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It Is What It Is

 These words usually fall from our lips when something goes very wrong, and we feel powerless to make it different. They are usually thought or spoken with a frown in our heart, and on our face, because we love being in control, and nobody likes losing that feeling of being in charge.

In the journey of faith, the Christian soon starts to learn that control is not ours, because we are bought with a price, and the longer we are on this faith walk we find ourselves willingly giving over more and more of our wants, needs, desires, and letting God take control in His infinite wisdom. This process is not an easy one, and goes against the natural feelings of the human heart.


However, the words ‘it is what it is’ can also be followed by ‘so deal with it’! This can become a very positive thing, and I have found this to be the case recently. Life is never neat and tidy, with little safe compartments for all our activities, feelings and emotions. Life is messy, and we all know that. So when we are faced with these words, they could become a tool for dealing with those things we don’t understand. We ask God questions like, Why? How? Where? Who? and When? while all the time trusting the one who really is in control of our life, and it’s not me, or you for that matter.


If we really mean what we say about following Jesus, we have already settled the question of who is leading, and therefore in control. So, when you hear the words from me, ‘It is what it is’, keep in mind I am following closely behind the master leader, who also helps me to ‘deal with it’. It’s not a negative thing by any stretch, and is a very positive and liberating place to be. I am not in control, and I recognise and gladly accept that relationship with a wise God. Oh, by the way, the same principle applies to our relationships on a human level, and takes the form of putting others before ourselves in love and humility. Oh yes, it is what it is, and I am happy to be dealing with it. Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you Lord!

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Legacy

 As time passes and life happens, we make acquaintances and friends who form a big part of our life, and then they move on, or we move on and the inevitable happens; we lose contact. The impact on our life however does not change or move on when we do. There is a saying that real friends can pick up where they left off, even if the last contact was years ago.

I was reminded of this recently in two ways. In the first way, social media has been a good way to roll back the years, and find ‘old’ friends, and when you start to talk, it is easy to remember why the friendship initially formed and grew, even all those many years ago. The second way is a sad reminder of our mortality, because it comes at a  time of loss. A previous pastor who ministered at our small local church some years ago , passed away this last week, and it made me think of the almost 5 years he, his wife and small growing family shared and spent their lives with us.


Have you ever stopped to think of the best thing we can give to others? For me, it has to be time. Not so much what was done, but simply that time was shared to forge a friendship and leave an imprint which in the fulness of its time becomes a legacy. Pastor Ray was a Yorkshireman, and anyone who knows the county structure of the UK, will also know that the Scots and the ‘Yorkies’ are almost neighbours, and very alike in so many good ways. That also means, in among all the good stuff, lies the same obstinate and stubborn nature (at times). But put us together, and we are united and unstoppable. A great team. Such was the relationship which formed between us personally, and as a church, so when I heard of his passing to Glory, I stopped to remember the good times spent together, the Godly example, strong preaching, wise teaching, and the ordinary, humble family man. Simply put, a Christlike ‘Legacy’.


So, while you are working up a sweat on the treadmill of life, just going round in circles, pause awhile to step off and spend time with those friends and family you love. It will be worth it later on. You may never know in this life how much good you did, but eventually when you go ‘home’ as a Christian, you will. Guaranteed.  


I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV

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ThanksMas

 

It would be true to say that this year, I am unusually and thankfully twice blessed. Thanksgiving is a great US tradition, steeped in history, but now stands for family get togethers and meals, where college students make the long journey home to be with Mum, Dad, Brothers, Sisters, and as many of the wider family circle as possible. It works a treat for close knit families, and will stand the teens in good stead for the winter months of study that lie ahead!


Within a month, (one of) the greatest celebrations in the Christian’s year comes round. Next to Resurrection Sunday, Christmas calls us to remember and enjoy the birth of the Baby Jesus who grew up to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins some 33 years later. I am unashamedly a Christmas guy. I can take or leave the commercial trappings in the shops, and the piped seasonal music, and even the exchange of gifts, but for me it becomes a time of thanks once again with family meals around the same big food covered table, but mostly keeping in mind the reason for the season. Not so much food or gifts or even family, great as they all are, but to give God our praise for the gift of His Son into a poor and humble family unit, who by today’s standards had nothing. Mary and Joseph did however, in their worldly poverty, get to hold and raise the baby who is always God’s Son, and the King of Kings.


This year, I get to spend a special ‘ThanksMas’ combination with some of those I love. Those ones I don’t always get the chance to be with, or sit across a table from. Those whom I can dine with and exchange gifts with, in thankfulness and humility. So from my heart to yours, Happy Thanksgiving, and when it comes round for you, may you have a Happy and Blessed Christmas.

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Prosperity Gospel and the American Dream

 The ‘prosperity gospel’ of receiving more by giving more, is accepted with open arms for the most part by the poor. After all, the rich have no need of it, because they are already prosperous. There is a great industry, especially in the United States, of this kind of message. It is much less in evidence in the UK, and I got to wondering why?

At first glance, the message is completely scriptural. You cannot outgive God, because He is greater than our every need. There are lots of verses which show the willingness of God to bless His people, so is this type of preaching, the whole gospel of good news and truth? I think it is incomplete.


It is undeniable that God is God, but not a genie in a bottle, which when we rub or say the right prayer, or use the right formula, He becomes our slave. God is sovereign, and He is the One we worship. His will is done, not ours, so He is not at our command, therefore the ‘name it and claim it’ gospel is very misleading, and the people most at risk, are those most in need. The very people who take the claim literally, seriously, and in faith trusting the well heeled televangelist who already have their private jet, mansion, and financial security are perhaps deluded? Are the poor their personal gold seam?


We have many poor people in the UK, and as a percentage more than in the USA, so why has this ‘get rich’ gospel not taken off in the same way? Good question, and with respect to my many American cousins, I will hazard an educated guess. The mindset of the ‘American Dream’ is embedded in the culture and mind of just about everyone who goes through life in the US. Starting at Grade School, through College, many good people believe if they study and work hard, they will achieve their dream of a nice home, savings, and a happy and secure family. That is a good and valid dream, and to be pursued. The US nation and economy is testimony to its value. I applaud its worth in society, which simply put says, work hard, believe in yourself, and achieve your dream.


Could there be a link between the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ and the ‘American Dream’ which has been misunderstood by the poor, and abused and misused by the televangelists to line their own pockets? I know this may be off target, so I am open to correction, but I cannot rid myself of the thought. I confess the concept is not my own, but from a book by a well known and respected US author. I suppose my basic question is this: Are these ‘Prosperity Gospel’ preachers and teachers just charlatans, or do they add Spiritual value to the lives of their followers, especially the poor?

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Like Minds

 The more time I spend with family and friends in Texas, the more I realise that the Scots and the Texans have a lot in common. We think alike in matters of faith, and of national pride and identity. Each was born in independence, but are now integrated into a greater national identity, with those who hanker for a greater level of autonomy once again. Texas as the cradle of the US Bible Belt, and Bible loving Scotland. What a combination. Some of these things can be treated as good, but some with caution. Let me explain.

It is a blessing to be able to worship with like minded people of faith, and to be able to express that same faith without fear or favour of man. God has blessed us greatly, because we are all part of the family of God. The Scots have a saying that is sometimes misused. “We are all Jock Tamson’s bairns” meaning that we are all children of God, and that is true, but we must be cautious that we don’t start to believe that we are ‘special’ and all bound for heaven, no matter what!


There is another Scottish saying about themselves, which goes something like this (I have used slightly different language): “Wha’s like us? Very few, an’ they’re a’ deid”. Now there is a similarity which has nothing to do with matters of faith, but both the Texans and the Scots have the notion that they are a cut above the rest of the USA and the UK respectively. Why? Simply because we believe it, so it must be true. The US Declaration of Independence uses these words in part…”We hold these truths to be self evident….” There are some things that are just true, and need no proof!


DANGER DANGER!! Texans and Scots are on dangerous ground and we both have to be careful. Yes, we are both children of God, and we are special in His sight, but that does not mean whatever we think, is truth! That includes our churches. We are one, but different, and not the only ones who proclaim Christ crucified in the world. Our governments are not the best, or the only bastions of freedom and democracy in the world. There are others. Our militaries are not the best or the only ones fighting to protect freedom and democracy, or serving as peacekeepers in the world, no matter how patriotic we feel. There are others.


We are right to enjoy the freedoms and protection of our nation states, but these are God given, and I feel this status can easily to taken away. The State of Texas and the nation of Scotland have cultures founded on, and steeped in, Christian heritage and value, but we should not take these gifts for granted. We are alike in so many ways, but we are also prone to the same spread of secular humanism and the atheism they profess as their own ‘religion’. We are in danger of losing our ‘first love’ as Christians, and the witness of the church suffers as a result. Sometimes breakage happens from within. Let us be mindful of those internal changes within the heart, the church, or the nation, which can cause us to fragment and break. Our greatest dangers do not lie from the enemy outside, but within. I am concerned for the moral integrity of my own Scottish nation, but I cannot comment on the moral health of Texas, but as I have said, we already have a lot in common. All the more reason to continue to stand together for the truth of the Good News of the Gospel, and pray for revival. It comes down to this: God will do His Sovereign Will, and we can be a part of it, or apart from it. We get to choose.      


Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Philippians 2:1,2 NIV and... Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV

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Grr-Attitude

 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col 3:16,17 NIV

 


Coming from Scotland, I don’t get the chance to celebrate the US Thanksgiving Day too often. Being true to the history of the day, my nation’s past behaviour is part of the reason for our American cousins to be thankful! The day is steeped in history, but it has now become a day of thanks for all, and can now include those nations that caused the division in the first place. I feel blessed and happy to join in the celebration of thanks!


However, I have also come across those of both nations, who do not have an obvious spirit of gratitude. More a feeling of grr-attitude, where just about everything is met with suspicion and distrust. These are the people who are noticeable by the lack of friends around them. We would call them ‘nae mates’ back home. So I have to ask myself why? Why, when folks have health and security of a safe nation, would there be grumpy faced ‘nae mates’ at Thanksgiving or indeed any time of year?


For my part, I have good reason to be thankful, whether I am spending the day in the USA or in Scotland. I am blessed beyond measure with good health, loving family, and a very special and caring friend. God has been gracious, even when I doubted His goodness, but He has always come through for me. This year is no different, and like many others, I want to express my thanks for the life I have, because God is good, and I am thankful. Thanksgiving. It’s really quite simple, and not solely confined to one nation. It’s just an attitude of gratitude.

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Choosy

 One of the best things about our free and fair democracy, is that we get the chance to be choosy at all sorts of levels. We choose people from the President or Prime Minister, right down to who our friends are on Facebook. We choose our life’s partner, our family home, and our car. We choose where to go to church, and where to spend our holidays (and with whom!). The list is endless. There is one significant common factor in all of this, but we will come back to that.

Because we can choose people and things at one level, doesn’t mean we get to choose everything. Our children are a gift from God. We might choose our house, but not the burst pipes in winter, or the flat tyre of our chosen car. Again, the list of consequences from our initial choices could go on. There is another, but separate common factor going on here.


The bottom line is that we have one level of choice, and the common thread is that we are in control of those choices, but we are not in control of the consequences from those choices. In some ways that is a good thing, after all we may live in a democracy, but not everything is fair. There are many who are less fortunate than us. Some families become fractured, and some people get sick. There is something really sad about a young family trying to ‘make it’ in life, but who do not have a well paid job, and when serious sickness comes along, they struggle badly. Are their choices and dreams any less important? I don’t think so.


I have become very aware of two of God’s children who got very ill, and with the same disease, but in different countries. Each is treated the same as others in their own situation, as their disease worsens and spreads. One racks up a massive medical bill which can never be paid, and the other receives all necessary and top rate home and hospital care, but the family do not get a bill. Both of these good folks did not have their illness by choice, and neither was the necessary cost of treatment a choice. Each person’s care was the consequence of choices made on their behalf by their respective governments. This is not a political argument, but pointing to a higher story where God does not treat any of His children differently, or as they deserve. Nor does God pay out dependent on what we have put in. His boundless grace takes care of that, and I love the truth of God’s free, undeserved, unmerited gift of grace. As Christians, we don’t have to help the poor, it is our choice to help, or not. Here’s a thought: What if our nations grafted God’s Word right into society? Now that would be a community both of good choices, and good consequences! Just a thought.


The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. Mark 14:7 NIV and..Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8,9 NIV

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Adult

 ‘Adult Content’. I don’t like that phrase. In fact I detest it. Cards on the table and hands open, I hate it. I suppose it is the hypocrisy that gets to me. You know, it’s as if an 18 movie or game is ok as long as you are over 18. have you ever thought about why the rating is there in the first place?

An 18 video will certainly have more than a smattering of sex and violence. Lots of body, lots of blood, and gratuitous violence. All for it’s own sake, or to be more accurate, because the rating can help sell the movie. Now for the hypocrisy part. Why do most Christians have no trouble with an 18? After all the label says they are ok. Take it a bit further, and I wonder why we sometimes make a distinction between the sex and the violence as if that made a difference? We sometimes make a decision that sex is not ok to watch, but we will sit through a lot of inhuman violence and blood, because we convince ourselves that it is ‘essential for the storyline’. How many times have you heard that phrase in defence of vile, debased movie content? As they say in Scotland, ‘mince’!


Where is our conscience in all of this? Have we watched so many now that we no longer get shocked or angry? Perhaps we feel we are a part of that ‘arty’ group who can see the artistic portrayal instead of the sinful movie that lesser mortals see? Maybe we don’t want to be out of step with our pals when they talk about the latest blockbuster? Or maybe, just maybe, we actually like these movies? I wonder what that says to the watching world? After all, they do watch and we know it! Just saying.


The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 1 Timothy 4:1,2 NIV

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Opinions

 

We all have opinions, probably based and formed over many years in the furnace of life, and so they can become hardened, like any metal in the blacksmith’s hands as he forms red hot material and plunges the finished item into the cooling water. The metal is hardened, and I feel that is a good place to start with our opinions. They can become hardened.


I quite like open discussions, whether in person or online. Done properly, and with others who are open minded, it can be an informative and learning experience. The trouble is, we soon find that we are not all as open minded as we think we are. I know this will come as a surprise, but that includes me. Don’t you love it when the ‘open minded’ one suddenly shows clearly some of the ‘hardened’ characteristics which have been formed over the years? Then the line between ‘opinion’ and ‘fact’ becomes hazy and blurred.


Opinions are expressed everywhere, by everyone, and often. It will be in family circumstances, age, politics, and yes, even in faith circles. We all seem to get the lines blurry between where our opinion ends and truth starts, because we are passionate. Passion does not mean truth. Passion can be an opinion. I think this is where we get into trouble when we discuss our own firm beliefs with other people’s firm beliefs, and within the church family where ‘our’ opinion must be true because we have always done it this way. It worked in the past, so it must be truth! NO!! Truth is not an opinion, it is a person in the form of Jesus Christ, and His Word. So next time you and I have a strong, and possibly differing opinion, let’s measure them up against the only yardstick we can trust, and only then can we have some certainty that it can be trusted as dependable fact! I hope we can agree on that.


Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’. John 14:6 and ‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.’ John 17:17

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Which Bible?

 

At the start of each Sunday morning service, the congregation stands, hold their Bible in their hands, and say together “This is God’s Word to me. I am who it says I am, and I will do what it tells me to do”. I have a couple of thoughts about this. First of all, when I look around, I see many people of all ages holding their Bibles, and secondly there is a clear identification with the need for it’s truth in our lives.


We live in a modern age, where most of our children, youth and senior adults, own and use a smartphone or tablet of some kind. Many, if not all, of these same folks when at this church, use a paper Bible, and not any kind of electronic device they will most certainly own. So why bring a Bible in traditional book form to church? I know most will use their tablet to read and study Scripture during the week, so there is no aversion to the use of modern media itself. More thoughts.


It is a witness when you carry your Bible to Church, and speaks volumes that an iPad will not, and cannot show. Your iPad is not a witness that you are headed for church, just that you have an iPad.


A Bible can be leafed through, underlined, margined etc much faster than any tablet. Oh I know it can be done, but my own opinion is that a well used, dog eared, personally marked Bible is a testimony to the person who owns it. On that same theme, without being morbid, I have my Dad’s Bible, and count it a privilege and treasure of his Christian life. It was handed down. You can’t do that with an electronic device of any kind (if it lasts that long, that is!).


It is personal. It is solely used for the purpose of reading God’s Word, unlike the tablet etc, where the Bible is nestled between games and facebook. And anyway, when you are in church, you know 100% when someone is reading the real Bible, but it is too easy to ‘zone out’ for a while and check your status on Facebook on your phone. Don’t tell me the temptation is not there.


So, the electronic media generation is great, but for me, first place must come to my real, personal, unique Bible in church. I don’t know what the future holds, but right now, give me paper over electronics. Having said all that, let me finish with this thought. If you have to make a choice, and you will only (it is an act of will, not finance) use a tablet or iPad, then please don’t feel bad. It is not wrong. In the final analysis, it is better to read the Bible in any form, than not at all. All that is different is the act of open witness and testimony. But then if you don’t carry a Bible in any form, you don’t have that question to answer. It becomes another simple question, ‘why not’?

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