Friday, 23 December 2016

Christmas – in a darkened world

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2)

‘Melt-down’ is an over-used cliché today, much resorted to by journalists – but Isaiah’s word Darkness is better, when describing a situation in which no one is certain what to do, nor where any future hope can be found.

Fascinatingly the prophet Isaiah – in foretelling the coming light of Christ into the world – was writing in what could be called the tense of the prophetic past.  So certain was his vision, that he wrote of God’s blessings in the future as events that had already happened.  Other prophets did the same, as they cast themselves forward in time, seemingly to look backwards on the sure actions of God in coming days. 

And yet in 733 BC, Isaiah’s own people were facing the biggest menace they had ever known. Assyria, boasting the world’s first professional standing army, was massively armed; unprincipled, heathen and contemptuous of every god and religion in sight.  But Judah’s young king Hezekiah, faced by a threatening letter from Assyria’s king Sennacherib, was to find encouragement from Isaiah.  Prayerfully taking the letter into the temple, he ‘spread it out before the Lord’ (2 Kings 19: 14).  Isaiah for his part sent a message of godly defiance to Sennacherib.  Unexpectedly there then took place the God-given collapse of the hostile army, and Sennacherib’s withdrawal.

Believers today can learn from Hezekiah.  Whatever happened to the epic of the Reformation?  To the writing of Bunyan, the preaching of Spurgeon, the great awakenings under Wesley and Whitefield? What became of the triumph of the Sunday Schools, the rock face of marriage, the hold that the Christian Sunday once had upon our islands?  What of the persecution of Christ’s disciples in many countries today?  How to react when faced by some banner headline of violence, secularism or aggressive atheism?

Answer: Take it and spread it out before the Lord – with the message of the prophets and apostles at your side.  For tomorrow has always belonged to them, never to the military dictators, terrorists or political opportunists.

We will then, like Hezekiah, gain a fresh confidence from the light of Jesus’ coming among us at Christmas.  Aware of events on every continent we will even be surprised to learn that Christ’s is the fastest-growing family of belief in the world.  Such a Light can never be put out.  Augustine declared, as long as sixteen centuries ago –

“This Child of the manger fills the world”


Thursday, 17 November 2016

A good name spells out … Integrity

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold   (Proverbs 22:1)

It was the introductory first sentence of the book of Proverbs that ascribed its contents to the influence of King Solomon who – in the earlier days of his famed wisdom – evidently came under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, in words that have fed the souls of believers across the centuries. There have been Christian leaders in our own time who have included the practical input of Proverbs as a ‘lifestyle’ working out of their daily reading of the Scriptures. Among them have been two international evangelists – George Verwer and Billy Graham.

When it came to Billy Graham – in the harnessing of the musical and MC abilities of Cliff Barrows throughout sixty and more years of evangelistic events in no less than 148 countries – it emerged that a man of giant character and integrity was augmenting a work that has not been exceeded in its effectiveness world-wide since the days of the New Testament apostles. And Integrity was to be the name of the game, in the handling of finances from the very beginning; in sexual ethics, public relations, the support of the churches, the shunning of sideline controversies and the follow-up care of those responding to the preaching of Christ. Truth was to lie at the heart of such ministry.

As for Cliff Barrows, he departed this life on November 15th, 2016 – at the age of 93.  I had seen him in action first, when I had been a teenager. And Pam – who would one day become my wife – first saw him when she was but seven.  But in coming days - as I entered into Christian ministry myself – I was to get to know, and even work a little with this giant of the faith. During our three-week Billy Graham ‘Mission 89’ in London – of which I was Chair, it was an honour to meet, pray and work with him as we discussed the forthcoming evening event. How he was loved across the world! Integrity and a selfless care for others were stamped upon his entire outlook and attitude.

“Morality,” wrote Augustine, “has perished through the want of good men” (De Civitate Dei, Book 2, chapter 21). That was sixteen centuries ago! What progress has the human race made since?  None whatever – apart from the Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  A lesson from the life of Cliff Barrows is that Character is the only thing that you will take into the next life.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

‘All Saints’ – can I be one of them?

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number … crying with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God' …  (Revelation 7: 9,10)

When All Saints Day arrives in the Christian calendar, that supposed company seems like a holy race apart.  Could I ever aspire to be among such ‘saints’?

Come with me to the very gates of heaven.  They’re so high, you can’t see over them – but we can hear the singing!  Why, they seem to be singing that great song of worship, composed by Augustine for his baptism  – when he was a new convert to the Faith, many centuries ago!  “We praise thee O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord!”    

So remarkable are its words of ringing Christian testimony, that it found a place in the old English Prayer Book.  When you hear it on YouTube – sung by the choir of Trinity College Cambridge as Stanford’s Te Deum in B Flat, why - it’s enough to give you goose pimples….

But now – as I hear it from over the walls of heaven – the music is incredible!

“Who IS that, singing in there?” I ask.  By way of reply, a phrase from the Te Deum comes drifting over the wall. ‘The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee!’  At that point I go pale.  Apostles, eh? I’m hardly in that category!

Another burst of heavenly music.  Unbelievable singing!  “And who is THAT?” I shout.  Over it comes: ‘The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise thee!’  My tummy does a somersault.  Oh  no – not the prophets; they’re among the Seven-Star Saints; this is terrible.  Poor, poor me!

Now the walls are literally vibrating with sound.  Tremblingly I ask, “Who’s singing now?”  Over the wall lobs the reply: “The noble army of martyrs praise thee!”    Martyrs…. well,  they’re the tops.  “Pam, get me out of this place; take me away for a cup of coffee!”

But just as I’m turning away, I hear a last phrase of the Te Deum.  Hey - what was that? – “Thou didst open the Kingdom - the Kingdom of heaven – to ALL believers!” 

Feel better?  I do!  I may not count myself as an advanced believer in Jesus Christ, but I AM a believer!  I too am among ‘All Saints’ after all!  I CAN sing Augustine’s testimony song!


Thursday, 22 September 2016

‘Ego eimi’ – ‘I am’

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”  “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said.  (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground   (John 18: 4-6)

Generally it is held that there were seven instances of Christ’s ‘I AM’ phrase in John’s Gospel (‘I am the bread of life…. the light of the world…. the door…. the good shepherd…. the resurrection and the life…. the way the truth and the life…. the Vine.  But here is a fascinating eighth.  For the New Testament Greek has Jesus replying to the demand of his enemies to identify himself with just two words: “ego eimi” – literally, I AM.

Coming as it did – at the arrest that inaugurated what Christ had long earlier foretold as the approaching ‘hour’ of his coming ordeal – the statement had the effect of a thunderclap.  For the two words ‘I AM’ refer - in the Bible – to the divine Name, first announced to Moses (Exodus 3:14).  Uttered at this moment, and in such a manner, it highlighted the chasm between the majesty of Jesus and the treachery of Judas and his armed companions. A s Gordon Bridger writes, ‘A look.  A word. The divine name; and they shrink from his presence’ (The Man from Outside: Inter-Varsity Press)

Only at that point does Jesus allow his enemies  to take him.

It’s good to be on the side of Jesus – even when the worst things imaginable are happening.  His is the Name that is above every name (Acts 4:12; Philippians 2:9-11).  Jesus Christ stays in ultimate charge.  Always.  And - as Gordon Bridger continues -  ‘If we really met him, we too would fall to the ground.’


Monday, 12 September 2016

Joined to Christ

“I am the true vine”  (John 15:1)

If you have ever visited Hampton Court, former grand home of England’s King Henry VIII – you are bound to have seen the ‘Great Vine’ – the oldest of its kind in the world.  Fascinatingly the spreading branches of this gigantic vine derive their life from a single central stem.

The vital UNION between a vine and its branches was used by Jesus to teach the necessary dependence of His followers on himself.  And ‘fruitfulness’ is the very life of God, outpouring itself in godly character and selfless service.  ‘Stay joined to Christ’ is the secret – and there WILL be ‘fruit.’  It will just happen!

William Nagenda of Uganda was one of the most effective Christian leaders Africa ever had.  It was in his early days of unbelief that he was first challenged.  “I was working in my city office,” he remembered,  “and heard some singing about Jesus from outside.  Exasperated, I flung open the door and shouted ‘Quieten down! What’s going on?’ 

“Four men faced me. ‘Ah,” they smiled, ‘We wish you knew!’

“Angrily I slammed the door shut.  But then I began to think.  I said to myself, ‘Their faces – so full of joy and peace…  I wish I had such a face!’  I came back to the four, and asked ‘How can I have a face like yours? W hat did you do to be like that?’  Their answer was dumbfounding.  ‘We have not done one single thing to be different!’  The explanation, they said, lay in the power of Christ.

“I could hardly take it in,” said William.  “But that, to me, was the beginning.”  By the evening William had become a believer.  

‘Apart from me you can do nothing,’ said Jesus.  Be a part of Christ, the True Vine - maintaining touch by prayer and His word every day - and the supernatural work of God will do the rest.  Test yourself one day regarding the ‘fruit’, as you look up Galatians 5:22,23!


Sunday, 28 August 2016

The Dilemma of Thomas

“I am the way, the truth and the life”   (John 14:6)

These words were given by the world’s greatest Teacher in answer to the question posed by one of His twelve disciples, Thomas.  It has been the quest of millions of people.

The Greek thinker Plato was so massive, that all future strides in western thought were later described as a series of ‘footnotes to Plato.’  Yet even Plato was forced to acknowledge, ‘The Father of the world is hard to discover, and when discovered cannot be communicated.’  The same insight has been acknowledged by devotees of other belief-systems - that the deity they seek to worship reveals nothing of his true nature and character; only the commands he insists must be obeyed.  

When it comes to ‘finding God’ there seem to have been as many ways devised as there are people.  In Katmandhu there are more gods than people, and more temples than houses.  In the face of such plurality, is there a single, convincing system of thought that can point the way through – and unite humanity?

The contention of the Christian faith is Yes – but that we are utterly reliant upon the revelation made directly from heaven in the Person of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.  All we need to do is acknowledge that we have been on the wrong road, and then by faith join that divine Freeway by a slip road that is marked ‘Calvary’s Cross.’

And there is no other way, for Jesus told Thomas, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Be encouraged!  Though Christ is the one road to the Father, there are many roads to Christ – and people all over the world, by the hundreds and thousands daily are coming to Him, from a mass of different languages, dress codes, personal circumstances and religious backgrounds.  And some from complete atheism.


Saturday, 20 August 2016

He says it … He does it … He is it!

“I am the resurrection and the life”  (John 11:25)

Here in John’s Gospel is Jesus, standing at the graveside of a much-loved friend who has been in the tomb for four long days.  Jesus is more than a godly miracle-worker.  His style is utterly different from that of an itinerant wonder-worker who might perhaps have boasted, “I can turn water into wine, I can stop storms, I can multiply bread; Listen – I can even do resurrections!”

No, Christ is more than someone who dispenses wonderful gifts.  He IS the Gift itself – being the original source of all life.  You don’t come to Jesus for gifts.  You come because He is Jesus!  He is the one and only universal Resurrection and the Life.  He says it, He does it, He is it!

At the tomb, they’re weeping – and Jesus weeps too.  So He doesn’t look down upon our sorrows in calm detachment; He has emotions too.  A friend of mine described her sense of outrage as the coffin of her father was lowered into the ground.  Something inside her was shouting, ‘That’s my DADDY!’ What a difference it makes that Jesus, Lord of all life, shares the grief of His friends at these epic moments.

In our story, Lazarus, the dead friend, was raised.  Here was the demonstration of Christ’s authority over Old Man Death.  It was apparent in every one of His commands that wonderful day: “Take away the stone!....Lazarus, come out1….  Take off the grave clothes and let him go!”  This was not THE Resurrection.  Lazarus would die again one day.  But the event took place – as Jesus phrased it in His prayer to the Father above “that they may believe that You sent Me.  ”It was also  something of a curtain-raiser for what was to come – Christ’s own historic, bodily resurrection – the prototype for every one of those who follow Him through this life and into the next – never to die again!



Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Protection, Direction, Satisfaction

“I am the good shepherd”  (John 10:11)

A young woman, lured by a businessman, went missing in Britain – and a nationwide hunt went up for her.  Eventually she was found in a confused state at Basingstoke railway station.  Interestingly she told the press, “I didn’t know I was lost until I was found.”

This is the unknowing spiritual state of many who are far from God.  Christ has come for them – and he is the only ‘shepherd’ who can both find and lead them in a safe direction.  Many leaders in the past could only be described as ‘shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture” (Jeremiah 23:1)  We can identify such shepherds today – even within the Church.  In Jesus’ time it was the Pharisees who were the ‘thieves and robbers’ described in John chapter 10.  They were no more than ‘hired hands,’ who – at the first sign of trouble – were up and away.

The ‘good’ Shepherd gives protection, direction and satisfaction to God’s flock.  He knows each one of the flock by name – and they know Him well enough to recognise and trust His voice; never that of a ‘stranger’ – be it from whatever background.

In our family we knew this as young children, growing up on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya.  We got to know Frances Ridley Havergal’s hymn, ‘God will take care of you.’  Here is the ‘night-time’ verse:  

God will take care of you; all through the night
Jesus the Shepherd, His little one keeps;
Darkness to Him is the same as the light;
He never slumbers and He never sleeps.

Has there ever been any belief-system in the world which got anywhere near thinking of its leader as a good shepherd, who knows and cares for his followers personally – even to the extent of laying down his life?  Speak to this one – as YOUR Shepherd – at this very moment!   


Thursday, 4 August 2016

Only One Way In

“I am the door”  (John 10:7 KJV)

The ancient city of Troy, made famous by Homer’s account of the Trojan War, had but one door. You could keep circling its walls – but there was only one way in.  In our passage, Jesus is taking the image, not so much of a city, but of a middle-eastern sheep pen…. yet the principle is the same - there is only one way in.

‘The door’…. the very gateway to life and safety – but why can’t it be a case of ‘One God – many doors’?  ANSWER: No other ‘doorway’ can compare with that provided by the person of Jesus.  Have any other candidates for the position beaten humanity’s enemy, Death?  Can any other applicants deal with the problem of Guilt – that keeps sinners excluded?  Are there any other aspirants who are morally flawless?  If not, they are going to be in desperate need of a safe entry themselves!

It can only be this one Person …. And he is big enough to take in people from every strata of society. Further: while Jesus is the only door to God, there are many doors to Jesus!  I was driving once, and I gave a lift to a man of another belief-system.  We got on well.  “I dare to think,” I said, as we finally parted, “that your present beliefs will one day act for you as a stepping-stone – towards Christ himself.”

QUESTION: What exactly do I have to do, to enter in at Christ, the Door?  The answer: simply come - in a prayer of your own words.  Tell him that you are sorry for the wrongs in your life for which He died on the Cross, and that you are now doing an ‘about turn’ from every other possible door to God, and coming to Him as the only door.  Then – for His reply to your prayer - look at words of His in the Bible … at John ‘s Gospel, chapter 6, verse 37: “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”  Let this be Day One of your new life as a follower of Jesus!

For someone, this is your moment, today.  Echo Charlotte Elliott’s famous hymn: “And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come!”


Monday, 25 July 2016

‘A Sun Which Never Sets’

  “I am the light of the world”  (John 8:12)

Here is the universal claim of Jesus Christ.  If you believe it and follow that light, you will live for ever!  Jesus would have been standing in the light of several great golden candelabra when he made this awesome claim at Jerusalem’s Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37).  The lamps reminded the Jewish people present of the divine pillars of light that led them in their desert wanderings under Joshua.

Now here was Jesus’ claim – unique, universal and ultimate!  He was not claiming to be one of many lights that have guided humanity, but THE Light; not simply the light and guide of Judaism, but that of the world; not simply one more light, but original, un-borrowed Light in the absolute sense.  John had stated this at the start of his Gospel – "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world" (John 1:9).  That is, no one who turns to Jesus - irrespective of culture or religious background – will remain in spiritual darkness!

Once recognise Christ as The Light – and we are changed for ever.   A man once wrote a letter, after responding to the claims of Jesus at a church service in the city of Leeds:  “It was as if a light suddenly turned on, and everything became very clear.  I was, quite frankly, speechless.  It really is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me.”  

This can happen anywhere.  A musician I know came to this great realisation in the middle of a ballroom dance floor in Bristol; she was to become a missionary in Africa!  An army soldier could find nowhere to kneel undisturbed in his surrender to Christ – except in the barracks bathroom.  A hundred and fifty years ago the Rev William Haslam was preaching in his church on the text What think ye of Christ? But during the course of his sermon he became aware that until then he had never  known Christ for himself.   As he put it later that day, “I felt a wonderful light."  What had happened?  Before the day was out the whole village crowded joyfully into the church at the news that the minister had been  converted to Jesus Christ  in his own pulpit!

Sixteen centuries ago, Augustine - the mighty scholar from Libya - wrote "The Lord Jesus is a sun which never sets."

Sunday, 10 July 2016

When Sun and Moon ‘Stopped’

"O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon”   (Joshue 10:12)
Yes, the elements helped Joshua defeat five heathen kings.  He prayed; the light from sun and moon was arrested, and victory was complete.

True, the English reading – that the sun ‘stood still’ (v.13) - has caused many readers to suppose that Joshua was needing more daylight and that the earth therefore stopped turning on its axis for the best part of a day – but look at the Bible again.  A little further Bible study helps, when certain passages present uncertain interpretations to their readers.

Have another look! Verse 9 indicates that Joshua was on a NIGHT march, and that what he needed was not more daylight, but more darkness - lest the approaching dawn threaten to derail his night attack.

And the Hebrew scholars help us here.  The word for ‘stand still’ can equally well mean ‘cease,' as, for example, in 2 Kings 4:6: ‘Then the oil stopped flowing’ or ‘ceased.’

As for the English reading that the sun delayed ‘going down’ about a full day (v.13), it was the evangelical Bible scholar F.F. Bruce who observed that while the Hebrew word for going down -  ‘Bo’ - usually applies to sunset, it can also mean ‘to come’,  and is parallel to the word ‘zarah’ (‘to RISE) – as in Isaiah 60:1; ‘Arise, shine’ (compare Job 31:26).

Could it be, then, that with the need for more darkness, Joshua prayed, and the resulting thunderous hailstorm (v.11) served him well, not only by devastating the enemy (v.11), but also by delaying the sunrise.  Both sun and moon ‘died’ on them, and never put in an appearance at all!

Here was a God-given miracle of extended darkness.  Try this Bible study yourself.


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

When Hate Feeds off Hate

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  (Ephesians 4:31,32)

“Thank you, friend!” I said this morning to the male Asian operator as I left the X-ray department at our local hospital.  As my wife and I walked to the car, it was Pam who declared, “Where would we ever be without these skilled immigrants serving us in our hospitals?”

I could only agree.  In every one of my various hospital adventures in recent years, I have been only too aware of nurses, orderlies and social workers, recruited from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Egypt, India, Poland, Somalia or Indonesia…. immigrants who have helped to fill the gaps in our over-pressed National Health Service.  At a time of pain, I never forgot my most vigilant and caring nurse ever.  She was from Nepal.

Bear this in mind in the face of the current racist abuse, coupled with  expressions of mutual hatred and parliamentary confusion in the leadership crisis that British society is experiencing at this present vital turning point for the future.

It is when a country has lost its legacy of spiritual and ritual identity – harnessed over centuries – that a single issue can cause it to succumb to forces and sentiments that stem from the Pit.

Don’t succumb, yourself.  If your experiences with social media foster in your soul the numbing process by which hate feeds off hate, then leave it alone – for a period, at least.  And an up-building exercise?  TRY A FILM!  Send for the DVD of the film that the Guinness Book of Records declares as the most watched film – secular or religious – in the whole of history.  Forget The Titanic.  It is ‘The Jesus Film’ – watched over 6 billion times and translated into 1,200 languages.  Some 200 million people world-wide have declared themselves to have found personal faith and meaning in life, through watching it.  Just google to find it.

Then share it with friends….

Friday, 17 June 2016

Kingdoms that Cannot Last

“Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision”   (Daniel 8:16)

Daniel is baffled by his vision of a powerful he-goat that overwhelmed every rival in sight, only finally to fail and give way to other powers.  Here was prophesied the rise of Alexander the Great, whose military emblem emblazoned on his banners was indeed that of a he-goat.  Daniel is overwhelmed; yet this divine message unfolds for him – and for us – the nature of godless kingdoms across history:

1. They are saturated with success.  This was true of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Alexander and the Greek kingdom, and eventually of the Roman empire – indeed of every totalitarian regime that arrogantly expects to last for a thousand years.  Every mountain climbed, every ambition realised!  Then comes either self-destruction from within, or an unforeseen outside influence that brings the whole edifice crashing down – sometimes in a single day.  Nothing fails like success!

2. They are inflated with power.  The later tyrant portrayed in v.23-25 has generally been interpreted as Antiochus Epiphanes who was to oppress God’s ancient people in unprecedented manner.  He serves as an all-time prototype of the final Antichrist (Matthew 24:15-29).  Godless and puffed up, we are aware of such leaders and governments today.

3. They are destined for failure.  ‘Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power’ (v. 25).  It’s God’s kingdom that has the last word.  Attacked over the centuries, it outlasts all else (Revelation 11:15). 

Take sides, then!  Moses or Pharaoh?  Elijah or wicked King Ahab?  Daniel or Belshazzar?  John the Baptist or King Herod?  Felix the Roman governor or the apostle Paul?  You can’t stay neutral in this game

Sunday, 29 May 2016

When God Comes to Live with You

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him"             (John 14:23 ESV)

Three of Jesus’ disciples, Thomas, Philip and Judas (not Iscariot) had each interrupted his speaking with a question – and Christ’s answers (v. 6, 9, 23) have given us three all-time golden statements!

Here is the third of them.  Judas (also known as Thaddeus) had asked how it was “that you will manifest yourself to us and not to the world?”

1. Answer: Christ reveals himself only to his lovers.  Herod?  Caiaphas?  Pontius Pilate? A meeting with Christ risen from the dead was denied them.  Only to those who are open to His free gift of salvation, and are  demonstrating their grateful love in daily obedience to His word, does He make himself known.
2. Answer: The lives of his lovers will be his home.  The Greek word translated ‘home’ in verse 23 is exactly the same as that translated as the ‘rooms’ or ‘mansions (KJV) in verse 2.  As Frederic Godet of Switzerland wrote, “Here below it is God who dwells with the believer; above, it will be the believer who will dwell with God.”

3. Answer: To be a lover of Christ is to have God in your home.  Jesus here couples himself with ‘My Father’ – an indication of his own deity.  So – whether you live in a hostel, hotel, or bed-sit; in a cottage, palace, refugee camp or prison-cell – that home and your very life will become lit up when Christ and the Father move in with you!


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Salvation is achieved by the Trinity!

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation ..     (Ephesians 1:17)

Don’t try to define ‘The Trinity’ as an abstract formula.  For the Bible presents the tri-une Lord so naturally that the three Persons of the great Godhead fit easily into everyday praying.  And when it comes to the Gospel offer of eternal salvation, all three Persons are involved:

1. Our salvation rests upon the eternal plan of the Father, the Author
Dig out a Bible, and you will see it in Ephesians 1, verses 3-6.  Our heavenly Father has PLANNED it all!  This is his delight from eternity.

2. Our salvation rests upon the historic work of Christ, the Agent

This is the special function of Jesus – he has DONE it all!  Check your verses!  (‘in him – v.4; ‘through Jesus Christ’ – v. 5;  ‘in the One he loves’ – v. 6;  ‘in him…redemption through his blood’ - v. 7.)  And look further on in the passage – it’s everywhere!

3. Our salvation rests on the internal work of the Spirit, the Animator

What Christ has done FOR believers, the Holy Spirit does IN believers; he has APPLIED it all!  Bible check - ‘Having believed, you were marked in him (Jesus) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…’ (v. 13,14).  The ‘seal’ of the Spirit - in the changed and changing life of even the newest believer – is, as the term suggests, God’s mark of genuineness, the stamp of his  ‘ownership’ and the guarantee of our security - for ever!



Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Ascended Rule of Christ

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.  And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne    (Revelation 12: 5)

Our salvation depended upon six mighty saving actions of God in Jesus Christ.  The Incarnation (God becoming human) inaugurated it at Bethlehem.  The Cross achieved it.  The Resurrection confirmed it.  The Ascension celebrated it.  The Gift of the Spirit drove it world-wide.  And the Return of Christ at the end of the age will consummate it!

In this passage of Revelation, who is ‘She’?  No, it’s not Mary.  It’s the age-old Church of God – frequently portrayed as a woman and stretching back to the beginning of the Bible – hounded and persecuted (v. 6, 13-17) by the powers of evil.  The description that she was clothed with the sun, moon and twelve stars (v.1) is a reference back to Genesis 37:9, and to Joseph’s dream of his mother, father and his eleven brothers.  The woman, then, is ‘Israel’ – and it was out of the ordeals and ‘birth-pangs’ of God’s people that the Christ-Child finally emerged (v.2).

The threatening ‘dragon’ (v. 3) is Satan (v.9) - the opposer and would-be murderer of the Christ-Child (v.4).  But the Child was ‘snatched up to God and to His throne’ (v.5).  This refers to Christ’s triumphant Ascension – the completion and triumph of His saving work on earth.

The pressures on the Church will continue until the end of time, but now there is a Man in heaven looking after our interests - once crucified, now raised and ascended …. and coming back to reclaim us at the end of time! 

Monday, 25 April 2016

‘An eye for an eye’

But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand….    (Exodus 21:23,24)

The MORAL CODE of the Ten Commandments was given in Exodus 20.  Now in chapters 21-23, it is being applied to the CIVIL CODE, affecting the community.  Does it look a little draconian?  It’s actually pure justice!

1. The principle of equivalent damages.  Here was guidance for Israel’s magistrates, in setting out the level of compensation for injuries inflicted within the community.  The principle was to be as exact an equivalent as was possible.  The best evaluation of a servant’s eye which had been knocked out was to give the servant his complete freedom (v. 26, 27).  For some injuries, money equivalents could be paid over (v. 30).  After all, a lost tooth was barely compensated by the attacker losing his own tooth.

2. The principle of community protection.  Jesus corrected the Pharisees’ tendency to apply the principle to the area of personal relationships (Matthew 5:38-42).  No one was to take the law into their own hands – and certainly any concept of family feudings or ‘honour killings’ were ruled out from the beginning.  This was community law, to be applied by appointed magistrates, for the security of all.

3. The principle of no personal revenge.  In this, Christ is our supreme example (1 Peter 2:21-23).  In his forbidding of individual revenge, he was simply upholding the Old Testament law of Leviticus 19:18: that declared: ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.’

Uphold justice publicly; express love personally.  That’s the balance!


Sunday, 17 April 2016

Total Depravity!

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing        (Romans 7:18)

In Romans chapter 7, the apostle Paul is describing his state, not as he was before his conversion, nor even as a convinced follower of Christ, but as an advanced believer.  “Wretched man that I am!” he wrote.

By this he did not mean that he was forever wallowing in guilt.  The Christian life is one of joy, freedom and confidence.  Yet the theologians use the phrase ‘Total Depravity’ to describe the human condition.  They do not mean that humanity is as bad as it is possible to be, for noble acts of kindness and unselfishness can be found in people everywhere, however pagan. The term means, rather, that there is no part of us that is not affected by the original Fall, recorded in Genesis chapter 3.

It is not possible to exaggerate what the Fall has done to the human race.  It had no part whatever in Marxist thinking of old, and indeed its effects have been underestimated by many in Christian circles. In typical Anglican under-statement, the nineteenth century bishop of Ely described it as no more than “a most deplorable change!”  Yet, from the Fall onwards we were like a jelly mould that has been dented.  From then on every jelly bears the mark of that dent.  “The most remarkable thing about wrongdoing,” wrote Stephen Neill, “is that it is universal.”

The experience of the apostle Paul is duplicated throughout history.  The further believers advance in godliness, the greater their knowledge of themselves as sinners ‘very far gone from original righteousness’ (Article 9 of the Church of England).  Humankind, at base, is not to be trusted.

And yet, the buffeted new believer can be comforted.  As former slave-trader John Newton declared when he became a Christian, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I hope to be, I am not what I wish to be – but by the grace of God I am not what I was!”


Monday, 11 April 2016

Under God’s Banner

Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my banner    (Exodus 17:15)

Here was a new adventure for the Israelites, after years of oppression in Egypt.  They’re out at last – heading towards their Promised Land.  It’s a picture of what the new believer can expect, coming over -

1. Across the Border.  To cross over the Red Sea is like being converted; your past is behind you, and you’re the citizen of a new kingdom – the kingdom of God!  Suddenly there are new situations confronting you every day, new decisions to make, new habits to establish …. and it isn’t always a comfortable experience.  But this is the normal Christian life….

2. In the wilderness.  They’re in south-west Sinai (chapter 17:1,2),  and the grumbling over lack of provisions is only halted when the miracle of water from the rock takes place.  This is a lesson that we ourselves must learn – that the resources to keep us going require daily trust in God!

3. Under attack.  A third ordeal.  The hostile Amalekites were godless desert marauders.  The battle took place – physically - below on the plain, and – spiritually - at the top of Mount Rephidim, where Moses sat, with the rod of divine authority raised as a kind of prayer banner, symbolising the Israelites' dependence upon God for victory.

After the victory he sets up an altar; ‘The Lord is my Banner.’  Yes, it is never money, might, or personality that advances God’s kingdom.  ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4).


Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Glow of Easter

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  (Luke 24:32)

For three years Jesus had held the tiny band together, through  journeyings, storms and opposition.  And now – following a public trial and execution – He was gone.

Take away the dominant figure, and an organisation can quickly crumble.  Take Theudas, an earlier messianic claimant.  Once killed, his 400 devotees melted away.  Then there was ‘Judas the Galilean.’  When he, too, was removed, the movement scattered.  It was a respected Pharisee, Gamaliel, who used these incidents to discourage his fellow Jewish leaders from persecuting the new Christian church. “Don’t worry about this threatening new movement!” he was saying:

             Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or
               activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you 
               will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves
               fighting against God   (Acts 5:33-40)

Now, it was Easter Day evening. And here were two discouraged  disciples walking to Emmaus.  As far as they were concerned, their leader was dead.  The ‘scattering’ process had already begun.  It had started on that fateful Thursday evening of Christ’s arrest, when Jesus had quoted to his disciples from the prophet Zechariah: “It is written ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (Matthew 26.31.)

The dream was over.  “Let’s go home - back to Emmaus.”  Yet Luke 24 is the glowing account of the entire re-building of a world-view.  As an apparent Stranger joins the two, it was like the uncorking of a bottle; their story pours out. Surely - they argued - The future Redeemer of Israel  - and crucifixion - have nothing to do with each other!  

Then began a fascinating Bible study on the road.  Evidently in their studies, the two had skipped the passages that spoke of a suffering Messiah.  The Stranger says, “Let me fill in those bits for you.”  Now the figures of a Suffering Servant and a conquering King begin to coalesce into a single photo-fit!  Then, at supper with the two, comes the familiar action of the breaking of bread, and – Why…. it’s Jesus.   Hot-foot, the pair make the seven miles back to Jerusalem.  Ultimately, it was the Scriptures that did it for them.  Now they can’t keep the glowing news of the risen Christ to themselves!

If Jesus had not been bodily raised from the grave, the demoralized movement – like that of Theudas – would have folded within days.

 And you and I would never have heard of Him!


Sunday, 20 March 2016

‘Lifted up was He to die’

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have eternal life    (John 3:14,15 KJV)

The evangelist John Wesley once spoke of grumblers as ‘tearing the flesh from my bones.’  Christ’s words here were a reference back to Numbers chapter 21, in which the ever-grumbling Israelites – on their way to the Promised Land – came under the divine judgment of venomous snakes.  Forgiveness and restoration were only provided by the Lord Himself, through the raising up by Moses of a copper serpent in the camp.  Those who in faith fixed their gaze upon the serpent would be saved from death.

This seemingly obscure episode, taking up only four verses of the Scriptures, might have been forgotten across posterity, but for Jesus’ application of the event to the ‘lifting up’ of Himself in saving power when He was to die upon the Cross.  

1. The Death principle is here.  Remember that it was the Serpent, Satan, that introduced death into our human story.  Jesus now draws the parallel between the death from serpent-bite that faced those Israelites of old and the eternal death that all humanity faces as a result of our common rebellion against God’s rule.

2. The Faith principle is here.  The remedy for the people’s sin was the uplifted bronze snake.  To fasten one’s gaze upon that snake was to be exercising obedient faith.  Now Jesus equates the ‘seeing’ of the snake to believing in Himself. “Lifted up was He to die’ runs the old hymn. There on the Cross, the Lord was suspended between earth and heaven – there to be rejected by both.  At that point – in the acceptance in Himself of our sins and their just penalty - He was the loneliest Person in the universe.

3. The Salvation principle. Just as life would be given to those who set their focused gaze upon the serpent of old, so today forgiveness and eternal life are freely given to ‘Whosoever’ will trust in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

The famous seventeenth century Puritan leader Richard Baxter once commented, "I thank God for this word ‘Whosoever.’  If it read, “There is mercy for Richard Baxter,”  I am so vile, so sinful, that I would have thought it must have meant some other Richard Baxter; but this word ‘Whosoever’ includes the worst of all the Baxters that ever lived!"