These Things

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Philippians 4:8

 

Hallowe’en goes under another couple of names. The harmless ‘trick or treat’ being the most used by kids, and then there is the ‘saint or sinner’ theme which is by far the most prevalent in the party scene. These two phrases are very telling, and show us both sides of the festival.

 

The bright and light side is the sight of happy and innocent kids, running from door to door to tell a joke or sing a song, or if they are young and cute, just to hold out a plastic carrier bag asking on their behalf to add some sweets to the already laden booty. The kids are pleased and happily go away to ‘trick’ their next neighbour into giving them a ‘treat’. Yes, I believe harmless and innocent at their tender age.

 

However, the ‘saint or sinner’ party theme gets a lot more sinister or suspicious in my mind. Take a look at the party goers. See many saints? Nope. Saints don’t fit with the image of the night of sin. Oh, that’s a bit harsh I can hear you whisper under your breath? Really? Hallowe’en is marked by creatures like, werewolves, ghosts, witches, vampires, zombies, the undead, and the list could go on. We are done with the pirate costume, because it isn’t scary enough. Isn’t that what it’s about, being scary? I don’t think so. I believe it is to give many the excuse to be as sinful as they want, under the ‘guise’ of makeup and a costume.

We have come to celebrate, yes celebrate, the darker, satanic side of the unseen world, and we think it is not only acceptable, but to be relished. How slow we are to see the truth, even when it stares us in the face. For those older kids, who have put the innocence of a good time collecting sweets behind them, we have adults who know better. Yes, I do believe they know better. They know that under the make up and ghoulish costume is an excuse for sin waiting to be exercised. Or maybe that should read ‘exorcised’. So take a second glance at the verse at the top of this piece. How many of those attributes do you see in the adult celebration of the devil’s night? So, for me, roll on the 1st of November which is aptly named ‘All Saints Day’. We don’t do much celebrating of that day, do we? I wonder why? Just asking.

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Why Church?

Why do we have churches in our towns and communities? Do you think they are antiquated and no longer needed? After all what purpose do they have? Great questions, and I would not be surprised to know that you have asked these questions yourselves. I know I have.

 

Have you wondered why we have so many non government backed charities, or good works set up in our communities? Who are the most likely to visit the sick without being asked, or paid? Think about your friends, and ask yourself who would be most likely to care about you? Who are the most likely (but not the only!) people to work on a voluntary basis in a food bank, or charity shop, or in a hospital? Whoever they are, our very fabric of society depends on their willingness to help, and one thing is certain. They are good people. Let me make another suggestion. Many will be Christians, and attend one of these ‘no longer needed’ churches.

 

It will not surprise you to know, that these good people don’t do good works to make them suitable for church. It’s the other way round. Most will go to church, and in their own hearts will want to reach out as a result of their commitment to Jesus Christ, not their church. Surprised? The fact is, none of us are good enough in our own right, for heaven, but with our confession of sin (now there’s an old word!) and God’s forgiveness, we want to reach out for no other reason than we care. It’s really quite simple, and often overlooked.

So, next time you walk past a church, and wonder what goes on inside, and what kind of crazy people go there, step inside and be amazed. With an open heart and mind, who knows what will happen inside your own heart, and spill over into other lives!

Winners and Losers

It was called “having a flutter”, but things have moved on, and is called progress, but I am not so sure. Have you noticed the number of TV ads and businesses, whose sole purpose in life is to take our money. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, because we are handing these businesses our money very willingly it seems.

 

The UK is full of newspaper, magazine and TV adverts for those ‘harmless’ gambling establishments. You can bet online, so you don’t have to go into any of those dingy betting shops, so you can lose your cash in the comfort of your living room. There are Bingo games everywhere as well, and have you noticed that everyone is a winner? All those happy ladies (yes they are shown as women) win every time. No losers. Great!! But the biggest doozies of them all are the nicely named ‘payday loan companies’ who will give you cash in a minute, online, and at a mere APR of 300% to 3,000%. Easy peasy, right? Then the scam of the country has to be the Lotto with winning odds of 14 million to 1 for the big prize.  

 

You would think we are a pretty smart nation. After all, we know that gambling is not harmless, and we also know that there are many more losers than winners. As for paying 3,000% APR? Surely we are not that daft are we? Sorry, but on every level, we are that daft and even dafter, because we believe the lies, and we keep going back to donate our hard earned cash to line the pockets of these aggressive fleecing industries. The sad thing is, they don’t even have to try very hard to convince us to part with our money.

 

Whatever happened to the ethic that we worked to earn our money, and we were good stewards when we got it? You must remember the time when work was hard, and every penny was important? My old Mum had a saying, “A fool and his money are easy parted”! Not good english, but wise and true. It seems nowadays that everyone wants an easy ride to the millionaire lifestyle, and no one wants to work for it. After all, there are so many winners shown on TV. In fact everyone is a winner. How come then that there are families and children who suffer because their dad, and yes even their mum get hooked on the lie that money is going to appear right out of their laptop screen, or they will have a deck chair on that luxury yacht? So they celebrate on the strength of their certain winnings?

High horse? Did somebody say I was on my high horse? Too true, because I have seen the tragedy of an unfettered gambling addiction on young children who played no part in their parent’s decision to put their last pound on a horse, or the bingo card, or the lottery, and when the money was done, there was no food. Never mind, now they can go to the payday loan company, who take no prisoners, and have no scruples! Seems there is a winner right there. Sad, isn’t it?

Looking Back

There are times in your life when you just have to take a look back over your life so far. How did I get here? Were there any problems or casualties that I might have avoided? Did I offend someone without knowing at the time, but wish I could change things now?

 

Be honest now, it’s not just old(er) people who look back. I reckon you had a glance over your shoulder when you became a teenager, got engaged, married, had each child, when a loved one passed away, or when you became an official OAP (Big Hint!). It’s normal, natural, and it’s human. In truth, the older you get, the more there is to look back on with thanks, or maybe regret.

 

At times of reflection it is important to remember some promises at our disposal as God’s children, because we are not the first or only people to find ourselves in this place, and we will not be the last. That’s for sure. Our past, at any age, is littered with a combination of happy and sad memories, but we have a powerful advocate in the person of Jesus Christ who stands between us and God. Look at it this way. We can (and should) learn from our bad decisions, while also being thankful to God for all those many good memories which far outweigh anything else we have experienced. Take heart from these verses, and remember hindsight is 20/20:

 

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 NIV

No test has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tested, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV

Social(ism)

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Acts 4:31-35 NIV

 

The US government is in real trouble. They have maxed out their credit card, and are in danger of defaulting on their interest payments, which is a national tragedy, and an international embarrassment. You would think the two party system would be able to get together to make sure there is no danger of default. In the words of the UK meerkat TV ad, *simples*, but not so fast Tonto. It don’t work like that!

 

Hatred reigns, thinly disguised as political wisdom in the form of the dreaded social medicine policy that is Obamacare. Simply put, that means making medical care more readily available to poorer people. Oh, too simple? Ok then, it means giving medical care to some folks who haven’t paid into the system adequately. It comes down to this: No medical care if you don’t have the right insurance cover, and we all know that insurance companies just hate (there’s that word again) to pay out. So, disadvantaged people don’t get good healthcare cover. They are second class citizens.

 

This was put into context for me by a US politician, who said there was a deep fear and distrust that Obamacare was a socialist doctrine, with no place in the free society that is the USA. Wow! That made me sit up. This senior politician was a Republican (of course). I put the verses up front, and I hope you read them carefully. I will paraphrase it this way: After prayer, and making all things common, they shared and had no needy person among them. Now I hate (that word again) to state the obvious, but there appears to be a direct link between the free economy Republican position, and the US evangelical churches, especially in the Bible belt. Do these well intentioned folks (I am giving the benefit of the doubt) not know the difference between being social-ly responsible, and social-ism? Apparently not, and in the meantime America shows its true heart, and it is not a heart for others, as the Apostles, or Jesus would teach.

Apologies to my US/Republican friends. Maybe I have it all wrong, so tell me where my misunderstanding lies. have I possibly misinterpreted Scripture? Is it all too complex for a mere Scot to take in? At this point I have to point out that Adam Smith was Scottish too. In the ‘self evident truth’ wording of a famous document, ‘All men are created equal’. Really?

Reconciliation

It can mean reaching out to bridge a gap when a relationship is broken, and that can be between people, within business, or in church circles where it can be between us and God. We can even make it personal and make that much needed reconciliation between my/your own sinful life and a loving and forgiving God.

 

Reconciling something can also mean trying to balance in our minds the difference between what someone says, and what they do. We do it all the time, and in almost all areas of our life. We do it without thinking when we drive, or shop. Does the car indicator mean what it says? What does he mean when he flashes his headlights at a crossroads. Does the newspaper headline tell me the whole story, or is something hidden? We balance our decisions on a regular basis.

 

Sadly, we have to do it in church too. Do we live those things we claim to believe? Do our lives reflect the teaching of the church denomination, but most important of all, does my life balance out with the teaching of the Word of God as set out in the Old and New Testaments? Reconciliation at its root, and by its very nature is personal. It comes down to you or me being true to our word, and living the life that our faith says we believe.

Now it’s question time. What do we do when faced with a sincere Christian who looks on and says they have a serious difficulty in reconciling some church practices, with the  teaching of the New Testament as he sees it? What if the person is a good and sincere friend? What if you see these same practices in your own church? What if you are unsure, but can’t bring yourself to face the imbalance, or the fact that reconciliation may be needed? But here is the biggest question: what if your friend is just plain wrong? That, I believe, is when the Spirit given fruit of discernment and love must be used

He’ll Never Know

I was about 10 years old and because I was the only boy, and eight years younger than my sister, I got away with a lot. The 1950s was a good time to grow up. Even though the nation was just recovering from the ravages of war, and food was not plentiful, freedom was not taken lightly, and we were trusted. Trusted to act properly, and above all to tell the truth. We didn’t know it, but we were being taught thankfulness and integrity at the same time.
 
My dad was a good and Godly man. He was easy to look up to, respect, and love. We didn’t talk much about love then, but we knew it and could feel it. Love was all around us, and tangible. However a love like that has to be tested, and even as a 10 year old, I knew a day of testing would come, and it did.
 
Like many others, my dad had a small plot of land to grow much needed vegetables, and I would go with him on a Saturday morning, straddled over the crossbar of his bike on the 10 minute cycle to the days work. My attraction was not the work on the ground, but in the fact that we were a short walk to Palm Beach, and whether the tide was in or out, there was adventure. Sliding in the wet mud, or throwing stones and skimmers was allowed, but the last words spoken by my dad were always, “don’t go in the water”. Tell a child often enough not to do something, and guess what happens? The urge to do the forbidden thing grows inside you until that itch just has to be scratched.
 
The day came when I broke my word, but I figured, he will never know, because I would paddle up to my knees, and will be completely dry again by the time I got back to the hut at the plot. The plan was foolproof, so I took my shoes and socks off, and rushed into the River Clyde. It felt so good. I had got away with disobeying my dad, no one would ever know, and it was a good feeling into the bargain. That feeling lasted about 10 seconds, because in my rush I slid on a submerged seaweed covered rock, and I went down. Not only that, I went under, and was completely and totally soaked. The game was up, and I knew it, so back to the hut at the plot I trudged, knowing that judgement was mine. Not only that, but my punishment was deserved. I had gone against the only thing my dad had asked of me, and now it was obvious to anyone who saw me walk back from the river, that I was saturated from head to toe. The only dry things were my shoes and socks, which I carried.
 
My dad saw me coming, and I had no time to hide, or even get an excuse ready. My deserved punishment was coming, and I knew it was my own fault. I said the only thing I could and I meant it. “I’m sorry dad”. It was enough. He didn’t give me what I deserved for disobeying, and instead with a father’s love, he told me to sit by the wood stove in the hut and stay warm, while he peddled back to the house for dry and clean clothes. My dad made sure I was safe, dry and forgiven. Forgiven. What a lovely word. Many years later I see the episode as a parallel to God’s ready forgiveness for our wilful sin, when we do something thinking, “He’ll never know”, but we learn that to get His total forgiveness, all we have to do is say and mean those simple words, “I’m sorry Dad”, and He will. But we have to ask first. I am glad my earthly dad forgave me, but more glad that my Heavenly Father forgave me. Just a thought, have you said sorry to God? 
 
This also reminded me of the old Sunday School verse in Numbers 32:23: “Be sure your sin will find you out”. It was true then, and it is still true now.