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But God

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good... Genesis 50:20 NIV

That little word ‘but’ must be one of the most used and abused in our language, and we all know that children use it to full advantage when ‘negotiating’ with their parents to get what they want. We did it ourselves, didn’t we, and not always for the right motives. We know the story behind this Bible verse. Joseph is in a position of power and authority some years after his brothers threw him into a pit, and then sold him to a passing caravan, never to see him again. Or so they thought.

Fast forward and those same brothers are facing a brother they don’t recognise, and Joseph has the power to make their lives miserable, or even end them altogether. But something had happened to Joseph in those dark years. God had to do a work in his life first, and then come the words of our text! If you want a great read and full insight to this story, I would recommend that you read the book “God Meant It For Good” by R T Kendall.

The lesson and application are clear for us today. Times come along in our life when all we see is the harm, but in later time, sometimes years, we can see that all along our gracious God intended it for good, but also along the way He had to teach us some tough lessons to get our heart just right for that good time in the future when it eventually came in God’s time. One Bible commentator calls this verse: “The classic statement of God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men”. Couldn’t have said it any better!

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A Sign

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece”. Judges 6:39 NKJV

Gideon wanted a sign from God, and he got it. That should have been the end of the matter, because Gideon’s request had been met unmistakably, but did you catch Gideon’s words in the verse? How many times have we (me included) been given an answer, clearly and directly, maybe as an answer to prayer, and we say like Gideon, “..let me test..just once more with the fleece..”?

God was patient with Gideon and accepted the test given, and the fleece was used again as the check on God’s will. We don’t always get two chances when God answers us. Maybe we don’t like the answer, and maybe the answer is too good to be true, so in each case we might ask God to rerun the test. God is sovereign, and in His wisdom may not do a repeat performance just for our benefit and ego. Surely once is enough when God speaks into our heart?

My thought is this: When we ask God for something important, and we get a reply that’s straight, direct and unmistakable right into our situation, do we have any right to ask God to double check His first answer? How many times do we expect an answer? Maybe we want another, different reply, but for whatever reason we show a lack of faith when we ask for the same thing twice, having been given a clear response the first time. It’s not as if we can ask for a second opinion because God is supreme. If you are a parent, you will know what it is to be asked for something again when you have already given your reply. Our human reply usually goes something like, “I have already answered that question”. Why then should we be surprised if God uses the same tactic to us, His children, to teach us faith? Or do we keep asking in the hope we will get the answer we want to hear, just like our children? Just wondering, and thinking out loud!

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The Real Truth

 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6 NKJV

“The Real Truth” was the headline in one of the UKs tabloid ‘papers’. I am very reluctant to give this business the tag of being a ‘news’paper, because it revolves around its own definition of ‘truth’. This came to the public attention when it splashed the headline ‘The Truth’ when it reported on a crush which resulted in the deaths of 96 souls and hundreds of injuries at a football match in 1989. It took them until 2012 to respond to public pressure, and a tribunal, to use the headline ‘The Real Truth’. Not an apology, just a new ‘truth’.

The truth is a moving target in today’s society, and very difficult to nail down.That’s because we have become used to hearing the media and the PC brigade saying things like, ‘truth is comparative and relevant’, or ‘that may be your truth, but its not mine, or even ‘there is no such thing as absolute truth’.

It may come as a shock to the tabloid press, but they do not have a monopoly on the truth. Truth cannot be changed, and it is not subjective, or a matter of some academic’s opinion. Truth is embodied in the life of Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate and final truth, and when we stand before Him, as we all will someday, it will be no good arguing over the definition of the word. The verse says it all. If you want to know the truth, and how to live in the shadow of the truth, read God’s Word and follow in His shadow. There is no shortcut to truth, and part of our media hasn’t quite grasped that yet, but then that particular ‘press comic’ wouldn’t know truth if it jumped up and bit them!

PS.. I have heard from some who read this particular ‘rag’ that they buy it for the crossword or the sports reports. I hope we are not so shallow as Christians. Any paper that also insists on publishing a ‘Page Three’, does not deserve any decent person’s custom. Just saying!

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Trust

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen... so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. Heb 11:1-3 NKJV

So, who do YOU trust? How do you know that you can trust someone, or indeed be trusted yourself? Trust is something you can’t measure or weigh, and it is mostly in the head and heart. Exercising trust is something we do all the time, for example, every time you get into your car, you expect it to get you there. In the mornings when the alarm goes off, we trust for the gift of another new day. We make friends and we trust them, and sometimes we have a special friend that we trust implicitly. Words are not needed. We just know.

Trust is fragile too. It can be broken into many fragments, just ask any spouse who was told without warning, that the marriage was over. Ask the child who loses trust in a parent who turns out to be the worst example possible. Ask the special friend why your trust was betrayed. So, my message is clear and simple. Take care of those you trust, but more important that, you must take good care of the trust others, or that special person, place in you. It is important, and cannot be replaced. A broken trust will never be quite the same again.

Faith can be the substance of hope, and all the evidence you need may not be seen with your eyes. I said at the beginning that trust is in your head and heart. let me be more clear. I would say 10% head and 90% heart, so take care when you allow someone to trust you, because you are allowing that person to see and feel 90% of your heart. And don’t be put off by the failures we all know happen. Allow yourself to trust and believe in others, and in so doing others will see the heart of God in us, 100% guaranteed!

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Nine/Eleven

9/11, it doesn't matter how you write it down, it sounds the same.  You will almost certainly remember where you were when the news of the World Trade Centre, Twin Tower attacks broke across our TV screens. I remember clearly where I was, and the questions which rushed through my mind as I watched rerun after rerun of the fall of the mighty twin towers. I thought another type of World War, I thought Islamist extremism. I also thought America would respond immediately in retaliation.

I was right in 2 out of 3. The USA did not take an immediate knee jerk reaction, but weighed up the evidence, and then acted. We all expected they would, after all they had every right to take revenge on those who brought this evil to their sovereign soil. Eleven years on, and the feelings of the survivors, and their families stay raw. How can you move on from such an evil act, brought on 3,000 innocents, by equally evil men? God must have known the heartache man would bring on man when He granted us free choice. We cannot and must not blame our God for the evil done in another name. We are given the ability to choose to accept good, or reject it.

If you want to get all theological about it, both the Christians and the Muslims claim to worship one true God, but it cannot be the same God, can it? In all walks of life there are extremes, and that goes for all religions, however, we must not lose sight of some obvious characteristics as we watch the 9/11 memorial services and cast our minds back to that time. Things like, ordinary Muslims dancing in the streets of their Islamic cities when they heard the news. Have you wondered why? Things like the long delay before any reluctant regret was spoken by the Arab nations. Have you wondered why? From that day to this, when there is a terrorist outrage somewhere in the world, who is usually (not always, but mostly) responsible? Have you wondered why? Have you wondered why the photos of the Islamist zealots show men with beards 'which you can grip with the fist'? The proportion of Islamist terrorism in the world far outweighs that of any other world group or religion, by far. Have you wondered why?

The old saying goes, “Don't ignore the obvious”, so let's not bury our heads in the sand as we try to understand. We have a problem. That's you and me. That's Christians, Jews, and even other Muslims who don't live up to the ideals of a 'more correct' or radical Islamist Muslim group. Remember, Al Queda also killed many Muslims in the Twin Towers, while they were making an attack on 'the West'. Have you wondered why? There is more than one definition of Jihad, and it covers communities as well as nations. There is such a thing as 'social Jihad' where Islamic teachings are being used alongside our own laws. That's Sharia Law, and is already happening in some vulnerable towns and cities in England. There is always the nice face of the Imam as he explains the benefits of Sharia, but a nice face does not always speak the truth. That is also true for Christianity. However, we must go back to the basic teachings of each holy book. The Koran is a very different book from the Bible, written some 500 years after Christ, where Jesus is reduced to a good teacher, and another prophet takes His place. The Koran affords the suicide bomber a guaranteed place in Heaven, and security for his family, the Bible does not. The Koran teaches that war and violence is acceptable and necessary to promote Islam, but the Bible's overriding theme is Love.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Eph 6:12.  

When you see those still grieving as they remember the victims of Islamic Extremist Terrorism, think on the very different worldviews of these very influential Faiths, and ask yourself why?

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Reading and Quoting

I like good quotes, and use them often. The ones I can remember, that is! Little soundbites can put into meaning and perspective some thoughts we have, but can’t quite describe adequately ourselves. So we can relate to little phrases that bridge the gap between our thinking, and our understanding. I have some of my own favourites, and you will have yours.

However, a little quote doesn’t tell you much about who said it, does it? We don’t know if the words came from a literary genius or a numpty, but we take the words given us at face value. Recently it has become more obvious that we use the Bible a bit like a book of quotes. Of course that has great advantages as we remember some of the very many promises God has scattered within the pages of His Word, but there’s that big BUT! So, right there I have to stop and rethink because other, less faith based, or Christlike folks, can (and frequently do) use little quotes, out of context, to ‘prove’ a narrow point. I don’t think there is anything that can be done about that.

This thread of thought brought me round to the need, and yes urgency of reading the Word of God in its entirety, and not just falling into the trap of using it as a ‘promise box’, good as that is to the Christian. The thing that differentiates the ‘quoter’ from the ‘reader’ is, and always will be, the knowledge of the truth behind those few words. Not only that, but that we get a glimpse of the physical writer of the text, but also the overall author and His heart. You don’t get that kind of depth from a quote, and you will never get it from someone whose only intention is to use some words taken from the Bible, to try to disprove and discount its worth. So, can I encourage you to read the Bible often, then you will be armed with more meaningful quotes which have a real background of understanding? Happy searching for those deeper nuggets of gold, because they are there for the reader, but not the casual quoter.

... you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:15-17

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Seems Right

There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. Proverbs 16:25 NKJV, or as it says in the Message translation: There's a way that looks harmless enough; look again—it leads straight to hell.

So, it has now started and it’s official. The Scottish Government announced its intention to bring forward a bill to legalise same sex marriage in the forthcoming parliament year. So by this time next year, same sex marriage will become a ‘normal’ part of Scottish life, that is unless something very unusual and supernatural happens. All of the political parties are in favour, so it is a ‘dead cert’, and I make no apology for the phrase used. Having watched the American election conventions, the same thing will happen if President Obama is re elected, so this is not just a Scottish/UK thing. The biggest difference is that the people in the USA still have a choice, whereas in the UK, all (and that’s ALL) major political leaders/parties support same sex marriage. there is no choice left.

The arguments centre around words like ‘equality’ and ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘impartiality’ and sound good. The words seem to be right, but the words of Proverbs 16:25 should make us, as a people of faith, sit up and take notice. The first translation is the way we tend to think of the text, but the second translation says it in today’s language, and is clearer. This looks harmless enough, but leads straight to hell. These are not my words, but the inspired words from Scripture.

The coming year will be interesting as politicians run rings round any faith group who tries to disagree with their equality argument, and these churches and religious representatives will run the gauntlet of catcalls and intolerance. The very things that these same sex groups have always accused the church of! Quite a double standard, but that will be missed in the verbal scuffles that we will hear on TV and radio. The coming year will be significant in our nation’s once proud Christian history, but I can’t help but dread what society will be like in say 20 or 50 years time. I am glad I will not be here to witness the outcome on what becomes acceptable to our children and grandchildren. We have ditched God and morality for something that leads to hell, but seems right meantime.

Scotland is now a secular society, which by definition is: Denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.” So our future as a nation again by definition, independent or not, will be governed by a Godless set of people and laws. I see the problem very simply. We no longer hold the Bible in any respect or honour, and therefore we do not need to obey the God as described in that book. We hardly even carry it to church anymore. The result is that we, as a nation, have no morality or ethical set of beliefs to guide us. We have opted for the choice of living in a nation where we make up the ‘new morality’ as we go along. All driven by those who shout loudest, and not necessarily the moral, or the majority. The fundamental question I am left with, is this: Do we accept the Bible as Holy and the complete truth, or do we trim it down to suit ourselves? Just asking.

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Marching Season

Everybody likes a band, and especially a marching band. These spectacles are exciting and stimulate the blood of supporters. The sound of the massed pipes and drums never fail to confirm my Scottish blood. But wait a minute, I am a first generation Scot. My Dad was, and all his family still are Irish, so I can claim legitimately to have a vested interest in both countries and cultures.

The ‘Marching Season’ stirs my blood too, but for very different reasons. The name is given to the time in summer, in Northern Ireland, where masses of marchers take up their flutes and drums, and beat their way down the public streets, including those areas who are opposed to their views... and especially those opposing areas, to celebrate a battle some 300+ years ago. I am not aware of any other band which marches to a 300 year old tune. Do you? Once again, some marches were spoiled by sectarian opposition throwing stones, bottles and petrol bombs at the police. The authorities stood by and watched while the violence unfolded in the streets of Belfast, just like the old days of ‘the troubles’. Supporters of the march will say it’s their right to march wherever they want, and they are right. It is a free country after all, but freedom at what price? Is the price of blood and broken bodies enough?

To balance the scales, there are also the Irish Republican Hibernian marches, which are staged to say simply, we are here and you didn’t whip us 300 years ago after all. In my book, one side is as bad as the other. Neither are interested in anything other than their own narrow view, and each is right (in their own minds). Having said all that, let me make an observation about the minority of Republican protesters in Northern Ireland, living in a country they don’t like. They are happy to live in a more prosperous part of Ireland, and work there paying taxes, or if they are unemployed will happily draw benefit payments, and use the health services. If they have children, they will be educated in the same system as the one they are opposed to. I may be simplistic in my thinking, but would it not be the rational thing to move to the Southern part of the land where they can live out their own ideal lifestyle? That would let them march in the Hibernian parades without the threat of violence, and they wouldn’t have to put up with the Loyalist marches in the North which annoy them so much.

Let me try to balance things a little, while realising that there will always be a minority living among us, in our multi cultural society, who cannot be reasoned with. Why persist in marching to celebrate a 300 year old battle? Why keep old wounds open and sore? Would it be so very bad for society if these marches were stopped? Of course that applies to the other sectarian half of the problem, the Hibernian marches. These also attract trouble from the ‘opposite side’. If we are ever going to be able to live together, does it not follow that we shouldn’t intentionally wind the other side up? Of course it’s deliberate, what other reason can there be? The rest of us are only putting up with these marchers as they peddle their own hatred, and we can easily live without them. So, if either side doesn’t like where they live enough to make them violent against it, can they just leave and go elsewhere? Please? For the sake of the rest of us who want to live in peace with each other. Oh yes, Protestants and Catholics really can get on together. It’s really not difficult. Ordinary, good people do it all the time. It’s only the bad ones who can’t. These same ordinary, good people, can live without BOTH of these sectarian, troublesome, violent, hate filled parades!

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Dragons

 Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Isaiah 41:10 NKJV

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matt 6:34 NKJV

The words, “Don’t worry” roll off the tongue easily sometimes. Too easily in fact. The truth is we all worry and get afraid, and even Christians are not exempt from it. Parents will use these words as a comfort to their children in an effort to ease their pain about something they have to face. The trouble is, if we are already a fearful and worrying person, they see it and the advice doesn’t help a whole lot.

Worry and fear go hand in hand. No matter how hard we try to lean on God’s promises, we go under to one or both of these feelings. There’s the thing, because both worry and fear are feelings. They are not tangible, and they don’t make us bleed. The pain they cause is brought on by our own emotions. If you look through the Bible, there are countless times the words “fear not” are recorded, so there must be a good reason for the words being repeated so often.

Our dragons love us to worry and fear. In fact they feed on them, and the more we worry and fear, the bigger our dragon grows. So, what is your dragon? You are human, so you will have them. They are not easy to face, and it can take some inner strength to handle them. I know what my dragons are, I know the biggest one, and it is a fight to see who wins sometimes. There are times when it is easier to let the dragon get the upper hand and win the day. I don’t always have the fight in me.

However, there are some real dragons out there, like: Nervousness with people you don’t know. Being in a place where you have to be close to a door. Meeting that insensitive person who will ask you the most direct and personal questions. Rejection. Illness. Bereavement. Depression. Loneliness. A wayward child. Which one is yours, and how do you face it, or do you try to ignore the dragon’s breath?

Let me share my idea of how best to slay that dragon. Find a friend you can trust totally, who will pray for you, and share your fears with them. You will almost certainly find out that you are not alone in your worry or fear, and that the Lord will allow that friendship to be the root cause of your victory over that fire breathing dragon. God has no hands but ours, and no heart but ours, and those friends He is gracious enough to put into our path. What better passage to finish with than this:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.1 John 4:18 NKJV
 

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