Friday, December 9, 2016

Jesus Welcomes Little Children


People were also bringing babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”’ Luke 18:15-17


What can anyone say at a time like this? We’re all left stunned. We’re shocked that little baby **** is gone! It breaks our hearts. Why ****? Why not me? Why now? Why not when he was 100 years old? Yes, what can anyone say that would bring us some little comfort at this time of our grief?

We read in the Bible that people were bringing their babies to Jesus. They wanted Him to bless their little children. They believed that there was something very special about Jesus. Some even believed that He was God in human form. Jesus believed Himself to be the Son of God.

The Disciples of Jesus, His close followers, tried to stop the parents from bringing their babies to Him. They were telling the people off. But what did Jesus say? “Jesus called the children to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”

When I was training to become a minister I knew that as part of my job-description I would have to conduct weddings – and funerals. The thing I dreaded most is to conduct the funeral of an infant child! What will I tell the parents if they ask: “Where is my baby now?”

What would I say? Well, we just heard what someone far greater than me has to say: “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these!” I believe, therefore, that little **** has entered into the kingdom of God. To know that baby **** has gone to be with Jesus and is safe with Him in His kingdom should at least give us some little comfort.

What is the kingdom of God? Well, for a start, it belongs to God. And if it belongs to God we know that nothing can destroy it. But Jesus says that it also belongs to little children, like ****, and adults who receive it like a little child would, i.e, believing. Think about it: little children believe what their parents tell them.

According to what the Bible says, the kingdom of God is really just another name for Heaven. And though invisible at the moment, it’s a real place, where there are no more tears, no more sorrow, no more crying, no more pain and certainly no more death. It is a place of happiness, a place of everlasting bliss. It’s a place of safety. It is true Paradise!

I grew up in Scotland, and Scotland, a bit like New Zealand, is known for its sheep. I used to live next to a farm where they had cattle, chooks and sheep, lots of sheep! I went to school with the shepherd’s son. During the spring lambing-season we used to do the rounds with the shepherd, trying to make sure that the newborn lambs were safe. We would chase away stray dogs, foxes, crows and the like.

In the Bible, Jesus is called the Good Shepherd. He is a Shepherd who lays down His life to save His sheep! Even today He still looks after His flock, which includes His little lambs, such as ****. The shepherd’s son and I used to hear about Jesus, when, along with the rest of the kids at the school we attended, we would all be marched to the local church at Easter and again at Christmas.

At Easter we’d hear about how the Good Shepherd had laid down His life for His sheep, and perhaps we’d hear how the thief, who was dying on a cross next to Him, had said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And what did Jesus say to him? “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

We would also hear how Jesus was dead and laid in a tomb, only to be raised back to life again after three days! This, of course, points to our future resurrection when the, for the moment, invisible kingdom of God becomes visible.

At Christmas we’d hear about the baby Jesus in the manger, and we’d always get to sing the little children’s hymn, the words of which are:

“Away in a Manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus, laid down His sweet head,
The stars in the bright sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

“The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes,
I love You, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky,
And stay by my side until morning is nigh.

“Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask You to stay,
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray,
Bless all the dear children in Your tender care,
And fit us for Heaven, to dwell with You there.”

It is hard for those of us who have never lost a child to know the pain the family is going through right now – especially as Christmas approaches. We all know that Christmas is a special time – especially for all the dear children.

So, what can we say? Well, it is my hope that God will wipe away the tears of grief by reminding us this Christmas and beyond that His only Son Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has wrapped His everlasting arms around one of His little lambs, ****. - In the arms of THE Angel!

For Jesus says, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

R.I.P. Lenyx Sydney Clarke 04 July 2016 - 01 December 2016.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

History & Geography


History & Geography

History and Geography weren’t exactly my two most favourite subjects while in high School in Scotland, mainly because we never heard much at all about Scotland! However, since leaving Scotland to live in Canada and then Australia, everyone assumes me to be the subject-matter-expert on Scotland’s history and geography! I love the story of Scotland, its people and its topography. We learn better when we are interested in the subject matter. True? I am interested in God as well as Scotland.

History has been called His-story in reference to God and what He has done in history. In reference to God (Gr. Theos) and geography I’d like to coin a new word, a pun: Theography. God has as much to do with geography as with history. In the past, at the very beginning of time, God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them (e.g., Exodus 20:11). Over a period of six days He shaped and formed what He had made, including the planet earth with its land, sea, animals (i.e., birds, sea-creatures, land-creatures etc.) and also humans (Genesis 1:1-2:2; Psalm 104). Subsequently, He sent a great global flood and reshaped the planet earth, forming the great continents and islands with their varied climates and topography, to which people began to flow from Babel (Genesis 11). From Eskimo to Pigmy, from Scot to Japanese each group can trace its heritage back to one of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth (Genesis 10). Says Albert Edersheim, ‘It may be said generally, that Asia was given to Shem, Africa to Ham, and Europe to Japheth … beginning with the youngest, Japheth, we find of those known to the general reader, the Cymry of Wales and Brittany (Gomer), the Scythians (Magog) … the Greeks (Ionians, Javan) ... Among their descendants, the Germans, Celts, and Armenians have been traced to the three sons of Gomer.’

Naturally I am interested in those other Celts, i.e., the Irish with their Scottish offspring. According to The Declaration of Arbroath (1320), these were the Scythians, the progeny of Magog. ‘We know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots ... journeyed from Greater Scythia.’ (See e.g., Colossians 3:11).

To be sure, some may laugh at my brief account of Scottish history, just as others may mock the Biblical record. But, if ‘History is written by the victors’ (Walter Benjamin?), then it is His-story. For, ‘He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they may grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, “For we are also His offspring”’ Acts 17:26-28.

So we see then that God is the victor, because He has written the history of the world. For, as we have just read, He has sovereignly assigned each nation its geographical location and the time it will spend there. And it is all about Him. Thus, God is the best interpreter of history and geography. Why did He put the Scots in mountainous Scotland and the Dutch in the flatlands of the Netherlands? Why Icelanders in Iceland and Welsh in Wales? It is ‘so that they should seek the Lord’!

His-story and Theo-graphy! May God receive the glory!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Christ-mas


Christmas

Will Christmas survive or are its days numbered? In November I saw a notice by non-Christians on social media that read:  ‘Brace yourselves: “The Keep Christ in Christmas” posts are coming!’ Then there are some Christians who object to the word ‘mas’ in Christmas because of its association with the Roman Catholic Mass – against which they make much protestation! But won’t Christmas as we know it disappear upon the removal of either of these words?

The Nativity Scene usually comprises of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus, all in a stable surrounded by farm animals, three wise men, some shepherds and maybe an angel or two. Some wish the removal of Nativity scenes from public places. Others wish only to remove the three wise men, claiming they are add-ons. (The Bible doesn’t say that they visited Jesus when He was in the stable or even that there were only three!)

What would remain if Christ and the Nativity Scene were to be removed from Christmas? Well, the extras, such as the red-suited Santa, a tinselled-tree, some elves and some reindeer, would remain. Wait! What do any of these things have to do with Christmas? Nothing really. So, there are some Christians who would like Santa, Christmas trees, elves and reindeer removed from Christmas…

Others argue over the 25th December date. We don’t know the exact date upon which Jesus was born. Then there’s the Julian Calendar which uses the 7th January date for celebrating the birth of Christ. Then there’s the Jehovah’s Witness do not celebrate any birthdays, especially not Jesus’s. They also deny that God also became a man in Jesus.  

Such conflict of opinion over Christmas! Should we just call the whole thing off to keep everyone happy? Let’s see: If we remove God, Christ, ‘mass’, the whole stable Nativity, what are we left with? Father Christmas instead of Father God. Santa’s sled instead of Christ’s manger. Reindeer instead of angels. Elves instead of wise men. Christmas wrapping without the Christmas present!

But what does the Bible say? ‘For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ Luke 2:11-12. So we see then that someone was born to you and to me in Bethlehem on a certain day. That Someone is a Saviour, and He is none other than Christ who is the Lord. So, the main thing that Christmas is about is acknowledging and celebrating the birth of Christ. ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John 1:14a.

In some ways the battle to add things to Christmas is reminiscent of what people do to God’s Word and to His Gospel message. But we receive these warnings: ‘What is His name and what is His Son’s name, if you know? … Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar’ Proverbs 30:4b;6. ‘But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed’ Galatians 1:8.

What is the Gospel? Well, Christmas is a huge part of it: ‘For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father’ Isaiah 2:6. Thus, Christmas will survive!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Political Correctness & Donald Trump


The Trump phenomenon which resulted in his (surprising to many) political success is due to the backfiring of the Left’s demonization (see e.g., Saul Alinski’s Rules for Radicals) of the Republican candidate. For the Left (and some other Progressives) the general plan of attack is that you do not engage your opponent in discussing the “issues” but simply attack them by shouting him/her down by calling them names – Racist, misogynist, Islamophobe, homophobe, bigot etc., etc. Thus, like acid being thrown in a person’s face, or turning a blowtorch on him/her, your opponent is inundated and blasted with vitriolic hate and hatred. Make no mistake, to demonize your opponent is to spread hate. This is supposed to set every “decent” person against your “sub-human” adversary. Trump’s success is due to grass-roots people seeing the vacuity of this.

The more the media and the rest of Trump’s opponents used these devious and ominous tactics and devices to try to belittle and demonize him (along with his “basket of deplorables”) the more his support-base expanded and increased, leading to winning the election for him. Thus the Political Correctness Movement accomplished Trump’s presidency for him. How so? To labour the point, “the boy who cried wolf” springs to mind. When you keep on yelling “fire” when and where there is no fire people will switch off and stop listening to you. Anyone can check for themselves whether a thing is a fact or merely spin – by going to the primary source of the story and not relying on secondary sources like the media, for example. Or you can just sheepishly and naively accept what others say about their opponent.

The bad news of the demonization-tactic is that, not only does your opponent get falsely smeared, but so do many others. The resultant collateral damage (of the failure of trying to demonize your opponent by false and/or way-over-the-top accusations) is that some people will inevitably believe the lies and use them to further their own ends – from bullying in the classroom to mass anarchistic riots in city streets where people are injured and property is destroyed.

Political Correctness hadn’t/hasn’t been thought through enough…          

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Entertaining Strangers


Entertaining Strangers

What would spring to mind if you were asked to describe an angel? Would you picture a fat little cherub or perhaps Cupid with his bow and arrow? Or maybe an effete man with wings of white feathers? Would you actually recognise an angel if you saw one? The Bible says, ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels’ Hebrews 13:2. Perhaps this primarily alludes to the time that Abraham entertained three ‘men’ (Genesis 18).

Now, it’s true that an angel appeared before a bunch of shepherds tending their flocks, scaring the living daylights out of them! (Luke 2:8f.). However, this angel was no cartoon-like bumblebee, i.e., a fat little cherub with stubby little wings struggling to stay in the air. The shepherds knew that this angel was one of God’s messengers. But notice that the writer to the Hebrews is talking about ‘unwittingly’ entertaining angels. The idea, therefore, is that of you not knowing that the angel is an angel.

Maybe the person who sat next to you on the bus, boat, train or plane was an angel. Maybe the beggar you walked past on the street was an angel. I was astounded at some of the beggars I saw on the streets of Paris and of Rome. People with blatantly obvious and grotesque physical deformities laying on sidewalks with the obligatory cup in front of them. At times this would reduce me tears, compelling me to dig deep into my pockets to offer them some miniscule relief from their afflictions. It horrified me. Couldn’t some charity or altruistic person offer to pay for an operation or something to ease their suffering?

Of course, a lowly beggar does not fit the other traditional picture of an angel: strong, noble, handsome, wings extended, sword in hand etc. (see e.g., Josh. 5:13; Num. 22:31; 1 Chron. 21:16). To be sure, there is no mention of the angel in the aforementioned passages being handsome or having wings. However, angels certainly are beautiful creatures that can fly. (We need to be careful with the word ‘creature’ if we are speaking of the Lord.) But back to ‘entertaining strangers.’

We are being encouraged to be hospitable to strangers, i.e., people we don’t know. They might be angels! Whatever else it is, an angel is a spirit-being that can temporarily materialise itself in the form of a human being. Have I ever seen one? Who knows? But I do know that over the years I have bumped into lots of strangers!

Before conversion, Jesus is a stranger to us, and as such, we are inhospitable to Him. Jesus once was a stranger to me. To me He was just some man that you read about in a book. Then, when I started to entertain Him, I soon discovered that He is the (uncreated) Angel of the LORD. No, He didn’t materialise to me. He didn’t need to. He simply opened up my eyes so that I understood who He is. I know that this sounds like so much mumbo-jumbo to the unconverted. It’s like trying to explain a beautiful sunset to someone who has been blind from birth. You wish that they could see for themselves what you can see!

What then are angels? ‘Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?’ Hebrews 1:14. Be really careful then when you’re entertaining strangers. One of them might be an angel and you, therefore, may just end up inheriting salvation!

May God be pleased to enable us to entertain strangers.      

Thursday, October 6, 2016

SIMPLICITY


Simplicity

If simplicity is ‘the quality or condition of being easy to understand or do’, then the following sentence fails miserably: ‘Never use a big word where a diminutive one will suffice.’ Like lawyers and auto mechanics, when theologians use their own specialist language, we can be left bewildered. Simplicity is needed if we are to understand.

Preaching is the science of homiletics. It involves exegetical skills. However, the finished product, i.e., the sermon, is where simplicity comes in. To be effective, the message must be communicated to the audience in language it understands. Jesus was the Master communicator: ‘You are the salt of the earth…’, ‘Do not hide your light under a bushel’, ‘No one can serve two masters…’ ‘Consider the lilies of the field…’, ‘Judge not that you be not judged’ etc. Jesus had a way with words because He was/is the Word that became flesh. He simplified the profound.

Theologians speak of the Simplicity of God or Divine Simplicity, whereby, ‘there is but one only, living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, [is] a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions' (Westminster Confession of Faith). Notice that God is a most pure spirit without a body or parts. Thus, the Father, the Word, and the Spirit are not three parts of God. Rather, they are the three Persons who are one God. ‘In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons of one substance, power, and eternity’ (WCF). Thus, God is not the sum total of His attributes. He does not have Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence. Rather, He is these attributes, (i.e., all-knowing, everywhere present, and almighty). In other words, we do not tally-up a list of items that we think makes God God. Rather, He is the Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnipotent Being. There is no other! The Simplicity of God is that His Being is identical to His attributes. His attributes are not part of who He is. Rather, they are who He is. Simplicity? Think about it: To talk about God’s attributes is the same as talking about God. Unlike God, you and I have bodies and we have parts. If we talk about bodies and parts we are not talking about God. In the same way, if we talk about Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence, we are not talking about human or angelic beings. We are talking about the Being who is God. The less parts a thing has, the less complicated it is. Well, God has no parts. Simplicity!

True, it is difficult to understand a Being who knows everything, is everywhere, and is all powerful. But, the Word became flesh. I can relate to a human being who was like us in every way apart from sin. Jesus said, ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’ John 14:9. Therefore, if God were a human being (which He is not), He would look like Jesus. But isn’t Jesus God? Yes, but we must not confuse His human nature with His divine nature! With Jesus, ‘two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one Person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very Man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man’ (WCF).

Then there is the simplicity of the Gospel: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ John 3:16.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

RANDOM THOUGHTS


RANDOM THOUGHTS

 


It was great growing up in the Vale of Leven (“the Vale”) during the 60s and 70s. Perhaps it more aptly could have been called “Smollettsville” on account of the Smollett family owning vast tracts of land there back in the day. Indeed, the Vale of Leven town of Alexandria was named after Alexander Smollett, and Renton was named after a daughter-in-law of Jane Telfer Smollett in 1762.





As a kid I used to pick strawberries for Patrick Tobias Telfer Smollett at his Cameron House on the southwest shore of Loch Lomond. He died in 1997. During the late 60s he kindly let me build a pigeon-hut as a young teenager on a piece of his land at the old ruin of Tullichewan Castle. Kilt-clad he would stop his car and come over for a chat whenever he saw me tending to my pigeons. A gentleman. I read a book written by one of his ancestors, one Tobias Smollett. The book, written in 1748, is called “The Adventures of Roderick Random.” There was a road in the Vale called “Random Street” apparently after this novel. Of course, like most of old Alexandria, this street has disappeared forever.

I read “The Adventures of Roderick Random” on a trip to Hawaii my wife and I made back in 2012. Forget about flight movies, I couldn’t put this book down! (Actually, it was a Kindle version.) Anyway, here was this red-headed Scotsman, back in 1748, getting himself into all sorts of exciting, humorous, and romantic adventures. I was riveted to the story while lying soaking up the tropical sun on the golden sands of Waikiki Beach. The bit where the gold-digger Random attempts to visit in person the rich, and as he thought, very beautiful woman in her stately home is particularly hilarious. All is not as it seems. Surely Robert Louis Stevenson got the idea for his “Treasure Island” after reading about Random’s exploits in the Caribbean after he was press-ganged into service on the high seas. Apparently the great English novelist Charles Dickens tipped his hat to Tobias Smollett. Wow!

I finished the book on the flight home from Hawaii wanting more, much more.

On a trip back to Scotland from Australia, I visited the Tobias Smollett monument which, though it used to stand in front of the Renton Primary School, still stands in (the) Renton.
My very good friends, Graham and Jacqui Black visited his grave in Livorno, Italy where Tobias died and was buried in 1771.



(The following is my review of the book on US Amazon):

The Adventures of Roderick Random is a great read! Written in the mid-1700s by a man from the same town in Scotland in which I grew up (Vale of Leven). Smollett has a beautifully descriptive and poetic turn of phrase, is witty, and has an acute eye for human foibles and our fallen disposition. This is Stevenson's Treasure Island and Scott's Rob Roy rolled into one! This novel is surprisingly modern, not in language (which nevertheless is exquisite), but in its vivid description of human nature when faced with feast or famine. Loved it!