Saturday, July 9, 2016

JEFF'S STORY: Fugitive to Freedom

(Now available as an eBook:

https://www.amazon.com/JEFFS-STORY-Neil-Cullan-McKinlay-ebook/dp/B01J7M72FC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469734422&sr=1-1&keywords=Jeff%27s+Story%3A+Fugitive+To+Freedom#navbar



Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Jeff was now forced to live on the streets for weeks. He began sleeping in old vehicles and living off food scraps. Sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile Bible verses with some of the tragedy of things that take place in the world. However, the following verse rings true when viewed in its proper context,

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor His seed begging bread.[1]

The Lord knows His own and He provides for them. He gets us through – somehow. Sometimes it’s only when we have crossed over on dry ground and have reached the other side that we can turn just in time to see the sea engulf our troubled past along with the bloodthirsty enemies that pursue us. Thus the hand of God gives us a reassuring wave.

Jeff had to negotiate the sinking sands of life in a nation at war with itself. Implosion! Says Jeff,

At the age of nine or ten years the Rebels were recruiting and I was living on the street at that time. I had nowhere to go and I had no food to eat. I was so tempted to join the Rebel Forces because I saw a lot of my age group and also friends of mine on the Rebel’s side.

            We can only say that the hand of God stayed Jeff. A roof over your head, food to eat, friends and an AK47 to shoot people with! Who could resist?

            And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.[2]

Just like those kids in the couple of movies we mentioned earlier (i.e., Machinegun Preacher and Blood Diamond), the Rebels would drive around with dilated-pupiled kids on the backs of pick-up trucks armed to their baby teeth with guns and supplied with reality-distorting drugs. Jeff witnessed the damage done, the brutality, the carnage. He saw man’s inhumanity to man,

I saw dead bodies lying all over the place, on the street, on the beaches and on the sideway of the road. I also saw Rebels arguing about the sex of a pregnant woman’s baby and I watched them murder her just to check the sex of the baby! How evil can man be? As a kid seeing all those things at that time has made me numb to any situation because I have seen enough. Sometimes I feel like the world we are living in has no more good in it, because the evil is more than the good.

            The depth of human depravity is a bottomless pit full of scorpions and venomous serpents! Evil curiosity killed the woman, that poor pregnant and helpless woman. Torturous! Murderous! Atrocious! Diabolical! And it would seem that a babe in its mother’s womb is only as safe as the restraint of evil in the world. Lord, help us!

Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.[3]

However, Jesus says to those who belong to Him, i.e., He says to all of God’s children,

In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.[4]

At this time Jefferson’s natural dad started searching the streets for his son.

[1] Psalm 37:25 KJV.
[2] Matthew 6:13 KJV
[3] Romans 4:15-18 KJV.
[4] John 16:33b KJV.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Future


The Future

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone; because I know He holds the future…’ (Gaither), so goes the chorus of an assuring hymn. Jesus “holds the future” because God is the God of time, past, present and future. The Triune God pushes time forward as He keeps it ticking as He drags it behind Him. The resurrected and ascended Jesus awaits the arrival of the final destination of all things (including you, me and death): ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive …Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death’ 1 Corinthians 15:22;24-26 NIV. No matter how long dead you are, you’ll be made alive in the future!


It’s not hard to see that the Christian has a far different take on the future than everyone else. For the Christian the future is all about the resurrected Jesus putting death to death on the Last Day and then living with His resurrected people forever on the resurrected (i.e., renewed) earth. We see then why Christianity lives or dies by Christ’s resurrection. That’s why the Apostle says, ‘If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile…’ 1 Corinthians 15:17a. For the Christian living in the present the future is tied to an event in the past. Without the physical resurrection of Jesus the Christian has no future. But again, as the Apostle says, ‘But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ 1 Corinthians 15:20.

The Christian would much rather look into God’s Word than gaze into a crystal ball. Therein God says, ‘I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure”’ Isaiah 46:9b-10. Jesus holds the future, not the fortune-teller. And He says, ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble’ Matthew 6:34. Therefore, whether it’s the near future or the far future it all belongs to Jesus.

There are three main views (each with variants within) that Christians hold regarding what the Bible says about the future: Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism. (The word ‘millennium’ means a thousand, as in a thousand years. See e.g., Revelation 20.) The first view holds that things on earth will progressively grow worse before Jesus physically returns to set up a thousand year ministry, a “Millennial Reign.’ The second holds that Jesus will come back only after there has been a thousand year (or an extensive) period of peace of earth. And the third view is that things will carry on pretty much in the same dismal state until Jesus’s Second Coming. The first and the last views are pessimistic about the present and the near future. However, all three are optimistic about the distant future.

Why the different schools of thought? You may as well ask: Why the different Christian Denominations?! However, every Christians is agreed that, ‘Jesus shall reign where’er the sun, doth his successive journeys run; His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, Till moons shall wax and wane no more.’ Isaac Watts (1674-1748). 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Behind the Scenes


BEHIND THE SCENES

“Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’” Genesis 16:13.

Introduction

In the following I want to take you behind the scenes. You’ve no doubt seen one of those programs on the TV, “The Making of Jaws”, “The Making of Jurassic Park” or “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings”, “The Hobbit” etc., that kind of thing. You know, the ones where they take you behind the scenes. They show you things like how they got the giant shark to open its mouth. Or how they got the tyrannosaurus to eat the car. Or how they got Jabba the Hut to walk and talk. Or the Incredible Hulk to grab the flying helicopter, Superman to fly etc.

When we watch a movie, we see the finished product. But who would doubt that many things have gone on behind scenes to produce what you see? Movies are all about “make-believe”. Sometimes they succeed in making the unbelievable believable! Actors perform amidst mechanical sharks and computer generated dinosaurs and such like on “green-screen”. And there’s a Director calling the shots off-screen. However, in the finished product the strings have disappeared. The papier-mâché, the rubber and the silicone and the CGI looks real as we sit and watch the story unfold in the movie.

Though not set out in perfect chronological order, the Bible is the unfolding of a story. You can start at the beginning and see the unfolding of a story as you read through to the end. The story is the history of redemption. The Bible records the unfolding of God’s Plan of Salvation. It begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth and its fall in the fall of man. And it ends with the redeemed heavens and earth in the redemption of man. The Bible is the finished product it is not to be added to or taken away from. It records and unfolds the story of redemption. It is a true story. It is not make-believe.

In the following I want to alert you to some of those things that went on behind the scenes in the making of the greatest story ever told. I want to, as it were, make the invisible visible. We’re only going to look at a short clip, a snippet, of the story. However, it should be enough to illustrate something of what went into the making of the history of redemption.

The general gist of what we’re looking at is: Always stay in the spotlight of God’s Word.

In the Shadows

In Genesis 16:11 the Angel of the Lord says to Hagar, “Behold, you are with child.” So, first off, we need to figure out how this happened. How come Hagar is pregnant? And before you ask me aside to tell me about the birds and the bees, remember that our subject is “Behind the Scenes.”

There is a seed in Hagar’s womb. Who sowed it? How did it get there? We know that Sarai, who couldn’t bear children, gave her servant Hagar to Abram. We know that Sarai had come up with a well-thought-out plan. We know that Abram agreed to this well-thought-out plan. Hence the child in Hagar’s womb. But where did Sarai’s idea come from? Did she get the idea from the Lord? Had the Lord written it into the script or was Sarai improvising? Was she doing a bit of ad-lib here? She was making this all up as she went along, wasn’t she? It was never God’s intention to use Sarai’s servant Hagar to produce the Redeemer. So Sarai must have got this idea from somewhere else. Where?

Apparently there was a custom in those days, according to historians. If your wife couldn’t produce you an heir, then, as custom would have it, you were free to use a surrogate. Needless to say, this ancient custom was a pagan practice that goes against the revealed will of God of one man and one woman in marriage. So, was it a pagan custom that was sitting in the director’s chair, directing Sarai to act this way? No! I think there was something more than just an idea skulking around in the shadows. It seems to me, that it was Satan himself who was skulking around in the shadows. However, I don’t think he was walking around with one of those director’s mega-phones in his hand. I don’t think he was yelling out his directions to the stage-players. He’s much more subtle than that. He’s the one who whispers sweet nothings in your ear. Sometimes he’s the subtle initiator of those things about which we say afterwards, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” Usually we’re never that sure where the idea came in the first place! Was it Fred? Was it Freda? Was it me? Or did it just seem to happen?

I’ve been to committee meetings attached to church where they record the names of who moved and who seconded what. This seems like good practice. So it was moved by Sarai and the motion was seconded by Abram that Abram and Sarai use Hagar as a surrogate mother. But we can see what went on behind the scenes. Sarai might have moved the motion, Abram might have seconded it. But where did the idea come from? It didn’t come from the Director, God. The idea came from the pseudo-director, Satan, didn’t it?

Even if Sarai got the idea from pagan practice, the idea still came from Satan. Scripture says Satan is the father of lies, John 8:44. The trouble with the Devil is that he dresses up his lies so that they look like truth. It’s a bit like the street organist who used to dress up the little monkey in human clothes.

So then, although Sarai, Abram and Hagar are each responsible for their own actions, Hagar is “with child” on account of the Devil working behind the scenes. It was the Devil who sowed the seed of thought that sprouted in Sarai’s heart. The Devil, not Abram, was the father of the lie planted in Hagar’s womb.

Do you know about the Scottish cuckoo? The Scottish cuckoo lays an egg in another bird’s nest! It keeps an eye on its prospective candidate’s nest. Then in an unguarded moment it swoops in and lays an egg, yes, just one egg. Then the host birds are run ragged trying to raise this other bird’s offspring! In a very real sense this is what the Devil was trying to do here. He was planting a counterfeit, a cheap imitation, a substitute for the real thing.

God had promised Abram that his Seed would be a blessing to the whole world. This seed in Hagar’s womb was no blessing. He was to be a wild-man, a wild donkey of a man! His hand was to be against every man and every man’s hand against him. This seed in Hagar’s womb was a false promise. He was a lie – the Devil’s lie. The serpent, through Sarai, Abram and Hagar, had given birth to an offspring. And the scary thing about it is that it all seemed like a good idea at the time.

You’ve heard it said that the Devil is in the detail. Well, I’d like to put it to you that he’s even more subtle than that. At least you’ll see him hiding in the detail if you would just take the time to read it. All you have to do is read the small print. However, the Devil hides in the shadows. He always remains behind the scenes. Listen to what the Lord teaches if you don’t believe me, “Everyone practicing evil hates the light & does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” John 3:20.

The Devil doesn’t like the spotlight – certainly not the spotlight of God’s Word. He’s happy to direct from behind the scenes. And if he ever does step out of the shadows, he always wears a disguise. And his disguise is usually more than a pair of sun glasses like Clark Kent when he’s not being Superman. Satan is an angel of darkness who poses as an angel of light. He’s the enemy who comes along and sows the tares among the wheat and goes his way. Watch him because he’s a planter of thoughts, of things that seem like a good idea at the time. And he likes to see Christians forget their lines and resort to improvisation and ad-lib. Therefore, we must keep going back and keep on reading the fine print of the Bible. Keep on trying to memorize your lines. Always stay in the spotlight of Scripture. As the Psalmist says, “You Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You” and, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”

Knowing the Word of God is the only way we can be safe from his suggestions. That’s how Christ handled the Devil in the wilderness, wasn’t it? The Devil lurks around in the shadows. But what about the Lord? He works in the light.

In the Light

In the passage before us, the invisible has become visible. The Angel of the Lord has manifested Himself before Hagar. He has materialized Himself in human form, perhaps, though we can’t be certain. I don’t think there would be too many arguments against the belief that the Angel of the Lord is the Lord Himself. Hagar seems to think this is the Lord Himself, Genesis 16:13, “Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’” The Angel of the Lord spoke to Hagar in the first person, where He says in Genesis 16:10, “I [ie, I, the Angel of the Lord] will multiply your descendants exceedingly” etc. So, Hagar herself actually believes she has seen the Lord Himself. And I wouldn’t try to convince Hagar otherwise!

The movie director Alfred Hitchcock would usually make a cameo appearance in his movies. You’ll see him get on a bus or walk out of a shop, or something. He makes just the briefest of appearances, i.e., a cameo. Well, here in this passage the One who usually directs from behind the scenes has made a cameo appearance, if you will. The Lord Himself has come out in the open. The Lord is consistent with His own teaching. For He says in John 3:21, “He who does the truth comes to the light, that His deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” So the real Director has come onto the set!

We see that he is compassionate because He has heard Hagar’s affliction. And we see that He is all-seeing. He saw Hagar in the wilderness. However, more than that, He can see into the future. He knows where the story is going. He knows the end from the beginning. He’s making sure Hagar learns her lines before He sends her to report back to Abram and Sarai. And what is Hagar to tell them when she gets there? Well first off she’s going to tell them that God heard her affliction. And she’ll tell them that the Lord is going to multiply her descendants exceedingly, “So that they shall not be counted for multitude.” That must have been a great comfort for Hagar to know that. But just so that there’s no mistaking that this seed is not the promised seed, it’s revealed to her in Genesis 16:12, “He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.” So we see clearly in these words that Ishmael is not the promised seed.

There’s no mention of him being a blessing. In fact he’s to be the opposite. But let’s not miss what’s going on here. The Lord has just sprung another of Satan’s evil plans. Satan had planned to mislead Abram and Sarai in letting the promise appear to have been fulfilled by substituting another seed, that of a slave. However, who should show up on the scene and make, as it were, a “cameo” appearance? None other than the Promised One Himself – the Lord! That is, the One who would, in the fullness of time, become the Great Redeemer. He steps out from the Old Testament shadows, from behind the scenes, just long enough to direct Hagar.

Notice His compassion. He says to her, “Call your son ‘Ishmael’ because the Lord has heard you affliction.” “Ishmael” means “God hears.” So every time Hagar would call on the boy for lunch, for tea, “Ishamel! Ishmael!” everyone in the whole street would be reminded that “God hears.”

So, God hears, He hears affliction, even the affliction of the slave. But where does all of this fit into the story, the story of redemption? Well, before we fast-forward ahead let’s rewind the tape a little. You’ll remember the bit where in Genesis 15 where the Lord made a covenant with Abram. Remember the dead animals and the smoking oven and the burning torch? Well, the Lord had said to Abram in Genesis 15:13, “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will AFFLICT them four hundred years.” This is of course a future reference to Israel’s enslavement in Egypt. Let’s begin to fast forward. Do you know how the descendants of Abram ended up in Egypt? Abram had a great grandson whose name was Joseph. You know about Joseph and his coat of many colours. You know that his brothers wanted rid of him so they sold him to some travellers. Listen to this verse of Scripture, “Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from THE ISHMAELITES who had taken him down there.” Genesis 39:1. Joseph’s brothers sold him into the hands of the “Ishamelites!” The “Ishmaelites,” the descendants of Ishmael, sold Joseph, Abram’s grandson, to the Egyptians.

And you know that Jacob and the whole of Israel came to live in Egypt with Joseph. But in the process of time what happened? Joseph died. “[And] there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Exodus 1:8. And Egypt set taskmasters over Israel “to afflict them with their burdens.”

Let me cut the long story short: Ex. 2:23-24, “Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out...So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham.” “God heard their groaning...” “Ishmael” “God hears” – affliction, even the affliction of the slave! And you know the rest of the story. “And the Angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush.” Exodus 3:2. The Angel of the LORD in the burning bush is another Old Testament cameo appearance of the Lord.

So the moral of the story is that God hears. He’s not a God who hides Himself in the shadows. He doesn’t do things in a corner. He’s the God who does His deeds so that they may be clearly seen. He’s the God who hears your affliction. He hears you when you cry out to Him in times of trouble. How do we know? Well we know how the story ends, don’t we? As the Scripture says, “But now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” Hebrews 9:26b. He sets slaves free.

Christ on the cross of Calvary was the greatest deed ever done! Not to mention His resurrection from the tomb. The blessing is ours! And none of this was done in the shadows, but in the light. Satan might have tried to fob off Abraham with a counterfeit, a substitute promise – a false christ. He was even raising up false christs in Christ’s day. And, depending how you read Matthew 24:24 he’ll be doing it until the real Christ appears. However, take comfort in the fact that, though Christ, the real Christ, is at the moment behind the scenes. He hears your affliction. The Ishmaelites might be persecuting the covenant children of Abraham in the Sudan, Indonesia, and elsewhere, but God hears our affliction. He will appear. As Scripture says, “To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” Hebrews 9:28. When will this appearing be? No one knows the day or the hour. Therefore make sure that everything that you do is done in the light.

Stay in the light and don’t spend time in the shadows, for you know who skulks around there. And he wants to sow some thoughts in your head thoughts that seem like a good idea at the time. But listen only to the direction of the Lord who still directs from behind the scenes.

Conclusion

Now, when you think of it, your life and mine is but a “cameo appearance”, isn’t it?
We get to walk onto the world stage mumble a few lines and then we’re gone. Most of us don’t even get mentioned in the credits. That’s reserved for kings and queens, and famous people. But this doesn’t mean that what you and I say or do is not important. For we know that God is recording every idle word that we speak.

I’m not totally sure what Judgment Day will be like exactly. But in today’s terms, it seems to me that we will get to watch a movie in which we are the stars! It will be a “This is your life!” (or, this WAS your life) I don’t know about you, but I’ll be embarrassed all to pieces if I get to see a movie of my whole life It’ll be, “Why did I do that?” And, why did I say that?” Could you imagine how embarrassed you will be if everyone gets to watch the story of your life? It’s then that I’ll be truly thankful more than ever that I have Jesus Christ as Saviour! For my acting on the world’s stage has been anything but perfect, everything but perfect.

Yes even after God, by His grace, set me free from my bondage to sin I haven’t served Him perfectly. But thanks be to God that He won’t be looking at your imperfect life or mine on Judgment Day. Rather God will be looking at the perfect life Jesus Christ lived in our stead on Judgment Day. Therefore, shouldn’t those of us who belong to Christ be striving to be obedient to Him out of love and gratitude for His grace? Therefore, always strive to be on your best behavior even when in the super market, when driving your car, even when filling out your Income Tax Return. In a word, no matter what we are thinking, saying, or doing we should strive to always stay in the spotlight of God’s Word.

Habbie To Jeely-Eater: A Biography


Habbie To Jeely-Eater: A Biography –
“In retrospect, I realise my life has been built on three pillars: Family, Friends and Faith.” So says the indefatigable Rev Ian H Miller in the final chapter of his book which essentially deals with this threefold cord.

The three main takeaways from this book are laughter, tears and contemplation. Ian is a master storyteller.

Laughter? Ian can spot humour at fifty paces even at funerals! He relates a funny story about a bird at the crematorium at Cardross depositing “a little message on the undertaker’s formal funeral wear.” He says, “All I could see was this splurge of white. I lost it.”

Tears? Again funerals! Speaking of the local cemetery Ian paints the following vividly sombre picture, “On a number of occasions, I have stood on the windswept hill above the Valley intoning the words of committal as we lay to rest a loved one whose life had been forfeited to the river.”

Contemplation? “We tend to look for God in the spectacular and miss him in the ordinary.”

Ian is a Christian minister. To minister is to serve. Ian has served the Vale folk, i.e, the Jeely-Eaters, well!

On a more personal note: My father died in November 2005: “The Rev. Ian Miller had another funeral to attend to, but he allowed us to use his Bonhill Parish Church on the River Leven where I conducted the funeral service.”[1] After the service we accompanied dad’s coffin across the hill to the Crematorium at Cardross where Ian was graciously (and patiently) waiting to conduct the brief committal. We arrived much later than originally planned. As I approached him I was cringing with embarrassment at what he might say about my organisational tardiness. (We had arrived not long before the service that was scheduled to follow ours.) Ian, a master of the humorous rebuke, looked at me and said, “Red Card, McKinlay! Red Card!” No point in arguing with such a well-respected referee as Rev. Ian H Miller.

I think the whole of the Vale has been touched and indeed influenced for the better by this man. This (exiled) “Jeely-Eater” says thankyou Ian! And thanks also for the great read!


[1] Neil Cullan McKinlay, From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice, Nordskog Publishing, California, 2011, p. 147. – See http://nordskogpublishing.com/product/from-mason-to-minister-through-the-lattice/
 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Life After Death?


In the so called Apostles’ Creed we state that we believe in the resurrection of the body.

Indeed, Christianity hinges on Christ’s bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:17).

If Christ survived death then so will all who belong to Him.

I believe our study and interpretation of the Bible is science and is therefore scientific.

In other words hermeneutics is science.

I lifted the following from the Internet: “According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of science is ‘knowledge attained through study or practice,’ or ‘knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method [and] concerned with the physical world.’”

To talk about physical resurrection (as it is relayed in the Bible) is to be “concerned with the physical world.”

My personal “scientific” study began as a young teenager up at my doo-hut [ie, homing pigeon loft] next to the Tullichewan Castle.

We used to hold séances there, a.k.a. “spirit in the glass.”

We would put Vaseline or butter on the glass to make sure no one was pushing it. We tried but we couldn’t physically move the glass like this.

The glass used to whirr around the board spelling things.

One time it spun around on its own and then flew off and hit the wall!

Blind forces cannot spell out names.

For me, this meant there was another dimension or an invisible world in which rational thought existed.

It seems to me that this is scientific, i.e., a logical conclusion “through study and practice” i.e., from the facts of what was taking place in the physical world (i.e., an inverted glass spelling out sentences on a board (at times with no one laying a finger on it).

I thought I was communicating with people who were physically dead, (because that was what the “glass” was telling us).

However, according to the Bible I was probably dabbling with demons (which were perhaps pretending to be people who had died).

Either way, it opened up for me the real possibility (to me) that a supreme but invisible mind actually existed.

I gradually became more open to the idea that the God of the Bible might actually exist.

It all seemed logical to me: Physical human beings communicate by the spoken or written or word.

Here was something invisible (to me) communicating by the written word.

The Bible claims to be (the invisible) God communicating by the written word.

However, it wasn’t inverted whisky glasses that God moved, but something more sophisticated, viz., men:  “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 1 Pet. 1:21 KJV.

After years of “study and practice” you’ll be pleased to know that I now trust the Bible over Ouija boards! 

I believe what Jesus, the resurrected One, tells me in His written Word (from cover to cover).

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

GOING HOME


GOING HOME

Grass, long grass, spear grass,

Prickly seeds pierce my feet,

My legs, my buttocks.

Ticks, mosquitos, spiders and snakes,

Five-inch “toe-biter” insect,

A giant water bug with pincers!

And a Queensland bird-eating spider.

Sleeping-bag entered slowly!

Moonlit nights, shooting stars,

Southern Cross, crick in neck.

Misty mornings, clenched-fist sun

Then extending fingers, feeling their way

through gumtrees lining the gates of dawn.

Sunday morning bush-worship-service,

God honoured, His Word read,

Proclaimed and applied,

His congregation blessed. Amen!

Packed pack is on my back,

Face set for home,

About to decamp when “ratatatat”,

Enemy with bad-timing and poor manners,

Departure delayed, but dust settles,

Soon I’m off and running!

Nine hours travelling by bus,

Air-con broken, thirty degrees outside,

Steamed-up windows! Is the heater on?

At last, civilization, elation,

McDonalds and a coffee? Yes please!

Back on bus, Kindle reading, day-dreaming,

Sugarcane on the left, cattle on the right,

Hot bitumen underneath,

Gumtrees flashing by,

Hills rolling away into the distance,

Pastel clouds on sky-blue sky,

Sun sparkling on a river

As we speed across a bridge,

A lonely kingfisher stares

Into the clear water from a log.

Well irrigated orchard, all lush and green,

Mangoes, oranges, then fields of pineapples.

A crow pecks at some roadkill,

As cars, caravans and trucks

Flash into then out of view.

Going home, wife, daughters

Grandchildren, comfy chair,

Shower, Guinness, clean sheets.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Where There's Smoke!


WHERE THERE’S SMOKE
 

“On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram...” Genesis 15:18.

Introduction

I remember working as a plumber in a house in Toronto, Canada. I’d just finished what I thought was a beautiful repair job on a pipe in an awkward place. I’d had the old blow-torch going as I soldered a pipe to another pipe buried in a wall. I was admiring what I thought was a neat job when I saw smoke! Oh, oh! You know the old saying, Where there’s smoke there’s fire! I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn’t noticed the smoke. I could have burned down the whole house with everyone in it.

Have you ever noticed that the fire-brigade never seems to teach their people to check to see if the door’s open before the break it down? When I was a technical college learning how to be a plumber our instructor used to say: “Always make sure that the flame never leaves the end of your torch!” Apparently the flame had left the end of my torch and run up the pipe inside the wall. It had set fire to some wood-shavings inside the wall of the woman’s house in which I was working The “fierys” managed to put the fire out. But what a mess when it was all over. They had to smash big holes in the bathroom wall to find the fire to put it out.

Adam and Eve, as it were, started a fire in the Garden of Eden. Adam kindled the fiery-anger of God as he brought sin and evil into God’s beautiful creation. He broke the Covenant of Works that God had placed him under. And God pouring out fire and brimstone on places like Sodom and Gomorrah, according to Scripture, are examples of how much God hates sin and evil. However, we are thankful that God has provided sinners an escape from His fiery wrath. We escape through faith in Jesus Christ who rescues us from the wrath to come. But His rescue plan is not like a bunch of firemen smashing holes in walls. No! Christ’s plan to put the fire out is much more carefully planned. And it was all executed with perfect timing and surgical precision. This plan we call The Covenant of Grace. The whole Bible is the revelation of this Covenant. And in Genesis 15 we see the Lord ratify His covenant with Abram the father of all believers.

The general gist of what we’re looking at in the following may be summed up as follows, The Covenant of Grace is God’s plan to rescue His people from the fire. First we’ll put ourselves in Abram’s shoes and consider the covenant from his perspective. Then we’ll put our own shoes back on and consider the covenant as it stands today. Let’s consider this under two heads, first The Little Picture and then The Big Picture.

The Little Picture

We need to look at the content of Genesis 15 through the eyes of Abram. If we’re to understand anything of this passage we need to try to see things the way he saw things So let’s for the moment observe things as did Abram living circa 2,000 BC.

Take note that he didn’t have a New Testament. He didn’t even have an Old Testament. God spoke to him directly in a vision (Genesis 15:1) and then a dream (15:12). Therefore, take note that everything that transpired in Genesis 15 took place in a vision and a dream.

As the Lord communicated with Abram and Abram with the Lord the subject of offspring and land arose again. The Lord had already promised Abram offspring and land. So what we see before us is the ratification of this promise. In other words, the Lord in this covenant-cutting ceremony was binding Himself by His Word to Abram. He was confirming, i.e., giving Abram confirmation of His promise of offspring and land. However, if you look at the way the Lord chose to do it, you’d be excused for thinking there was  whole lot more to it than that, what, with bits of dead animals not to mention the smoking oven and burning torch. Like they say, Where there’s smoke there’s fire! So, what’s really going on here? Well, in Genesis 15:1 the LORD told Abram He was his shield and his exceedingly great reward. And in Genesis 15:6 we see that Abram believed in his shield and his exceedingly great reward. For that is who the Lord revealed Himself to be to Abram.

Notice in Genesis 15:1 that the Lord also said to Abram, Do not be afraid.” From those words we might anticipate what the Lord was going to do a little later. For in Genesis 15:12 we’re told that “horror and great darkness feel upon him” – i.e., upon Abram.

So let’s make sure we’re all looking at the same thing here. There’s Abram sitting on an armchair or whatever on his own somewhere. Then he starts to have this vision. The closest any of us will ever come to a vision is perhaps a vivid daydream. Remember when you were off fishing or riding a horse when really you were sitting at your desk staring at the blackboard in school. Well, Abram’s vision would be nothing like that. All his senses would have been heightened. He got to converse with the Lord and the Lord showed him things. The Lord took him outside and showed him the stars in heaven.

Abram also got to carve up a cow, a ram and a goat and place them strategically. He placed one half of the other opposite the other. He placed a pigeon on one side and a dove on the other. He even got to chase some vultures away from the carcasses. All of this took place in a vision. Then a deep sleep fell upon him along with horror and darkness. It was the type of darkness you could plunge a knife into – right up to the hilt! It was a scary darkness; the kind of darkness that gives you the creeps; the kind that makes the hair on the back of your neck bristle with terror. But the Lord has already said to Abram. “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

Then we’re told in Genesis 15:17 that the sun had gone down. It was dark. And behold, “A smoking oven and a burning torch passed between the pieces.” This is what Abram saw. This was the revelation that God burned into his heart. Abram personally witnessed the Lord make a covenant with him. This covenant is the Covenant of Grace and is still in force today.

Just before we move on to our second heading let me quote some words of Louis Berkhof. Louis Berkhof is a well-respected Reformed Theologian. He says,

The Bible teaches that there is but a single gospel by which men can be saved. And because the gospel is nothing but the revelation of the covenant of grace, it follows that there is also but one covenant. The gospel was already heard in material promise, Gen. 3:15, was preached unto Abraham, Gal. 3:8, and may not be supplanted by any Judaistic gospel, Gal. 1:8,9.[1]

Let’s hang onto his line, “The Gospel is nothing but the revelation of the Covenant of Grace.” Therefore this covenant-making ceremony must be full of the Gospel! Abraham has already heard and had already believed in the Gospel. For in Genesis 15:6 we’re told that Abram has received through faith the righteousness he needs to save him from the fires of hell. For, he has believed in the Lord who is his shield and his exceedingly great reward.

He has been justified, i.e., declared righteous, which is evidenced by his faith in the Lord. He believes in the Lord – the Lord who rescues us by His Gospel. The Lord rescues us as a fire-man might rescue someone from a burning building, someone who is about to be engulfed in the flames!

The Big Picture

Now, again, let’s be reminded that Abram didn’t have a copy of the New Testament under his arm. He didn’t have a copy of the Apostle’s Creed or the Westminster Confession of Faith. However, by the same token, the Bible tells us that Abram heard the Gospel, (cf. Galatians 3:8). So he wasn’t some Neanderthal. He wasn’t some Evolutionist’s cave-man! Abram had a true knowledge of God revealed to him. He had the righteousness of God revealed to him. And he had the holiness of God revealed to him. And all these things were revealed to him by the Lord Himself!

How can we say this? Because Abram heard and believed in the Gospel. And by believing in the Gospel Abram was embracing the true knowledge of God, His righteousness and His holiness, i.e., the things Adam lost in the Fall. In short, God was at work in Abram’s heart. God was busy reforming Abram back into the true image and likeness of God. For the Covenant of Grace, i.e., the Gospel, is the true Knowledge of God, His Righteousness and Holiness. So Abram would be seeing and understanding much more than todays’ Christian credits him.

So, let’s consider what Abram would be seeing and understanding. What was Abram doing while the Lord was confirming his covenant with him? Well, keep in mind that this was, first off, taking place in a vision. Then the vision intensified into a dream as Abram went into a deep sleep which fell upon him. The deep sleep and the darkness that fell upon him were supernatural.

It was the Lord who came seeking Abram. It was the Lord who had called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, Genesis 15:7. It was the Lord who had come to him in this vision. He’d come now to confirm the covenant or Gospel He had already revealed to Abram. Abram was already believing in the Gospel. He was trusting in the Lord as his shield – his exceedingly great reward. So far, Abram, would have had the same basic knowledge of God stated in our own Westminster Confession of Faith. Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 7 under the head “God’s Covenant with Man” states,

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and REWARD, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.[2]

God has condescended to reveal Himself in His covenant to Abram. So Abram would have understood something of the great humility of God. For he saw Almighty God humble Himself to talk to him and show him His covenant. And also, as he waited for the Lord, he would have contemplated the meaning of the carcasses. They were graphic pictures of sin and death.

These were the very types of animals that were to be used in the future sacrificial system. These were “clean” animals. Even Noah, years before this event, knew about clean birds and animals. How did Abram know he was supposed to cut them in half? Well, that’s how you cut a covenant in those days. The same ceremony was still going on in Jeremiah the Prophet’s day, “And I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between the parts of it–the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf–I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. Their dead bodies shall be for meat for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth.” Jeremiah 34:18-19.

Abram had to drive away the vultures from the carcasses. He knew that those dead animals were there instead of him. He could see that God would accept a substitute sacrifice on his behalf. But he knew that that substitute would need to be worth more than a cow, a ram, goat, a dove and a pigeon! He knew that his substitute sin offering would need to be a man – a special man. There was coming a time when the Lord would say to Abram, “Take your son, your ONLY son Isaac, whom you love … and offer him as a burnt offering” Genesis 22:2.

So Abram knew that the blood of goats and heifers and sheep wouldn’t satisfy the justice of God. He knew that these things were just picture symbols of the real thing; just as in the future Moses would sprinkle the blood of the everlasting covenant on the people; just as we today sprinkle the blood of the everlasting covenant symbolized in water baptism. But Abram knew his substitute needed to be a man righteous in the eyes of God. He knew he needed to be child from heaven, a child from God Himself – a child of promise, even the conditional promise – a child of the covenant. He knew his substitute needed to be his exceedingly great reward – the blessing of the covenant; the One who would shield him from all his enemies; the One who would cover his sins against the fiery wrath of God – against death itself.

And yet what a terrible dilemma the Lord placed Abram in – IF – IF... if He had promised him descendants as numerous as the stars – destined for the fires of hell! But Abram knew, as we shall see as we follow his life, that God’s love is a covenantal love. He knew according to His covenant, God would save him and his whole house. Just as the Lord saved Noah and his whole house, so the Lord would save Abram and his whole house to which you and I today belong. For, as Peter says in Acts 2:38, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And the condition of the Covenant is that we believe in the Lord and His Covenant, i.e., the Gospel. Abram, we’re told in Romans 4:11, is the father of all who will believe – in the Gospel.

So Abram sat there contemplating death as he looked at the blood and the carcasses. And as the sun had set and horror and great darkness fell upon him he would have tasted something of the terrors of hell. For hell is in outer darkness as the Lord informs us in Matthew 8:12. But hell is more than that. It’s the place where the burning wrath of God abides forever on those who do not believe in the same Lord in whom Abram believed, John 3:36.

But Abram didn’t have to worry about hell, for he believed in the Lord. The Lord who had already told him he’d be buried at a good old age. He’d been told that he’d go to his fathers in peace – not in torment, Genesis 15:15. But what a terrible and awesome sight it must have been for Abram to see the Lord appear as a smoking furnace and a burning torch! How he must have sensed the holiness and the righteousness of God in this sight. For Abram saw God reveal Himself as a consuming fire! Hebrews 12:29 says, “Our God is a consuming fire.”

We take it that the sacrificed animals were consumed as the Lord passed between the pieces, consumed by the same righteous holiness which consumes, burns up, all sin in its path! As the holiness and righteousness of God was manifested to Abram, he would have been acutely aware of his own unholy unrighteousness. However, as the torch and the pitcher meant victory for Gideon’s army over the enemies of the Lord, so the smoking oven and torch meant victory for Abram over sin and the last enemy which is death. For here Abram could see clearly that the Lord was rescuing him from his sins, from sin and death. Here he could see that this covenant was completely and utterly a covenant of grace.

God had condescended to make, i.e., to cut, a covenant with him to save him and his faithful house from the consuming justice of God. Abram could see the Gospel, the good news of his salvation as he fixed his eyes upon the Lord.

How is it with you dear reader? Is the Gospel just some billowing smoke to you? Have you at least noticed the smoke? Remember, where there’s smoke there’s fire!

Our God is a consuming fire, but His Covenant of Grace is our shield. For the Gospel reveals the One who is our shield, One who is our exceedingly great reward. However, the Covenant is the thing that stops our whole house burning down, for the Gospel deflects the wrath of God from Abram and his whole house to which we belong. It is as it were the blood painted on the lintel that protected Israel from the destroying angel at Passover in Egypt.

The Covenant the Lord cut with Abram signified what happens to unrepentant covenant breakers. They are to be consumed by the fiery wrath of God. Jesus received the fiery wrath of God as it was poured out upon Him on the cross, but not as a covenant breaker, but for covenant breakers such as us. For, He perfectly kept the Covenant by which we are condemned, i.e., the Covenant of Works (as revealed to pre-Fall Adam).

Jesus, as the Second Adam and the Last Man, kept the Covenant of Works as our representative, and even unto death He perfectly did the will of the Father. However, since the Covenant of Grace is from everlasting, God justice was satisfied by the death of Christ our substitute. Therefore, He was consumed by the fiery wrath of God not for His own sin but for the sins of His people a people as numerous as the stars! “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.

Jesus asked for our forgiveness and He said He was going to prepare a place for us. For in His Father’s house there are many mansions. It’s a land of milk and honey. It’s a place with no sin, pain, crying, sorrow or death, (Revelation 21:4). It’s a place in which righteousness dwells.

The Lord kept Abram waiting as Abram sat contemplating the meaning of what he was witnessing. He pondered the dead carcasses, torn in half. He pondered their poured out blood. As Jesus ate the Passover Lamb with His disciples He took bread, gave thanks and broke it. With the cross waiting for Him outside the door, He said, “Take, eat; this is MY body broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me. In         the same manner He also took the cup after supper saying, ‘This is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

The Lord says to Christ as recorded by His Prophet Isaiah, “I will preserve You and give You as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth.” Isaiah 49:8. Make no mistake, our covenant is IN Christ. Nay, God’s covenant with Abram and us IS Christ! Christ our covenant hung on a cross between two divided places. He hung between the two places that were torn apart by Adam’s sin, heaven and earth. And He hung on the cross between a divided humanity, i.e., an unrepentant thief on one side and a repentant thief of the other, one destined for pangs in the utter darkness and the black fires of hell and the other for bliss and light in Paradise.

As He hung there contemplating what it all meant supernatural darkness fell upon Him and over the whole land and the sun was darkened, Luke 23:44-45. Horror and great darkness fell upon Him as, and like Abram, God kept Him waiting. He experienced the utter darkness of hell, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” Then the fiery wrath of God consumed Him, “My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me.” Then, when His work was finished, a deep sleep fell upon Him, even the sleep of death. Then, by the Spirit, Christ entered into the Holy of Holies with His own blood, Hebrews 9:14. This was signified by the curtain of separation in the Temple, being cut or torn in two, Mark 15:38. The tearing in half of that veil means that we are reconciled to God by Christ’s blood. It means that we are no longer separated from God, that we are now joined together again. The Apostle says, “[He] was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” Romans 4:25.

The Gospel declares that you must believe in the Lord to be saved from your sins. Therefore you must believe in the same Lord in whom Abram believed. Jesus Christ was his shield, his exceedingly great reward, for He is the sum and substance of the Gospel. For in Him and His Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, Romans 1:17. Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and saw it and was glad, John 8:56.

Along with Abram Jesus rescues all who by God’s grace call on Him. He delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10), and believe the Scriptures when they tell us about wrath to come. Abram shooed the birds of prey away from the carcasses as he waited patiently for the Lord to come. Then the Lord appeared as a smoking oven and a burning torch. The Lord is coming in like manner again. But let us not grow impatient. For “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9. And the verses following say, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with a fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Our God is indeed a consuming fire. And He’s going to purge the whole universe of unrighteousness. He’ll do this as He comes which is when He comes to confirm His covenant with the world, even the cosmos! He’ll separate the sheep from the goats. As the pillar of smoke and fire separated His people from the Egyptians, so the Son of God will stand between His own people and those who belong to the world. A river of fire separate them, even a lake of fire, into which the devil and his followers will be thrown.

Our God is a just God He punishes iniquity. But praise be to His name, He is also merciful! The smoking oven and the burning torch must have been a terrifying sight on a dreadfully dark night. However, the Good News is that it was simply the LORD’s way of showing Abram that sometime in the future He was going to cauterize the gaping, festering wound of our sin. It was a picture of what He was going to do to His only begotten Son Jesus Christ at Calvary. This is what was being confirmed to Abram, as we see recorded here in Genesis chapter fifteen.

It was Abram who shed the blood of these animals. God accepted his sacrifice. It was Christ who shed His own blood. God accepted His sacrifice. Therefore the LORD, Abram’s shield, his exceedingly great reward, kept His covenant He had cut with Abram. He kept it unto death, even His own death upon a cross.

Conclusion

If you’ve read this and all you’ve seen is a bit of smoke, then remember: Where there’s smoke there’s fire! Just pray that it’s the fire of the Gospel that’s burning in your heart. But don’t call on the fire-brigade to come and put it out. Call on the Lord Jesus Christ to come and set your whole house on fire. Call on Him to come and set your whole street on fire. Call on Him to set your whole country on fire. Call on Him to set the whole world ablaze with His glorious Gospel of Grace!

Father we give You thanks that You have revealed Your Covenant of Grace to us, Abram’s children. We thank You that You spared His household, to which we belong, from the fires of hell. Kindle in us anew, a fiery zeal for the advancement of Your kingdom, that Your kingdom would come, that Your will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

May the Gospel light up the darkness of our hearts and may You make, as the Psalmist says, “Your minister’s a flame of fire”. May each of us be consumed, not by Your justice (for that is hell), but rather may each of us be consumed by Your burning love for sinners such as us. In the Mediator of the Covenant’s name, even Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.


[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 279.
[2] Westminster Confession of Faith 7:1.