the first place. Many believe that she is as dithering, and useless, a PM as she was Home Secretary. "She was a dreadful Home Secretary, she has been a dreadful Prime Minister and dreadful election party leader who ran a dreadful election campaign." (Melanie Phillips). There are those who claim that the Labour campaign was much better than anyone had expected - and, of course, the sudden "illness" of the Shadow Home Secretary, and her immediate replacement, was certainly a master-stroke!

However, if we step back, and seek to look at the situation from a different perspective, is it possible that we are simply seeing the hand of Almighty God in all of this? I believe that this is most certainly the case. The big question, in my mind, is: "Is it the hand of judgement on a nation that has turned its back upon Him, and departed so far from His ways?" As I read that the Episcopal Church (ought that word to be placed within quotation marks?!) in Scotland has joined the Kirk in its acceptance of so-called "marriage" for homosexuals and lesbians - with the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow stating that: “it's time for the church to celebrate what is celebrated in secular society” (rather than seeking to challenge secular society with the full Gospel of the Lord Jesus, the Christ); as I see the increasing marginalisation of the Judaeo-Christian heritage that has shaped so much of our nation's history; as I watch, with great sadness, the deliberate corruption of children with "transgenderism" being introduced to even primary schools; as I am aware of the way in which Islam is constantly deferred to (not least by the current PM, especially when she was HS!); I am inclined to answer that question positively. 

So what do we do in such a situation? Thankfully, it is not without precedent. As we read the pages of the Tanakh (the "Old Testament") we discover that the nation of Israel often came under the judgement of Almighty God. (see, e.g. Isaiah 5:5-7). This should not have surprised them! Words that are often quoted out of context are "... if My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (II Chron.7:14). But, as always, context is important! So we read in the previous verse, the words of YHWH: "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, ..." In other words, the promise is a response to a nation that has suffered judgement. 

The following verses are also important: "... if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from the land which I have given you; and this house, which I have consecrated for My name, I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which is exalted, every one passing by will be astonished, and say, ‘Why has YHWH done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they forsook YHWH, the God of their fathers, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods, and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this evil upon them.’” (vs.19-22).

In days past, we had leaders who were neither ashamed, nor afraid, to call for a national day of prayer for the nation. I know that, in a number of church buildings, on Thursday, people were gathering to pray - not for any particular party or individual, but that God's will might be fully accomplished. I choose to believe that His will is, indeed, being fulfilled in this day and age, as in any other.

In my personal devotions, every day, I pray for this nation and its leaders. I pray that the Lord will raise up men and women of faith and integrity to positions of secular power, and influence, and authority. I pray that the nation will be hauled back from the brink of godless disaster. I pray that it will become a nation in which the Name of Jesus is respected by all, and honoured and exalted, by many.

Will you join with me in praying in such a way? Perhaps, if we do, we will discover that the Lord Who judges is also loving and merciful and gracious - and be, once again, the recipients of that love, and mercy, and grace. It will be for our good - and for His eternal glory.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Tee-shirts, and answers!

We (my wife and I) are now back in Scotland for just under two weeks, in order to spend some time with our family, and to meet up with as many friends as we can fit into the time available. On the ferry from Dunkerque to Dover I noticed a gentleman of mature years wearing a tee-shirt on which was emblazoned the statement "I am liable, at any moment, to break into a conversation about motorbikes." The words may not be totally verbatim - but the message was clear. This was a man who is passionate about motorbikes!

I found myself thinking, first of all, of the reaction of different people to his tee-shirt slogan. There would be those who, like himself, are motorbike enthusiasts. I can imagine that they would be delighted to enter into conversation with him - sharing their own knowledge and experiences, and listening to his. A second group might have a mild interest in motorbikes, and they would undoubtedly have questions that they would wish to ask of someone so obviously involved in the world of biking. A third group, I suspect, would run a mile just to get away from this obvious motorbike fanatic/extremist!

Then I had a further thought! What if those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus were to wear tee-shirts that proclaimed: "I am liable, at any moment, to break into a conversation about Jesus" - or words to that effect? The probability is that we would be faced with similar responses. There would be those who are fellow-disciples, and who would be delighted to have a chat with us, sharing our common experience of the way in which the Lord has worked - and continues to work - in our lives. There might be some who have been wondering about the Christian faith, and who would be glad to have the opportunity to speak with us, and ask some questions. There would certainly be those who would run a mile to get away from such "religious extremist Bible-bashers"! There would also be those, I regret to have to say, who would ridicule us, or even attack us, because of our stand for Jesus.

However, we would certainly have made clear that we are "..not ashamed of the gospel:[knowing that] it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, ..." (Rom.1:16). Of course, we would also have to ensure that we are "... prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, ..." (I Peter 3:15).

And now, the answers to the Pentecost quiz:

1. (b)
2. (b)
3. (a)
4. (c)
5. (c)
6. (b)
7. (a)
8. (a)
9. (c)
10. (a)

I hope that you did well!

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Birthday Anniversary Quiz!

Former pupils who happen to check out this blog will appreciate the title. I always pointed out that, physically, we have only one birthday - the day of our physical birth. After that, we celebrate the anniversary of that day, usually on an annual basis (although one does eventually reach a stage at which the numbers don't really matter, and the day is little different from any other!).

Tomorrow is the celebration of the Jewish festival of the Day of Pentecost (Shavuot), the first if which in the Christian era is generally considered to be the day on which the Christian Church was born. It was as Peter preached his Biblical message on that day that 3,000 were saved.

So, here is a wee quiz to check what you know about the first disciples of Jesus!

1. The disciples of Jesus started preaching about Him
       (a) the day after He died;
       (b) shortly after His death;
       (c) years later.
2.  Their first message was that
       (a) Jesus had been wrongly convicted;
       (b) Father God had raised Jesus as Lord and King;
       (c) people should love one another.
3.  They started to preach after
       (a) God the Holy Spirit came upon them;
       (b) a democratic vote;
       (c) their leaders had decided that the time was right.
4.  They asked their hearers to
       (a) accept that they were right;
       (b) be more religious;
       (c) allow Jesus to change their lives.
5.  When the authorities told them to stop, they
       (a) did what they were told;
       (b) organised a mass resistance movement;
       (c) prayed, and then continued to preach.
6.  Their message was based on
       (a) inner experience;
       (b) facts about Jesus;
       (c) philosophical ideas.
7.  Their preaching was accompanied by
       (a) miracles;
       (b) impressive arguments;
       (c) mob hysteria.
8.  The disciples were noted for
       (a) their love for one another;
       (b) their exclusivity;
       (c) their financial acumen.
9.  Their enemies accused them of
       (a) being old-fashioned;
       (b) being narrow-minded;
       (c) turning the world "upside-down".
10. There members were from
       (a) every social class;
       (b) the ruling classes;
       (c) the well-educated people.

Okay, see how you get on. I shall endeavour to publish the correct answers within the next few days!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

A Father's love.

My younger daughter has posted, on Facebook, that it is three years since she was diagnosed with cancer. Obviously, my wife and I, and the whole family, are delighted and grateful that she is here to post about that day, that we recall as if it were, indeed, just yesterday!

We sought to support her throughout her treatment, and are grateful that she had noticed the cancer early, and that she received treatment very quickly. As we sat with her during her chemotherapy sessions - which were the most difficult times - I wished that someone would come into the room and say, "Mr Ross, a new treatment has just been discovered. It involves you taking this chemotherapy on behalf of your daughter, with all of its unpleasant side-effects, but your daughter will then be totally free of cancer, for life."  I have absolutely no doubt at all as to my reaction. I would have taken my daughter's place on that hospital bed as quickly as was humanly possible!

Why would I have done such a thing? Why would I have voluntarily experienced all that she was obliged to experience? Simply because of my love for my own child! I am certain, too, that I would not be unique in that. Surely any loving parent would do the same for their offspring!

As I thought about that, earlier this evening, I realised that it is, in a sense, a picture of the love that Father God has for each one of us. We suffer from the most virulent "cancer" of all - cancer of the soul, that the Bible refers to, quite simply, as "sin". There is no cure that mankind has ever discovered, or ever will discover. However, a cure is available. It's a cure that involved Another taking your place and mine - not on a hospital bed, but on a wooden cross, on a hill named Calvary, just outside the old city of Jerusalem. He took our place; He paid the penalty for our sin; He died, in His humanity,that we might have the opportunity to live.

Indeed, there is even more. Paul writes these amazing words: "For our sake He [the Father] made Him [the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him [the Son] we might become the righteousness of God." (II Cor.5:21). Now, remember that, in the mystery of the Trinity, the Father and the Son (together with Holy Spirit) are One. So, as God, the Son not only experienced the full weight of our sin, He actually became sin! To use my opening analogy, it is as if I was asked to become cancer, in all of its vileness, in order that my daughter be cured! That is, as the hymnwriter pointed out, "love beyond all measure"!

But just think. If the opening picture that I painted had been true, and my daughter had turned round and said, "Don't bother, dad. I'll just suffer all of this myself, and take my chance on the future." Well, any sane person would have said that she was quite mad! They would say that to spurn my love for her in that way was, itself, unforgivable! Yet that is what so many do to God the Son! "We don't really care about what You suffered for us. We'll just carry on regardless, and take our chance with the future!" Sadly, that future is eternity without Him! But He will never force any of us to do what we don't want to do!

Have you acknowledged your own sinfulness? Have you accepted that you can, by yourself, do nothing about it? Then come to the One Whose shed blood can cleanse the deepest stain. He did it for you! "God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16). He loves you, and seeks your love in return. 

If you have any questions that you think I might be able to answer, please use the e-mail address at the top of the page. I don't check that Inbox on a daily basis but, as soon as I read your question, I will get in touch. Just remember, that time is short. We cannot be sure of even the next minute. Come to Jesus now. You'll never regret it if you do. 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Such a little way to go!

The knowledge that circumstances are only temporary can be very helpful. This is illustrated by the story of a girl - we'll call her Mary - who told of the exasperating time she had experienced on a bus. "A big lady came and sat next to me," she said, "taking up so much room that she forced me right against the side of the bus. To make things worse, the parcels she was carrying kept bumping me in the face, and I had to keep dodging them!" Her young brother asked a not unreasonable question: "Why didn't you tell her to move over? After all, you were there first!" Mary replied, with a wisdom beyond her years: "I didn't think that it was worthwhile. After all, we had such a little way to go together!"

The psalmist-king of Israel, David, was very conscious of that same truth when he offered the prayer recorded in I Chronicles 29.  By this time, he was about 70 years of age - something to which I can all-too-readily relate! - and had many memories of successes - and of failures; of joys - and of sorrows. But, as he prayed, he expressed his deep impression of the very brevity of life: "We are only strangers traveling through this world like our ancestors. Our time on earth is like a passing shadow, and we cannot stop it." (v.15; ERV). I am sure that, if that famous figure of old; that man described by God, in spite of all of his failures, as "... a man after My own heart;" (Acts 13:22), could have lived some segments of his life over again, he would have made different decisions, and conducted himself differently! He would have been more pure; more forgiving; more godly; less concerned with worldly achievements; with sensual pleasures; with the petty trivialities over which people quarrel. 

It was reported, today, in a newspapers, that "SCIENTISTS believe man is on the brink of having an average lifespan of 120 years after major medical breakthroughs." (Daily Express). However, even that is but a moment in comparison with eternity! We should, therefore, place the highest value on spiritual realities. My current "computer wallpaper" reminds me of "... the fruit of the Spirit ..." - "... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;" (Gal.5:22). These are the attributes that we should seek to cultivate in our relationships with others. Remember, we have such a little way to go together!

I also received the following in a regular e-mail, today: "“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried.” (Luke 16:22)
Many scholars believe that the episode reported in Luke 16:19-31 actually happened, that it is a true story. If it is a parable, it is not identified as such, and it is the only one in which the name of a participant is given. Christ related the story as if it were true. But whether history or parable, we can learn much from the contrast between these two dramatically different men, their deaths and destinies.
The rich man, of course, surrounded himself with luxury (v. 19) while Lazarus struggled each day just to survive until the next poverty-filled and pain-wracked day (vv. 20-21).
No one can escape the grave, however, and in the passage of time, both died. But, rather than reducing those two different individuals to the commonality of death, their differences actually are heightened. The rich man, “being in torment” (v. 23), was aware of the comfort of Lazarus in “Abraham’s bosom” (v. 22). The interchange between the rich man and Abraham, and the timeless instruction Christ gave, are well known.
Note also the contrast between “carried” and “buried” in our text. The beggar’s body was no doubt unceremoniously dumped into a pauper’s grave, while the rich man’s corpse was placed in a costly sepulchre and his funeral attended by many friends and mourners. But look beyond the earthly spectrum. While the rich man begs for mercy and relief from torment, the poor man’s eternal spirit is “carried” (literally “carried off” or “borne away”) by a convoy of angelic beings into the presence of God, where “now he is comforted” (v. 25). For Lazarus, and indeed for all who die in the Lord, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54)."

Time, someone has said, is too precious to be spent; it must be well invested! How are you investing your time - today?!

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Yom Yerushalayim

As people continue to come to terms with the atrocity in Manchester on Monday evening, we remember that mourning the dead, and being concerned for the injured, does not mean that we have to forget the rest of life. One nation that has experienced what may well be said to be more than its fair share of violence, terrorism, mayhem, and murder, is the tiny State of Israel. However, regardless of what else is happening - within its own borders, or anywhere else - Israelis are about to commence the celebration of Yom Yerushalayim - Jerusalem Day.

So why is this day so important? What is its significance? It is simply the celebration of a very special day in the history of the modern State of Israel. It was fifty years ago tomorrow that the city of Jerusalem was, during the Six Days' War, united for the first time in some 2,000 years.
Nineteen years earlier, the Declaration of the Independence of the new State of Israel was responded to, by the surrounding Arab nations. The invading armies failed to destroy the fledgling State, but Jerusalem, the Holy City, the city that was (and is) central to the identity of the Jewish people, was divided, and control of the Old City and East Jerusalem where the First and Second Temples once stood, was handed over to Jordan - with residents of the Old City being either murdered or expelled. Many of the ancient Synagogues were destroyed; Jews were forbidden to pray at the Western Wall; and Jewish cemeteries were desecrated

However, after 1967's Six Day War, Jerusalem was transferred to Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 2,000 years! The days before the war were a time of intense Arab hostility, with Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) threatening to completely destroy Israel.  
While Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq amassed troops to attack Israel, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike and miraculously defeated the enemy in just six days. Once again, the Jewish People could freely live in Israel's capital, the city in which God chose to dwell.

The prophetic Word was fulfilled: "You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance - the place, YHWH, You made for Your dwelling, the sanctuary, O YHWH, Your hands established."  (Exodus 15:17). "Thus says YHWH: 'Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob, and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be.'" (Jer.30:18).

Jerusalem is, of course, central to the prophecies of the end-times! The Bible says that in the last days, the nations will come against Jerusalem (see Zechariah 12:3; Ezekiel 38–39)Indeed, the stage seems to be set for this very thing to happen, as much of the world community would like to re-divide Jerusalem, giving the part that Jordan briefly controlled to the so-called "Palestinians".

As this 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city is celebrated, let all of us who love the Jewish nation, be faithful, and fervent, in praying for the peace of the city (Ps.122:6). And let those of us who are disciples of Yeshua, accepting Him as HaMashiach, remember that it is to Zion that He will return: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'

Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of YHWH to Zion. 
Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem; for YHWH has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem." (Is.52:7-9).

L'chaim Yisrael!