Monday, April 25, 2016

JEFF'S STORY

(The following is my rough and initial attempt to write a biography. This is only an introduction. My intention was simply to compile some notes with a view to finding a ghostwriter or other to tell Jeff's amazing story. That may yet happen. However, I couldn't help myself from weaving my interview notes into what I've posted below. I may even end up writing the book! I posted the following with a view to receiving comments from my friends. Thank you to those who have taken the time to read and to respond to this article already. Your comments have been helpful to me.)


JEFF’S STORY

Introduction

Jefferson ... has a story to tell, a true story, a harrowing story. To meet Jefferson is to like him. His smile is warm and his eyes are bright. His manner is friendly and his voice is quiet. Who could guess the hurt this man carries in his heart or the hellfire he’s passed through? His broad shoulders appear capable of carrying the weight of the world. Let us begin by introducing this remarkable man:

Jefferson has enjoyed breathing the fresh air of freedom since touching down on the red earth of Australia in 2010. He came as a refugee from his native Africa. Drawing his first breath in 1985 in the West African country of Liberia, both whose flag (which was modelled after The Star-spangled Banner) and his name betray Liberia’s connection with the United States of America. “Jefferson” is a tipping-of-the-hat to one of the founding fathers of America and principle author of the Declaration of Independence, viz., Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). Indeed, as per the line in the American National Anthem, “Liberia” means “Land of the Free” in Latin.

The Republic of Liberia declared its independence from American colonisation on 26 July, 1847, but it was not until during the America Civil War, (on 5 February 1862), that the United States recognised Liberian independence. From 1822 onwards, and particularly from the time of the War Between the States, Jefferson’s old country of Liberia began to receive an influx of over fifteen thousand freeborn Black Americans and over three thousand Afro-Caribbeans, and freed slaves. Thus the American influences on Liberia, which included Republicanism and the freedom ideal.

In a letter to James Monroe (1758-1831) Jefferson’s namesake once said,

But it proves more forcibly the necessity of obliging every citizen to be a soldier; this was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state. Where there is no oppressor there will be no pauper hirelings[1]

It seems as if Jefferson has acted upon this free advice of the third President of the United States of America to her fifth president, becoming a private in the Australian Army in February 2015. Jefferson wears his uniform proudly.

Now, there is one day of each year when Australians become ultra-patriotic flag-wavers, i.e., ANZAC Day. Apart from that one special day, as a general rule, Aussies tend be somewhat more reserved than, say, the Americans when it comes to visibly expressing love for country.

In some ways migrants, such as Jefferson, can become more patriotic than native born Australians. No doubt this can be because most native born Australians know nothing other than the peace and freedom Australia has afforded them, thus creating in many of them a tendency to take these things for granted. Whereas the migrant, knowing what he or she has given up and left behind, by fully appreciating and embracing the protection and freedom to thrive and to prosper has more incentive to forge a new life in their new country. But, Jefferson is not just any-old migrant. He is a refugee. He fled to Australia for safety from murderous pursuers…  

Jefferson became a soldier in an army that fights for peace, viz., the Australian Army. One Australian Army General (ret.) wrote a book in which he relates his war experiences and his own subsequent suffering of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Major General John Cantwell stated therein that,

Australian soldiers do not fight for lofty ideals of democracy or freedom. Australian soldiers, it has been said many times and with great truth, fight for their mates.[2]

Though Jefferson loves his mates, and would zealously fight for them, to the contrary, Jefferson, wanted to sign-up with the Australian Army primarily to fight for the lofty ideals of democracy and freedom. He originally wanted to join as an Infantryman but colour-blindness precluded his fulfilling this ambition. He signed-up on 10 February, 2015. This young man who speaks English with an African accent Рand, while living in Ghana, learnt to speak Ga, Twi and Hausa, and also understands Kru, Ewé and Fante Рis currently employed as a Storeman, and drives forklifts both great and small.

Thank you for bearing with Jeff’s story thus far. Before we enter with him into the valley of the shadow of death he would like you to know (“spoiler alert!”) that his story has a happy ending – lest he leave you traumatised! Indeed, like every good fairytale, Jefferson is now living happily ever after with beautiful wife, and three lovely children. His wife is originally from Liberia too, but lived with him in Ghana, (which you’ll hear more about just shortly). They currently attend a Christian church in Brisbane. However, just as every good fairytale contains its share of evil witches and malevolent goblins, so Jefferson’s story describes battles against the evil forces of darkness.

During the day sometimes Jefferson is attacked in a surprise ambush by the odd flashback of past events, and, in bed the occasional nightmare gallops roughshod through the dark alleys of his mind. There is always something panting behind Jefferson, something that darts off into the shadows whenever he turns around to confront it. For one who has experienced trauma stacked upon trauma Jefferson has been remarkably resilient, (a quality the Australian Army craves). And thank God that Jefferson is safe now.


[1] Thomas Jefferson, in an 1813 letter to James Monroe
[2] Major General John Cantwell, Exit Wounds: One Man’s War of Terror, Melbourne University Publishing, 2013.
 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Rats of Tobruk 2016

The Rats of Tobruk Annual Luncheon 2016
75th Anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk
 
I read somewhere that,

All that stopped the Germans’ march on Egypt was the defiant garrison at Tobruk. For eight long months, surrounded by German and Italian forces, the men of the Tobruk garrison, mostly Australians, withstood tank attacks, artillery barrages, and daily bombings. They endured the desert’s searing heat, the bitterly cold nights, and hellish dust storms. They lived in dug-outs, caves and crevasses.

As you know, the “Rats” were called ‘rats” by the Germans because “They lived in [those] dug-outs, caves and crevasses.” I don’t know how true it is but it has been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, or, in our case in point, “rat-holes”! Regardless, I’m sure that many prayers, even fervent prayers would’ve been sent up to God from those dugouts, caves and crevasses seventy five years ago during the eight months’ siege of Tobruk! – prayers for personal safety, for mates, for families and loved-ones and prayers for peace.

When you think about it, countless prayers have gone up over the centuries seeking for God to bring about peace among the nations so that we can all live in safety. The so called Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Those are the words Jesus taught His disciples to pray. Those are the words we have just prayed. Therefore, it is the promise of God that there will be a time of world peace, for God cannot break His Word!

We already heard that “[God] shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

This is the Word of the LORD through His prophet Isaiah. It says somewhat of the same thing as Jesus teaches us in The Lord’s Prayer only using different words: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – an extension of this surely is that “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

To be sure, swords and spears have long given way to more sophisticated instruments of war. It may be true that there are only so many ways you can skin a cat but it seems that they’re always finding new ways how to kill human beings!  Even in the seventy five years since the Siege of Tobruk there has been a significant improvement (if we can call it that) in the efficiency of killing-devices. However, the point remains the same: There is a time coming, and I don’t know when, but there is a time coming when our prayers for peace will be fully answered.

Swords and spears, guns and grenades, bayonet’s and bombs, machineguns and missiles, tanks and torpedos, bombers and battleships, will all be assigned to the great scrapheap of history,  for “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

The Rats of Tobruk at the Siege of Tobruk did their part in defeating an enemy of peace seventy five years ago. To those Rats living and dead we say a grateful thank you! To those who lost their lives at Tobruk Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus ought to know the truth of these words!

Freedom never comes for free. There’s always a price to pay. Let us never forget those who paid the ultimate price in purchasing us the freedom we still enjoy, freedom to come and go as we please, freedom to disagree with our government without being taken away in the middle of the night. Freedom comes in many forms, national and individual, but The Rats of Tobruk helped to purchase our freedom to raise our families under the Southern Cross in our home that is girt by sea.

As we hear the kookaburra laugh on the old gumtree,
As we camp by a billabong in the “lucky country”
As we stroll in the city or we swim in the sea,
Let us never forget those who died to keep us free!

Friday, April 8, 2016

THE WAY WE WERE


The Way We Were

At my ‘farewell do’ back in 1977, as I was saying ‘cheerio’ to Scotland and about to say ‘hi’ to Canada, my sister beautifully sang a popular song, ‘The Way We Were’ – ‘Memories, light the corners of my mind, misty water-coloured memories of the way we were. Scattered pictures, of the smiles we left behind, smiles we gave to one another, for the way we were’ (Barbra Streisand). For years afterwards whenever I heard that song tears of homesickness would freshly bubble up like a hillside spring after heavy rain. Yes, the way we were – I was a slightly melancholic young man heading to the ‘New World’ to start a new life.

Like a Manitoban prairie thunderstorm the ominous dark clouds of depression finally caught up with me and broke on my head some ten years later. I began to drown in a paradox of self-loathing mixed with self-pity. Who am I? What am I? Where am I? What does it all mean? I was sinking deeper into the whirlpool of the abyss. It was then that God rescued me, dragging me onto solid ground, giving me mouth to mouth, breathing new life into me and purging me of all the dirty water I had swallowed.

This year I will be returning to Scotland to celebrate my 60th at a function hall a stone’s throw from where my friends and family farewelled me almost forty years ago. It will be the first time I’ve caught up with a lot of them since then. No doubt there will be some reminiscing about the way we were. How much have I and they changed? Age has dyed my jet black hair light grey. Gravity has sculpted a few lines into the clay of my face giving me a more tired look. So much for my aging body. However, the main changes have been internal. My mind has been renewed. My soul has been restored.

Now I have a completely different relationship with Jesus Christ. I no longer use His name as a curse word. I freely speak of Him with praise. Some of my old friends may be embarrassed to hear me talk about Jesus, just as I was back in the day whenever anyone else would gush about Him. I remember being embarrassed for Cliff Richard whenever he spoke of Jesus as his Saviour on the TV back in the 70s. The way we were and the way we are now. For me it’s defined in terms of pre-conversion and post-conversion.

A Scottish friend of mine moved to New York City for a year. She was homesick. One of her aunts began to email her just one word every Sunday. My friend began to look forward to receiving a word each Sunday. It was her connection with home. She looked forward to Sundays. As I read her recollection of that time I began to be reminded of my life at present: As a church-attending Christian, I receive a word from home every Sunday – in the form of a sermon. It is my connection with my true home. Of course, I fill up from the nosebag of God’s Word every morning, but I really look forward to hearing His Word every Sunday.

Things change. People change. I’ve changed. However, God and His Word remain the same. ‘Memories may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget, so it’s the laughter we will remember, whenever we remember the way we were.’

I look to the future; ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’ Revelation 21:4.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

DONALD TRUMP: Explaining the Phenomenom


Donald Trump is hard to define. Presently he is constantly being attacked left, right and centre but he’s still standing. Why? Well, for a start, the attacks are making him stronger! (not least of all in the eyes of his supporters). It’s like a martial-arts’ expert using his opponent’s force of momentum to his own advantage. Obviously this would be a great quality for any president to have! Resilience. Trump seems to sap his critics of their power. Nay, they are actually feeding power into The Donald’s power-grid! How so?
The West has two lethal enemies working hand in hand at the moment, viz., Islamic terrorism and Political Correctness. The latter means that the Left (primarily) does not allow you even to talk about the former. It’s just “terrorism”. Talk about the blind leading the blind, whether the terrorism is Presbyterian or Islamist is neither here nor there for those who religiously follow the false religion of Political Correctness. One is left to wonder where there are Presbyterians walking around with bomb-vests that we need to be watching out for! Ludicrous! The PC extremists simply spray with vitriol anyone who tries to talk about the-elephant-in-the-room. This insanity is exactly what is feeding energy into the Trump power-grid.
The Left along with the so-called “Establishment Republicans” attack him with the same failed and hackneyed tactics of trying to paint him as some sort of Racist, Islamophobic Misogynist. Talk about “the boy who cried ‘wolf’”? Surely the Trump opponents are not unaware that this just strengthens and adds to Trump’s vast following? This is exactly what the Trump movement is reacting against. For this kind of attempt at ad hominem character assassination through demonization is the application of Political Correctness. Confused? Let me explain further.
 
Politicians use “guarded speech” and "careful language", which is to say that they end up saying nothing of substance by using Political Correctness to avoid attack from political opponents, also including the media. Donald Trump does the opposite of this. He talks like a “normal’ human being would talk about “normal” issues facing the world today, e.g., Islamic Terrorism; Border Control and the interrelation of these to each other among other things. The Left wishes to red-paint him as Islamophobic and Racist etc. and the so-called “Establishment Republicans” portray him as “un-presidential”. They condescendingly wish for Trump to become more “presidential”. However, what the Trump supporters hear the “Establishment” saying by these actions is that Trump needs to become more Politically Correct – with its attendant guarded speech where no one really knows what you are saying exactly). However, they all forget that in the age of the Internet anyone can replay what Trump actually said and not what the Left wants you to think he said. Yes, and Trump’s following can be bothered looking these things up on the Web!) Thus the Trump numbers keep on being added to and his opponents are left wearing the emperor’s new clothes.
The Trump phenomenon is a movement against controlled-thought commonly known as Political Correctness. To his followers Trump represents the removal of that which has shackled free speech in America and indeed the rest of the West for far too long.
Trump politics is an uprising against Political Correctness. The more the Left and “establishment Republicans” use it to try to stop him, the more power they give to Donald Trump and his vast army of believers.
Even if Donald Trump fails to become the next president of the United States of America his run for office will be seen as the beginning of the downfall of that which has caused the West (i.e., Political Correctness) to expose a soft underbelly to all enemies of individual freedom, be they Islamist, Socialist (and its attendant spooky spectre, i.e.,Communism).

Friday, April 1, 2016

ABRAHAM: FOLOWING OUR FAITHFUL FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS


FOLOWING OUR FAITHFUL FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS
 
"I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward" Genesis 15:1

Introduction

In the following we are going to be looking at how God developed Abraham’s faith in Him. We should be mindful that Abraham didn’t become a pillar of faith one morning when he woke up! It was God who shaped and sculpted his faith, the same way He patiently moulds and conforms ours. God takes a lump of dirty old clay, which is you and me, and throughout our lives He gently carves it into a model of His Son. As He did for Abraham so He does for us: God develops our faith.

We’ll see that God develops our faith patiently. He is patient with us because His understanding is so far above ours that we can never learn everything all at once. And because our understanding of God, as individuals, is so sadly lacking we need to listen to what God is saying with extreme care.

God’s Patience

How does God develop an individual believer’s faith? Well, He does it with Godly patience. We see something of God’s love and patience by the way He approaches His children. We never hear Him say to us, “Look! I’ve told you once and I won’t tell you again.” No. He is patient with all of His children. He bends over backwards to demonstrate His trustworthiness. If we can’t trust the One who made us to look after us, then we can trust no one.

God reassures His children just as he reassured Abraham. One way He reassures us of His faithfulness is by His Word. All through Scripture we see God make promises. And all through Scripture we see God keep and fulfil His Word. God is always true to His Word. Therefore, we can have faith in Him because He is faithful to His promises. He is reliable. He perseveres.

Our faithful father Abraham trusted the Word of God as it was spoken to Him. As Christians we find great comfort in the written Word of God because, like the Word of God Himself, it is equally dependable. It was written by our God who is faithful.

Abraham lived in a time long before the Bible, the Word of God, was completed. In those days God spoke to His children mainly in voices and in visions. In Genesis 15:1, as we have already seen, we see that, “The Lord came to Abram in a vision.” There’s Abraham, or Abram, as he was known at that time, sitting in his tent, or whatever. He’s probably thinking about the great victory he had just had over the four kings. He might have been thinking about Melchizedec, the mysterious character who had brought him bread and wine, and had blessed him. Melchizedec reminded Abram that it was God the Possessor of heaven and earth who had delivered his enemies into his hand. And Abram had given Melchizedec the priest of God the Most High a tenth of all he had. We see in this deed that Abram put his faith into action.

God says in Malachi 3:10, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.” When it comes to giving back to God what He has given to us we are invited to test Him to see, says the Lord of Hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing that there will be no room enough to receive it.” The Lord then goes on to say, “All nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land.” The Lord is faithful and His Word is our constant reminder.

However, the Lord is also patient with us as He develops our trust in Him. “Do not be afraid,” The Lord said to Abram. How many times has the Lord said those words to His children? “Do not be afraid Isaac, Do not be afraid Israel, Do not be afraid Moses, Do not be afraid, Joshua, David, Mary, John” or whoever. Who could forget the words spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “‘Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you,’ says the Lord.” Do you get the impression that God is trying to tell us something? We need to learn not to be afraid but to really trust in God for all things. Jesus says that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added to us. “Do not fear little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

As with all of God's children, Abram's faith in the Lord needed to be strengthened and developed. “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’” When the Lord’s your Shepherd you shall want for nothing! We have everything in Christ Jesus. But for all that, Abram's heart’s desire is to have his own son. He tells the Lord, “Look, you have given me no offspring.” Here, once again, we see the great patience of the Lord. He promises Abram that he will have a son of his own.

It was the Word of God that came to Abram. And it was by His Word that God assured Abram of His blessings. It’s by His Word that God assures all of His children. That He is the Fount of all Blessings. God is the Possessor of heaven and earth. All of creation belongs to Him. All of creation testifies to God’s faithfulness, The sun faithfully rises and sets on time because God is faithful.

We have assurance of God’s faithfulness by His Word, but also by His creation. Abram wanted God’s assurance that he would have a son. “Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall you descendants be’” Genesis 15:5. The One who is the Possessor of heaven and earth, to paraphrase, says, “Abram, I made all of those stars. Believe Me, you’ll have your son and a whole lot more!”

How many stars can be seen by the naked eye without a telescope, five thousand or more? How many grains of sand are on a beach? More than five thousand? The Word of God elsewhere compares the amount of stars in the sky with the amount of grains of sand on a beach! How could anyone possibly know this before the age of telescopes, even Hubble telescopes? Abraham was unable to number the stars in the sky just as no one can number the grains of sand on a shore. Abraham is the father of the faithful and the faithful are without number! John on the Island of Patmos wrote of his vision, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Revelation 7:9.

We see that the Lord was patient with Abraham and that His Word is true and dependable. Isn’t it wonderful how the Lord patiently develops the faith of His children?

God’s Promises

God develops our faith patiently because His understanding of things is different to our understanding. God knows that we are fallen, finite and fallible human beings. With our limited knowledge we tend to view everything in human terms and not in God’s terms. In other words, human beings tend to be man-centred and not God centred. God said in Isaiah, “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9.  Clearly God has a different way of looking at things than you, me and Abraham.

We are never that sure how God will accomplish the things He has promised. We might get the general idea of what God proposes. It’s when we try to figure out how God is going to do such and such a thing that we begin to prove that our ways are not His ways!

Abram perceived a practical problem and focused his attention on it. In fact he was preoccupied with it. “Lord God what will you give me, seeing I go childless?” To paraphrase, “I'm not getting any younger and I want a son so bad!” We know that this was a problem to Abram because of what happened later on with Sarah’s maid Hagar. Abram knew the Lord, and he knew the Lord’s promises. Yet he continued to focus on the thing he wanted most – a child! This is where we can be thankful that God is patient with us because this is where we tend to get side-tracked. We need to realize that our understanding is limited, whereas God has infinite understanding.

We tend to focus on that which directly concerns us, whereas God is unfolding a plan which concerns all of creation. God would have us focus our undivided attention on Him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Yet we take our eyes off of Him whenever we imagine we need something to make our lives more complete. The Lord is everything we need. We are told to, “Be content with such things as you have, for He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” And the Apostle Paul could say, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”

There was nothing wrong with Abram longing for a child, in the sense that it is normal for a married man. The fact is that God has said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This is all in the context of marriage, of course. Abram’s preoccupation about having a child was causing him to miss the full depth and implication of what the Lord was saying. In other words, Abram was placing too much emphasis on his own ability to produce the offspring that God had promised him. Abram would be thinking, “Lord, You’ve promised to make me the father of a great nation. But don’t we need to hurry things up a little bit? I’m not getting any younger. Look at me, I go childless.”

It was God’s revealed will that Abram have a child, but Abram should have been letting God worry about bringing His will to pass. In this we see how our understanding and God’s understanding differ. We need to understand that God is God. He is not a man like us. He has sovereign control of everything that comes to pass. As the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “With God nothing will be impossible.”

So we see that Abram's faith in God needed further development. However, we also see that God is patient with us. He has a higher understanding. Therefore we need to have faith in Him. We need to trust that He will provide.

God’s Provisions

We need to listen to God with more care because our faith develops the more we understand and experience who God is. Abram was interacting with God. We all need to interact with God, for this is how He develops our faith. As we interact with God we need to listen to Him as he speaks to us by His Spirit with His Word. Why? Because “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”

There are dozens of cults around today all because they are not listening to God! Even in some of the mainline churches people are losing faith in God, because they are not hearing His Word! We can’t expect a person’s faith to develop and grow in strength if that individual does not hear the Word of God. Therefore we must tell our ministers: PREACH THE WORD! If we don't hear the word of God our faith in God, if we have any, remains undeveloped. We need to listen to God carefully. Then we will understand that He doesn’t operate as a man but as God, the Almighty!

Abram was so busy thinking in human terms. So much so that he didn’t seem to quite catch what the Lord was saying. He’s too busy thinking, “Okay Lord, we need to do this and we need to do that. If I'm to be father of a great nation then I need a child. I have a plan! I'll put my plan into action. Then Bingo! –God’s will will be Done!” That smacks of immaturity! That’s running ahead of the Lord. That proves that you haven’t been as attentive to God’s Word as you should have. This is something that we’re all guilty of. But it’s all part of the development of our faith in God.

What we're looking at, by way of an example is how God patiently developed Abraham’s faith in Him. Abraham got his name included among the great pillars of faith, (as listed in Hebrews 11). In Hebrews 11:6 we find these words, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, a rewarder of those who wait on Him – those who listen carefully to Him.

We seek God by trusting Him for who He is. And we discover who He is by carefully listening to Him. When God introduces Himself to you He reveals who He is. If you seek God He won’t come to you and say. “Hi! I'm that warm and fuzzy feeling you’re experiencing.” No, when you diligently seek God He begins to reveal to you who He is. E.g., “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”

The more you seek Him the more He reveals Himself to you. The more He reveals Himself to you the more He is developing your faith. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Abraham was seeking the Lord. “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” And how does Abram react to this startling revelation from God? “But Abram said…” I think it was the Baptist preacher Spurgeon or somebody who preached a sermon on the word “but” in the Bible! “Yes Lord, You’re my shield, my exceedingly great reward, BUT what about this child you’ve promised me? – I go childless.” In other words, Abram could see no reward greater than that which he at that moment in time desired – a child.

Instead of paying close attention to what the Lord was saying, Abram turned his attention from the Lord and on to himself. He wasn’t quite grasping what the Lord was saying to him, “I [that is Me, God] am your exceedingly great reward!” To paraphrase, “In Me you have everything, Abram. What more do you need? I am your shield, the One who protects you, the One who guards and defends you. Not only do I shield you from your enemies in the physical realm, but I also protect you from your enemies in the spiritual realm. Being your shield means that I am your cover. I am also covering and protecting you with My righteousness. I am clothing you in My righteousness, like a cloak to protect you from you sin. Being your shield means that I have enclosed you, encircled you, as a garden is enclosed, even the Garden of Eden. I am the One who hedges you about. I am the wall which surrounds you. Being your shield also means that I am your deliverer – your Redeemer. I am the shield of faith.”

Scripture says in Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him” And in Proverbs 2:7-8, “He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints.” David says in Psalm 28, “The Lord is my strength and my shield.” Psalm 5:12, “You, O Lord, will bless the righteous; with favour You will surround him as with a shield.”

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield. Your exceedingly great reward.’ But Abram said, ‘What will you give me…” “Can’t You see it’s a child I’m needing?”

“I know Abram, I know. Come on outside and we’ll play at counting stars.”

Conclusion

The lord is patient with His children. He patiently develops our faith in Him. He reassures us by His Word, “Don't be afraid, Abram.” And by His creation, “Abram, count the stars I have made if you are able.” He is patient with us because His understanding of things is so high above ours. We are unsure of how God will accomplish His promises, and our tendency is to focus on the perceived problem and not on God. Therefore, we need to listen to God most carefully because our faith develops the more we understand and experience who God is.

The Lord is our shield, our exceedingly great reward. Who could ask for more?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

ABRAHAM: The Runaway Slave


THE RUNAWAY SLAVE

“I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” Genesis 16:8.

Introduction

Have you ever felt like quitting the church? Have you ever felt like taking your bat and ball and going home? Have you ever met anyone who used to come to church but quit? People quit coming to church for any number of reasons. It might have been a conflict of opinion with someone in the church – sometimes the preacher! So they take their worship and their personal opinion elsewhere. They leave. They might then start attending the church down the road or even across town. But sometimes people leave the church altogether!

In the following we’re going to look at a woman, a pregnant woman, who left the church altogether. She met with a bit of conflict. So she ran away. However, the Owner of the Church went after her. This all happened some 4,000 years ago. However, we today can learn a lot from it. The general gist of what we’re looking at is: Don’t turn your back on church just because someone wronged you!

The Rescuer

“The Angel of the Lord found her” Genesis 16:7. So get the picture: wilderness, barren wasteland, no houses, and there’s nothing to eat. And there was a pregnant woman walking through this wilderness. She stops by a spring of water and it is here she meets her rescuer.

Who is this Rescuer? What does He look like? Whatever He looked like, He’d be a sight for sore eyes! No doubt this woman would have been doing a fair bit of crying. I’m sure as she walked along the trail she’d be talking to herself, just as you or I might if we thought no one was around for miles! Well anyway, this Angel of the Lord knew her name. He calls her by her name, Hagar, and He asks her two questions: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”

When you think about it, there was time when Adam, the father of the human race, ran away. But the LORD God came after him, didn’t He? The LORD God walked in the garden in the cool of the day. And what did the Lord God say to Adam, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9. “Where have you come from, and where are you going? – Where are you?” It sounds very much like the same question, doesn’t it? Now then, are we to imagine that the all-knowing God didn’t know everything about these two runaways? Adam, where are you?” And “Hagar, where have you come from and where are you going”?

Have you ever had anyone put a question to you in such a way that it has arrested your soul? Do you know what I mean? The question is like a hand that reaches inside and grabs you by your heart! “Neil, where are you?”
“I’m sitting in a chair writing this!”
“Where have you come from? And where are you going?”
“I’ve come from inside my house to sit out here with my laptop and when I’m done here I’m going back in there again!”

Scripture says that God’s Word is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It’s the discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, Hebrews 4:12. The question: Where are you Adam? was a sword designed to pierce Adam’s heart! I put it to you, so was the question put Hagar in our text!

So then, let’s say you were asked those questions right now, how would you answer? Where are you? Where have you come from and where are you going? Sure, you might answer: “I’ve come from Home and I’m going to my mum’s house or my sister’s house” or whatever. But that would be to miss the point of the question, wouldn’t it? I put it to you that the Angel asked Hagar those two questions so that she would realize how lost she was! Hagar, like Cain before her, had gone out from the presence of the LORD who was with Abram. She was fleeing from the Lord every bit as much as she was fleeing her mistress Sarai!

So then, I hope you can see that the Angel of the Lord in our text is wielding the exact same sword as the One who spoke to the runaway Adam. Hagar and the rest of us, like Adam our father, are lost! That’s where we are until we are rescued by the LORD – lost! We’re all runaways, like Adam, like Hagar, runaway slaves!

The ex-slave-trader, John Newton understood this when He wrote:
 
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see?

Where has Hagar come from? “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” Genesis 16:8. She’s fleeing from the mistress who became despised in her sight. Hagar is a runaway slave. And where was Hagar going? We’re not told, but it looks like she was headed back toward Egypt from whence she came.

So, we understand then, that the One rescuing Hagar, i.e., the Angel of the LORD is none other than the LORD Himself, presumably in the form of a man. This Angel of the Lord then is the same Person who spoke to Adam in the Garden. He is the Logos, the Word who became flesh, John 1. He is the preincarnate Christ, the Second Person in the Trinity, the Mediator between God and men.

Notice that He says in Genesis 16:10, “I [i.e., the Angel of the LORD will multiply your descendants.” And notice Hagar’s response to the whole incident in Genesis 16:13 “Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are the God who sees.’” Literally that reads: “And she called the name of Jehovah, the One speaking to her, ‘You are a God of seeing.’”

So, the Angel speaking to her is Jehovah and Jehovah is God. Therefore this Messenger of Angel of the LORD is the LORD Himself. So the LORD Himself is the Rescuer and He rescued Hagar who was with child.

The Runaway

Notice how the Angel of the LORD addressed Hagar at the beginning of Genesis 16:8, “And He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid’” He didn’t say, “Hagar, Abram’s wife.” No, it’s “Hagar, Sarai’s maid.” So Hagar was fleeing from Sarai, her mistress. Hagar, therefore, was a slave, a bondwoman as she’s called in Galatians 4.

A slave or a bondwoman, of course, was one who worked but received no wages. We take it that Hagar was a servant or slave Pharaoh gave Abram in Egypt, Genesis 12:16. And you’ll remember that Sarai gave Hagar to her husband Abram to be his wife of sorts. Sarai was hoping that Hagar would conceive a son for Abram and her. However, the plan backfired when Hagar began to despise Sarai. And likewise Sarai began to despise Hagar and she dealt harshly with Hagar. We can only guess how Abram and Sarai felt when they noticed Hagar had run away. What about the great program to bring about the birth of the Savior of the world? Well, it was all up in the air. Hagar the slave had high tailed it!

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Lord would be happy to see the back of Hagar. I mean, this isn’t what the Lord had in mind when He promised Abram offspring, was it? There’s that. And what about another issue we’ve slightly touched on? What about the issue of slavery? Doesn’t the Lord know that slavery is supposed to be wrong? Didn’t God create all men equal and all of that? Well, what does the Lord in His Word say about slavery? Perhaps some other time we could look into the issue of slavery in greater depth. But for now, where the Bible has little, or perhaps nothing, to say about the “abolition” of slavery per se, it does however have a fair bit to say about relationships between masters and slaves and slaves and masters.

Well first off in Genesis 16:9 the Angel of the Lord said to Hagar, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Hagar is a runaway slave and the Angel of the Lord is telling her to return! Why? The Lord’s Apostle Paul sent the slave Philemon back to his master. Why? And Paul also in Ephesians 6 tells slaves to serve their master as if serving Christ. And in the same chapter he tells the slave-masters not to threaten their slaves. And again in Colossians 4:1 he says, “Masters, give your servants [i.e., slaves] what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

One of the things Sarah is remembered for is recorded in 1 Peter 3:6: “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord or ‘master.’” The word used for “Master” is kurios in NT Greek – adonai in Hebrew, which word may be translated “lord”, “master”, “Owner”, “possessor”, “potentate” “sovereign” and so forth. Sarai was Hagar’s “mistress”, i.e., her master or lord (in the feminine). I labour this point because we’ve lost sight of the meaning of “lordship” in today’s society. In turn, our cloudy understanding of lordship causes us to miss a lot of what the Bible teaches!

There was the so-called “Lordship Salvation” debate going on in some Christian circles not so long ago. Some people believe they can have Jesus as “Saviour” without necessarily having Him as “Lord”. In other words, they believe they are saved from their sins but meanwhile can live as sinfully as they like! This is all part of the issue in the churches of so-called “Carnal Christians.” However, we live in an age where people find the very idea of lord and master repulsive! Women want their wedding vows changed (and wimpy men let them!) “I will not have this man to rule over me,” she says. And the man says, “Yes my mistress, whatever you say. ‘Cause I’m not too keen on the lord and master business either!”

As Christians, we need to be careful here, don’t we? We’ve all seen movies and perhaps have read books about the Blue and the Grey. We all know about the American War between the States, i.e., the American Civil War. We’ve all heard that during the war the North (under Abraham Lincoln) artfully turned it into a fight over the issue of slavery and thus began to win the propaganda war. And we’ve all heard about William Wilberforce (the Christian) and his fight to abolish slave trading. But don’t miss the point in our text here! It’s wrong to run out and capture and bunch of men and women and their children and hold them in captivity as your slaves only to mistreat them. That’s what the wily old Devil did, didn’t he? He successfully hatched a scheme to make Adam and Eve and all their children, including even you, me, Abram, Sarai, Hagar, i.e., everyone his slave, didn’t he? He hates us, he, as it were, beats us and mistreats us. He treats us very harshly!

Look at Job, Satan destroyed his house, his livestock, his family! He gave Job painful boils all over his body – head to foot! He left poor old Job sitting in a pile of ashes trying to scrape the boils off! Of course, God permitted Satan to do this to Job and his family. But it was Satan, the hard-taskmaster who did it with pleasure.

Now then, why am I telling you all of this? And what does it all have to do with the text before us? Well, it has everything to do with the text before us! Hagar is deliberately turning her back on the household of God. She is fleeing back to the kingdom of the world. In today’s terms, she’s quitting the church (as it was back then) and is heading back to live in sin city. Why? Because she despises her mistress!

Take note that Hagar started despising her mistress long before her mistress treated her harshly. Sarai did ask her husband Abram to do something about the whole thing. However, Abram shirked his responsibility and handed the problem right back to Sarai. It was only THEN that Sarai dealt harshly with her. So, this is no innocent slave being worked to death and physically abused by her mistress. No, this is a slave who had begun to abuse her mistress! To be sure her mistress may not have handled her unruly behaviour very well. But Sarai had done the right thing. She had appealed to her husband as head of the house, but to no avail. However, I hope you can see that Hagar is at fault, not Sarai. How do we know for sure? We know for sure because the Angel of the LORD in Genesis 16:9 told her to “Return to her mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”

We’ll pick up on this some more in a moment. But for now, think about it, while on this earth there is only one of two masters you can serve! As Jesus in Scripture says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” Matthew 6:24. Of course Jesus there goes on to say, “You cannot serve God and mammon [or riches]” But let me ask you: If you are serving mammon or riches, who are you really serving? Well, for a start you would not be serving God now, would you? So, who would you be serving? Well, we might begin to answer that question by saying “SELF!”? If I were a slave or a servant of riches, I’d be serving SELF, i.e., my own selfish desires. So, I suppose that chasing after the things of this world would be a form of self-serving. But what about that line we say in the Lord’s prayer? “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from [SELF!]” It’s not just SELF you need to be delivered from. It’s EVIL, as in THE EVIL ONE – SATAN.

Listen to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked according to the course of this world, [according to SELF? No!] according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” etc. Ephesians 2:1-2. And, 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Satan took all of mankind into bondage when he captured Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Adam was created to serve God. And Eve was to serve God by serving her husband Adam, as if she were serving the Lord Himself. However, both Adam and Eve of their own free will and accord no longer wanted God to be their Master. They wanted to be their own master. They wanted to serve themselves. But what really happened was that they exchanged masters. When they were fleeing from God they fleeing to Satan, for “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”

Like Hagar, all who have ever lived since Adam, are runaway slaves! Mankind are slaves running from the Master who loved them! They are running from the One who sent His Son into the world to conquer the Devil and thereby rescue His people. But, even in our own day we hear them say of Jesus Christ “We will not have this Man to rule over us!” It’s true, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.”

So the Angel of the LORD would approach all runaways with the words: Who is your master? Christ or Satan? Return then to the household of faith!

The Remedy

Do you see the picture here? The Angel of the Lord is rescuing the runaway slave. Consider again the words He spoke to Hagar: “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai!”

If that was all Hagar was doing then why is the Lord so keen to have her go back? What was really happening here? Hagar could just have easily answered the Angel of the Lord with these words: “I no longer             want to serve my mistress and her God in Abram’s household and I’m going back to serving Satan!” With a child in her womb, Hagar was turning her back on the household of God! She’s, as it were, left Eden and she’s back in the wilderness!

And the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness. Hagar, like the woman at the well, if you only knew who it was who was talking to you! For the Angel said “Return to your mistress Sarai, submit yourself under her hand.” If the Lord recognized Hagar’s marriage to Abram as legitimate He would have surely said, “Return to Abram and submit yourself under his hand!” But no, again, like the woman at the well it was “The one whom you now have, even Abram, is not your husband!”

The One who spoke to Hagar was the One who became the great Redeemer. The whole Bible is a record of the history, HIS-STORY of redemption. Redemption has all to do with the purchasing, the redeeming of who? It’s SLAVES, even runaways who are redeemed at the market, even Calvary! If you think redemption has to do with saving “the lost” then you’re saying the same thing. It is lost slaves, even runaways who are being saved, rescued, redeemed!

The One who spoke to Hagar went on to become the One who said these words to His disciples, “Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” Matthew 20:27-28. He came as a Slave and gave His own life as a ransom for MANY, not a few! And if you’re one of the many then He has ransomed you. He has redeemed you. He has rescued you, bought you. He has purchased you. Therefore He owns you! And He placed His brand upon you when you were baptized.

However, He didn’t purchase you from Satan, because stolen goods don’t belong to thieves! He rescued you from His own justice, from the punishment you were due for your sins. You’ve escaped the stripes or lashes because Another took the lashes as your substitute! “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

Conclusion

It’s my hope that you’ve understood the text before us. It’s my hope you can see there’s no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the family of God. Hence the Angel of the Lord telling Hagar to get back to where she once belonged! The moral of the story is: Don’t turn your back on church just because someone has wronged you! For to turn your back on the Lord’s people is to turn your back on the Lord. For the Lord’s disciplines His slaves, His servants, through the elders of His Church.

In a sense, to run from His Church is to step out of Eden and into the wilderness. It is to remain as a runaway slave. Therefore return to your Master, even Jesus Christ, and submit yourself under His hand. And how do you submit yourself under His hand? In the case of Hagar, she was to submit to Sarai. As the Lord says elsewhere through His Apostle, “Servants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh ... as to Christ ... as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with good will doing service as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free” Ephesians 6:5-8.

Have you got the picture? Just as wives are to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord, so slaves are to serve their masters as if they were serving Christ their Master. And what about the masters? Masters of slaves are to realize they have the same Master as their slaves, Ephesians 6:9. Therefore, they should not treat them harshly, even when despised, as was Sarai by Hagar.

This speaks volumes to the church today, doesn’t it? For we are all slaves or servants of Jesus Christ. We are the Church and the Church’s husband, our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ laid down His life for His bride. He shed His own blood for His slaves.

So, is all this lord & master business making sense to you yet? Or do you still think you are your own master? There’re only two masters on earth, not three - Christ or Satan! So take your pick who you’re going to serve And remember, to serve self is to serve Satan.

And just a word of caution: If a woman has a husband who beats her and treats her harshly, or even if anyone has an employer who treats them the same way, then ring the police! When Sarai dealt harshly, as we’re told, with Hagar, we’re not to think of physical torture. So don’t think for a minute the Lord would send anyone back into those type of conditions. The Lord, in time, will deal with all unrepentant wife-beaters and sweatshop operators etc. For the Lord and His Gospel is about setting captives free!

However, with regards to the Lord’s Church, how many people do you know who’ve done a Hagar? Someone or something in the church has upset them? So they wander back into the wilderness. Where have they come from and where are they going? I’m sure you’ve learned enough to answer that. So if you meet any runaway slaves on your travels, tell them about your Lord and Master. Tell them about the great Redeemer, the One who rescues runaways such as you and me. Remind them of His wonderful remedy.

Think about it, if Hagar had asked the Angel of the Lord, “Where have YOU come from and where are YOU going? What do you think the Angel of the Lord would have said? You know the answer to that. The Angel of the Lord might very well have answered, “I’ve come from heaven and I’m going to hell and back to rescue all of My beloved slaves!”

So, if you come across any of His runaway slaves in your travels, tell them about your Lord and Master Jesus Christ! Tell them to return to Him, and submit themselves under His hand. Therefore, you need to tell them to return to His Church. For He dwells in His Church by His Spirit, speaking to us by His Word. Tell them not to despise the Master.