Thursday, July 23, 2015

RAINBOWS


RAINBOWS

 

September brought with it spring showers to Tasmania. My friend told me that it was the land of many rainbows. Many rainbows I saw! One of the most beautiful was suspended in the air over the deep Derwent River in Hobart. It straddled both shores, more picturesque than the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Life began anew in Tasmania as trees in the orchards began placing perfume behind their ears and on their wrists as they tried to entice sleepy bees into kissing them. Like summer dresses all the colours of the rainbow were in their flowering buds.

Rainbows are beautiful, but what is a rainbow? Is it merely droplets of water hanging in the air refracting light? Or is there more to the rainbow than this? After the Flood God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth” Genesis 9:12&13. The rainbow, then, is the sign of God’s covenant with the earth.

What is a covenant? Charles Hodge says: “A covenant is a promise suspended upon a condition.” When God instituted the rainbow as a sign of the covenant He said: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” Genesis 8:22). Notice that the conditional promise stands while earth remains. However, ultimately Jesus Christ is God’s covenant or conditional promise to us: “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen…” 2 Corinthians 1:20. Jesus, then, is the true sign of God’s everlasting covenant. He is the everlasting covenant (e.g. see Isa. 42:6; 49:8). Therefore, somehow the rainbow is a picture of Jesus.

He died suspended between heaven and earth. And when He ascended bodily up to heaven “while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight… ‘This same Jesus… will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9,10). “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him” Revelation 1:7a, (see also Dan. 7:13).

God’s conditional promise is well illustrated in the following oft quoted verse: “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. The condition for receiving everlasting life is that we believe in God’s covenant Jesus Christ.

I remember many years ago seeing a classmate bathed in a rainbow. He had gone to fetch a stray soccer ball from the playing field. He was asked to stop where one end of a rainbow had touched down. Someone yelled to him, “Quick! Start digging.” God bathes His children with His rainbow as He shines His light upon us through the prism of His Son Jesus Christ. When He sees us in Christ He remembers His everlasting covenant.

Excerpted from my ebook The Song of Creation - http://www.amazon.com/SONG-CREATION-OTHER-CONTEMPLATIONS-ebook/dp/B006WRZDES/ref=la_B006NTVAWY_1_18?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1437595066&sr=1-18&refinements=p_82%3AB006NTVAWY

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

FESTIVALS



Festivals

Festivals with their attendant festivities ordinarily are seasons of happiness. Christmas is the festive season. However, festivals are not always outwardly religious in nature. There are rock, jazz and folk festivals as well as many other festivals celebrating historical and/or cultural events. It has been said that culture is religion externalised. If we keep this definition of culture in mind we can easily see that all community festivals are therefore broadly religious! Festivals are an expression of things communities hold dear, things worth celebrating. What is religious about a rock or a jazz festival? If you’ve ever been dazzled by a piece of music or gripped by song lyrics beautifully sung you’ll have had a religious experience. It’s a feeling of being elevated, ecstasy, i.e., a momentary feeling of having been transported to a higher plain. Food can do it. Drink can do it. Music can do it. Add these and more together and you have cultural festivities, a feast, a festival. However, the person needs to be in tune with the event.

The simplicity of the Lord’s Supper is that it is designed to lift up the communicant on wings like eagles to soar in heavenly realms, for the communicant by the Spirit through faith eats and drinks in the presence of the Lord at the wedding feast of the Lamb. Some Christians see the bread and wine only as a symbol and others only as a sacrifice. Properly understood the Lord’s Supper is an actual celebration using symbols to remember Christ’s sacrifice. It is a joyous occasion, a festival in which the food and drink elevates the soul and strengthens the believer’s faith.

The Lord’s Supper is the joyful fulfilment of the four seasonal festivals that existed in Old Testament times, viz., as per the season in the northern hemisphere, Spring, Unleavened Bread/Passover (Matthew 26:17-20); Summer, Harvest/Pentecost (Acts 2:1), Autumn, Ingathering/Tabernacles (John 7:2) and Winter, Dedication/Lights (John 10:22). As do all festivals, these point to celebratory events.

The opening chapter of the Bible contains an allusion to festivals. ‘Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years”’ Genesis 1:14. The Hebrew word here for ‘seasons’ is moo’a:dym. Not only has this word to do with climate, but it also includes the idea of festive gatherings, or seasonal celebration. As each season of the Old Testament calendar contained a festival, so each season in the New Testament calendar contains the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Traditionally Presbyterians have quarterly Communion. Each seasonal festival was also a reminder the Lord’s coming was/is drawing nearer.

Yet from Bacchus to Woodstock and beyond some festivals have degenerated into drunken and/or drug induced orgies, i.e., bacchanalian. However, if we keep in mind that culture is religion externalised we won’t fail to see that these are simply distorted forms of true religion. Don Mclean in his song ‘American Pie’ asks, ‘Do you believe in rock and roll? Can music save your mortal soul?’ Well, in line with the 1st Commandment it needs to be said that the trinity of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ is no substitute for the triune God! Whether it is in food, drink, music or whatever, wherever a person pursues happiness there is his/her god! However, the best festivals are those that have God at their centre.    

 

 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

SCOTUS: A NEW KIND OF TYRANNY?

SCOTUS: A NEW KIND OF TYRANNY?

The 5 – 4 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) to make all 50 states of the union endorse, encourage and promote unnatural sex by redefining marriage to include same-sex couples is reason for great concern.
First off SCOTUS, to my knowledge, never actually provided a definition of the thousands of years old Biblical institution of marriage that the States are supposed to comply with. And secondly, how on earth did SCOTUS come up with its decision to bring chaos into the American household?
To me it is all quite straightforward and no mystery whatsoever: It is on account of a liberal view of the Constitution and the Holy Scriptures upon which the Constitution is based.
A “wax-nose” view of Scripture is held by Theological liberals whereby, very simply and very briefly, the Bible is viewed as a record of humanity’s search for God rather than God’s revelation to humanity. With such a view the Bible can be twisted this way and that in order to make it say whatever you want it to say.
The refrain is that those people back then do not know what we know today and therefore wrote a lot of things out of ignorance. In other words, they got things wrong! Apply this to the American Constitution and you can see something of where the five of the nine SCOTUS members are coming from. An example of this erroneous way of thinking would be that were James Madison et al to construct the Constitution today they would have most certainly intended that same-sex couples not be excluded from marriage! In other words, (like the Bible as viewed by Liberal Theologians), the Constitution can be twisted (like a wax-nose) to point in whatever direction most suits the political views of the liberal judges! Thus politics not truth that drives these five judges, (unlike the Christian who believes that God’s Law upon which human law is derived is absolute, truth to the liberal is merely relative, which is to say that these judges are Post Modernists and as such, unlike those who hold the Christian worldview, have a worldview of uncertainties.)  
Why should I, as a resident of Australia (not America), care what happens in America? Well, the United States of America is a great experiment, a great Christian experiment! If America goes under the whole of the West goes down with her because America as a world power is what protects and maintains the Western freedoms we all enjoy. America is our big brother defending the rest of us against bullies such as ISIS and the utopian follies of Socialism etc. But alas! There are five liberal judges wanting the whole of the Union to destabilize the very bedrock upon which society, including all of Western society, rests, i.e., Biblical marriage which is between one man and one woman for life!
In light of recent events (such as the vilification of bakers for their refusal to go against their consciences and bake cakes that openly promote a gay lifestyle) as a Christian minister who is a marriage celebrant I am getting a little nervous, foreseeing a time when I will be hated and thrown in prison for my refusal to marry same-sex couples an account of my holding the thousands of years old and Biblical definition of marriage.
Please do not ask me to concur with those five liberal judges who endorse and promote sodomy and now would have every one of the fifty States of America submit to their will and do likewise! This is not freedom. This is not the America of the Founding Fathers! This is tyranny!  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A FATHER'S LOVE


A Father’s Love

 

My wife Dorothy and I share an evening meal once a week at our place with our daughters and their husbands. I was silently watching my little two-year old grandson playing with his daddy. My tall son-in-law was sitting on the carpet and his son had his undivided attention.

I thank the Lord that he gave me three daughters all of whom I love dearly. However, I perceive that there is a special relationship between a father and a son, just as my wife Dorothy has that special ‘girly’ relationship with our three daughters. At the end of our evening together the boy’s dad picks his son up in his strong arms and carries him. It’s plain to see that he loves his son. In this I see a cameo of God’s love for His children.

An Army Chaplain was lamenting that his grandson, the apple of his eye, had grown up and had gone off the rails. I pray for my little grandson daily that he’ll always know a close walk with the Lord. However, I’m reminded that God’s people, from Adam till today, have been known to wander from the well-lit paths of righteousness to play the fool in the shadows. One only has to read the warnings in the Book of Proverbs about the flattering seductress. However, ‘A wise son makes glad a father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother’ Proverbs 10:1. I pray my little grandson will grow up wise!

God’s children in the wilderness years were easily enticed away from their loving heavenly Father. Indeed, it’s during tough times that our love for our Father is most tested.  We look to God to protect us, but when devastation and destruction comes we tend to question His love for us. Wandering in the wilderness His children had been afraid to enter the Promised Land. So Moses in a speech reminded them of how God had looked after them, and, ‘In the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place’ Deuteronomy 1:31.

How does a man carry his son? He wraps his arms around him and holds him close to his heart. But look again at God: ‘The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are His everlasting arms’ Deuteronomy 33:27a. How did Job manage to trust God when his faith was so sorely tested? God asked Job rhetorically, ‘Have you an arm like God?’ Job 40:9a.

I love that poem ‘Footprints in the Sand.’ ‘You promised me Lord, that if I followed You, You would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed You most, have You not been there for me? The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”’
 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

VISIONS


Visions

 Because they were one of God’s methods of revelation the Bible contains a record of many visions. Visions increased with the arrival of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (Joel 2:28 with Acts 2:17). One of my favourites is part of what John sees on the Isle of Patmos: ‘Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea’ Revelation 21:1. Sometimes the visions contained real scenes and other times they contained symbols. Context helps us decide which. However, my old theological professor never tired of saying that what John saw was this old heaven and this old earth renewed not replaced!

It is precisely because visions in the Bible are revelation from God that we can determine how we are supposed to understand them. The Bible is self-interpreting, which is to say that ‘The infallible rule of interpretation is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.’ (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1, para. 4)

I don’t know about you but I think there is more than enough going on with the revelation of the sixty-six books of the Bible than having to worry about people claiming to have had a vision. Whereas the former can be interpreted objectively, on account of it being subjective interpreting the latter is fraught with many dangers. Not the least of them being darkness posing as light! I recall one preacher telling his congregation about the vision he had while looking at a tapestry. What it meant to him might have been edifying but it was wasted on me, so much so that I saw it as my cue to leave that congregation to find another in which the Bible was expounded! This is not to suggest that Christians cannot experience the close and intimate presence of God.  However, I personally favour the Spirit working with His written Word in my heart than me wondering whether Satan was trying to trick me with a lying sign or wonder! The former is objective (and therefore can be tested against the rest of Scripture) but the latter is subjective for the one who experienced the vision and also for anyone who wishes to believe it.

New religions have been formed by people claiming to have had visions, e.g., Joseph Smith’s ‘Mormonism’ and Muhammad’s ‘Islam.’   

After my conversion and thus my becoming spiritually tuned into God as a new Christian I entered into an intellectual and emotional wrestling match at the subjective level. How was I supposed to tell the difference between the Spirit of God acting on my personal life and the spirit of darkness posing as light? Scripture says, ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.’ 1 John 4:1. How are we to test the spirits? We test their view of the Jesus revealed in the Bible. Scripture says that He is the Word, the final revelation of God, which is to say that there are no more prophets to come after Him. E.g., ‘God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son’ Hebrews 1a.

The Bible is complete. Jesus is the last prophet. ‘I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth’ Job 19:25.    

Sunday, May 31, 2015

CAN BONES LIVE?


The Spirit of the LORD set Ezekiel in a valley of dry bones and asked him, ‘Can these bones live?’ (Ezek. 37:3) What are bones anyway? I suppose that they are the internal scaffolding that supports the body. Why would Joseph wish to have his bones carried out of Egypt when God rescued Israel from slavery? (Gen. 50:25) Why would Moses take the bones of Joseph with him? (Ex. 13:19) Are we done with our bones when we die? Towards his latter years my father would often say that he was ready for the ‘bone-yard.’ Can bones live?

In the Bible it is considered a thing to be dreaded to have your bones left as food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field (Ezek. 29:5). Abraham made such a big deal out of buying a burial plot for Sarah and himself (Gen. 23; 25:10). Isaac and Rebekah his wife were subsequently buried in the same cave. As was Jacob’s wife Leah. Then Joseph and his brothers buried his father Jacob in the same plot, just as Jacob had commanded them, ‘For his sons carried him to the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite as property for a burial place’ Genesis 50:13; John 4:5. The LORD Himself buried the bones of Moses. No one knows exactly where (Deut. 34:6). None less than the Devil disputed about the body of Moses (Jude 9). Can bones live?

Some believe in cryonics, having their dead bodies frozen and stored in safety, hoping science will advance enough to be able to resuscitate them. I suppose the opposite to this might be cremation, which to most reasonable minds, would place the dead person well beyond the reach of resuscitation. For, who would expect human dust in an urn sitting on some mantelpiece ever to spring back to life? Can bones live?

As we have seen in the few pages of the Bible mentioned above, believers did not wish that their bodies be thrown on the scrap heap after death. Rather, they wanted to have their bones stored in a safe place. When Jesus was taken down from the cross His dead body was not thrown in the village dump as so much refuse. Rather, His body was carefully washed, wrapped in strips of linen with spices mingled through them. Why all this special care for bodies even after death? The answer is stated in the Apostles’ Creed so-called where therein is written: ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body … and the life everlasting.’ This is why we keep our graveyards neat and tidy! Bones can live!

In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which has been taught to many young Christians since it was written in 1647, we read the following: ‘What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death? The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.’ Notice that Christians believe that their bodies remain united to Christ – even in the grave! He has indeed promised never to leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Yes, I am more than mere flesh and bone. However, I am not less than flesh and bone either! I am body, soul, spirit. As the Apostle under inspiration of the Holy Spirit says, ‘Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Thus we are soul-spirits with bodies. Jesus saves the whole man – including our bones! Bones can live!

The resurrected Jesus made sure that Thomas and the rest of the disciples knew that He was resurrected with the self-same body that was nailed to the tree. ‘“Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marvelled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of fish and some honeycomb. He took it and ate it in their presence’ Luke 24:39-43. Bones can live!

Meanwhile back in the Valley of Dry Bones with Ezekiel: ‘So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. As I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. And He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain that they may live.’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army’ Ezekiel 37:7-10. Bones can live!
 

Depositing Ashes Service

As Chaplain to "The Rats of Tobruk" in Brisbane I get attend and even officiate at various of their functions. We deposited the ashes of one of the "Rats" at the Military section at Pinnaroo, Brisbane, Queensland. A whole lot more was spoken but the following is an outline of the service for Eddie Stott:

"We are gathered together in the presence of God to remember His sovereignty in death as in life and to seek His Word for our hearts. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)." (Reformed Book of Common Order)

We meet here today to remember Edward Stott, a relative, a friend and a Rat of Tubruk, a member of the Bramble Bay sub-branch of the Rats of Tobruk, and to acknowledge his life and also to place his ashes in their resting place until the day of the general resurrection.

Let us pray:
“Eternal God, before whom the generations of people rise and pass away, we come together before You. As You have sent us into this life, so You have a appointed a time for our departure from it. As You give, so You take away, that we may be mindful of our frailty and acknowledge the brevity of all things here.

“Speak to us in the solemnity of this time as we wait upon You with reverent and submissive hearts. Speak to us through the Scriptures of things eternal and bring comfort, hope and courage to Your faithful people, God of our salvation. AMEN.” (Reformed Book of Common Order)

Jock Hunter, Secretary of the Rats of Tobruk to say a few words…

Reading:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a place a table before me
In the presence of mine enemies:
You anointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23)

Some words of encouragement:
As a “Rat” I’m sure Eddie would have known full well what it was like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And now Eddie has gone through the veil of death itself after living a long life. We give thanks for that long life.

But friends, if you have the Good Shepherd walking though the valley with you, travelling through life with you, life with all its hills and valleys, you can know the peace that transcends all understanding.

With the Lord as your shepherd you can know an inner peace, a comfort even in the presence of your enemies. For the Lord is as close as the mention of His name. And the Shepherd protects His flock – even as we go through death’s dark valley.

Scripture says that the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. He says that His sheep hear His voice and they follow Him. So we follow Him through the valley of the shadow of death. We come out the other side of death just as He did. He was raised again from the dead and at some future date so will all who follow Him.

Eddie’s remains can remain here until that future date.

Placing the Urn
“Eternal God who has been the dwelling place of our fathers in all generations, be to each of us our strength, our fortress, and our refuge in this day of our affliction, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“O God, who of Thy compassion and pity did send Thy Son into this world to suffer and to die for our salvation, we give Thee thanks for His victory over sin on the cross of Calvary. We thank Thee for His triumph for us over death and for His wondrous resurrection which has brought life and immortality to light for all who believe His glorious Gospel. Grant unto us the assurance that, as Christ rose from the dead and became the first fruits of them that slept, so those who fall asleep in Christ rise with Him.

“Almighty God, who dost continue unto us the solemn trust of life, forgive us all our past unfaithfulness. Remind us now of that day when we too shall be called to render our account to Thee. Raise us, by Thy Holy Spirit, from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. Grant that we may so live by faith in Thy dear Son that when we shall depart this life we may hear Him say, “Come ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” We ask these things, most merciful Father, through Jesus Christ our only Redeemer and Mediator.

“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.” (Reformed Book of Common Order)