Dare To Be A Daniel

The book of Daniel and all parts of the Bible relate to world history and you cannot understand world history without the Bible. Similarly, if you attempt to try and figure out FUTURE events in the history of the world without the Bible, you will also fail.

The Bible, in particular, speaks of one nation – Israel, but it also mentions other surrounding nations like Egypt, Arabia, Assyria now Iran, Babylon now Iraq. This area is known as the cradle of civilisation. This is where world history began around the fertile region of the great rivers of the Euphrates and Tigris. And where God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldea’s in Babylon to go to Canaan.

We begin when God’s people, the Israelites, have been taken by force from the Promised Land by the most powerful political force of their day; the Babylonians. The defeat was crushing but on reflection the people should have seen it coming. Isaiah, Micah and Jeremiah had warned them that punishment would follow as long as they continued to disobey God.

Even the prophet Habakkuk reminded Israel he told them, ‘look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.’ The Babylonians are on their way, beware. Israel had been warned to mend their ways.

God had had His fill with Israel’s disobedience and what he said would happen, happened. The city of Jerusalem was besieged; the temple, the palace and walls were destroyed. This pagan king Neb also removed from the temple the sacred articles used for worship and placed them in the temples of the gods of Babylon. He executed the leading citizens and deported tens of thousands.

Nebuchadnezzar was, in effect, making a public statement to the world that God does NOT exist. If God did exist, he would protect His people. He didn’t, so therefore He doesn’t exist. I am the new super power, the new demi-god. And to confirm this, the sacred articles from the temple in Jerusalem were now on display in the temple of his own god, Marduk.

They would stand forever as a symbol of the power of his own gods and the powerlessness, death and defeat of Israel’s god, Yahweh. Yahweh was dead on the battlefield along with thousands of Israelites. Israel had continued to sin despite continuous warnings to stop. Each year the inevitable seemed closer and closer and yet the leaders in Jerusalem and the people seemed to deny it.

They looked back at the temple to the Ark of the Covenant and to the promises given to David, assuring themselves that everything would be alright. Somehow they believed that despite their idolatry God would protect the nation.

But now exiled in Babylon with the glory days of Jerusalem and the familiarity of the Jewish way of life a distant memory, hope was fading fast. To the Babylonians and even to the Israelites it looked as if God had been defeated. And even if God was alive, how could they serve Him in exile? How could they be God’s people in a foreign land when all the props their faith relied on had been removed? Their precious temple was destroyed and left in ruins. As the exiles tramped across the desert lands towards Babylon, they must have had a lot to think about. The last days of Jerusalem would have been indelibly marked on their minds and its destruction. Even the neighbouring nations turned against them. What sort of future as exiles would they face now? What would happen to their precious promised land. Is it all about to end?

We, too, are exiles, are we not. We live in a land in a country as a minority whose Christian ways and values are becoming increasingly alien to the majority. We don’t have invading armies to deal with; our issues concern the mindset, attitude and behaviour of the wider population who have little interest in Almighty God.

Our home is not the island of Ireland nor Canada; it is the eternity destination of the New Jerusalem, the new earth and the new heavens.

The story of Daniel and his three friends showed the Israelites and shows us that the exile didn’t have to be the end it could be the beginning. It could be a new opportunity to show love and obedience to God even in a strange land. It could be the start of a deeper faith which proved God’s faithfulness and recognised His sovereignty even in testing times.

Daniel’s story spans the rule of three kings; he starts off as a young teenager aged about 17 years who is taken captive along with thousands of his fellow citizens, and he later rises to be the king’s top civil servant. Not only could he govern a country but he could interpret dreams as well. He possessed wisdom, knowledge and understanding. He was truly gifted by Yahweh. Daniel is an example of an obedient life which God blessed; however, working in a pagan culture was not without its problems. As an exile and follower of God, he had many issues to deal with.

The clash between obedience to God and obedience to the state was inevitable. As it is with us today. From the day he entered his Babylonian training to the very end of his life, including the lions’ den, he and his friends faced relentless pressure to conform to the state and be subject to it. The state was openly antagonist towards the God of Daniel and his fellow exiles. Yet through it all, Daniel showed that obedience to God was possible despite the threats of a hostile society.
Let’s begin with Daniel and his friends now in exile. If you have been in a different country you will notice that things are very different. Different food, clothes, people are different, different traditions, religion, language and money to name but a few.

If you are a Christian in a different land, a pagan land, it is more noticeable because usually you are not encouraged to practise Christianity. One reason being – there are no Christian churches around. You hear a Mullah cry out from a Minaret. This immediately concerns you. How do you worship God when there are no churches about or allowed? You have to be very careful what you say and how you live out your faith. If we visit another country on holiday, we know we are coming back home again. But for Daniel and his friends there was no visa, they were there for good. All they were familiar with is; no more. It has been destroyed. There is no going back home.

This foreign, pagan king Nebuchadnezzar decided that he would begin a programme of assimilation into Babylonian society through systematic brain washing. He wanted to delete Daniel’s culture, faith and religion and give them each a new identity, a Babylonian one. In much the same way special agent Jason Bourne in The Bourne Supremacy films is given a new identity. For Daniel it was not as brutal as Jason Bourne’s, but it was constant and forceful. Daniel and his three friends accepted the new language. They went along with being taught how to speak Babylonian, they even read Babylonian literature, including myths and legends which would have been very difficult for them considering a Jew would have read and known the Torah.

They were also given new Names which they accepted. They were called after pagan gods. Daniel was given the new name of Belthazzar, to Hananiah – Shadrach; to Mishaal – Meshach; and to Azariah – Abednego. Again, this was all designed to assimilate them into a different culture by gradually removing their Jewish identity and nationality. Interestingly, Daniel and his friends went along with this brain washing but only up to a point. They were wise enough to know what was going on and wise enough to know which battles to fight and which ones to leave alone.

The battle they decided to fight was the one concerning the food. The food would have been offered in thanks to pagan idols before it was consumed. The food would therefore NOT have been kosher according to the Levitical food laws of the Jews and this could well have been the reason for Daniel and his friends’ refusal.

But it’s not conclusive. The real reason was something else. Daniel and his friends knew that once they ate this food, which was really food from the king’s table, they would enter into a relationship thereby binding themselves to the king. In practise you were really signing over your independence and integrity and becoming one of the king’s lackeys, under his control – a puppet.
Daniel and his friends were having none of it. This was the battle they chose to fight and the marker they laid down. And we can see how it worked in their favour with God’s help. In contrast, if you read the last few verses in 2 Kings 25, you will see how Jehoiachin, former king of Judah, was taken into exile. He was released from prison because he submitted to the King of Babylon.

Was it easy for Daniel and his friends to disobey the king’s orders about the king’s table? No, it wasn’t. They knew that at any time this Nebuchadnezzar could turn on them like a wounded bear and have them killed, just for the fun. They had seen him in action and were bound to be afraid of what would happen to them if they did not carry out his instructions. They had faith though and they were prepared to be strong enough to stand up for it; even though it may cost them their lives.

Daniel and his friends understood that there was nothing wrong with being in a pagan court and learning pagan things; but there were great dangers to avoid and traps to side step. He could not let himself be trapped as Joseph had been by Potiphar’s wife. Or get caught as Solomon had in the dealings with foreign women. Daniel and his three Jewish friends had been faithful in little and as young men in their teens, this was to be the beginning of their being faithful in much.

We are to stand up and be counted over small things, before we move towards bigger things. Whether it’s in the church, the staffroom, the office floor, the hospital ward, or board room. God tests us first with the small matters before presenting us with bigger issues. If we don’t honour God with the small things, we certainly won’t do it with the big things! How does this work out in daily life?

The preacher and author, Rick Warren, wrote a book called ‘The Purpose Driven Life’, which has since sold around 40 million copies. He is the current senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California, and he says that he has not received one dollar from the sale of the book. The sale of 40 million books would make you fairly wealthy!

But God had tested him earlier in his life about how he used his money personally and in the church before this book was published. He still drives around in a beat-up station wagon, the marriage rings he and his wife bought were 50 dollars; his watch was 19 dollars from Walmart, and he still lives in the same house. In fact, he reverse tithes. He tithes 90% of his salary and lives off 10%. Impressive.

The test was in the small things first – before the big money would come in. I have found that quite often as a Christian, this standing up in the small things involves money. Recently since our new move to outside Belfast we have been getting the field divided up for the Alpaccas we keep. I went to the local Farm Supply shop and loaded up a field gate, fencing, fence posts, staples and other items. When I got home, I looked at the invoice and could see that I had accidently not been charged for the field gate. What was I to do? Keep the gate and say nothing; Afterall no one was any the wiser.

Nobody was aware what had happened. I tell you that story not to make me look good, but to let you know that these traps often occur when we least expect them and they probe deeply into where we stand with God. But God is watching.

Daniel and his friends had put God before every other consideration and he, in turn, honoured them. We are told that at the end of ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. They ate vegetables and drank water. No royal food and No royal wine. Maybe we should take note of this and eat more vegetables ourselves and drink more water, and cut out the tray bakes and pavlova. The results would benefit ourselves and the NHS considerably. It’s only a suggestion though!

In closing, through this change of food diet, what had Daniel and his friends really achieved?? With God’s help and encouragement, they had won a battle, and a very important one at that. They had won a battle against assimilation; they had won a battle of NOT being absorbed into a pagan culture. They had won a battle of not conforming to the pattern of the world and its values.

The Apostle Paul clearly tells the Romans in Chapter 12: “Do not be conformed to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds; (why), so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

If your mind, attitude and behaviour is in tandem with the drumbeat of the world and its values then how on earth will you be able to discern the will of God? How can we sing the song of the Lord in a foreign land? Daniel and his friends were able to sing it. They allowed the Spirit of God to renew their minds.
Their faith in God shone through. It had not been eradicated. Through God’s mercy and action, the young men had won a significant battle.

But also, God’s reputation had been on the line. In this pagan, pluralist land with all its various gods, these young men represented God and it was He who gave them success. God gave them physical health, and intellectual ability to prevail. They were His mouth, His hands, His feet, His heart, His mind.

For the third time in this chapter, God acted again to preserve His people. They could have been wiped out but they weren’t. The Jews could have been wiped out if it were not for Queen Esther. Pharaoh and Herod tried to wipe the Jews out. Hitler tried his best to do it in the concentration camps; but he didn’t. So did Stalin in the Gulags.

Nebuchadnezzar may have thought God was dead, killed in battle; but he wasn’t. It’s the same with people today. ‘Where is God when I need him?’ they cry. ‘If God was alive, he would not have allowed this or that to happen.’ ‘Why did he not stop that war or that airplane crash?’ Why this, why that?

The conclusion they draw is: He doesn’t exist or He no longer exists. Since people have populated this planet, they have agreed in principle with the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche who said,
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” Know this; God is not dead: God is with His people whether they are in Israel, America, Canada, or China and he watches over them. He will make sure they prevail, whether incarcerated, exiled or free. By the way; I did pay for the field gate. May God give us the courage – to “Dare to be a Daniel.”

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The image shows, “The Judgement Of Daniel,” by Valentin de Boulogne, ca. 1621-1622.

The Great Banquet

The story is told of a young man who lived a long time ago in Southern England. He had heard of a huge white horse which had been mysteriously carved into an unknown hillside centuries ago.

He was so captivated by this rumour that he set off in search of the fabled horse, travelling the full length and breadth of Southern England. But alas, he could not find it. Eventually he returns home disappointed, concluding that the white horse of his dreams didn’t exist, after all.

Then one day as he surveyed his own village after climbing a very tall tree and getting a good vantage point, he was astonished to see the object of his search. The White Horse had been there all the time. In fact, his village lay at the very centre of it, but he’d never been able to recognise it before, concealed as it was among the fields, trees and rivers.

The point of that story is that people particularly young people, set off on quests, like travelling the world, going to exotic places, sampling foreign cultures, do so as they look for answers about life. Sadly, in spite of all their efforts and as time goes by, they can become, increasingly disillusioned, cynical or agnostic. They don’t find the utopia, the White Horse’ they’re searching for.

Perhaps, they need to return home. Maybe if they did, they would be amazed to find that the answers they’re looking for are there already, as close as the bible on the book shelf, or the church on the street corner. They simply haven’t recognised the unique value of these things because they are too common place, too familiar. Familiarity breeds contempt.

To try to break down such a wall of indifference, or even contempt, and to help people discover the importance and the relevance of the Christian message, is not an easy task.
This is especially so when many people think they know that message already. It’s a bit like the measles vaccination given to babies. All too often a dose of religion, especially if given in childhood, simply increases your resistance to the real thing when you encounter it later in life. Sunday School Exams, Unhelpful RE teachers at school, tedious morning assemblies in chapel, and the minister’s boring monologues.

They all come back into your mind like a flood, immediately an evangelist stands up to speak. ‘Oh no, not again’.

It’s like antibodies descending upon some invading virus in your blood stream. Those memories all conspire to ensure your spiritual immunity to everything that preacher might want to say. Even the best sermons fail to penetrate such defences.

If you don’t believe me. Read what Jesus says. As the world’s greatest biblical teacher and evangelist, he experienced the exact same problem. Frequently the people he had the hardest trouble with, were those with strong religious backgrounds, who carried round the biggest copy of the Torah they could get their hands on. And who looked the part.

It’s the Sabbath Day. Jesus has been invited to have a meal at the home of a ‘prominent Pharisee.’ Someone who comes from a strong religious background.
Everybody is wary of each other, at this nibbles and wine function; all trying hard to make a good impression. Vying for position. Jesus of course knows this so he tries to change the atmosphere by offering some controversial advice on how to organise a really good dinner party.

Don’t invite wealthy friends and neighbours, they’re boring he says. Instead invite the homeless youngsters and street kids you see begging on the streets. Invite the poor, the destitute, the crippled and you will be blessed. I’m sure Jesus’ words went down like a lead balloon. This was a real conversation stopper. As Jesus looked round upon the gathering, he would have noticed that there were NO street kids, poor people, or the homeless there.

During the awkward silence there is usually someone around who makes some wise comment to try and keep the conversation within everyone’s comfort zone. There was such a guy at Jesus’ table who adds his own pious comment; ‘blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’ We can just picture him can’t we. Measured, all the religious trappings, nodding head, full beard.

It was a coded way of saying, ‘oh you don’t have to worry about me Jesus, I’m very religious. I know all about the kingdom’. Now he may have been expecting Jesus reply; Amen brother, well said or a hallelujah’. But he miscalculated. Jesus was far to shrewd to be deceived by his hypocrisy and far too good a teacher to allow it to pass unchallenged.

You see this was a classic case of familiarity breeding contempt. This guy thought he was spiritually ok. He knew about and believed in heaven and was quite sure he was going there.
He naturally assumed Jesus would want to support him. But Jesus doesn’t. Instead Jesus thinks quickly and tells a close to the bone story. And no doubt everyone in the group is all ears.

Jesus starts telling the story which has a strong Old Testament theme about the prophets preaching preparing the way for the coming Kingdom. All good so far, they think. But then Jesus veers off in a slightly different direction. He says; ‘at the time of the banquet he (God) sent his servant (Jesus) to tell those who had been invited, come for everything is now ready.’
The kingdom of God is here. Don’t have to wait any more. It’s arrived. Therefore, time to act and enter. Everything is ready, come on in.

But then read what happens. But they all began to make excuses. Yes excuses. The first one said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see to it. Please excuse me’. Second one said; ‘I have just been to the market and bought oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me’. Another said; ‘I just got married; so, I can’t come either’.

The amazing thing in all of this, is that people could be personally invited by Jesus to share in the kingdom of God and his promise of eternal life in heaven. And yet decline. They say NO thanks. It doesn’t add up. It’s not being arrogant, it’s just plain stupid. It’s like buying an expensive house without even looking at it. Or buying 10 oxen without seeing whether or not any of them were lame. In fact, these excuses that are offered are so flimsy they cannot be even regarded as real excuses.

Jesus is saying that when men and women turn their backs on the kingdom of God and the joy of heaven, they do so for the sake of mere trivialities. Like the pursuit of material gain, personal adventure, or sexual desire.

They choose such things above accepting God’s gracious invitation. Especially now perhaps more than ever, there are far too many counter-attractions bidding for the time, money, and attention of people. They may have been interested in going to the party once, but all sorts of things have invaded their life since then. What flimsy excuse are you the reader holding on to that is preventing you from entering God’s kingdom?

The so-called religious people Jesus is saying will be excluded; because they are basing their faith on their religious pedigree, or their back ground.

Well. then, who is to be included? Those who will be at the great banquet will be the poor, the crippled, the lame, the outcast, the destitute. Those who you least expect will be there, many of whom have no religious back grounds at all. And they haven’t offered any excuses to Jesus.

Having wealth, being busy with various interests even though they are good and wholesome like our family, can be obstacles, and distractions. And we use them as excuses. I’m too busy lord. I’ve to get my family through university; I’ve to move house, go on a holiday, change jobs. Go into a nursing home.

These poor and destitute people who have nothing to distract them or invade their personal lives will be there. But the good news is there is still room for many more. Jesus is saying the kingdom of God will be removed from you Jews, because of your hardness of heart and your feeble excuses and given to others; the invitation will be given to the Gentiles for them to come in.

This group did not like what Jesus was saying. God’s chosen people not allowed into the kingdom of heaven. It’s not that the door to heaven is permanently bolted shut for all Jews for ever and a day; it’s still open, but others will be there, besides the Jew.

Those who were expecting to enter the kingdom because they had received advance invitations through the prophets and the law would miss out. But those who expected to be shut out because they were not good enough, or had never heard of the banquet because they were complete pagans, would be the ones to enjoy it.
Familiarity, this parable emphasizes, does indeed breed contempt, and Jesus responds that contempt is a sin that God does not lightly forgive.

What does the twist in this parable mean for you and me? Some, like Jesus’ dinner guests at the Pharisee’s table come from a good religious back ground.

We have been baptised or dedicated as children by believing parents. Which is a good start. Maybe we have attended Sunday School or Bible class. That’s good too. We have come out to church regularly over the years and have heard all about the Christian faith many times. And as a result, we think we’re Christians. But are we?

That’s the question this parable puts to each one of us. We may know how to say grace before meals, and recite the Lord’s Prayer, but Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God demands more of us than just piety.

In the film, ‘A Few Good Men’ Tom Cruise is the young flash Navy attorney who questions the integrity and honesty of one of the officers Keffer Sutherland who is stationed at a military base.

Sutherland takes offence at the tone of the question. He claims he is a good US Marine, passed with flying colours from Westpoint. Comes from a good military back ground; and that only two books sit on his bed side table. The US Marine Code and the King James Version of the bible. Not just any copy of the bible but the King James Version.

He never said that he actually read either book. But the implication is that these books define who I am. I am a good patriot. We need to be so careful and ensure that ‘Familiarity does Not breed Contempt’, where we switch off, thinking I’m ok. Some may be thinking this invitation to the heavenly banquet is not for me. I have messed up my life. I’m not good enough. I put on a good front but I know inside I’m a waster. Well you are in good company with Jesus.

Heaven is made for people like you. People who know their failings, who know how they have fallen; their sin is before them. But you have to want to do something about your situation. How do we do that. Follow Jesus’ guidance. He tells people young and old to ‘repent and believe’. Repent means to change your sinful ways and believe in Jesus as the Son of God.

Don’t feel you are excluded in any way. This story tells us clearly that there is more room in the kingdom of God for misfits and sinners. The gospel is exclusive in that no one else can save you except Jesus Christ. ‘Salvation is found in no one else under heaven’.

But it’s also inclusive in that Jesus turns no one away. The invitation is for everyone under heaven no matter who you are.

So why delay, ‘come’ he says, ‘everything is ready’.

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The image shows, “L’Invitation au festin” (Invitation to the Feast), by Eugène Burnand, painted imn 1899.

A Matter Of Truth

Surveys in business magazines and management books confirm that the personal characteristic employees most value in their employer is Honesty. Above all employees want to be dealt with truthfully. The same is true of employers.

What they most want from their employees is the assurance that they can believe what their employees say and trust what they do.

When single people describe the perfect partner, they dream of meeting and someday marrying; they inevitably say they want an Honest man or woman who can be trusted in every way. They can’t conceive of a marriage based on any other foundation than absolute trustworthiness.

Friends who have walked through life together for many years often name Honesty as one of the keys to the success of their relationship. We made a commitment to never lie to one another they say, and we never have.

In an age and a culture in which lies, fake news, and deceit are common currency of news articles, movies, talk shows and politics; the pursuit of Honesty in personal life and relationships sometimes seems like a lonely and outdated endeavour. You need to put a spin on things. Distort it so that it seems like the truth.

Of course, public displays of dishonesty are not the only sources of our repugnance. Most of us have been betrayed or lied to at some point in our lives in a brazen hurtful way, where recovery has been difficult.

Do you remember the first time you were betrayed or lied to? The first time a confidence was broken or the truth twisted in order to hurt you. I am sure you remember the experience in vivid detail. Did it make you want to withdraw from the human race or scream out in anger? If it’s any consolation God feels that way as well.

The ninth commandment says, “Do not bear false witness against your neighbour.” In other words, don’t Lie. Don’t distort the truth. Don’t use your words to play around with reality.

God knew from the beginning of time that without a total commitment to truth telling; marriages and families would disintegrate, friendships would disappear, business dealings would fall apart, churches would be split by divisions, governments would not be able to govern. The very fabric of relationships and society would unravel.

Throughout the Bible we are called to the standard of truth telling, but nowhere more graphically than in the book of Proverbs, where a man ‘with a corrupt mouth’ is called a scoundrel and villain. Proverbs 6: 12. And where the suggested antidote to lying is that a perverse tongue will be cut out. Dishonesty is bad stuff, says the writer of these proverbs, and we need to get rid of it; whatever it takes.

One reason the writer of these proverbs spoke so strongly against a corrupt mouth is that he knew how deeply dishonesty disrupts one’s relationship with God. The Lord detests lying lips. That’s pretty strong stuff. To detest something is repulsive. Its abhorrent.

Seldom does the Bible use such strong language than this to describe God’s response to sinful behaviour. God simply detests lying. It like saying; it turns his stomach; it makes him vomit. That’s why he cannot maintain a relationship with a person who lies.

The reason God detests dishonesty so much is due to the second consequence; it destroys other people. Proverbs 15 verse 4: “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life; but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

She promised to be faithful, sobs a devastated husband who has just learned that his wife wasn’t faithful. He said, he would never come home again drunk cries a teenager reeling from the rages of his alcoholic father. He promised me that he would never place another bet, as the wife checks her bank account. I finished the job because the contractor gave me his word that he would pay me, but he didn’t. Now how can I pay my workers? I transferred my savings into the account that would give me 8 per cent interest. The company left no forwarding address.

On and on it goes; people’s spirits crushed by dishonesty and deceit. I suspect that if successive Governments wanted to save billions through austerity measures, they should launch a major offensive outlining what dishonesty and deceit costs the tax payer every year. If people complied by being honest in their financial dealings The national debt would be eradicated in twenty years.

The main reason why Greece is in financial meltdown is because the majority of its tax paying citizens refuse by deceit to submit any income tax returns. In fact, it’s seen as a badge of honour to get away with it. Children are taught to do the exact same thing and follow their parents’ example. And they wonder why they are in the state they are in.

I know of several people and perhaps you do as well who lament that life is not working well for them. They are left with broken dreams, faded hopes and thwarted goals. However, in many cases, if you trace their disappointment back far enough you discover a trail of dishonesty.

It may have started with a slight departure from the truth; but all too often that first dishonest step leads to deeper forms of deceitfulness and from there to downright lies. Along the way, the dishonest person begins to experience the inevitable breakdown of his or her relationships with God and with others; whether in the home, at school, on the building site, in the office, or at church.

It’s easy to place the blame on other people or on forces beyond one’s control when the real cause of trouble is one’s own careless or malicious mishandling of truth. Have you told any lies lately? Any harmless ones. We’ll do lunch sometime. I’ll pay you back next month. Can I have a minute of your time. My door is always open. Will phone you tomorrow.

Do you ever exaggerate the truth? Tell a story and put an extra spin on it. Describe a personal achievement in inflated terms? Do you ever minimize the truth? Confess to a sin less serious than the one you committed? Do you ever twist the truth to make someone look bad? The list is endless.

Have you ever described another person’s words or actions without explaining their context and thereby made that person appear stupid or cruel? Have you ever got yourself into a jam and then told a whopper to get yourself out of it? The wife was driving the car, so she gets the penalty points.

Do you remember the last time you lied? Most of us feel a little queasiness in our stomachs or a little heat on the back of our necks. But the worst thing is that we don’t know what to do with our eyes.

We have only two choices; to look the person we’re lying to straight in the eye or to look at the floor.

Lying is a messy business. It’s always going to be a messy business because we’re created in the image of a truth telling God.

At the core of God’s character is an essence of purity that renders him incapable of dishonesty. Wherever Jesus went, he often spoke to the crowds saying; I tell you the truth. I tell you the truth. As he did so he was holding himself up for public examination and scrutiny. Check it out and see if there is anything incorrect, I am telling you. That was the undercurrent of his message.

Could anyone point the finger at Jesus. No not one. The closest any of our politicians come to this; is when they are being interviewed and an awkward question is thrown at them, they say; let me be clear about this. But it’s not quite the same thing. Or if a politician is asked, “do you condemn IRA or IS violence?” ‘Do you condemn anti-Semitism?” Some will say blandly, “I condemn all violence.” But they still have not answered the question. They are not telling the truth.

Because of the piece of that purity which God has placed in our own core, it will always feel unnatural for the majority of people to lie. There are of course professional liars; spin doctors and the like; but God has given up on them. They are destined for destruction according to scripture.

There will always be warning bells and whistles going off in our minds and that sick feeling in our stomachs, because we were not created to lie. The only reasonable response for any of us is to stop lying; completely. No more half-truths, no more exaggeration, no more verbal twisting of reality.

No more only telling part of the story. For those of us ready and willing to make a firm commitment to honesty the book of Proverbs offers some refreshing practical hints for our journey from deceitfulness to truth telling. What do we do about it?

The Bible says; If you want to sin less with your words, then talk less. Proverbs 10.19” “When words are many, sin is not absent; but he who holds his tongue is wise.” I wish I could meet the man who wrote that and have a chat with him.

If you have a propensity to talk a lot, the facts state you will lie more. Generally speaking, if you talk less, the less you will lie. The less you talk the less you will exaggerate. The less you talk the less you say things you will regret. The less you talk the fewer promises you make, that you can’t keep.
Proverbs says, “the heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.”

The wisdom of Proverbs also tells us something important; that we don’t have to participate in every conversation. You don’t have to chip in. You don’t have to express every thought that you hear or comes to mind. But we do have to pause and carefully consider our words before we speak.

When we are writing a letter on the computer there is a spell check. If you spell a word incorrectly it will be underlined in red. Your attention is drawn to it to correct it. Well Proverbs says that we have to have a lie check feature, a little switch that is flipped on just before we open our mouths.

When our ideas and words are forming in our brains, it will ask us two things; are our forthcoming words necessary; and are they true. If they’re not we should not spend more than a minute thinking about them.

There is so much we could say in this area of truth telling. One more thing. There is a potential downside to all this. Truth telling is not always easy especially in the age of obsessive PC correctness. People are sacked in jobs for telling the truth; whistle blowers. Others are shunned or passed over for promotion. ‘We don’t rock the boat in this company’.

We are called to avoid unnecessary words, or to keep silent rather than utter untruths. But at the same time when a given situation demands that a word of truth be spoken, we are commanded to speak it without holding back, even if it costs us dearly.

When it comes to saying the hard truths that certain people, need to hear, we find ourselves hesitating. At least I do. Such as the proverbial round peg in a square hole comes to mind. Someone who is doing a job they are basically useless at and at the same time they are keeping back the best person for it.

Why do we stay silent and hold back from telling the truth? And how you say it; how you go about it. It’s not easy. You can be seen as always being critical, always on the lookout for mistakes or self-righteous.

The person with the pushy attitude, who succeeds wherever they go in getting everyone’s backs up without even trying. Better to say nothing in case he is offended. We are afraid to speak the truth. What is wrong with me? A close relation who hasn’t a clue about money matters and who is utterly unreliable and reckless. Just leave it. Someone else might say something. What’s the matter with me? There are a million and one scenarios.

Or, you have become acquainted with someone. A decent, kind, hard working person who always sees the good in people. You have numerous conversations with them about all manner of things. But to date you have not had the courage to tell them the most important truth in life; that God loves them and he has opened the gates of heaven to them because of what Jesus did on a cross on their behalf. He died for their sin.

This person told me they do not attend church; yet you have not shared one word with them about the basic truths of the Gospel. What’s the matter with you? Why have you not said anything to them of God’s love and forgiveness.

Well, you know what’s the matter. You shrink back from telling the truth because it might cost you something. It might create discomfort in the relationship. You might be misunderstood or rejected. Heaven forbid that that person would say, stay out of my life, its none of your business. Get lost. Would that really be the end of the world? There is a balance here between peace keeping and truth telling. But most of us, most of the time choose the former.

I silence words of truth because they might create ripples on the pond of my life and I would much prefer to have the seas of tranquillity lapping around me. I want smooth waters; not rough seas. We need to remind ourselves of Proverbs 3 verse 3: “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them round your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”

The writer of Proverbs says cling to the truth and reveal the truth in your marriage, family and friendships.

Have you ever been thankful that at some point in your life someone dared to speak the truth to you and it helped alter the course of your life? I know I have.

Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Do you really know what it means to follow Jesus? Please think carefully about those two questions.

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The image shows, “The Capture of Christ,” by Guercino, painted in 1621.

What Lies Ahead?

The year that King Uzziah died was in 740BC thus ending a period of national prosperity for the nation of Judah. He had been one of Judah’s finest kings and greatest leaders since he was crowned king at the tender age of 16. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. God was with him right up until the last few years of his life when pride led to his downfall.

However, he had defeated Judah’s enemies over the years, built Jerusalem up into a fine city and the people enjoyed great success and prosperity. The full account of his reign is told in 2 Chronicles and he reigned in Jerusalem for 52 years which is a long time. Isaiah opens with the words; “In the year King Uzziah died.”

He did so because that marked the closing or the end of a significant period not only in Isaiah’s life but in the life of the nation. Isaiah had grown up over the years under various kings like Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. But it was in the year King Uzziah died that marks a watershed in the life of the nation. The people no doubt will fondly remember their good king Uzziah.

There comes a time in all of our lives when someone who seems to have been there for a long time dies. It may be a husband or a wife, a parent, a close friend, a grandparent, a work colleague, a good neighbour. They die. And as we look back, we remember the year they died.

A flood of thoughts come back as we bookmark in our minds the year when they died. We bookmark in our minds the anniversary of their death and contemplate their passing. For some of us it’s something we cannot ever get over; we somehow cannot deal with life in the same way we could when they were alive. The year when Uzziah died. The year when Winston Churchill died, the year when Princess Diana died. The year when Elvis died.

For the people of Judah, it was a huge and sad loss, losing Uzziah. It was a loss too for Isaiah as he contemplated his passing and was now left wondering what will happen next. Although Uzziah had quelled many an uprising against Judah’s enemies and defeated the armies of Syria, the Philistines, and Assyrians; he knew like a pack of jackals they would be back to attack once again.

Would the new king be strong enough; would Judah’s armies fight the same way they did for Uzziah? The Northern Kingdom of Israel would fall into the hands of Assyria; would Judah be next?

The peace and prosperity that Judah had known for many years would it now all come to an end? The future looked bleak and uncertain. But then Isaiah sees the Lord and that changed his total understanding of things. ‘Sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings.’

Isaiah’s thoughts of Uzziah are put on hold as his mind is filled with the presence and radiance of God upon the throne. A great king may have left his throne on earth, but the greatest king was still seated on the throne of heaven. The one who presides over all earthly kings and rulers; who places them in power and removes them. For Isaiah the outlook was bleak but; the up look was glorious.

You or me will probably never see in this life what Isaiah saw because it transformed him as a person. You see our own lives may seem to be shattered or falling apart. The future uncertain, fear and apprehension grips us like a hard frost; but know this God is still on the throne and reigning as the king of kings. Our light and momentary troubles will pass away. But there is a higher throne than the earthly one Isaiah has looked to, more exalted and never ending.

Quite often we are transfixed by ourselves, by our own problems, by our own circumstances and sometimes it has to be said we prefer to remain there. But it’s not a good place to stay. Self-pity causes us more problems than its worth. The prophet Habakkuk felt this way when God told him that he would use Babylon as the rod of correction for his people. Habakkuk was understandably gripped with fear on hearing this looking to save his own skin and the skin of his people.

Dare we imagine, that when we glimpse Almighty God our attention will be drawn away from ourselves, to him seated on the throne over all the earth. It’s a difficult thing. Isaiah’s vision of God as one whose robe fills the temple speaks of God’s presence in Zion, another name for Jerusalem.

God will be at work in and through Zion throughout all of human history; but if only the train of God’s robe fills the temple, then He is bigger than the temple, beyond it, and not contained by it. He is bigger than the church. And bigger than the universe He created. Mind boggling really.

In our tradition, we are not generally good at imagining, and contemplating. But it is good to think beyond the hard facts and allow our minds to create vivid pictures of God in his glory. Can you imagine yourself if this was a picture on a canvas, where would you be in the picture.? If you were an artist where would you even start to paint such a picture.

The Lord’s realm of course is not just Jerusalem it is the whole earth v3.
But Jerusalem and Israel he has not abandoned and he will work through them which he is doing even today. Isaiah gives us a glimpse of heaven. Other creatures will be there like the Seraph’s who have wings like angels. They are living flames of pure praise and sinless. They are fantastic heavenly creatures yet beside God they are insignificant. God is as high above an archangel, as an elephant is above an ant.

These are holy creatures but even they have to cover their faces and their feet from the perfect and pure presence of a Holy God. The seraphim hover in constant motion like a humming bird in their beauty ready to do God’s will. How many of them will there be in heaven; six or seven. John in his vision in Revelation says he saw; ‘ten thousand times ten thousand’ and more encircling the throne.

These are creatures who serve and worship in the presence of God in heaven who are not even able to gaze upon the beauty of God such is his holiness and radiance.

It’s beyond words. If seraphs are not allowed to gaze at the beauty and wonder of God what about ourselves? And this is the conviction of Isaiah’s heart. Here we have a great prophet of Israel, a holy man, a champion of God. He saw himself with the eyes of God and what did he say. Did he say; “Oh, look at me Lord, and how important I am, and look at the great things I have been saying about you. Afterall I am your prophet.”

He said; ‘Woe to me, I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.’ What a devastating confession to make.

Here was Isaiah the prophet who reads from the holy scriptures in the temple. His lips and mouth are his greatest asset, his words are sent on wings to bring healing and repentance to the people; and here he is confessing before God that he is a man of unclean lips. What hope is there for the rest of us?

In the West the vast majority of people no longer know the difference between right and wrong. Moral absolutes no longer exist. Truth has been replaced by feelings and opinions. All that matters for the majority is to worship the god of personal happiness and freedom to do whatever they like. Cultural Marxism aided and abetted by academics and the media hold court as judge, jury and executioner.

But Isaiah’s eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts. When we look away from ourselves and glimpse Almighty God things change. What happens is that God’s spirit convicts us of our sins. We realise that our good deeds amount to dirty rags in his sight. Our sins rise up in front of us and we are deeply ashamed.

We have nowhere to go except fall at the feet of the risen Saviour Jesus Christ and beg his forgiveness and cleansing. No one else can do anything for us except Jesus. Unclean lips are caused by an unclean heart. Isaiah cried out to be cleansed inwardly and God met his need. His lips were touched, his guilt taken away and his sin atoned for. Such is God’s salvation for each person. Before we can minister to others, we must permit God to minister to us.

What troubles Isaiah the most is not Assyria or the Philistines, or a pending war, of Judah losing her prosperity or independence. What troubles Isaiah the most is himself. He is the problem and he is part of a people who have a problem, as all have unclean lips and unclean hearts.

Malcom Muggeridge, one of the twentieth century’s greatest journalists and satirists, wrote: “the depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality, but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

Isaiah cries; “Woe to me; I am ruined.” Even for someone like Isaiah who had great faith’ his faith at times was lukewarm and dull with little understanding of the grandeur of God. He despaired of himself. Now for the first time Isaiah sees himself as he really is, because he sees God. And when that happens something new occurs; pride is swept away and humility gushes in.

This is the way to Salvation. Friends until we move away from ourselves, our little idols and our little empires we are ruined; we are lost. Sheep wandering without a shepherd. If you try to compare your good deeds with someone else you will always win. That’s why we do it; it’s a win-win-win situation for us. But when you do that you deceive yourself. Instead compare yourself always to Jesus. When you do that you will discover it’s a lose-lose-lose situation. But it’s also a reality check. And its where and how we receive his grace.

A seraph peels away from the throne and heads for Isaiah holding a burning coal that he took from the alter with tongs, but not because it is hot; after all a seraph is a ‘burning one’. He took this coal with tongs because it is a holy thing. This holy thing touches Isaiah’s dirty mouth, and it does not hurt him, instead it heals him. This burning coal symbolizes the finished work of Christ on the cross. He went to the place of sacrifice called Calvary. His dying love for you and me is the only power that can awaken people in a moral stupor. And awaken us he does.

He touches us with his presence and through the Holy Spirit he says again, “I have made atonement for you; your guilt is taken away. You are released from your sins that bound you.” The price we pay for this liberation is a traumatic self-discovery. A new you emerges. The remedy for our lives of deadness is the touch of God himself as his truth breaks into our lives.

People in Isaiah’s day had heard the message in the synagogue over and over again; but they remained unmoved and unconvinced. You see every time we hear the word of God being preached on a Sunday morning something happens.

You come away from the service; and either what you have heard moves you closer to God or moves you a little further away from God. Either way you are never just the same as you entered. The gospel is designed for a purpose to move a person closer to God or further away from God.
Now if you think you can hold the middle ground you delude yourself.

If you think you can keep Christ at a safe distance and yet within view, you are facing God’s judgement. Tragically God was finished with Isaiah’s generation, he had promised them his blessings, he provided for them. He pleaded with them; he performed miracles for them, all to no avail. They weren’t interested and God leaves them to it.

I wonder if God has left us in Europe, Australia and North America to get on with it considering the vast majority have left him and his church.
Oh, he will always be there as Sovereign God, but not in the way he once was. His Spirit has departed.

Israel’s prophetic leader Samuel tells us twice later on after Isaiah that, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” This resulted in national disaster for Israel at the time. God’s Spirit can depart from any generation and he does not have to give us the reasons why. But the evidence why, is observable. Yes, a revival can take place and we pray for that, but so can the departing of God’s glory; his Shekinah glory.

When we hear such a message from Isaiah, we need to beware that we do not fall into the same trap as the Israelites did. Isaiah’s message is one we need to heed.

Beware of being too wrapped up in yourself.
Beware of a heart that is never satisfied.
Beware of a mind that looks for excuses not to believe.
Beware of an impulse that always finds a reason to delay a response.

Beware of thinking how the sermon applies to someone else.
Beware of thinking that you are not good enough.
Beware of thinking that you are good enough.
Beware of thinking what can I get, rather than what can I give.

Muggeridge writes when in his seventies; “When I look back on my life as I sometimes do what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd. For instance, success in all its various guises, being known and being praised, ostensible pleasures like acquiring money or seducing women or travelling to and fro over the earth like Satan. Exploring and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer. In retrospect all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, a licking of the earth.”

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The image shows, “God the Son,” by Viktor Vasnetsov, painted, ca. 1885-1896.

Why I Believe

Many think of Jesus as just an idea or as an interesting person. The Apostle John tells us to look at the signs. What direction do they point? Believe. Believe in Jesus who is the object of our faith.

The God of the bible is not what many sometimes think he is. For many of us God is like the Loch Ness Monster. Some people claim to have caught glimpses of him. But when you compare their stories, it turns out that they all have slightly different ideas about what they think they’ve seen.

Devotees have trawled the Loch with submarines and sonar equipment. Miles of film have been shot and thousands of photographs have been taken in countless attempts to capture conclusive proof of the monster’s existence.

But all we have to go on are a few grainy pictures that are just enough to keep our hopes alive. There is no proof that it exists. But then, there’s no proof that it doesn’t. So, people go on searching. And so, it is with God.

Most of us are open to the idea that there may well be someone out there, like God lurking in the darkest depths of the universe. We are curious about him in much the same way that an adopted child is curious about its biological parents.

We think that if we understood more about him, it might help us to understand more about ourselves. It might help us to fit some of the pieces together. But after years of searching we are like the philosophers; even if there is a God, we can’t know him. Well not really.

Once in a while we may stumble across a footprint, or think we see a flash of a tail. We may have some kind of spiritual experience. But like the Loch Ness monster, God seems to be keeping himself to himself in the depths.

John through his gospel repeatedly claims there is a God who is really out there using the evidence he calls signs. John uses signs for our benefit, but that makes little difference. Because we are a sceptical lot. We don’t put our trust in anyone, only the banks and financial markets.

We have come through the trials and tribulations of life. Family bust ups, divorce, relatives dying of cancer, addictions, wars, rape, lies, environmental carnage, suicide, disease, famine and pestilence to name but a few. Why should we trust someone like God with all this happening? It’s a fair question.

We have seen millions dying of poverty and drought and Islamic State chopping the heads of Christian’s. We want to know why God dosn’t seem to care or act. Why trust him? Maybe when we were younger, we used to be naive thinking that God was watching over us. But now that we have lived a bit we want to know where he was when his world needed him.?

If he cared you’d think he would come out of hiding. You’d think that he would do something to fix a few things and right a few wrongs. How can you trust someone when they don’t seem to be around the neighbourhood? Putting it in a nutshell many believe that God exists, but he is beyond my reach; and of course, there are people who are quite happy to settle for God to remain outside their reach.

The first thing we can say is that God has a face. God is not a person that we devise in our minds. He is the God who really is out there. Some people have pen pals from childhood days. They correspond with them over the years and before Skype was on the go.

As you correspond with them you start to think; I wonder what they look like, what sort of a person are they based on, what they have said about themselves. It’s really a guessing game. To know exactly what they are really like our only hope is for that person to come and make themselves known to us. John in his gospel is telling us that that is exactly what has happened. He sums this up in four words. Four words that show us that the God of the bible was not how I had imagined God to be.

Through Jesus Christ the God who is out there has come knocking on our door. John says; “the word became flesh.” He calls Jesus the word, (logos) because words inform us of who he is. And Jesus speaks to us about who he is and why he has come. Now some of us may think that Jesus is just another in the long list of religious leaders down through the years. But this is what John says about Jesus the Word. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”

What John is telling us is that the story of Jesus did not begin in Bethlehem as some imagine. In the beginning when the world was first created, Jesus was there with God. So, what sort of person would be with God from the beginning of time, space and history. They would have to be God. That’s what John says; “the word was God. Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made.” The word, Jesus; was not just with God from the beginning watching over everything, it was through him that God made the universe. Jesus created all life species.

From the ant to the elephant, from the shark to the eagle, from the daffodil to the mighty oak. He made life happen. Including forming and shaping us in his image, from the dust of the ground.; to where we will all return.
At a point in history there came a moment in time during the reign of Caesar Augustus, when the one who made the stars; became a tiny cell in the womb of an unmarried Jewish girl. This majestic God became flesh and bone. He has a face we can look into.

Jesus is not just one of God’s prophets or spokesmen, Jesus is God who left the splendour and majesty of heaven to come and live on earth for a period of time. Do we believe this so far?

The fact that Jesus is God; he came to us shows us three things about what God is really like. God has a face where the word became flesh. Secondly, he is committed to his creation. When God created the world, he looked at all of it and he said that it was “very good.” There were no imperfections or mistakes. Everything in nature worked together in unison; unlike today.

In the Garden of Eden and across nature there were no pestilences or famines or plagues or disease. It was like the Louis Armstrong song What a Wonderful World. “I see trees of green red roses too. I see them bloom for me and you and I think to myself what a wonderful world.” That’s what it was like.

But as we know sin entered into the world and changed everything. The wonderful world is still wonderful, but it has serious flaws and fault lines that run through it everywhere from top to bottom and from side to side.

The sin we inherited which can be traced back to Adam and Eve is prevalent in each and every human being. To sin is to be human. To be human is to be fallen.

Even though we see the problems we have created all around us and the way and manner in which we have walked out on God; he has not walked out on us. Environmental damage; habitat loss; and the decline in species has been caused by man not by God. God has placed everything on this planet we need although we have to work for it.

The story of the world begins with the creator. John tells us that there is a new beginning for the world and it begins with the creator. God is committed to his creation despite what we see and hear on the news; and bit by bit he will re-create.

The world of science wants to harness God by its formulations and theories, it wants to make God look like a fool and assert its place ahead of God. The machinations of man building the Tower of Babel is a classic example as is the modern-day EU European Union. But God is not an abstract force we can harness like the power of the wind or sea rather he is a person, a face, whom we can love. In other words, relationship is at the very heart of who he is. The Word made his dwelling among us.

When did God previously make his dwelling with his people to show them that he was committed to them? Remember the tabernacle was the tent; the tent of meeting that God told Moses to make when the Israelites were fleeing from Egypt through the desert. It was to be pitched in the centre of the camp as a symbolic reminder that their God was in their midst.

Then there was the pillar of cloud and fire which served as the visible evidence of God’s presence by which he guided them from Egypt to Sinai and then during their years in the wilderness.

By day, God went ahead of the people to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. Not only that Manna and Quail were provided daily by God for over a million people in the middle of a desert. God was there with his people every step of the way. God has come among us, through his Holy Spirit.

So, when we think of God somehow out there in the darkness and depths like the Loch Ness Monster or in the far reaches of the universe we have got it wrong. God comes to us to search for us and rescue us. The good shepherd who comes looking for his sheep.

In the bible there is no record of the lost shepherd being tracked down by the conscientious sheep. It’s always the other way around. We are the ones who have messed up and God is the one who comes looking for us. And when he comes, he comes to us not as a force that we are to harness, but with a face we are to love because of his commitment to us. This is good news for the world. Jesus came into the world as the light of the world to shine in the darkness.

The world is a dark foreboding place. The days are evil. God knows this. He has come to make sense of our lives and give us purpose and direction.
If there is anyone who can give us the right answers it has got to be God.
The world is in a mess; Europe is in a mess. God has the answers but we prefer to do things our way.

When God comes with the answers, he doesn’t just give us some carefully worded ones he becomes one of us. It would have been very easy for God to give us a written description of him and what he does and doesn’t do. But that would have been a cop out. God had a far better way. He came as the word made flesh and lived among people. This is what God is like. His love took him to us.

Part of our history going back to the middle ages portrays Jesus as a ghostly pale almost spectre like figure with a dinner plate stuck to the back of his head. It is often a great painting by one of the masters but it is poor theology, because it makes Jesus seem less than human. John talks about a God who became flesh. Flesh gets hungry and tired. It aches, it cries, it gets hurt. God became one of us in every way yet was without sin. Are you misunderstood by the people close to you? Jesus has been there.

Are you grieving? He has cried by the grave of a friend. Have friends let you down? He knows what it’s like to feel betrayed. Are you close to giving up? He knows exactly what you are going through.

God has a face and a mind and a body who understands us and someone we can relate to. John says; ‘the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the father full of grace and truth.’

We sometimes say to someone; “Go on then show us what you’re made of.” We are really asking that person to show us their glory; their true self. God’s glory is what God is like in all his brilliance. In Old Testament times no one could look on God’s glory and live. It would have been like standing to close to the sun. No one was allowed to see God face to face; it was forbidden. But all this changed, for Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to see his glory.

With Jesus we don’t just catch a fleeting glimpse of God, we can look into his face and see God in all his brilliance. Only it’s not the sort of brilliance we have in mind; no star dust. Jesus speaks about his hour of glory. He tells his disciples that there will come a crowning moment when his brilliance will be displayed for all to see.

When we think of someone’s hour of glory, we think of holding the World Cup aloft, or standing on the rostrum receiving a gold medal, or receiving an Oscar award or presented with a Nobel prize. That’s their 15 minutes of glory.

Jesus says that his hour of glory is the hour of his Death. It turns out that restoring each person to God took the death of Jesus on a cross. It is there that we see God in all his brilliance and glory. On a cross of shame.

This turns everything we have thought about God upside down. How can the crucifixion reveal the glory of God? It certainly reveals the brutality of the world. Only when you look to the cross of Jesus and see him crucified upon it and more to the point; why he was nailed to the cross will you ever see and understand your sin and his glory.

What is it about the cross of Christ which angers the world and stirs it to close its ears and persecute those who preach and live it out? It’s this; Christ died on the cross for you and me; sinners. Becoming a curse for us. The cross tells us then some very unsavoury truths about ourselves, namely we are sinners under the righteous curse of God’s law and we cannot save ourselves.

The Lamb of God bore our sin and curse precisely because we could gain release from them in no other way. If we could have been forgiven by our own good works, be being circumcised and keeping the law, we may be quite sure that there would have been no cross.

Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying. Nothing in all of history or in all of the world cuts us down to size like the cross. And we loathe the very thought of it.
All of us have inflated views of ourselves especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary.

It is there at the foot of the cross that we shrink to our true size. Let’s never forget. The word became flesh…… for us.

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The image shows, “The Lamentation” by Giotto, painted between 1304 to 1306.

A Reading Of Psalm 42

A potential danger we need to be careful of is when our ‘Feelings’ can badly mislead us if they are not controlled by a realistic grasp of the real world. Feelings do not always represent facts.

What do I mean by that? Many of the Psalms provide the reader with a biblical model where there is proper integration of Heart AND Mind. Often the Psalmist confesses the intensity of his feelings, but he never surrenders to mindless emotionalism. He always attempts to bring his feelings within the realm of God’s character and will.

We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. We are all complex and complicated creatures capable of good and evil; but we are prone to breakdowns. Whether it’s a broken toe or a broken mind, it can happen to the best of us.

We all have a temperament; some are fiery, some are happy go lucky, some are melancholy. We tend to be stuck with our temperament just like the animals in Winnie the Pooh.

Many Christians through the ages have had ‘unhappy moods’ we tend to call it ‘Depression’ today. William Cowper the hymn writer and the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon both knew depression. However, Depression is not necessarily a sign of spiritual weakness. It can be an opportunity for spiritual growth.

I doubt if there is any portion of the bible that demonstrates this point more dramatically than Psalms 42 and 43. Both Psalms actually form a single hymn and are very similar in content. “Why are you downcast, O my soul. Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.” This psalm was clearly written out of an experience of the most intense sadness of heart. It is a Psalm composed by someone in the midst of depression.

We will join these two Psalms together and try and answer the author’s own questions. What were the causes and symptoms of this depression; ‘Why are you downcast O my soul. Why so disturbed within me?

And then we look at the response to this depression. ‘Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’ As the deer pants for streams of water so my soul pants for you, O God.’ Here is a man who is depressed because he feels God is a long way away.

He likens himself to a drought-stricken animal sniffing at the dried-up river beds and longing for water but finding none. The experience of God’s presence seems to be equally elusive.

God has become inaccessible to him. If you have felt like that sometimes, do not despair; it is quite a common experience. We should always remember at this point that there is a huge difference in the world, between feeling forsaken by God, and actually being forsaken by God.

The two are worlds apart. This is where we need to be very careful about are emotional feelings and where objective truth really lies. Remember feelings do not always represent facts.

I think we can safely assume that the person who wrote this Psalm was a Christian. When a Christian is depressed, that depression almost invariably, results in a sense of spiritual desertion. What do I mean by that; I mean where Prayer becomes difficult, almost impossible. Bible reading becomes a chore. Any talk of peace and joy sounds unreal. God seems more like a very distant relative than a heavenly loving, Father.

God seems remote, not because he is remote, but because our depression makes us feel as though he is. The truth is that God is not remote. But as human beings we are complicated creatures, being made up of body, mind, and spirit, which are all joined together. Remember feelings do not always represent facts.

Therefore, one part affects the other, sometimes in an irrational way. So, we need to counter balance that with the objective truth as it is revealed to us in scripture. If our emotional make up is disturbed by certain factors it can affect our Spiritual awareness too.

Of course, depression can happen in a person’s life as a direct result of Spiritual factors as well as emotional ones. If we fall into sin and are therefore suffering the emotional consequence of sin, that is guilt, we may find within us a deep misery.

One cause of depression is Spiritual Isolation where God ‘feels’ as if he is remote and distant.

Another is Physical Isolation. The psalmist here was not suffering from the pangs of guilt or unbelief he was just physically isolated. He writes; ‘These things I remember as I pour out my soul, how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.’

This person sounds as if he was one of the Levitical singers in the choir at the temple in Jerusalem. The high point of his life had been the great religious festivals when he would take his privileged place at the head of the congregation leading them in through the temple gates for their annual services of celebration. But for one reason or another he could not, or was not allowed, to participate in those joyous occasions. Perhaps he was one of the exiles taken into Babylonian captivity and not allowed back.

Whatever the circumstances this person is homesick. He was deeply attached to Jerusalem. The city meant so much to him. Yet he was separated from it wondering would he ever see it again. We have all experienced being homesick which is enough to make anybody depressed. We all need physical roots, and when they are severed, we feel down unable to get up. He was also socially Isolated which is even worse. He says; ‘Men say to me all day long, where is your God?

Whether these men were unsympathetic fellow Israelites or vindictive Babylonians, it is clear he had no friends to confide in. His social environment was hostile and humiliating; ‘where is your God, they asked him with utter contempt.’ You claim to be a believer. Well, God isn’t doing much for you at the moment is he. Your god is only a myth. It had been comparatively easy to trust God in Jerusalem amidst all the joyful celebrations of the temple choir going into the house of God. But now things have changed.

He was on his own, without emotional support or personal encouragement from his friends. He was lonely. Loneliness can make you feel terribly sad; it is enough to make anybody feel depressed. God made us to be sociable creatures, gregarious by nature. When we are deprived of supportive relationships it really gets us down. With the collapse of family values and family structures in our society, one parent families almost the norm, we see the fallout all around us; with the NHS in the UK as but one provider, unable to cope with mental health issues.

With a combination of feeling that God is not there, and homesickness, it is bound to trigger depression of some sort. For him it wasn’t sin or lack of faith or the devil, which had produced this morbid mood. It was a perfectly natural consequence of the unfortunate situation he was in. Indeed, many of the symptoms he goes on to describe are typical of the kind of depressive reaction that anybody with a tendency to be melancholy experiences in such circumstances.

“My tears have been my food day and night.” He cannot stop crying. They have been his food; he has lost his appetite. You will see that the word “Downcast” is used a number of times.

There is no spark, no enthusiasm for anything; just a kind of inner fatigue. A sagging of the spirit. Depressed people often complain of being permanently tired.

He uses the word “disturbed” repeatedly. He experiences an emotional roller coaster; restless nights, sighs and moans from within. There is a feeling of being ‘overwhelmed’. Being drowned by their circumstances. I can’t get my head above water; a person may say.

And then culminating in all these symptoms are; feelings of Rejection. “Why have you forgotten me? His whole personality is being torn by a sense of loss. Like a lover jilted. Like a widow grieving for her husband. He feels bereft, devastated and heart broken. As a deer pants for streams of water so my soul pants for you O God.’ For him depression becomes a spiritual problem and not just an emotional one. He feels spiritually depressed but not because he is spiritually negligent in any way, but simply because he is a Spiritual person. Why are you downcast, why so disturbed within me?”

Like so many Christians in such a situation, this inspired poet finds himself bewildered and frustrated because he feels like this. As a believer he says; I shouldn’t feel like this. Why am I so downcast? What has happened to me? What has happened to me faith?

It is natural to ask questions like that. And though we ought Not to feel like this, there is no criticism or condemnation. Indeed, it could be argued that as this man wrestles with his depression it is not a sign of weakness; but of strength as he desires to be where he knows he should be, spirituality.

So, what then is the Response?? The first thing is to Face up to our feelings. Many depressed people try to find some escape from their emotions through alcohol, drugs, medication, or some other diversion. Others erect defensive barriers, and pretend to be OK.

If we are going to cope with depression satisfactorily, we must admit our feelings, look at them in the eye, to try and gain some insight into why we have got them. And that is what the psalmist is doing. It takes courage and strength to face up to the truth like that. Whatever the cause there is nothing to be gained by running away from that sort of admission. We must despite our pride, admit our negative feelings to ourselves and to God also.

In these Psalms look at the number of times he asks; ‘why’. The reason he is asking, ‘why’ so much, is not because there will be an answer, because in 99% of cases there isn’t; it is to do with exasperation that is boiling away inside.

A kind of repressed anger. Some incident, hurt, or loss, perhaps of a parent in childhood, or divorce, has often been the trigger. What happens is; that if that person is a Christian those angry feelings that are bottled up within, whatever their original cause may be, get transferred on to GOD. After all, he is our substitute parent, he is our father, he is supposed to be in charge. He is our rock, our stronghold. He is to blame for how I feel. It is far from unusual to find that a Christian suffering from depression feels inwardly angry with God. It is therefore vital if a person feels like that, that they need a release valve for those feelings. If we are angry with God, we need to find the courage to tell him so.

An incident is recorded in a novel, The Blood of the Lamb. The main character of the book has a daughter, and on her 12th birthday she dies of leukemia. The father finds himself devastated by the news right outside a church. He was still holding the birthday cake; he was taking to the hospital to try to inject some happiness into this special day in his daughter’s life. As he looks at the crucifix on the church wall; he suddenly explodes with rage and hurls the cake at the face of Christ.

Now, I have to say that I would NOT recommend people to follow this type of action. Some might even say it was intensely blasphemous. Perhaps it was; and yet there is a sense in which that is what Christ is on the cross for.

He is a symbol of anger, rage, and disgust. Where God the Father is showing anger and rage at his Son. That’s why Jesus cried out, ‘my God, my God why have you forsaken me.’? He is the symbol of the passionate anger of Almighty God against all the sin and wickedness of this world.

He is the symbol of that divine anger venting itself as a healing balm upon a hurting world. In one huge event of divine passion God reconciles himself to a hating sinful world. The pain God felt on the cross, was the same kind of pain that bereaved father was feeling.

The evil and the injustice and the fallenness of this sick world had stolen the person he loved best. God the Father felt the same at losing his one and only Son; but he allowed it to happen in order to reconcile us with himself, and bring healing to the world through his Son. His Son took our punishment, our shame and our sin, to give us the hope of new life, for all those who look to him and believe in him.

This is a huge subject and so we need to draw things to a close.

God is only to be truly known by people who are prepared to plumb the depths of their own human experience.

In other words, we need to get real with ourselves, real with God, and admit our weaknesses, our failings and our sin. That is the best starting point for any person. With so many people who come under the ‘banner’ of Christianity there is massive superficiality.

Generally, we are shallow Christians who have simply never met with God at this profound level that the Psalmist has. For the majority of us we have never really felt spiritually thirsty, a deep hunger for God’s word, or prayed desperately to God.

The whole intensity of this man’s spiritual life is totally foreign to us. Perhaps it’s because we have it so good. Like the LG logo; life is good. Why not pray today for a real encounter with the living God. Don’t be afraid to get beyond believing things about God. You will find that he is much more than you bargained for.

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The image shows one of the Servant Songs of Isaiah by Stuart Shelby.

Rebellion And Salvation

May I wish readers a happy and peaceful New Year. A New Year filled with the assurance of Almighty God, hope in Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we embark into a new Year New Year, we all need, a message of hope and assurance. What about a message of catastrophe? We have to understand the message of catastrophe first, before we understand the message of hope and assurance.

Let’s start with the facts. All parts of creation are damaged through the consequences of Sin; no one can argue with this fact. Everything has been affected, from a bumble bee, to polar bears and the Inuit, to rain forests and swallows. The once harmonious relationship between God and his creation has fragmented. The once original complimentary relationship between man and woman is darkened into rivalry and accusation.

The once intimate relationship between God and humans is distorted into evasion and rebellion. Instead all around us is, pain, travail, sweat, hate and death. Nothing is exempt from the catastrophe. Nothing is innocent in the catastrophe. Heaven and earth are implicated. Bacteria pollutes blood streams sickening both sinner and saint. Hailstones plummet out of the skies flattening the fields ready for harvest.

Liquid fire rips through the earth’s crust, engulfing, homes, animals, and birds. Rebel angels, disbarred from worshiping in the courts of heaven, infiltrate invisible world realms, twisting and deceiving the world’s nations. Gold and oil are more valuable than human life.  And human beings created in the image of God discover within themselves, often to their horror; they have heart’s that are desperately wicked and deceitful.

This is just a glimpse, a gloss of what goes on day by day. Month by month year by year. The catastrophe is beyond calculation; it is beyond man. Amazingly there is much beauty among the wreckage, such deep goodness, so much moral zest, blessing, active intelligence, good works; generosity of spirit that it is possible to live for long stretches, honestly unaware of the extent of the disaster. Just quietly getting on with life. Then suddenly it is inescapably upon us, around us, engulfing us, and we are in it. We feel utterly lost, we don’t know where we are, we don’t know who we are.

The catastrophe was caused Christians believe, by an act of disobedience and rebellion, going back to the beginning of time. An act designed to displace God with self. That is what most Christians believe. It is not a popular belief.

 The popular belief is that however bad things seem to be, there is no catastrophe. To face the fact of catastrophe would involve, at some point or other, dealing with God. Anything seems preferable to that. So, the devil doctors the report, and the world edits the evidence. Fake news surrounds us. People reduce their understanding of catastrophe to a level that is manageable without getting into the picture in any substantial way. The same act that caused the catastrophe, perpetuates it.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter. If there is no accurate understanding of the catastrophe that we are each part of, there can be no adequate understanding of Salvation; for salvation is about God’s action that deals with the human catastrophe.

Salvation is about God’s determination to rescue his creation; it is his activity in recovering the world. What is salvation about? Essentially Salvation deals with a person’s soul; a family, even a community. It is widespread as it touches sin and sickness. Even the most unlikely people experience salvation across the world. This author being one of them.

Is there an alternative to God’s salvation? Well, it’s salvation by any other means. As we go into another New Year many are being optimistic after the New Year celebrations. It’s nice to be optimistic. But being optimistic is being hopeful without actually relying on God.

There are two types of optimist. Maybe you can identify with one of them.

One is a moral optimist, who thinks that well intentioned gestures of good will, will eventually overcome the mountains of injustice, racism, wickedness and corruption. Applied often enough good will put the world gradually to right.

The other optimist is; the Technological optimist, who thinks that by applying scientific intelligence to the problems of poverty, pollution, climate change, social reform the world will also be put to right.

Both types of optimism are very helpful and beneficial; but neither form of optimism Worships God. Neither sees God as central to the problem. Some tiny space maybe given to God from time to time, but its limited. Now It may seem a bit ungracious about all this intelligence and good will at work. These people after all, are at least doing something to help alleviate the problems. But the bible has a different take on it and this is why the world view will always clash with what the bible says. The bible discerns that a spiritual evil motivates these many good actions.

It is the evil of ignorance or trying to outwit or deny God. Their efforts to live well, to help others, and improve the world are fuelled by a determination, conscious or unconscious, to keep God out of who they are and what they are doing. If people can rationalise and interpret this catastrophe around us as something much less than what it really is; they can deny their need of God for salvation; either for themselves or others around them.

This is what the devil going into 2020 wants you to believe; things aren’t as bad as what they seem. The state of your soul is fine, you’re a good person. It was British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who said back in 1957; ‘most of our people have never had it so good.’ Even many of our television sets bear the logo of the manufacturer LG; Life’s Good.

This optimism is so pervasive. It advertises itself so attractively, and chalks up so many awards, honours and achievements, that it is difficult not to be impressed, and then actually go along with it. The hysteria concerning climate change is a classic example.

It is much easier to believe this falsehood, because then we don’t have to deal with God. Dealing with God, and submitting to him causes many people problems. Because when we deal with God, we soon realise very quickly that we might have to re order our lives by changing our mind, our attitude, changing the way we do things, and turning away from the things God hates.

John one of Jesus’ disciples and the author of the book of Revelation tells us that Salvation is made up of two things. It is made up of A Meal and a War. They are not two things I would have picked. But this is what Jesus revealed to John to record for us. The meal and the war represent two opposites. When you think about it, they are very good examples. War is man’s doing. We are also at war with God internally in our soul. Must people cannot see this. We prefer to do things our way rather than God’s way. Therefore, we create an impasse between ourselves and God. Salvation is God’s doing not ours; brought about through a Meal.

Salvation always begins with a Personal Invitation which leads to a meal.

‘Happy is everyone invited to the Lamb’s marriage supper.’ verse 9. This is the primary way Christian’s are to remember, receive and share in the meaning of our Salvation. Christ is our example; crucified for us, his blood shed for the remission of our sins.

In the sacrament of The Lord’s Supper, we take the elements of bread and wine in our hands. As we do so we maintain continuity with the killed and risen Jesus who is our salvation. This is what we do in response to an invitation concerning our Salvation mean. Salvation for anyone always starts with an Invitation. Jesus invites you to accept him as your Lord and Saviour. He doesn’t make you, because he respects you too much; he invites you to receive him. In some parts of the world people are born as Muslims, they are born as Hindu’s. They automatically enter that faith.

Christianity is different. While a person may be known as a Christian; they are not known as a Christian in the eyes of God until they accept his invitation of Salvation. Which means, to honour God more than anyone else, and to submit to his authority, not your own. That’s what accepting the invitation means. To reject the invite means to keep on going the way you are going along the broad road of life. We nearly all eat three meals a day as routine. But when we want to celebrate a great occasion, a wedding, birthday or anniversary we use a meal as means of expressing that joy to mark the occasion.

Salvation should be no different. On the one hand is Christ on the cross and risen from the tomb, and on the other hand, it is eating bread and drinking wine. The two cannot be separated.

At the Lord’s Supper eating together is an act of trust and love among friends and strangers. We do not, if we can help it eat alone. We come together with others, with family and friends. We show basic courtesies at the table. It is the place where we learn consideration and forgiveness. Grace and humility. Every invitation to the Lord’s Supper acts as a defence against reducing salvation as something that takes place in the strict privacy of the soul. The meal makes it impossible to keep salvation as a private preserve between God and us in the inner depths of one’s soul. The Lord’s Supper is a basic meal for basic people. It’s a level playing field for all present. It is an accepted invitation to equality with one another before God.

This vision of John gives us hope and assurance over catastrophe.  John comes to the end of the Revelation Christ has given him Chapter 19 verse 11. ‘I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called faithful and true. With justice he judges and makes war.’ Here we see Christ on a white horse splendid and victorious, leading Christian’s in a triumphant victory over the dragon Satan and his two beasts.

Salvation is being won here. The two beasts responsible for so much confusion, delusion and suffering are disposed of.

A thousand years later in Chapter 20, the dragon, Satan, responsible for the catastrophe since Eden and the martyrdom of Christian’s, is thrown into hell with them. Why all three are not thrown into the lake of burning sulphur at the same time I do not know. God has his reasons. The last action belongs to God, in that every form and source of evil is banished and destroyed from history for ever.  

Our struggle on this planet is not against flesh and blood, in other words people; our struggle is against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil which orchestrate the wickedness on earth. Do not be deceived into thinking that we live in a benign neutral world. Do not believe the lies of the world that with economic growth, high employment, better health care, it will bring lasting peace and prosperity. There is an evil at work around us intent to deceive and destroy us.

What Salvation does is that it attacks our enemy. When Jesus taught us to pray; ‘deliver us from evil’; he was arming us for a life of Salvation. Not a life of ease. When you look at the Apostle Paul’s life around the Mediterranean Sea, he did not set up moral or ethical societies. He set up churches. He fought battles against the forces of evil. Yet he did not seem to be the least bit frightened or phased. He was always working from a position of victory knowing that on the cross Christ has defeated the devil. Therefore, there is nothing to fear in the act of fighting. Paradoxically the safest place to be is on the battle field for there you will find that Christ is real and active.

Sadly, many Christians have thrown the towel into the ring before the battle starts. They aren’t interested. The devil with his superior intelligence has deceived, accused and confused them. John describes him as; ‘the deceiver of the whole world.’ Yes, we may get bloody noses as Paul and many others did. But are we prepared to fight for Christ in his power and grace this incoming year, or take it easy?

Be of good cheer. God’s redemptive plan is being worked out and he wants us to help him fulfill it.

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The image shows, “The Fall of the Rebel Angels,” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1562.

What Are You Waiting For?

As Christmas approaches through Advent, we always seem to get busier and busier with jobs to do, gifts to buy, cards to write, food to prepare, events to attend. We push our way through crowded supermarkets and come home exhausted. Mind you there is shopping on line but it can be fraught as well especially when it comes up on your screen that the page has expired.

It can all become a burden as we wait for Christmas Day to arrive. How different it was for the Jews who waited for the Messiah to come that first Christmas. There is a story told in Luke Chapter 2 about two elderly people Simeon and Anna who were waiting.

Simeon was an old devout Jew who was waiting patiently for the promised Messiah. He had been told by God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. So, what did he do? He didn’t complain, or sulk. He didn’t give up when God did not answer immediately. Instead he went to the temple to worship God, the place where God met his people. He had been there many times over many years but this time was very different from all the others.

I wonder what Simeon was expecting to see. A vision, a revelation from God, an angelic warrior prince to drive out the Romans. Was he really expecting to see a baby? An eight-day old baby in his mother’s arms. Nothing is more helpless than an eight-day old baby. (we know Jesus was only 8 days old because under Jewish law a child had to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. Circumcision signified the separation of the child from a life of sin and death to a life lived for the Lord). Simeon being a regular worshipper would have noticed a young couple walk in and know immediately they were different.

Anyone who has been inside Westminster Abbey London will know that it would take you a couple of days to even find your bearings due to its sheer size. This temple in Jerusalem was on a 35-acre site. It was massive, filled with different courts, chambers, sacrificial areas, corridors and gardens. It would take very little to get lost inside it. But God leads his people to the right place at the right time. He does it even today. But sometimes we have to wait. Even for a long time.  Simeon appears and takes the infant Jesus in his arms and immediately sings a song about him.

He had given a lot of thought to the words he was going to sing as he had been thinking about this moment for a very long time. It is the last song he will ever sing. When you are happy, we sing a song generally don’t we. We sing in the shower, we sing in church, we sing when our favourite team scores a goal because we are happy. Singing is good for the soul. Simeon blessed the family and then he utters a prophecy. He did not question God about his choice of a Messiah coming as a baby. He thanked God for he saw in this helpless baby a light to reveal God to all the nations of the world.

In our society, the story of Christmas is represented nowadays as a sentimental happy one. But there is also a dark side to it. Simeon had difficult words to say to Mary and he didn’t refuse to say them. Simeon told her that the baby would be rejected by many; as well as bringing great joy to many. His words prepared Mary for the pain that she would suffer in the future. Life for us is often full of suffering too.

At Christmas, we cannot forget the suffering of others. In the birth of his Son, God was identifying with the poor, the weak and suffering of this world.It is very tempting to concentrate on our own families at Christmas and ignore the needs of others.  

Simeon was not the only one waiting for the Messiah. To the temple that same day came an elderly widow called Anna. She was over 90 years of age and a prophetess. Her reaction to seeing the baby was one of supreme joy. She began praising God and she talked to everyone she met in Jerusalem about Jesus.

A ninety odd year old going about telling others of Jesus; this is something all of us need to do more often. It is good news we should not keep to ourselves.

Anna like Simeon was also guided by the Holy Spirit at the right time towards Mary and Joseph. We are not sure how she would have seen this family in those days with no glasses and probably in a dimly lit area. But God led her right to them. What a moment that was for her after a ninety year wait. When she came in contact with the infant Jesus and his parents, she was over joyed giving thanks to God. And then we don’t hear anything more about Jesus or his parents for 12 years

What does this short story involving these two elderly people say to us today? There are a few things. Those who love God like Simeon and Anna need to be always tuned into God, and be ready to go where he wants them.  Because Simeon and Anna were tuned into God through their faith, they went to the right place at the right time.

If they had not responded to the leading of the Holy Spirit, they would have missed baby Jesus. And they would have still been waiting.  Its so easy to get distracted with other things that we might even consider important. 

Secondly to see Jesus is to see God; and his salvation. To see Jesus is to see God’s light and revelation. No other God, person, or thing can offer a person salvation apart from Jesus. When Jesus preached to the people, he told them that he, was the ‘light of the world, and whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.’

Jesus does not mention anyone else or any other method. Of course, we don’t see Jesus today the way Simeon and Anna or the 12 disciples or the woman at the well, or Pontius Pilate; saw Jesus physically in front of them. We see Jesus in a different way. He points out to us or speaks to us, in our inner being, in our mind and in our heart, that we need to come to him and love him for who he is. He tells us to repent and believe in him.  We need to be alert to God’s leading. To see Jesus is to see God; and thirdly what do we want for Christmas?

What do we want for Christmas? Simeon and Anna waited for a long time to get what they wanted and they got it. And when they got it, they were overjoyed. With salvation comes joy. Joy within your soul, knowing that God has forgiven you and granted you his presence every day of your life through his Holy Spirit. Is it any wonder Simeon sung a song, and was able to say;’ now dismiss your servant in peace’. Isn’t that lovely. I go to my grave in peace because of you God. I am content. How many of us can say that.?   

 Some of us old enough might remember the song; ‘All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth’. We can laugh at it. Mind you I wouldn’t mind getting a couple of new front teeth. What do you want this Christmas? What are you waiting for? Maybe its another relationship, maybe it’s the man or woman of your dreams, or the big house, or the exotic cruise, or the next party, or the insurance pay out.

Do you know that the devil convinces us that some of these things or even all of them can bring us true peace and contentment? It’s the greatest lie ever spun. Through this strategy he seeks to make us not content but discontent. That I believe is the greatest scourge in the world today because If we are discontent, there is no inner peace. We are not content with Brexit, we are not content with our salary, we are not content with our condo; we are not content with a court finding until we get the verdict we want.

We are not content with how a country operates; we want to meddle in it, which is how wars start. We are not content with our wealth, we are not content with our health and how we look, we are not content with our sexuality; we are not content with our lives. All of this impact’s society and our lives. And it’s killing people.

And if it’s not killing them its driving them to suicide, depression, despair and substance abuse.  I was talking to a school teacher a few weeks ago about Christmas. She has three primary school children of her own. She said to me, ‘you know I have no idea what I am going to buy my children at Christmas because they have everything they want.’ Not what they need; but what they want.

Imagine by the age of 10 you have everything you want. And then people wonder what’s going wrong in the world. And if you have everything you want you have no need of God. Why would you?  Read the bible it will tell you what’s gone wrong with the world and with people. It will also tell you how a person can have true peace in their heart not just at Christmas but every day of the year.

I hope that each of us will be able to say at some point in our lives; ‘for my eyes have seen your salvation’ and truly know the peace of God granted to us by the Prince of Peace.

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The photo shows, “Christ Taking Leave of the Disciples,” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, painted between 1308-1311.

The Persecuted Church

The situation is not a good one in the Middle East if you are a Christian family.

The chances are you will either be persecuted or you become a refugee and in most cases both.

Historically in Iraq there were up to 7 million Christians until the invasion of Islam in 633AD (then known as Mesopotamia) which was designed to wipe out Christianity, its culture and tradition. It has never recovered since. IS have recently added to the persecution.

In many towns and cities across the middle east the mullahs announce from the minarets that all Christian’s are to leave immediately otherwise every one of them will face consequences or death.

There are 5 million orphans in Iraq; with Yemen, Kuwait and Qatar etc giving them money to be terrorists.

In one of the cities in Lebanon there are many Syrian and Iraq refugee Christians.

The church started out with 75 then 750 and now averages around 1500 believers and growing, There are 40 mid-week prayer groups.

What is happening on the ground? Many Muslims are coming to faith in Christ. Their thought their religion was infallible but now Sunni and Shia are at war with one another. Deep divisions exist between the two. The god they believed in no longer seem to be the god they can trust. Many Muslims in Iraq are coming to Christians to see if they can pray in Christian churches and ask for healing especially for their children. When Arabs come for healing and are anointed by oil, they believe they will be healed by a Christian priest.

Many people including children in Iraq have genetic defects caused by the bombing and nerve gas used in the Gulf war of 1990 and the Iraq War in 2003 which lasted 8 years.

Christians are giving Muslims food and sharing with them The Muslims ask ‘why does our enemy do this sort of thing. Why are they giving clothes and food to us’?

More Muslims have come to faith in the last 5 years than in the last 1500 years. This is a fact. This is the key to the gospel and the key to how the people move on with issues concerning the past in Northern Ireland. The past haunts the country. The longer it goes on people become more entrenched in their stance. How do you make an enemy your friend? This is the conundrum that nobody can figure out.

Politicians don’t even understand this basic question. How do you make an enemy your friend? By bombing them?

By reaching out to them; what does Jesus says; ‘you have heard that it was said love your neighbour and hate your enemy; but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you may be sons of your father in heaven. Is Jesus, right? Of course, he is. But it’s costly. It’s sacrificial.

Jesus says; ‘a person must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’. Taking up your cross is voluntary.

Local pastors say that many countries had withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria because of the danger. But they themselves are Christ’s ambassadors; they cannot leave. The church from those early days in Straight St must be kept going. Christians fed by the word of God. They must stay and deny themselves as they take up their cross.

But many leave to because they cannot take any more and end up displaced or in refugee camps, where they are often persecuted even in the camps.

Persecution is a ‘Blessing’ for many. It drives people to fasting for days and praying and begging the Lord to tear down the citadels and strongholds of Satan.

People coming to faith are being released from sin and darkness.

Coming to church hungry to hear the word of God. Not looking at their watches in church services, not wanting to leave the church.

Praying for Revival with God’s spirit blowing into the hearts of Arab Christians, revival blows away the cobwebs of apathy, and affluence and hate. Pray that God would call people to be prayer warriors as not all Christians are gifted in this way. Praying for Satanic strongholds to fall and they are falling.

Christians are thanking the Lord for persecution.

A Christian Teacher in Pakistan was appointed principal of a local school. He had the qualifications and ability way ahead of other applicants. Muslim Parents came and told him to mark their children present in class when they were absent. He refused.

They took him outside and beat him up badly. He had to stay off school. Then they spread rumours that he wasn’t fit for the job. Then they accused him with blasphemy. Blasphemy carries death penalty.

An 8-year-old Christian girl was locked in the toilet all day by the teacher when Muslim girls complained that she should not be allowed to use the toilet. Persecution is spreading across all of sub-Sahara Africa. Yet people are being spoken to through dreams and visions just like Acts 2:15-. New life is sprouting up after the forest fire. Revival, persecution, blessing.

The Berlin Wall came down through prayer; the Communist Wall came down through prayer;

The Roman Catholic church will be refined. The Arab Muslim wall is falling apart. Do you think God is behind this? This is unprecedented. We are living in unparalleled times. This has all happened in the last 25 years; that’s pretty quick, don’t you think? Let’s think about what is going on instead of being blinkered and duped by Satan. Persecuted Christians need our help.

Arab Muslims are lost; their faith is a sham, it’s totally false. Mohammed was a fraud and a trickster. Oil money cannot buy them eternal life. God is highlighting this to the world. Look at the state of their countries. Even Saudi Arabia the lynch pin of the Arab world is in a mess.

They are building a wall 600 miles long between themselves and Iraq to the North to keep IS terrorists out. And this is against their fellow Muslims not Christians. Sunni are fighting Shia and vice versa. Look at what happens at Mecca.Many have been killed in stampedes with a crane falling on them 4 years ago at the Hajj pilgrimage. Lightning struck the crane before it fell over at the biggest mosque in the world designed to hold more than 2 million people. Is this all just chance?Saudi Arabia has spent billions on creating a highway for the pilgrims to reach Mecca. The design of this concrete highway was supposed to bring more pilgrims into Mecca instead it has caused chaos.

 Rev Farouk believes we are living in the last days but not just yet. He is only one man but there are many Arab believers who have the same opinion.

Much of what he says is based on Isaiah 19 which talks about Egypt, Assyria and of course Israel. There are of course many other prophetic passages in scripture concerning the end times especially in the book of Daniel.

But one thing is certain; the future of the Middle East is going to determine the future of the world. The covenant God made with Abram still stands. Genesis 12 v 3. ‘I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ The sequencing of events and time scale we do not know. But read it for yourself. If you read Isaiah you will see a list of the Arab nations where God will bring judgment to each one of them. Arabia, Assyria, Babylon now Iraq, Ethiopia, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel. It’s all there in black and white. Israel in particular will endure suffering prior to her deliverance by the Lord.

Egypt like many Muslim nations will disintegrate from the inside the seeds have already been sown. But the Lord will make himself known to Egypt and heal that nation.We live in a time of great economic and political unrest and upheaval.

Europe is in a mess and the majority of British politicians’ post Brexit have decided they want the nations sovereignty to be solely in the hands of Brussels despite a vote by the people wanting the very opposite.

The leaders we elect really haven’t got a clue. One day they decide to bomb Syria, then they say no. Next week they say bomb some parts of it. Change their minds, They don’t know who to bomb. Now things have gone quiet and no one knows what’s happening. The international community is afraid to act now in Yemen. Meanwhile the innocent are slaughtered.

 ‘Nation will rise against nation’. Matthew tells us in chapter 24 that the disciples came to Jesus and asked him about the signs of the end of the Age. ‘Tell us’, they ask the Lord, ‘when will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age’. They were as interested and concerned as we are today.

Jesus calmly tells them in a general way; ‘you will hear of wars and rumours of wars’. See that you are not alarmed; for this must take place; but the end is not yet.’ It’s only the start, and it has started. All the beginning of global birth pains.

For Jesus to come again which he has promised repeatedly to do there will be thousands and millions of believers which he will gather up.

Jesus is not coming to gather up a few hard-pressed believers and a non-existent church. He will come in glory to gather his people up.

There will be millions and millions of Christians across the world he will take up to heaven. Will you be one of the many? Think carefully.

Jesus in the last 14 verses of Revelation 22 tells us 3 times that he is coming soon. Mark in your bibles where he says that. V7.12,20. He doesn’t say he will be coming in another 20,000 or 50,000 years. He is coming soon. The hour is near.

People will come to faith in the middle east. Millions of them. The cradle of Christianity. St Augustine of Hippo home patch. The Christian faith where it all began with Paul’s missionary journeys will return.

You see people think they can play God. They have always thought that. The Eurocrats in Brussels shake their fists at God and all that he stands for.

Their arrogance and intransigence can be traced even from the Tower of Babel. ‘Let us make a name for ourselves’, they said as they began building in defiance of God. The Lord in his mercy dispersed the people. Later during the Exodus God called them a ‘stiff necked people. Rev Farouk tells an amazing story.

At one of his prayer groups in the church attended by around 700 people. Yes, a prayer group of 700 people in Iraq. You see what happens with corporate prayer with this number of people. The devil’s strongholds fall down.

As he was speaking a small man came into his church. (Like Zacchaeus) Little tuna he called him.

He had body guards with him who ushered him to the very front pew of the church.

There he sat with 6 bodyguards around him. After he spoke, he asked people if they would like to be prayed for.

Rev Farouk went to the man and asked him would he liked to be prayed for. He said he would. And within minutes there was a pool of tears on the floor.

After the meeting Rev was told that a man wanted to see him in his office. When he went it was the little man with his body guards. He asked the Rev did he know who he was. Rev said no. He said I am the President’s personal advisor. I advise him in all his political affairs.

He went on and told Rev about how as a child of 6 years he was made to watch his parents being hacked to death by Saddam’s guards. He was so shocked he could never cry.

Later He was thrown into prison and tortured. Again, he was unable to cry with the pain. But now God was providing a way of healing for him and for his soul. He is now a member of the church.

This is a truly amazing turnaround for any individual. But all things are possible with God. Thank goodness.

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The photo shows, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s “The Martyrdom of St Andrew,” painted between 1675 and 1682.

Climate Change And Truth

The following is a brief non-scientific response to a climate change article that appeared recently in a Christian topical magazine in Northern Ireland. This article remains unpublished by the editor of the magazine. Sadly, different views on climate change other than the media’s secular left are rarely represented.

In the book of Genesis after God created man and woman in his own image, he gave them certain instructions namely; ‘be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it’. ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’

There are numerous other passages in scripture concerning the environment, including flora and fauna and man’s relationship with them. Interestingly there are no specific passages relating to what we would understand now as ‘climate change’. You might say, then it’s ok to pollute and destroy the world God has made? No, it’s not. We are still to take ‘care’ of His creation. It is a specific instruction from God, for us to carry out.

Sir David Attenborough recently presented a programme on BBC 1 about the looming disaster of ‘climate change’. He begins, ‘right now we are facing the greatest threat in thousands of years. Scientists across the globe are in no doubt that at the current rate of warming we risk a devasting future.’

Throughout the programme Sir David and other like-minded scientists portrayed a doomsday scenario repeatedly stating that this was a ‘man made’ disaster of global proportions due to mankind’s involvement in the increase of carbon emissions. He further says; ‘the scientific evidence is, that if we do not take action, we face the collapse of our societies’.

His case is built on scientific research and his words designed to provoke mass hysteria.But are we to believe everything that Sir David and many climate scientists say is true? And more importantly where does God fit into all this?

Sir David over many decades has brought into our living rooms the beauty and wonder of nature, and more recently the horrendous pollution of the oceans and its devastating effects on marine life. We thank him for his commitment and enlightening our minds to the beautiful yet fragile world of nature.

However, there are gaping holes in his analysis. . Sir David as a passionate evolutionist has no time whatsoever for theism. He and many of the IPCC scientists who back up his analysis have the same outlook. In other words, they have ‘exchanged the truth of God for a lie.’ Humans contribute to, but do not cause climate change.

It is God himself who controls the climate. A cursory read from Job chapter 36 will confirm this. ‘He draws up the drops of water’ v 27. God is responsible for water vapour, and clouds, not mankind. Psalm 24 states, ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.’ The climate is his. He is responsible for it. ‘Seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.’ Do Christians really believe this?

Radical environmentalism promotes its own world view and its own version of the origin and meaning of life. It goes without saying that these man-made doctrines are in total conflict to what the bible says and teaches.
The bible begins with God as creator and sustainer; not man. . The IPCC are a large body of like-minded scientists. . But who pays their salaries? And who pays for their research?

Billions of pounds, dollars, and euros, are poured into this field of ‘climate change’ to ensure the correct political answers. Wind farms and solar panels are morally a good idea but extremely limited. But what’s in it for these companies who are financed by government subsidies? I assume they get richer. Do we see evidence for the re distribution of their wealth? That’s another debate.

The key word for much of the ‘evidence’ that is presented is; predicted. Predictions as we all know are seldom accurate. Predictions and facts are two very different things. There is climate change because there has always been and always will be climate change.

The overall climate has increased by roughly .8 degrees c which when globally measured is relatively insignificant. The climate change facts and graphs we are presented with are ‘predicted’ by feeding readings and assessments into computing systems for the desired analysis. Which in turn become ‘facts’. But are they the truth? Over stating possible outcomes has become the norm.

What is the chemical makeup of the earth’s atmosphere? Wikipedia states; 78.09 nitrogen, 20.75 oxygen, 0.93 argon, 0.04 carbon dioxide. Are we to believe that 0.19 of carbon dioxide will reach epidemic proportions threatening the existence of human life? On NASA website we can see clearly that the earth is getting greener because of the slight increase of carbon, which has increased food production. Plant life and the biosphere need carbon to grow and develop as well as the human body.

Environmentalism used to be a non-political, unbiased campaign to help guide humanity to look after the environment and take care of it. Today it is anything but. It has become the new religion of the age. It and other aligned groupings policed by the media are not allowed to voice a contrary opinion. Concerning climate change the BBC inform us, ‘the matter is now closed, scientific evidence is conclusive.’

I note that Creationist theology is rarely if ever mentioned in any climate change debate. One can only assume that’s because it is not relevant. It has no kudos. It is cool and trendy to worship creation rather than the creator. Current secular thinking believes scientific enlightenment will sort the earth’s climatic problems out with God incapable of such a task.

Climate change is not an exact science and if man believes that he has it sourced through his elite so called superior knowledge; humanity is in deep trouble.

Another error climate scientists make is to compare like with like. In the world of climate change no two areas of land mass are the same. No two oceans or seas are the same. No two forests are the same. No two mountain ranges are the same. Yet the Arctic and the Antarctic are somehow equally compared. They are not the same. How they remain cold and freezing differ dramatically mainly due to deep sea currents. Sea ice in the Artic has decreased but in the Antarctic it has increased. More enlightened minds than mine can explain this.

NASA observes the recent warming on Mars, Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto. The warming of these planets is proportional to warming on Earth. Yet these planets have no jumbo jets or SUV’s.

Might it have something to do with the Sun getting warmer rather than increased man-made carbon dioxide? The sun and the moon according to the bible control the seasons and the climate. They were placed there for that reason.

Climate change is a mystery and will remain so. The El Nino and La Nina ocean changes are only recently discovered phenomenon which we know little or nothing about, yet are essential. . It is not for us to ‘give orders to the morning or shown the dawn its place’. When we do this, it highlights the sheer arrogance and foolishness of the over privileged who seek to tell the rest of us what we must do, and not do. And how we are to live our lives according to a vociferous political agenda. Paul writing to the Corinthian Church encountered similar elitism; ‘But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.’ 1 Cor 1: 27ff.

We should all strive to be environmentalists in our own way. We are not to sit on our hands bemoaning the many problems the world faces. Let’s help creation in a biblical way remembering that God still sustains the heavens and the earth. One wonders what ever happened to the campaign to stop the destruction of the rain forests back in the eighties? Or the gigantic hole in the ozone layer.

The tropical rain forests can absorb roughly a third of global carbon emissions. More projects should be encouraged and financed by the UN and the World Bank like the Great Green Wall that is transforming much of Sub-Sahara Africa and countering the effects of climate change, migration and desertification. God placed the tropical rain forests there for a reason, to act as a giant atmospheric filter. Sadly, we have all contributed in some way to its destruction.

As for me in my limited capacity I hope to plant a native woodland, to try and restore the imbalance. The scientific elite and academia can get on with manufacturing their own political agenda.

In closing I read that in the recent Science journal after much soul-searching a leading scientist in the editorial simply concludes; ‘plant more trees’. A very good idea. In short, the Climate Change hysteria is totally unfounded, and without any biblical foundation.

Rev Alan Wilson is a recently retired Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland. He was a former Police Officer during the ‘troubles’ before going into the ministry. He is married to Ann and they are now proud grandparents of Jacob and Cora. He enjoys keeping Alpaccas, gardening, watching football and learning how theology relates to the environment and the world at large. He and his wife spent a summer Exchange in 2018 with a Presbyterian Church in Toronto.

The photo shows, “View from Mount Holyoke,” by Thomas Nash, painted in 1836.