Blogs for February 2017

Man shall not live by bread alone - the three tests. Quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy which he evidently knew very well, Jesus applied the Word of God to the situation that He found himself in. Filled with the Holy Spirit he had been led into the wilderness soon after John's baptism, where He encountered Satan and was put to three tests [Matthew 4v1-11]. Interestingly in all three tests He recalls what He has learnt from that Old Testament book, although to a Jew it would be the fifth book of the Torah. It is also interesting that the opening verse of the Book of Deuteronomy starts the book with this theme: 'These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness ....'. It was in a similar wilderness, maybe even the same wilderness region, where they were to learn about the ways of God and His requirements for their lives. I believe that in the long 430 year sojourn that Israel had had in Egypt, the people of God had largely forgotten that knowledge of God that Jacob and his family had brought from Canaan.  Identifying himself with men as a man himself, 'Son of Man', He tells us something very important about ourselves, about the state of men. First He emphasises what we already know, that man does actually live on bread - to satisfy the needs of our physical, biological, bodies but, as was always intended right from our beginnings in Eden, as spiritual beings, He tells us something that maybe many of us do not know: that we also need to eat spiritual food as well. 'It is written: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" '. None of God's words are surplus to requirements. When we eat bread we leave crumbs and crusts; indeed some of it may go stale or mouldy. Do we allow the Word of God to grow stale in our hands? When we eat vegetables we discard pods, peel, outer leaves, stalks and so forth - but the Word of God has complete value and nothing should be discarded; "....but by every word that comes from the mouth of God". Paul taught this: "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh [like stuffing our stomachs with bread]. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law [Gal.5v16-18]. It was also the Spirit who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. He passed the test. 2 February 2017 StanH.

It is unlikely that Moses personally wrote the Book of Deuteronomy but whoever did, they take Moses as their central character. In the first chapters of the book he looks back and rehearses, relives and reminds for the wanderers, Israel, their time in the wilderness. It was a long journey, unnecessarily long - really a meandering, that took forty years but should have taken no more than eleven days even with women, children and herds of cattle, sheep and goats in tow. Wow! So at any point in time they could, if truth be told, have given up and gone back to Egypt in less than eleven days or completed their journey in less than eleven days. What kept them? Were they lost? Confused? In a persistent fog! Rebellion is what kept them there ! They had evidently covered most of the distance and then turned back. In Chapter 2 Moses tells them: 'Then we turned back and set out towards the wilderness along the route to the Red Sea, as the Lord had directed me. For a long time we made our way around the hill country of Seir'. For a long time - Moses seems to be the master of understatement. I'm seventy years of age so I know in some measure at least how it must have felt to Daniel when he realised that their seventy years of exile in Babylon had expired. I've been married and a Christian for more than forty years so I know what forty years in the wilderness could feel like - but don't read anything into that !!! But seriously because of my age I have a good sense of timescale. Forty years is a long time. But to be honest many Christians have been around for forty years and in some cases, if they are completely honest with themselves and each other, have been "making their way around the hill country of Seir" for a long time. Its high time we got to where we ought to be going!  But lets get it in persepective - when Moses led more than 400,000 people out of a settled, albeit hard, life in Egypt to who knows what - that was a big deal! When the Pilgrim Fathers set out for America in 1620 and when Christopher Columbus took ship loads of Christians to the New World in 1492 they were both big deals. So lets not devalue their experience in the wilderness. Making that journey was a significant phase and actually the Church and all Christianity as we know it today, owes a debt of gratitude to the early explorers in the faith, beginning with Abram, even beginning with his father Terah, when he left Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan by way of Haran. Our Vicar told us this morning that God is starting a new and significant phase with us in 2017 and is dealing with us as a Church and as individuals. Pray that our path will be a straight one, that our journey will be no longer than it needs to be and pray that we will not be found in rebellion as those who wandered in the wilderness. 5 February 2017 StanH

It won't always be dark at seven. I woke up slightly depressed and oddly deflated this morning. I have lived a sheltered life, though I guess I ought to be thankful for that. I have lived a life in freedom. I live in God's own country - Yorkshire, (though I was exiled to Lancashire for a time !). We are blessed with some wonderful asylum seekers in our Church but it takes time for the horrors of their story to come out. Really, if truth be told, they don't want to bring it all back into memory again though the asylum application process, by its very nature, means they can't entirely avoid that. It brought to mind a story - of another asylum seeker, a man who killed another man to save another man. When the authorities found out what he had done he had to leave his country quickly - his home, his family, his possessions and all he had known - and flee. That man was an Egyptian man called Moses. He went to Midian, the backside of the world, the "back of beyond" as we sometimes like to say in Yorkshire. A place a man could lose himself if he wanted to - and Moses wanted to, at that point in his life. When I first started working in the Trossachs (up North as we say), there was no life to be seen - the odd cottage or croft you might say. But it quickly became evident that there was actually life north of Glasgow and I enjoyed a very memorable time in Scotland amongst some lovely people. Like me, Moses found signs of life - it was little more than a place with a well and Moses sat down by that well. It would be nice to quickly finish with something like, ".....and the rest is history!", but as we can gather from the previous blog (5 Feb 2017) a very long journey had just begun for Moses: 40 years in Egypt already as a young man, 40 years of losing himself in Midian and 40 years in the wilderness doing one of the most important jobs God has ever given to a mortal man. But his time in Midian was not all wasted and mis-spent. Moses found a welcome, hospitality, work to do, a place to stay and a wife and a child. He was ministered to by a mysterious priest of an unspecified god, Reuel (also called Jethro), the father of seven daughters and one he gave in marriage to Moses. There's another saying, I thought it was a Yorkshire saying but maybe not - "It won't always be dark at seven!". I take this to mean that though things may look bleak now it's a season that will pass and better days are just around the corner. So: "Look Up! Your redemption draweth nigh!" [Luke 21v28]. 7 February 2017 StanH

I've just finished a really good book. Its at this point my wife will laugh and deride me with, "every book you read is supposedly a really good book". I suppose I have said it quite a lot over the years. The book was Wolves Of Time (Journey to the Heartland) by that great author William Horwood. Its not a Christian book but it has a spiritual dimension and the ending left me not wanting it to end, left me uplifted and thankful that I for one had been... (whats a good word?) ...priviledged to discover and read this story. I've had the book for years and its sequel which I will read soon. I've never read them before. How many of us have got undiscovered good books still on our shelves that we've never read yet - including certain books of the Bible. Take the Book of Daniel as a for instance. We read books like this in a sterotypically Sunday School way which limits what we get from them - all the usual stuff: the dreams, the lions den, the men in the furnace, etc. But Daniel was bigger than that. He has much more to tell us; Chapter 9 is a major chapter in the book. I read somewhere that the book is not written chronologically (a bit like the Star Wars Trilogy, and the rest of the more recent added on ...ologies). Chapter one starts with a teenage Daniel - lets say 15yrs old. By Chapter 9 Daniel must be older than 85 years because Daniel was also a reader of books. In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes he was reading the word of the Lord one day and (I believe this is the interpretation we should place on it) he realised or, in his words, understood that either the 70 years exile had already elapsed and no-one had even noticed nor cared, or was about to elapse - so 15+70=85years old at least. Now Daniel had built a relationship up with God over his lifetime and the most obvious thing in the world for Daniel to now do was to pray to God and intercede for his people that God, would keep the promise He made through Jeremiah (lets say Ch.50) and cause the release of His people. Now, was Daniel an exceptionally gifted person that any of us couldn't possibly aspire to or was his life and dealings with God the normal Christian life. Is it what ordinary people, like you and me, should be doing? Our Vicar mentioned on Wednesday that Jesus told His disciples that they would do even greater things than Him. This was to be the new norm. Imagine - if Daniel had not read the book they might still been have in Babylon "marrying and giving in marriage" - quite happy as a Church to languish in that land. We are living in momentous times that call for momentous prayers. I believe the Book of Revelation has already kicked in and we are already splashing about in the first tides of the tribulation.  Now you might not agree with what I believe but in the same way would you have agreed with Daniel or Moses or Nehemiah and acted on what they said. For years Christians have always seen the Book of Revelation as something in the far future but at some point its got to happen (just like Christ's Second Coming is coming- that's what it means) just like at some point the Exile had to end. Go figure! 12 February 2017 StanH

When someone is drunk and worse for wear they are sometimes described as incapable. Our blog today is about the capacity of certain creatures to have a relationship with God.I've just started reading a book by Joyce Meyer on prayer and, by the way this is no criticism of Joyce Meyer, because me and my wife actually like her ministry. But in her introduction she says something to the effect that human beings are the only creatures in the Universe that can pray to God and have that kind of relationship with God. Sounds OK at first reading but it does actually raise the question as to whether that is so. There are other creatures or entities, like Angels and Cherubim to name but two, who have dealings with God. Do they pray - I don't know. But here's the question that raises its head - can other entities have the capacity (thats the word I want to talk about today) to pray and have a relationship with God? I started thinking about "capacity" because I studied English Law in my student days and capacity to make a contract came up. There are quite a few persons who do not have the capacity to make a contract - such as minors, the mentally ill, bankrupts may be limited as might people in prison, possibly people in military service as regards say, taking on a second job/contract of employment - to illustrate it with a daft example. etc, etc. So that establishes the idea of capacity and incapacity. What came to mind when I started thinking about this was the strange (well in my view strange) verses in Genesis 9 just after the flood had subsided where God made a covenant with Noah and his sons [Gen 9v8, 9). Now I don't have a problem with Noah and his contract, but its verse 10 that requires our attention: reading the whole of it for context (v9-10) "Then God said to Noah and his sons 'I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendents after you [and this this bit] and with every living creature that was with you - the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you - every living creature". Notice that God is very clear and all encompassing - leaving no room for misunderstanding. Looking at this in terms of incapacity it is clear that in the mind of God (the Great Lawmaker and Covenant Maker) that all life has the capacity to covenant with God and therefore it follows that all life has the capacity to communicate with its God. 14 February 2017 StanH

Law and Grace. I've struggled to write a blog this week due to technical glitches and my first draft was lost when I pressed the SAVE button; so this version may turn out to be a poor reflection of what might have been but I was still determined to press through and write it and I hope you will see why. In Matthews Gospel Chapter 5 Jesus gets down to teaching his disciples. Its on an odd assortment of subjects from the Mosaic Law. Jesus is at pains to emphasise that He has not come to abolish the Law (a lot of people obviously hoped He would do a completely new thing). But He told them that He had come to fulfil the true spirit of the Law and in a way no-one could have imagined. In essence what He was saying was that the Law requires you to conduct your life in such and such a way; to live at a specified level. Then Jesus raised His voice a notch and grabbing His audience's attention, would say, "But I tell you...!" - meaning, I want you to lift your game and live on a completely different level. Tithing has always been a sensitive subject that harks back to the Law. It has its origins with Abram but is translated into Law in Leviticus 27v30 as one prime example. Christians will no doubt hotly debate this subject until they are called to glory. So, if we were to look for the "But I tell you..." principle in the New Testament, which is a testament to grace not of law, then we should look no further than 2 Corinthians Chapters 8 and 9. I believe that this account has absolutely nothing to do with tithing. Apparently there was a "Tear Fund Style" appeal going on in the region: actually a collection for the Lords people, and Paul commends the generous example of the Macedonian Churches to the Christians at Corinth. He tells them: "In the midst of severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity, for I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.....they exceeded our expectations". What were the Macedonians doing? - they were taking it to another level ! Now I have to point out that you don't normally hear the words "tithing" and "overflowing joy" in the same sentence but on this occasion I can because I know they were not merely tithing. It got way beyond that and here's the buzzwords for this month: Their generosity was outrageous ! It was completely off the scale. But I'll finish with this. We know that at times Paul had to speak harshly to the Corinthinan Church. On occasion their behaviour no doubt disappointed him - if we go back for example to his first letter. But Paul never fails to surprise. How do I know these chapters are not about tithing? Read 2 Corinthians 8v8: Paul says, "I am not commanding you [Paul is not pointing out what the Law demands] but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. So there we have it - overflowing joy, not a command, based on love, earnestness manifesting itself in rich generosity - it doesn't get better than that. LIKE THE MACEDONIANS - LETS TAKE IT TO ANOTHER LEVEL! 16 February 2017 StanH.

On 31st March 2017 I'm hoping to go to court. I've already been to court twice this year in support of two asylum seekers and I'm hoping to be allowed to give my testimony in support of my friend Ali on the 31st March. I hope that the opportunity will arise for me to testify what I've been waiting 44 years to say. What is that you ask ? That I've been a born-again Christian for exactly 44 years today! You only get one chance to say that sort of thing in that sort of setting. On Saturday, 31st March 1973 I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ, even though I had been attending my local church since childhood without really knowing God. I'm seventy years old and after 44 years in the faith I'm still scratching the surface in my relationship with God. So why, you might ask, do the Home Office expect Christians, who have been in the faith for barely two years, to have all the answers, be able to dot all the "I's" and cross all the "T's", in a country and a culture that is still quite new and alien to them and in a tribunal system that even I don't understand. A man who comes to court full of apprehension with poor English and has to rely upon an interpreter, to explain to people and authorities, who themselves probably have no Christian faith and care little for the things of God, what its all about. I don't expect to live as long as Moses (120 years) but, with God's help I may be allowed to live to maybe 78 or 79 years which was the age at which Moses had his first encounter with God at the burning bush. Moses was a man who spent the first 40 years of his life in indolence as a spoilt and pampered Egyptian prince. Then he murdered a man and spent the next 40 years in the back of beyond hiding from his persuers. Eighty unlikely years in which to find the true God of his ancestors - but he did. Because God tracked him down; none of us can successfully hide from God forever. So at, lets say the age of 79, when most people are thinking about dying, Moses picked up his staff (the one God had given him) and walked off to begin a great work for God [Ex 4v17-20]. So who's to say that a man like Ali, with not much going for him right now, not a good talker - just like Moses who had a stammer, persued by the Home Office (if we can draw that parallel to Moses), might yet do a great work for God. Let's remember Ali on the 31st March and play our part in making sure he gets justice. 28 Feb 2017 StanH











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