“Like the Falling of a Leaf”

December 1, 2019

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By now most of the leaves have fallen and as I stroll along the country lane behind our home I watch the different scenarios in which leaves fall. Depending on the weather, some are blown swiftly far away in high winds, while others quietly flutter to the ground even when there is no breeze. As I gaze over the countryside, in the distance I can see the blue horizon of the cold sea, but nearer still are the ploughed fields which only a few months ago were full of golden barley. It seems like only yesterday that towering bales of gold were all over that field. How methods of farming have changed! These days massive equipment is taken into the field to complete the harvest. No longer do we “bind sheaves” by hand.
These reflections on swiftly passing seasons with “falling leaves” and “binding of sheaves” reminds me of William J. Kirkpatrick’s hymn “Life at Best is Very Brief.” Born in Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1838 and later living in U.S.A., this hymn writer made a significant contribution to hymnody. Amongst these are “A Wonderful Saviour is Jesus my Lord;” “Away in a Manger,” “I am not skilled to understand,” “Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,” “Redeemed” etc. But it is “Life at Best is Very Brief” which has been in my thoughts recently. A convicting hymn, it speaks of “being in time.” Whether we are in the spring, summer, autumn or winter of our lives, life has taught me with some very hard lessons that we have no idea what lies “around the corner.” I thank the Lord that I trusted Him all those years ago and He has been my constant and loving companion through it all. As I watch individuals who are going through stormy episodes in life, I long for them too, to have that “peace which passeth all understanding.” That peace is available to all who repent of their sins and put their trust in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary.
I have seen a great tree with glorious leaves one sunny day, reduced to a stark silhouette against a gloomy sky the next… and so it is with life. We must be in time! Perhaps William Kirkpatrick’s lovely old hymn says it best…

Life at best is very brief,
Like the falling of a leaf,
Like the binding of a sheaf,
Be in time!
Fleeting days are telling fast
That the die will soon be cast,
And the fatal line be passed, –
Be in time!

Be in time…….be in time……
While the voice of Jesus calls you,
Be in time!
If in sin you longer wait,
You may find no open gate,
And your cry be just too late,
Be in time!

Fairest flowers soon decay,
Youth and beauty pass away,
Oh, you have not long to stay,-
Be in time!
While the Spirit bids you come,
Sinner, do not longer roam,
Lest you seal your hopeless doom,-
Be in time!

Time is gliding swiftly by,
Death and judgement drawing nigh,
To the arms of Jesus fly,-
Be in time!
Oh, I pray you, count the cost,
‘Ere the fatal line be crossed,
And your soul in hell be lost!-
Be in time!

Sinner, heed the warning voice,
Make the Lord your final choice,
Then all heaven will rejoice,-
Be in time!
Come from darkness into light,
Come, let Jesus make you right,
Come, and start for heaven to-night,
Be in time!

God is no Respecter of Persons

November 21, 2019

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“For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” (1Timothy 6v7) I have been reflecting on present controversies surrounding powerful and rich individuals in Britain and the U.S.A. Unfortunately there are people in this world who think that they are so rich and powerful that they are immune from prosecution – and indeed such individuals in the past often have evaded the forces of law and order which apply to ordinary people. I say “ordinary people” and yet no man is entitled to special favouritism in the eyes of the “blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” (1Timothy 6v14)
In this incredibly evil world vulnerable young people and children have been abused and exploited by powerful politicians, those in authority and in positions of trust and by the higher echelons of society. More and more stories of abuse have emerged in recent years; probation officers, charity workers, those in the entertainment industry, sports celebrities, politicians, priests, nuns and even judges have been shown to be guilty and this is a worldwide phenomenon and not confined to any one country or society.
Jesus said: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matthew 18v6&7)
And so, just as we come into this world, we go out of it, in the certain knowledge that we face judgement whatever our life has consisted of. We cannot go to the Lord with our riches and offer Him a bribe and no one can “bail us out” – and we cannot point to all the good deeds we have done, in the hope that these will “tip the scales” in favour of a sure eternal outcome. Favours can be granted in this world and prison sentences can be reduced for the rich and powerful but eventually both the prince and the pauper must face “the Judge of judges” and “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18v25)
“They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth forever:)” (Psalm 49v6-8)
We are not entitled to a lawyer when we stand before the “Judge of judges” and no excuse is good enough for Him. We stand before Him, devoid of fame, earthly power, fortune, talent, beauty, charm and popularity. But He knows you by name and He loves you. He loved you enough to die for you – and He wants nothing but your heart, and your love for Him, His Word and His will for your life.
His will for you, whoever you are and whatever you have done in this life, is that you would repent of your sins (whether few or many) and commit your life to Him, if you have not already done so. When we stand before Him, the Great Question will be whether we know Him as the Great Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous – or as the Judge who will commit us to unthinkable, eternal suffering. Which will it be? Praise God, there is hope for “the vilest offender” this side of eternity. His will is that you would sing with the redeemed…
“Oh perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer the promise of God:
The vilest offender who truly believes
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Great things He hath taught us,
great things he hath done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son:
But purer and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.”
(F.J. Crosby)

Reach out to the Living – While it is Day

November 9, 2019

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The recent funeral of a well-known radio and television presenter here in Ireland brought to mind thoughts of being faithful to people while they are still alive. I recall sending something (a tract and a letter I believe) to this person many years ago. When we are faithful witnesses to people, this is something which we will never regret, even if there is either no response or a negative response from the person in question. The Lord loved and died for all and who knows how He will use the little morsels we scatter to His glory? The following is a short modified extract from my book “Singing on the Journey Home….”
I recall years ago befriending a lady whose mother was very ill. One day, towards the end of her mother’s life, I called to see my friend but prior to this I had been praying much for her mother and my desire was to speak with her. After a few moments, in answer to my prayer, she took me upstairs to see her. She was not really old by today’s standards; around seventy I think. The atmosphere was a little strained, but when I look back on that day, I know for sure that the Lord was with me and that He did speak to that lady. I was also sure that she had met another Christian at some time, and that she knew something of the scriptures for she finished some verses of the Bible that I had started to quote. I can recall a certain special moment during this exchange when there was complete silence and the lady looked at me perceptively. It was one of those looks that I shall never forget. I wanted to be gentle, to be led of the Lord, in all that I said to her – yet I felt so inadequate for the task. Still I felt that the Lord was opening her heart, speaking to her in that still small voice – the only voice that can truly penetrate the hearts of men and women.
It was the memory of the journey home from that visit that I shall never forget. I had felt emotional on leaving that home and as I drove away I felt the presence of God very strongly. Then, just as I was about half way home, that presence intensified, so much so that I almost had to stop the car. I tried not to let the tears blind me as I drove along. For the remainder of that day I went about my household duties, continuing to feel the Lord’s strong and loving reassurance in my heart.
A short time later that lady passed away and I went to the graveside as a mark of respect. It was a big funeral. Everyone seemed to know each other but I knew no one there, with the exception of my friend and a couple of others. I shook hands with my friend, who was naturally distraught and then I withdrew a distance from the many people who thronged the graveside. Somehow I was feeling very much a stranger in the midst of it all, particularly with the proceedings that followed.
The ceremony was very elaborate – if it was possible for a ceremony to get someone into heaven, then that one certainly would have. I watched as the young Roman Catholic Priest who was conducting the proceedings suddenly broke into song, in Latin. He sang with all his might and then uttered such eloquent prayers for the deceased. The coffin was one of the best that money could buy, as was the headstone. The intentions and the prayers were sincere but I knew that none of this could make any difference to the most important issue of all – the eternal destination of the deceased.
Walking away from that scene, I realised that I could never know for sure in this life whether this lady had trusted the Lord, but He knew and now it remained for me to pray for my friend and her family, that they too would find the loving Saviour who is our only real comfort in grief and loss. I also knew that the Lord had not brought me into contact with this family for nothing and that His Word, which I had quoted to a dying soul, would not “return unto Him void.”
How lovely it is to tell others of the Saviour who has come “to seek and to save that which was lost.” Like the dying thief on the cross who was only a short time from eternity, they too may find the Saviour before they leave this scene of time. My prayer for the elderly souls that I have felt led to visit (and the younger souls that I have felt led to speak to) is that the light of the Saviour would penetrate the souls of those in their twilight years – and the souls of the younger too, who could also be standing by ‘the very cliff edge of eternity.’ Surely He is but a prayer away… and even though we may be in perfect health, are we not all “dying and perishing” spiritually before we are touched by the Saviour?

 

The Saving and Keeping Power – the Testimony of Inspector Brian Martin (1955-1983)

October 27, 2019

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Inside an old book one day, I found the following little testimony tract written by John Brian Martin, a young police inspector, prior to his death in the Northern Ireland troubles. Having visited Banbridge just recently, I discovered on research that this was the town in which Brian lived with his wife and two young children prior to his death. He was murdered just before his 28th birthday, along with other young officers who were attending a lecture in the Ulster Polytechnic in Jordanstown; these sadly died later. Reading this information made me aware of the brevity of life and how we must be ready to meet the Lord. The following was written in the introduction…
JOHN BRIAN MARTIN, a Police Inspector in the Royal Ulster Constabulary died as the result of a terrorist bomb at the Ulster Polytechnic whilst attending as a student on 4th November 1983. Prior to his death he committed to print his testimony of the “Saving and Keeping Power” in his life which is told as follows…
“The Lord brought me into the world on the 4th December 1955 and the earliest recollection I have is when I was very small and my father getting down on his knees with me at night before I went to bed and reciting the Lord’s Prayer to me until I was able to say it as well. I was the eldest in a family of three, having two younger sisters. I was not raised in a Christian home but in “a church home,” if I could use that phrase. It was seen to that I was taken to Sunday school and church every Sunday and was even encouraged to do scripture exams. Then, when I was 11 years old, my father died. This had a profound effect on me at the time, as I was the eldest in the family. To my mother’s credit, she saw to it that I still attended Sunday school, church and the Youth Club.
At 18 I joined the Police and it was while training at Enniskillen that I first came into contact with the Christian Police Association, as they distributed a copy of the New Testament to each recruit. Back then I had more concern for the things of the world than my own soul; cars and having a good time were all I was concerned about.
I was by no means a drunkard but drink to me then seemed to be the “in thing” socially as it appeared to have some sort of status attached to it. I continued in this vein of life and then got married. Just before I got married my wife became a Christian. She told me at the time and I can remember thinking distastefully about her decision. Now I can see that this was part of God’s plan for me. I went to church as regularly as possible, was a choir member, a committee member and even went along with my wife to the mid-week Bible study and prayer meeting. I had the outward appearance of being a Christian but still I knew I had not made the commitment that was required.
I went to various missions and gospel halls with my wife and at the beginning of 1980 I knew the Lord was talking to me. I was confused and restless and feeling extremely agitated. My wife and her mother, both committed Christians, I knew were praying for my salvation. I knew within myself what I had to do but pride in myself was keeping me from doing so.
Finally, on 18th May, 1981, after attending a gospel service in Rathfriland the previous evening, I committed my life to the Lord. I went to see my own minister that day, seeking for salvation, counsel and guidance. I felt very humbled in this but the Lord gave me courage to do it. I spent a gratifying time with my minister that morning and after making a simple prayer with him and commitment, I felt all the unrest and unease begin to lessen. We both spent a time of fellowship together and when I went to work that evening I told a colleague (who I knew was a committed Christian) of my experience, which helped me in my stand. At that moment I was at peace within myself and had an assurance which I never had before. I wondered how I might tell some of my non-Christian friends. This was made easy for me with the Lord’s help. I can say in all honesty that to lead a Christian life, especially in the Police Force, is not an easy one. It is a battlefield all the way, but although not an easy life, it is a blessed life. If you dear friend, are holding back from commitment to the Lord because of your own pride, as was my case, I would say to you, act now before it is too late. In Genesis 6v3 it says that the Lord’s Spirit shall not always strive with man. This indeed is a sobering thought. If you feel that the Lord is talking to you and you are under conviction, I would urge you to act; the Christian life, as I have found every day, brings a new challenge, a new experience and new friends.”
************
A short time after writing this, and only two years after committing his life to the Lord, this young man lost his life on this earth because of the forces of evil in those days. But praise God “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” (1Thessaonians 4v14).
I pray that someone somewhere will still be touched by his story, for the Lord loves you and it is not His will that you should go out into a lost eternity – whatever part you played in Ireland’s conflict, or indeed whoever, or wherever you are in this world…

Was Paul “the Chief of Sinners?”

October 15, 2019

The following well known verse is often used to make a doctrinal point… “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1Timothy 1v15) It never ceases to amaze me how this verse is constantly used to make an excuse for habitual sin in the lives of many who would call themselves Christians. Note the words “of who I am chief.” Paul is speaking in the present tense here and if he was speaking of himself he was referring to his (then) present state. Therefore was he “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope…” (1Timothy 1v1) saying “I am the chief of sinners?”
How could Paul (the regenerate servant of the Lord Jesus Christ) be “the chief of sinners?” We need to look at the first few words of this verse… “This is a faithful saying…” The phrase “faithful (or true) saying” is used five times in the New Testament: 1Timothy 1v15; 1Timothy 3v1; 1Timothy 4v8&9; 2Timothy 2v11-13; Titus 3v4-8; in each instance it is “a true saying” – a proverb, which is “worthy of all acceptation.”
This saying was never meant to apply to Paul as an individual at that point in time. However, unfortunately it suits many to believe that “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” was the “chief of sinners,” so that they can preach “a sinning religion.” There are two types of people in this world: saints and sinners. I am aware that there are also “seekers” and of course not everyone has sunk into the same depths of evil – but the unsaved charity worker, like his drug dealing neighbour, is lost until he comes to that place of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour.
Nowhere in the Bible do we read of “saved sinners” and yet this is a term which I have often heard used in evangelical circles. Amazingly I have also heard of someone who preached that “a little bit of sin keeps us humble.” The Bible makes it clear that “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1John 2v1) Note that it is not when we sin, indicating that sin should be something alien in the Christian’s life. Another phrase which I have heard quoted is “we sin in thought, word and deed every day;” this too is a man-made phrase and unscriptural.
I remember the words of someone speaking at a children’s meeting held years ago in a back garden… “We are all so sinful…” I cannot recall her exact words but she made it clear that she regarded herself as being as sinful as those she was addressing. One little girl who looked confused, asked… “But what’s the point then?” I believe that what she meant was: “What’s the point of me asking Jesus into my heart, if He’s not going to make me a new person?” That little girl is now a young woman whom I haven’t seen in many years and I don’t know where she stands spiritually. Child workers and Sunday school teachers bear such a fearful responsibility.
What Paul was effectively saying was… if I had been the only one, the Lord would still have died for me. “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:” (2Corinthians 5v14)
If we read on in 2Corinthians 5, we see that “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (Verse 17) When Paul was blinded by the light of the Lord on the Damascus Road, his subsequent experience changed him dramatically. Although Christians were fearful of him at first, it soon became evident to them that Saul the persecutor had become Paul the saint; miraculously he had become a sincere and fervent follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In his own words… “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life.” (Romans 6v21-23)
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2Corinthians 5v21)
“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2Corinthians 6v18)
“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Ephesians 4v22-24)
Surely only a hypocrite could utter such words if he was indeed “the chief of sinners.” And we know that Paul was not a hypocrite.

“Wells without Water” – A Career in “the Church”

October 2, 2019

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Over the years I have on occasions met clergy from various denominations. For some reason I have recently been thinking about these encounters and how, sadly, it was clear that many of these people had no spiritual light whatsoever. They generally do what is expected of them: have an acceptable sermon put together for Sunday mornings, visit hospitals, the bereaved and elderly parishioners and conduct weddings and funeral services, amongst other duties.
Sadly, though, they have not had the experience of being truly born again of the Spirit of God and while what they do may seem commendable, it is in most cases their “job” – not a real calling from the Lord.
Of course they have differing personalities and many are charming, friendly and pleasantly spoken. But unfortunately I have also encountered in these days something very disturbing in some – a type of cynicism, with no effort whatsoever being made to disguise it.
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7v15) Yet often I feel that some don’t even make the effort to don “sheep’s clothing,” since many in their congregation seem completely blind to the real wolf staring them in the face anyway. I have even heard of ministers jokingly admit that they have “difficulty believing in some of the miracles in the Bible.”
This cynicism, this lack of sincerity, this flippancy is all too common in some circles, while horrifically there are lost souls going out into eternity every second in this world – souls who have sat under the “ministry” of the spiritually blind, whose voices echo meaningless platitudes from the pulpits of great churches and cathedrals the world over.
The Lord loved and died for everyone, including the robed hierarchy of great churches but unless they too, repent and come the humble way to the foot of the cross for forgiveness, the words of 2Peter 2v17 apply to them… “These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.”
There are ministers in so called “evangelical” circles too, who unfortunately are what Paul describes as “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.” (2Corinthians 11v13)
“And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (2Corinthians 11v14&15) We are living in incredible days when discernment is a great requirement in the life of Christians. Surely… “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7v16) “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1Peter 5v8)
Thank God there is hope for even the hardest, most cynical deceiver, for the Lord is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3v9) If we have knowledge of such “blind, leaders of the blind” we must pray for them that their eyes would be opened to the truth and we must pray for the people of these congregations in dead churches too that they would be drawn to the Saviour who loved them and gave Himself for them. But those who truly know Him in these days must take a stand for the truth and “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1Peter 3v15)… even to the most seasoned, cynical, educated, eloquent and senior member of the religious hierarchy.

“There is no Fool like an Old Fool”

September 28, 2019

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I have been aware for some time now that advanced years are not always synonymous with wisdom. When elderly people are arrested for serious drug smuggling (as has happened recently) it just seems so much worse than young people who have been caught up in the same scenario. Also, I was listening to an interview recently in which an ex-R.C. priest (nearly 90 years old) stated that he “had no regrets” with regard to the terrorism (including links with Libya) he had been involved in – and furthermore he wished that he had been more “effective.”
These older people did not appear to be repentant at all about the deep sins they had committed; how horrifying to go out into eternity with all this on one’s conscience. It is useless, too, to go to another sinful man to confess these sins, for only God can forgive and cleanse the sin-stained soul. (1Timothy 2v5)
In the story of Job we read of older men who, although probably not criminals as such, definitely lacked wisdom in their attitude to Job’s misfortune. The young man, Elihu, addresses them wisely… “I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not shew you my opinion. I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom. But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgement.” (Job 32v6-9)
In 1Kings 4v29&30 we read that “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt.”
However, a few chapters further on sadly an older Solomon “went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father.” (1Kings 11v5&6)
“Better is a poor and wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.” (Ecclesiastes 4v13)
When Solomon asked for wisdom at the outset of his reign, he asked for something very wonderful indeed and something, I believe, which is totally within the Lord’s will for His people to have today. Indeed, those who have committed their lives to the Lord in any generation would do well to “Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of thy mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee.” (Proverbs 4v5&6)
When I look at events in our world today, sadly there are people (such as in the recent examples I have given) who have never had the wisdom to repent and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ in the first place. They walk in darkness – but I pray, even as they stand on the brink of eternity, that some light would penetrate into the dungeon of their souls and that they would see that “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3v3)
As for the Christian, “the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11v30) In my own life, as the years roll by I would like to think that I would learn to covet this great and precious attribute for there are situations in life which call for great wisdom. “Wisdom is better than rubies; and all things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.” (Proverbs 8v11)
On a recent birthday card to a person of a significant age, I wrote… “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Psalm 90v12) I shudder to think that hours wasted foolishly can never be reclaimed and yet “his mercies endureth forever” (Psalm 136) and He is able to forgive and to “restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.” (Joel 2v25)
And so “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver thee.” (Proverbs 4v7-9)

Distributing Tracts at the “Empty Shoes Memorial”

September 21, 2019

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There is a worldwide phenomenon now concerning “empty shoes memorials.” Budapest, for example, has a very moving memorial of old pairs of shoes made out of cast iron, in memory of Jewish victims who had been shot into the River Danube in the years 1944-1945. Recently I witnessed another “empty shoe” memorial locally; this time with real shoes in my own locality to mark “World Suicide Prevention Day.”
I was wandering out of the car park with my own troubled thoughts, after dropping someone to the hospital, when I heard the singing and witnessed the shoes, which had been placed there for the event. Then I remembered the tracts in my possession and I felt the Lord urging me to give them out to those standing watching the event.
I had completely forgotten, but as it happened this day (September 10th 2019) also marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of hymn writer Joseph Scriven who wrote “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” When this thought dawned on me, I suddenly knew what I must do, because these leaflets were the ones I’d made out to commemorate the Scriven anniversary.

I felt fearful; the temptation was there to keep my leaflets to myself and walk on up the street about my business. After all, wasn’t I more a “one-to one” person and who would read them anyway and wasn’t this too sensitive an event for the distribution of Christian literature? Then I felt deeply convicted because I knew that the Lord wanted me to do this; although alone, I knew that He was with me and would give me the courage.
Taking the opportunity I approached the first lady with a smile and she accepted the leaflet gratefully and thanked me. Somehow, it has been my experience that the first one takes most courage – like plunging into cold sea up to your neck for the first time! Then another, and another – only one person refused for some reason and no one threw their leaflet down, as has happened before.

This was a solemn occasion and the people gathered looked sad – some were even noticeably distressed I thought; most likely they had known someone who had been in the situation which was being marked. How the Lord loved those gathered here and wanted to reach them with the knowledge of His salvation!
I couldn’t help but think of two lovely old hymns, when remembering this recent incident. The first verse of Isaac Watts well known hymn came to mind…

“I’m not ashamed to own my Lord,
Or to defend His cause;
Maintain the glory of His cross,
And honour all His laws.”

Flora Kirkland (a less well known hymn writer) wrote numerous hymns. I quote the first verse of the following hymn which also come to mind…

“Out in the darkness,
Shadow’d by sin
Souls are in bondage,
Souls we would win.
How can we win them?
How show the way?
Love never faileth,
Love is the way.”

The first hymn speaks of shame but the Lord’s people should never be ashamed for Jesus said: “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9v26)
The second hymn speaks of love – and perfect love surely casts out fear. Praise God, we go in the strength of the Lord, for if we go in our own strength we are defeated before we even begin any outreach at all.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8v10) The chorus of Isaac Watt’s hymn expresses this joy beautifully…

“At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart roll’d away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.”

If we know Him as Saviour we want above all to see sorrowful souls who are without hope and soon to face eternity, come to have the joy that we experience in the knowledge of sins forgiven and burdens “rolled away.” We want them too, to hear those words which are uttered to all the Lord’s faithful servants… “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…” (Matthew 25v21)

His will is for His people to seize opportunities as they arise – and there are so many opportunities in these days. May these words of the final verse of Isaac Watt’s hymn encourage those who name His Name and are faithful in this era of “a great falling away” to “weary not in well doing…”

“Then will He own His servant’s name,
Before His Father’s face;
And, in the new Jerusalem,
Appoint my soul a place.”

“Upon this Rock I will build my Church…”

September 7, 2019

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Ireland is full of famous “rocks,” like the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, the Rock of Dunamase in Co. Laois and the “Big Stone,” (“Cloughmore” pictured) in the Mourne Mountains, Co. Down. Standing stones are also a fascinating phenomenon in Ireland; many of these are associated with old legends about how they came to be there but I love to draw spiritual analogies from those rocks…
Rocks are sure foundations, rocks are reliable, unchanging, and unmoveable; rocks can be a refuge and a hiding place from the storm and Psalm 81v16 speaks of “honey in the rock.”
Unfortunately many people in Ireland believe that Peter was the “first pope,” of whom they say that Jesus said… “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
However, Jesus when He made this statement was speaking of Himself as the Rock and to get understanding of this we need to read the entire chapter of Matthew 16, especially from Verse 15… “He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jo-na: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16v15-18)
When Jesus went on to say “Upon this rock I will build my church” He was clearly referring to Himself because of His words in the previous verses. Throughout the New Testament only Jesus is referred to as “the Rock.” In 1Corinthians 10 Paul is speaking of Moses and his ancestors… “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” (Verse 4)
In 1Peter 2v8 Jesus is referred to as “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”
There is no doubt that Peter was a beloved disciple and later in the New Testament, a faithful and fearless servant of the gospel but he is not the “Rock of our salvation.” Read the words of Jesus to him in Matthew 16v23… “get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Peter, like many, may have meant well by his words (“Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” Verse 23) but these words were not pleasing to the Lord. Peter was a mortal man; the church was never built upon mortal man but upon the Lord Jesus Christ “in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:” (Colossians 1v14)
“And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” (Colossians 1v18) Unfortunately mankind like to establish their own organisations, claiming that only their particular denomination is “the church.”
The church, as I have said previously, is not a building, or an organisation or a denomination – but that body of believers throughout this world who have given their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ and are born again of the spirit of God. “Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular.” (1Corinthians 12v27) This chapter continues to show how the “body,” of which the Lord Jesus Christ is Head, have differing gifts.
“Wherefore also it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious: and he that believeth in him shall not be confounded.” (1Peter 2v6)
Praise God, these words are also prophesied of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament … “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28v16)
In Psalm 62v2 the words… “He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved,” are repeated again in Verse 6, this time reinforced by omitting the word “greatly.”
Praise God if we build upon this Rock, like the wise man Jesus refers to in Matthew 7v24, spiritually speaking we are building on the Rock which cannot move.
… “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16v18)
We are living in days when the “gates of hell” are most certainly trying to prevail against the church. Black clouds are threatening those who have taken refuge in the Rock of Ages… that Rock which is so eloquently spoken about throughout the Psalms and many other books of the Bible. “The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.” (Psalm 18v46)
But when God promises that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” He will keep that promise. While the famous earthly rocks we are familiar with will some day pass away, the Rock of our salvation is eternal and unchanging and many times prophesied of in the Old Testament. Unto those who believe “he is precious” (1Peter 2v7) but a “rock of offence to them which stumble at the word.”
“And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.”(Isaiah 8v14&15)
“And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21v44)
Manmade religion seeks to exalt man above God. How can a mortal man be the rock upon which God builds His church?
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus.” (1Corinthians 3v11)

Bicentenary Celebration of the Birth of Joseph Scriven – Author of “What a Friend we have in Jesus”

August 28, 2019

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On 10th September next it will be 200 years since the birth of hymn writer Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1819-1886) and I hope to use the occasion to distribute tracts, based on the title of his beautiful hymn. On Saturday 14th September free hourly bus tours of sites connected with the hymn writer will take place in Banbridge, County Down and these can be booked through the Visitor Information centre in the town. I have a lovely early memory of discovering Corbett Lake; near Banbridge and pictured in the old photograph above, it reminds me that Joseph Scriven’s formative years were spent in this area. Joseph did write other hymns and poetry but I believe that “What a Friend we have in Jesus” is sung universally and has been translated into multiple languages.
I have one very personal and poignant memory of the singing of this hymn. One hot Sabbath summer morning far away on the Greek island of Crete, I was feeling downcast as we tried to find an International Evangelical church in a certain town there. Then somewhere on that street, carried on the warm breeze I heard the sweet strains of music and singing in my own language… “What a Friend we have in Jesus…” In that instant I felt the singing of that familiar hymn and the beautiful name “Jesus” touching my very soul and it brought tears to my eyes; I felt the Lord’s Presence very strongly at that moment.
Indeed the singing of the hymn has touched many a troubled heart over the centuries. Little did Joseph Scriven know when he sat down in his little room to pen a few comforting words to his mother who was going through a time of great sorrow, that in years to come those words would touch hearts all across the world. When a Christian neighbour (who helped Joseph in his later years) discovered the manuscript, he asked him who had written these beautiful words, to which Joseph replied… “I wrote it. The Lord and I did it between us.”
Life’s journey, along with happy times, inevitably also brings trials, temptations, grief and trouble but praise God, Jesus our Saviour is a certain Refuge for all who put their trust in Him. Not everyone wants to know about our sorrows but there is “a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18v24) Unlike earthly friends and acquaintances who may indeed “despise, forsake thee,” this Friend is faithful, loving and caring throughout life’s most troubled and sorrowful moments – and He is but a prayer away.
The Bible tells us that “there is One God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1Timothy 2v5) Do you know this Friend today? He gave His life for you, so that you may have abundant life now – and eternal life in His Presence in the next.
“For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14v11&12) It is better, surely, to repent of your sin now and ask Him into your heart, while on this side of eternity – than to face Him as Judge on that Day when the small and great stand before Him.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 7v21) His will is that you repent, commit your life to Him today, obey His Word and trust Him for all your tomorrows.
What a Friend you will have in Him as Saviour – a Friend and Confidant who will all “your sorrows share,” and a Friend who will “take and shield thee” throughout life. Only in His arms will you find the great “solace” for which you seek.

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear!
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged:
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness:
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge:
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee
Thou wilt find a solace there.