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Who Gives Kudos:




 I watched a trailer for a well known UK TV soap, and there was a lot of angry shouting, screwed up faces and harsh words. Is it just me, or do you also think there is too much anger and yelling on our media? At least if you are reading a report, or a book, the closest you get to SHOUTING is putting the words in capitals!

This is not a new phenomenon. You will find it in most childrens’ TV too, and even on Disney and Nickelodeon where the main characters seem to spend the entire program shouting their lines at each other. No surprises then that our children and youth grow into the lifestyle where if they want to be heard or believed, they have to shout it.

There is a place for shouting, and a place to be quiet in our conversations. Otherwise our words can be lost if our voices are constantly raised. I remember working with a very quiet man, who could hardly be heard above the noise of a ceiling fan, but when I did hear him raise his voice, the words found their mark. Fortunately, this was a work environment and not personal, but it made me very aware of the effect our tone has when we communicate.

I think we need to take this on board as Christians, and take care not to shout people down in disagreement, but be calm and measured in our language. Perhaps these verses will help:

In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. Isaiah 30:15

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart. Psalm 32:11 (btw the words ‘shout for joy’ are also translated as ‘sing’. Makes you think, doesn’t it?)

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Trust and Betrayal

 There are two major news items in the UK this past week. The arrest of two young women accused of carrying $2 million worth of cocaine out of Peru, and a young man who was questioned under terrorism legislation because the security authorities suspected him of carrying material which was a threat to national security in the USA and UK. In his interview, the young man’s defence was that he ‘trusted’ his partner completely, and he wouldn’t do anything bad, would he? It should be said that his partner is a security correspondent with a national UK newspaper, and is embroiled in the massive data leak scandal by Edward Snowden.

Humanly speaking there is a very fine line between trust and betrayal. Trust changes to betrayal in ordinary circumstances, and most of us have seen it or even experienced it, and it is not a good feeling. The two recent articles in the media take betrayal to a very high level where the price is either personal freedom, or your integrity. The worst example of betrayal in the Bible must surely be Judas, who not only knowingly went against the teachings of his master Jesus, but who actively betrayed his fellow disciples. They had a massive amount of trust in him, even to the point of allowing him to look after the finances of their little group.

Call me an old cynic (ok not so fast!) or a realist, but I don’t really mind that someone who is suspected of carrying information which is helpful to a foreign power being questioned for 9 hours, and his laptop data being investigated. He was inconvenienced. Oh diddums what a shame. As for the two young women who were carrying 11 kilo of cocaine, their story has more holes than a kitchen sieve, but what have they got to lose by pleading not guilty, and hoping a fast talking lawyer can do something, anything, to find a point of law to get them off? The common factor is that these are extreme examples of trust being placed in the wrong people, and it turning to betrayal on a grand scale. So who should you and I trust? The only one who is 100% trustworthy, and who will never let you down: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5, and how about: One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24, and if you need more there’s: I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. Psalm 52:8

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Somebody's Lying!

 “Don’t tell me lies. I can’t stand lies!” The words were spoken with chilling sincerity. A mum to her daughters and to her husband. I mean, as if we would! We were almost afraid to tell even the faintest whiff of a fib, never mind an outright lie. That has stayed with me, and to this day I cannot stand deliberate lies or deceit, given just to save face.

There was a terrible chemical attack on the innocents in Syria this past week. The perpetrators can fire the nerve gas rockets, and they can be big macho men, but they don’t have the backbone to tell the truth. Somebody is lying! There was another case of a celebrity accused and arrested for abuse that happened some years back. It is his word against a fistful of the abused victims who say he was a predator. Somebody is lying.

When a government or a highly paid famous celebrity shouts, “It wisnae me. It wis a big boy and he went that way” you can be sure something is wrong. The Shakespeare play Hamlet, has these words, “She doth protest too much”. It was a true saying then, and it is still true today. But just where do these and all lies come from? They come from an evil heart. Am I allowed to use the word evil, because we don’t usually like it because we are all sophistaced now to know that evil does not exist, but we are just misguided. The devil himself is in the hearts of these liars, after all, the following verse shows what Jesus thought about the source of lies and deceit: You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44 NIV

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 It’s the lowest form of wit, and used far too much in the West of Scotland in my opinion. It is seen as funny but only by those who are dishing it out, and always at the expense of another. One of the side effects of this kind of wit, is that the usual way of responding is to be as sarcastic in return. No one wins, and it is a vicious cycle which is difficult to break.

Being sarcastic can be humourous in a one way direction, but happily only ever used by those who don’t know any better, those same people who don’t like getting it back. I mean a Christian would never use it, never mind a minister, would they? This is where I have to confess to having a short fuse when it comes to sarcasm, no matter whose mouth it comes from, and lately I have been very shocked to learn that it can be used by some of the very people I expect to be above it. Christian leaders, or ministers also seem to think they are being funny, and trust me, they are not.

There are some things which would be top of your list of things to expect from a senior church figure or pastor, but I reckon sarcasm would not be one of them. After all, that would be a no-no, right? So the danger is that you only find out after the damage has been done. The fine reputation that goes before a Christian leader and preacher could be so easily lost when he opens his mouth and tries to be funny in the only way he knows how. Disaster and a loss of respect is certain. Another thing, the word is too close to ‘sar-caustic’ for my liking.

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4 NIV

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 Children in Scotland have returned to school this past week, and with them go the wishes, hopes, plans and expectations of parents and family. We all want the very best for our own, and so we trust and pray that school will be used in a way that will help, improve, and prepare them for life in the real world of work in their future. A noble thought indeed.

What is it with our expectations of others? We place them on those we care about, mostly because we love them. In fact, we do it to try to make them just like us, or how we would have liked to have been. But hold on, we were not perfect at their age, and we certainly let our own parents and family down sometimes. So why should we expect our family to be like us, because that is not only unreasonable, it gives a false impression of what we were. If you are honest (always a dangerous thing) we were not as ‘good’ as we like to make out, were we?

It isn’t only in our family circles that we place expectations on others, it has crept into our church life too. We can become less interested in new believers’ faith life and growth, and more interested in making clones. Sadly we do have expectations, and that is just not right. What does God expect of us? Certainly not that we turn out like someone else. We need to be more like Him, and that cannot happen overnight, but with His grace, we must try to be more Christlike while we live our short mortal lives on a daily basis, whether at home or in the church.

My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him. Psalm 62:5

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 NKJV

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12 KJV

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God's Word?

 Our Christian faith stands or falls on what we do with the Word of God. In the 1600s it was only the learned church priests who had the authority to read and explain the Bible to ordinary men and women, and then along came two things which changed everything for ever. The Reformation movement believed that God’s Holy Word could and should be made available to all, and just about the same time the printing press was invented. Then it became possible to print the Bible in mass numbers, and place them into the hands of the ordinary population in England who could read. The Roman Catholic church of the day protested and even became violent because they believed this was a book which could not be trusted in the hands of uneducated people, even if they could read. However, almost overnight, the Bible was accepted by a hungry people, and the Word of God was read, and acted on. The nation was in the throes of a revival, and all because the Bible was freely available.

We have moved on since then, but we still have the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, and is still held in high esteem by these same Reformed Churches, right? Well, maybe not so much. After all, we can read, but we can also ‘read-into’ the pages of the Word now, so some church leaders, professors and Bible colleges are open to liberal thinking which says that maybe Adam and Eve were not real people. Maybe the Garden of Eden is an allegory. Then there’s Noah’s Ark. Did it really exist? Could all those living animals get onto a boat and in pairs? And what about Jonah? Surely a big fish couldn’t have swallowed him and spat him out after He accepted God’s command to preach? I mean, really?? Of course, the virgin birth, and later resurrection of Jesus is a bit far fetched, and ‘way too unscientific! Ah ha...maybe that’s the problem, we have become  scientific now, in fact evolution is waiting in the wings to be accepted in place of creation, at least in part, of most seriously minded, thinking Christians. By that definition then, anyone who accepts the Bible as the inerrant and literal Word of God, is not to be taken seriously.

If we go back to the 1600s, where the Roman Catholic Church of the day was the stumbling block to ordinary people receiving the truth of the Bible, would it be true to say that in today’s world, it is the turn of the Reformed Church leaders and academia to convince us that we cannot take the whole Bible as inerrant? We have redefined sin, and reinvented the plain words of Scripture to suit ourselves, and so it appears that the Word of God can only be trusted (once again) in the hands of those very learned professors of major Colleges and Churches who can translate it properly for us. If you have read this far, well done, but you are probably saying it doesn’t apply to ‘my Church’ anyway. Oh really? Are you sure? Have you checked lately? Just saying.

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Friday Prayers

 These two words unnerve me, because they are always linked with the ‘Arab Spring’ and with killing, as I have said before, it seems that Friday is a day of ‘pray and slay’. Egypt has toppled Syria from first place on the news, where Islamists take to the streets after Friday prayers to kill the opposition. There is a great divide between the Sunni and Shiite factions, and certainly no love is lost between them. They have no problem in shedding blood of the other side, and if any of their own are killed, they automatically become martyrs for their own cause. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are calling for a ‘Day of Anger’. I know what is unfolding, and it is more than anger!

There are many examples of Islamist terrorism in the world, and they are reported almost daily. I wondered what the difference was between an Islamist, and a Muslim and initially I had some difficulty in making a distinction. According to the sources I have seen, the names are interchangeable. Wikipedia says:

Islam has been present in the United Kingdom since its formation in 1707, though it was not legally recognised until the Trinitarian Act in 1812. Today it is the second largest religion in the country with results from the United Kingdom Census 2011 suggesting that the total Muslim population had reached 2.7 million, 4.8% of the total population.“

This concerns me. I had always understood that the extremists were Islamists, but the peaceful majority were Muslim. However, they share the same places of worship, the same Koran, the same prophet, and the same faith or religion.

The death tolls in Syria and Egypt keep rising, with neither Muslim/Islamist side giving way. There are lots of images of armed angry young men, calling for the bloodshed to stop, but only on their own terms. Surrendering to the idea that Allah is not on their side is a step too far. My fear is this; if they will so easily kill and maim those of their own faith, what would their reaction be to the infidel who crosses them? Remember, they have no New Testament theme of God’s unconditional love, even though their holy book was conceived 500 years after Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

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 How far does your Christian compassion go? If it is anything like mine, it is  pretty good most of the time, because we naturally feel some sympathy with people who need help, or are suffering badly through no fault of their own.

Apparently, the USA has a prison body of 1% of the adult population, and half of those are for drug related crime. This is astonishing, but shows a deep underlying problem, which all ‘free’ western cultures share, including the UK. We have an epidemic of unhappiness on our hands, and we don’t know how to deal with it. We try to break habits of the offenders, and put prisoners into rehab and programs to break addiction. All well and good, but these don’t address the root of the problem, do they? What can you do to make the problem better, and make people happier?

This week there are two young women from Scotland and Ireland, who are spending prison time in Peru, waiting for a trial, perhaps a year away, for being drugs couriers. They were carrying about 25lbs of cocaine worth millions of Dollars. A drug which promises happiness, but delivers heartache, sadness, broken homes, and death. They claim they didn’t know the drugs were in their luggage, and then changed their story to say they were forced at gunpoint. I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I have to know down to the last ounce, what the weight of my case is, and have to go through a barrage of security questions before travelling to determine that I know what is in my case, and that I am solely responsible for the contents. There is a big difference between making a mistake about what foodstuff is allowed, and hard drugs. So do I feel sympathetic to the plight of these girls? In a way, I do, but I am not sure I am happy with myself for that feeling.

Compassion is a different and much misunderstood word, and we mistake it for blind sympathy. I looked up the definition of compassion, and it is: “Deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it.” When I read about the times that Jesus was compassionate, it was always to people who had no control over the position they were in. They might have been poor, blind, or hungry, but never because of their own actions. So, am I wrong not to feel compassion for the victims of drug dealers and pushers, or for the dealers and pushers themselves? This is a tough question, and one that must be answered honestly. I have no doubt that God can, and does, forgive drug users and their dealers completely and fully, but can I? Can you? Our actions have consequences, and Jesus never changed the natural consequences of any human actions, even when He was on the cross, did He? I feel sorry (but not too sorry) for these two young drug carriers, but I can’t bring myself to feel compassion. Am I wrong as a Christian? Should I feel both sympathy and compassion?

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Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:18-20 NIV

Music is a different thing to different people, but one thing is sure. Music is a universal language, which crosses cultural barriers, and at times can even cross the age divide. I think that is because music touches our 'inner self' in a way that little else does. Take a thought of how many love songs there are, and which types of music are the most commonly used. We have songs and music from Classical to Jazz to Pop to Rap, and to each listener it is music, actively talking to their inner being.

I am of the opinion that music has a significant part to play in our church life too. Why shouldn't it, because it does talk to our inner being? I would even go as far as to say it speaks to our soul (my own opinion). In CS Lewis's book, 'Surprised by Joy', he explores the effects of 'external' things on our 'inner' selves. Music is one of them, and in his own journey to find faith, he says music was a factor in his spiritual awakening.

Many churches rely heavily on repetitive prayers and chants to make a link with God, but for the most part, the reformed churches use hymns, psalms and spiritual songs. In all cases the reason is the same. It is our way of talking to God, whether we realise it or not, so not only is the music important, so too are the words. We are talking to God, and praising Him, so we are praying. Let's not take the significance of music in our churches so lightly. If we go to church, sit quietly and listen (we all have a voice, it's just that some are more in tune than others!) and leave having only listened to the sermon, we are missing much of the blessing God wants us to have, because music adds to our worship. 

Next time at you are at church, join in the singing, and use your voice to pray and praise in music to God. He loves to hear praise from His children, and you will come away very blessed, having entered into that two way communion which people of faith all need. If you take the time to read the words of these songs, you will see that they all contain hidden depths and so take us deeper in our faith walk.
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 In the beginning, the world wide web was introduced with a fanfare of freedom, uncensored useage, and unrestricted content, but especially free and unrestricted. Brilliant, a place where you can say what you like, display what you want, express yourself without worry, and no one will pull you up for it.

This past week the UK has seen the suicide of another teenage schoolgirl, who was cyber-bullied to such an extent she saw only one way to stop it. I said ‘another’ because this is not the first, and will not be the last. In the meantime, the anonymous bullies (that’s a nice word for them) slink back into the shadows where they belong.

Is this the way it should be? I am sure this kind of ‘freedom’ wasn’t seen as any way to abuse the privilege. After all, every freedom comes with cost and consequence. Now, late in the day, our politicians are trying to find ways to govern this kind of misuse of the internet social media sites. Oh hold on, isn’t this censorship? The very thing the advocates of the www were trying to avoid? In a word, yes, and rightly so. Do we really need websites which show child abuse, pornography, and gratuitous violence to name a few? While this is going on, there are those ultra liberals who reckon this is a price we pay for our personal freedoms. Eh?? Run that by me again, or better still, talk to the growing number of grieving families.

Rules in some form or another have been with us from the beginning. Remember Adam being told not to eat the forbidden fruit? The ten commandments? The rules of your local club, or your own church denomination? The speed limit? The laws of the land? All of these are necessary rules to live by, not because personal freedom isn’t important, but because we must take care of the greater good of our wider society and community. That’s just putting others before ourselves. It is no mistake that the best guide book in the world, the Bible has rules to live by. Some parts say ‘do not’ and some say ‘do this’, and every one makes our society a better place, while at the same time protects our own freedom. What’s not to like about that?

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16 NKJV

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 1 Peter 2:13,14 NIV

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