Archive | September, 2010

September 30th – If only we knew

On this day in 1938 the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain returned from a crisis conference in Munich. The picture is indelibly printed in the 20th Century mind of our nation, of its Prime Minister smiling, waiving a scrap of paper, surrounded by cheering, relieved crowds of people, at the airport and announcing that he had in his hand the signature of Herr Hitler which guaranteed ‘Peace in our time’. Who wouldn’t cheer at that? That was in 1938. Less than a year later the same Prime Minister was to announce to the nation on the B.B.C. that “this country is at war with Germany”, for on September 1st 1939 Hitler’s Nazi Panza divisions smashed into Poland, which tried to resist, but heroic cavalry with swords, was no match for armed columns and one million trained and equipped German storm troops.
The jubilation which greeted Chamberlain’s promise of ‘Peace in our time’ was premature, when he returned from that Munich summit meeting where M. Edouard Daladier, Premier of France, Benito Mussolini of Italy and Adolph Hitler, Chancellor of Germany, had resolved the Czechoslovakia crisis, on paper, or so it seemed. “Peace with honour” they called it. But to the Czechs it was treachery – giving up their national boundaries on Hitler’s word that this would be his last territorial demand.
The whole history of political appeasing of vicious dictators is so obviously appallingly short-sighted – so wrong, that many thoughtful folk have re-evaluated Chamberlain’s decision – not as mere capitulation to brute force, but as a ploy to buy a little time in which to begin to get a nation, totally disarmed and vulnerable, into some state of readiness for the inevitable conflict of war. Perhaps the story behind the picture of Chamberlain waving his paper as a peace treaty, on this day in 1938, was a little more complicated and subtle than popular opinion has supposed.
I wonder how many public impressions of me and of you have been mistaken, especially when we muse ‘If only they knew the whole story’ which, of course, will never be told to them. Ponder Jeremiah’s words… “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord says: You will have peace’. And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, ‘No harm will come to you’. But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word? Jeremiah 23:16-18
A Prayer:
From believing our desires, crying “Peace, peace when there is no peace”, from putting our trust in princes and war lords, and from cowardice before all bullies, dear Lord deliver us, your shallow people.
Now read Isaiah Chapter 31.

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September 29th – Living with our Mediocrity

In Sir Peter Halls’ direction of Amadeus in London’s West End, some years ago now, Salieri made his entrance on the stage as an old man. All the house lights came up and the stage-whispered confession echoed throughout the theatre “I murdered Mozart”. As the house lights went down again, Frank Findley, who was playing Salieri, stepped out of his old stage garb and straightened up and began now as a young man again, to explain. The entire story is that as a musician his ambition was to be the greatest in the world, and he did become the royal adviser and composer to the king. Then on the Viennese scene appeared an upstart, giggling, socially ridiculous, Amadeus Mozart, but who as a composer was a god compared with the boring and pedantic abilities of Salieri. He wasn’t merely jealous, he was devastated. He had asked God for the gift and it had been given to this sniggering little upstart: so God was at fault. How unfair life can be. Salieri never seemed to think that his request to God was utterly self-seeking and self-glorifying. “Let me be great, O Lord.”
When the play came to an end the house lights came up again, and aged Salieri came centre stage and looked on us all in the audience, and said, in view of all that we had seen “I absolve you from your mediocrity”. The curtain came down, and to waves of applause, but I was embarrassed by my own tears! I pretended I was looking for my coat under the seat, anything rather than be seen, exposed as one whose sense of his own mediocrity had been touched and exposed. To have lived long, to have done one’s best, to have made no mark, to see oneself compared with the truly great and gifted servants of God, to see one’s paltry gifts, one’s mediocrity, is a cruel blow to one’s pride. Oh our insufferable mediocrity!
But then I always feel like this on 29th September, when people wish me ‘many happy returns’. Let us hear the sombre words of Psalm 90 and then the joyful promise of Jesus in Luke Chapter 12 v. 32:
For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night ..The length of our days is seventy years, or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Psalm 90:4 and 10
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32
A Prayer:
For all greatly gifted men and women of genius, I praise you O Lord, and also thank you for all the one talent folk who make the world go round.
Now read Acts Chapter 12.

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September 28th – No Free Lunches

Today, it’s a challenge. Dr. Paul Brand, in that book of his I’ve quoted before, “The Forever Feast”, has a chapter headed “No more free lunch”. In it he raises the issue of our human addiction to the easy life, showing how easy it is for anyone at any time to get hooked on the easier options of life. He speaks of his leprosy patients, having been given reconstructed hands (incidentally, by Paul Brand’s inspired and revolutionary surgery) going back to their homes but not being able to get jobs. So the doctors mission station set up training programmes in cooking, in serving, in agriculture and farming to make ex-patients independent. Eventually, instead of it being the place of training for independence, it became a safe, easy place to live, where food was available and accommodation provided, and like young eagles, they had to be forced out to their nests to fly and hunt for themselves.
He ends the chapter by showing that in Jesus’ day there were those who came to him, after the 5000 were fed, for the free food which he refused to provide. Then Dr. Brand says:
“It happened in Israel, it happens in India, in United States, and it even happens in our churches. People who’ve been Christians for years delight in coming to church week by week. They listen to the greatest Bible teachers, but never accept the challenge to test their faith in real life. They never step outside of their safe Christian environment where there is no conflict. They enjoy the teaching about their duty to the poor and needy as they sit in padded pews and then go home to Sunday supper ….”
He points out that if we enjoy church but take no responsibility, we won’t grow. That’s the Christian challenge today. Are you treating church like a safe haven, a hospice, where the food is free, the work is done by others, and you opt out of the challenge of being with Jesus in the real world of conflict and struggle? Listen to Jesus:
“I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” ..John 6:26-27
Then he said to his disciples “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38
A Prayer
From confusing the life of faith with lazy comfort, Good Lord deliver us your people.
Now read Genesis Chapter 3.

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September 27th – The Truth, but in Love

I came across this account of an incident in the life of Abraham Lincoln. Apparently Abraham Lincoln had a Secretary for War called Stanton, who was enraged at one of his officers for failing to carry out an order. It may have been disobedience, or not understanding the order, but it was, to Stanton, unforgivable. “I do believe, I must give him a piece of my mind” he ranted to Lincoln. “Do it” said the President, “Do it now while it’s hot in your mind – write it all down – make it sharp. Cut him down to size”. “I will” said Stanton, and immediately set about pouring out the most pungent rebuke any officer could receive. It was pointed and devastating, and he read it to Lincoln, who congratulated him on writing such a forthright letter. “Now” said Stanton “How shall I send it so there is no delay?”. “Send it?” said Lincoln – “You don’t send it. Now you tear it up. You’ve freed your mind of the subject, and that’s all that was necessary.”
I also have found that to write out my grievances against something or someone and put down on paper how I feel, does change the situation. I’ve invariably discovered also that having done so, to send the letter would cause me to feel somewhat guilty of going over the top. No wonder the New Testament makes such a big thing of speaking the truth – But In Love!
Listen to what Paul says when he calls on believers to grow up and abandon their tidal passions and storm-tossed opinions:”Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
Speaking the truth in love means that we grow up, and we grow together. In fact we are urged even to be angry, to feel the passion, but not to sin.Let’s hear more of Paul’s own words
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Ephesians 4:25-27
Take a moment, and think of people you have a grudge against, then pray for them, and for yourself.
A Prayer:
For the Passion of Jesus, for his blazing indignation in the face of injustice and the manipulation of vulnerable people, and for his holy anger against all corruption, we give you thanks, O Lord our God and Father and thank you that all his passion was an expression of his great, great love.
Now read Matthew 21: 12-17.

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September 26th – Great Lessons From Life

Yesterday, for some reason I was remembering William Barclay, who did so much to teach the Christian world about the Bible, and I was wondering what made him tick. I know he studied classical Greek as a student, which opened up an avenue into the language structure and roots of the more popular form of KoinÈ Greek of the New Testament which he taught so brilliantly, but his gift of illustration was perhaps his greatest asset. He could put windows into the bleakest of theological walls.Out of thousands of examples available, two rush to mind. (If I had taken more time doubtless I would have chosen others.)
One, when teaching about prayer, he confessed that when leading a congregation in saying the Lord’s Prayer, he always had it in writing before him. Because, he said “Once – I started thinking about it, and lost the words!” He started thinking about what he was praying in public! – every worship leader in the world knows what that admission means and involves. What a confession from a great Christian man – what humility.
There is another incident about prayer which he put into the third person, but which I suspect was perhaps closer than that. A minister was working in his study when his little child came in and sat near him. “Yes” he said, a bit testily “what do you want?” “Nothing” said the child “I just wanted to be with you” -reducing that minister and all fathers to ruins! and calling all Christians to what is really vital in their relationship with their heavenly father.
If I had taken time to review some of the vast array of the sayings of William Barclay I probably would not have come up with those two fragments, but then I just put down what I remembered off the top of my head. Did you know that as a most brilliant and influential church leader Barclay was devastated by losing his beloved young daughter in a sailing tragedy? He was never so scholarly that it divorced him from being such a vulnerable human being. That was his magic. He taught about Jesus in the Spirit of Jesus.
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. Matthew 7:28-29
“I am convinced that when a Christian rightly prays the Lord’s Prayer at any time …. his praying is more than adequate” (Martin Luther).
A Prayer:
When I am on my knees before you O God, that is what I am – no more – no less.
Now read one of Jesus’s matchless parables: Luke 10:25-37.

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September 25th – Thank God For Writers

Amongst the many books on my shelves there is one which, by rights, should have been scrapped years ago. The cover is worn off, the paper protective covering I put on it is also worn out. It’s a dog-eared paper back, of which anyone would say ‘It’s past its shelf life, scrap it’. I wouldn’t dream of discarding it or, now, even loaning it (I’ve lost too many hundreds of books that way), and when I tell you that it was the Bible Class Course for the Boys Brigade for 1951-52!!! you’d say in irony ‘Whoopee – do you hoard up old newspapers too?’ and I’d say ‘No – it’s the author that makes this paperback special’. On the title page it says “One Lord – One Faith – One Life”. By the Rev. William. Barclay B.D.
William Barclay was then the Pastor of an ordinary Scottish church, and virtually unknown. It was probably the second book that Barclay ever wrote. The first was also a lesson book written for the Boys Brigade. It’s the same William Barclay who became a world publishing phenomenon – with his Bible commentaries. They sold all over the world by the million, because he was able to combine scholarship, clear simple language, with a gift for telling illustrations and his writings alone transformed a tiny Scots publishing house into the world-wide company of the St. Andrews Press.
William Barclay was one of the 20th Century’s greatest Christian teachers. He went on to become the professor of Greek language and literature in the University of Glasgow, and one of the most widely read bible teachers of all time. Not many people realised that he was stone deaf, so when he wanted total peace he would switch of his hearing aid. He also needed very little sleep: just a catnap at night, then he could work all through the night: another catnap in the morning, and then work all through the day. His work output was twice that of a normal life span, but the one thing he always made plain was that to teach about Jesus, you must know Jesus, and he quoted the great artist DorÈ who was shown a portrait of Jesus by a fellow artist for approval. Finally DorÈ burst out “You do not love him, or you would paint him better”. To portray Jesus well you must love him. Or as Peter said:
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. I Peter 1:8
A Prayer:
Today Lord God we thank you for all those people, sinners like me and far from perfect, who nevertheless LOVED Jesus and spent their lives portraying him as best they could to the whole world.
Now read Jeremiah Chapter 36.

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September 24th – The Simple Gospel!

On holiday we attended a church where the preacher for the day was a man who, years ago, had been one of the young boys in our Boy’s Brigade Company of which I was then the Minister. And here he was, now a Baptist Minister himself, of a number of years experience, and seated before him in the holiday church, row upon row of Boys Brigade lads on church parade from their holiday camps nearby.
The preacher really put himself alongside the boys, recalling his own experiences of summer camps by the sea, and trying to tell them very simply what the gospel was all about. Assume you had a hundred or so boys, surrounded by a congregation you didn’t know, what would you say to reach even the most unenlightened listener? Well, amongst other things he said – (showing them cartoon images on the big screen, as he told the story), when God first made men and women they were really good friends, and nothing got in the way of their relationship. The picture was of a fence: God on one side, us on the other, and a big wide tube connecting us across the barbed wire fence. Then men and women got careless and started throwing their rubbish into the tube, which soon got blocked up with garbage, so that the way through the fence was blocked solid. God was very sad about it. So God put on a human T-shirt and climbed the barbed wire fence, began to empty the tube, collecting the garbage in his big sack and carting it away. People got cross at this, because they were used to the way through being blocked. So they stopped God in a T-shirt by killing him. Yet even then he never let go of the sack of human garbage. People were wretched about it all, till three days after, the God in a T-shirt, whom they’d killed, stood in the tube, tapped the man on the shoulder and said ‘Turn round and let’s talk’.
Well that’s how the preacher put it to the boys. How would you have done it? I would have wanted to say so much more, but then that’s probably my problem. The exercise to which I’m pointing is this. Can you, could you, would you be able to put the heart of the gospel into clear simple words of your own?
Here is one of the Apostle Paul’s summaries on the great matter:”God was in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:19, then 17)
A famous evangelist was criticised by an ultra liberal scholar. He said “I know I am a poor preacher, but I prefer the way I do it to the way you don’t”.
A Prayer, to be prayed slowly:
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the way, the truth, and the life: empower us to walk in your way, to embody your truth, and to live your life.
Now read Acts 3:11-26

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September 23rd – The End of the First Lesson

Dick Sheppard was a fine minister of Jesus Christ. When he died, one of the daily newspapers, not distinguished for its belief in Christian doctrine, published a picture of a church lectern, complete with open Bible, and underneath were the words: “Here endeth the reading of the first lesson.” So even secular agencies sometimes, seeing a great Christian life, will admit the view that this life is but a training ground. There is another game to play, another life to live beyond this. Well, here is a poem by Rudyard Kipling, of all people, of an artist’s dream of heaven:
“When earth’s last picture is painted, and the tubes are twisted and dried When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died; We shall rest and faith we shall need it, lie down for an aeon or two, Till the master of all good workmen, shall set us to work anew.
And those that were good, shall be happy. They shall sit in a golden chair
And splash at a ten league canvas with brushes of camels hair. They shall find real saints to draw from, Magdalen, Peter and Paul. They shall work for an age at a sitting and never grow tired at all. And only the master shall praise them, and only the master shall blame; And no one will work for money, and no one will work for fame, But each for the joy of working, and each for his separate star Shall draw the thing as he sees it, for the God of the things as they are.”
Paul put it this way:
Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. I Corinthians 15:51-53
And Jesus put it this way:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. John 14:1-2
So newspapers, poets, apostles and Jesus put it their way .How do you put it?
A Prayer:
Frail is our vessel, and the ocean is wide; but as in thy mercy, thou hast set our course, so steer the vessel of our life toward the everlasting shore of peace, and bring us at length to the quiet haven of our hearts’ desire where thou art . (St. Augustine AD 354)
Now read I Peter, Chapter 4.

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September 22nd – Martyr

The martyrdom of Marcellus, a Roman Centurion of the 3rd Century A.D. is told by A.J.Mason in his book about Historic Christian Martyrs. I thought you would like to hear the story and set it against the troubles which we Christians complain of today.
It was in Tangier and the Emperor’s birthday was being observed by the Roman Army in feasting and sacrificing. Marcellus, a Centurian of the Trojan Legion, horrified at the blatant paganism, stood before the eagles of the Legion, unbuckled his belt and shouted “I am a soldier of Jesus Christ, the King Eternal”. Then casting away his centurion’s staff and sword said “From this moment, I cease to be a soldier of your emperor, and as for your gods of wood and stone, I despise them. They are deaf and dumb idols, I renounce the standards, I refuse to serve.”
Astonishment reigned. He was of course arrested and taken before the Commanding Officer, Fortunatus, who had him imprisoned until after the festival. Then Marcellus was brought to trial before Fortunatus where he repeated his decisions and derision. So he was sent unharmed to Aurelius Agricolanus, the Deputy Prefect of the Praetorium. The trial took place on 30th October, where his conduct was rehearsed and verified. Marcellus confessed to the truth of all the accusations.
“How came you to be so mad as to abjure your oath and speak so?” he was asked. He replied “There is no madness in those who fear the Lord”.
“Did you speak as charged?” – “I did.”
“Did you throw off your weapons?” – “I did. It is not fitting for a Christian man to serve such terrible worldly ends.”
Agricolanus had no other choice. He sentenced him to be decapitated. Marcellus heard the sentence and said to Agricolanus, as he was led away to be beheaded: “The Lord bless you”.
“That”, says the ancient record “was the proper way for a martyr to leave the world”.
These are the words of Jesus of Nazareth
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12
The original New Testament word for ‘witness’ is martyr. Remember this when you are threatened not with decapitation but a little mockery for Jesus’ sake.
A Prayer:
O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shades lengthen, the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then, Lord, in they mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and a place at the last, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now read Hebrews 11:32-40.

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September 21st – Crooked furrows

A word of encouragement today for anyone who is dis-spirited, disappointed, and feeling a bit of a spiritual failure. If you look at the mess you’ve made of things, and compare it with your best intentions, you are bound to feel depressed.
Towards the end of Exodus Chapter 33 there is a remarkable cry for assurance from, of all people, Moses. He wanted to see God and his Glory, and God said: “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”. So God put Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with his hand. Then, when he had passed by, as it were, he withdrew his hand and Moses would see his back – not his face. In short, we humans cannot see God face to face, but in retrospect. Then we see his presence has been at work. So to help us today, a piece written I think by Godfrey S. Pain. You will need to apply it to your own life in your own way and circumstances. It goes like this:
“Under grey skies a ploughman was ploughing a field. The hand that guided the plough had not weathered many seasons and often the furrows were crooked. The ploughman finished his work and looked sorrowfully at the field; he was pained by the crookedness of the furrows, that glared like great scars on the landscape.
The weeks passed, a carpet of green formed which only recreated more starkly the crookedness of the furrows.
The months passed and the blade gave place to the ear and the ear to the full corn until harvest time showed a golden sea of waving stems unbroken and unmarred; no scars showed beneath the golden foam.
The young ploughman gazed once more on the field and his face shone with joy: ‘There’s many a full sack that comes from a crooked furrow’, he thought.”
Jesus said
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
When we work for Jesus, we can trust his power and not our failures. Even Confucius said ‘It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’.
A Prayer:
Then, Lord, let even my gutting little candle shine in the world’s darkness.
Now read I Corinthians Chapter 3.

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Thought 4 The Day

Men do not reject the Bible because they find faults in it, but because it finds faults in them. (Anon)

Through the year calendar

October 2010
« Sep «-»  

Click on any previous date in the above calendar to read the relevant Through The Year post
Believe it or Not
Sometimes you just can't believe it's true!
A Word in Time
Life has a funny way of connecting us all!
Cooke's Tour of The Bible
Frank Cooke's journey through the Old and New Testaments
Take 2
Some useful life lessons
Mind Stretchers
An open mind is a healthy mind!
Bible Bloopers
Even the Bible has its funnies!