Archive for June, 2010

Just as I am – Without One Plea

June 27, 2010

Sitting on the promenade wall I watched the ebb and flow of the tide washing in over the sand. High up in the summer sky the seagulls cried as they floated on the drift of the wind, while in the distance the beautiful Mountains of Mourne stood timelessly and quietly against the horizon. I had always taken comfort in mountains; they were like permanent, solid and reliable old friends in a world that was changing too quickly. Tomorrow, perhaps, I would climb to their rushing waterfalls and we would picnic close to those cascading waters. The day was beautiful and I was young and healthy, but something was disturbing me. Was it that small group of Christians who were having an open-air meeting by the promenade? How many times in my young life had I been convicted by a little group of people like this? Over the years I had watched them, the faithful ones, singing and preaching in villages or cities and distributing tracts. Even the sound of their voices made me feel uncomfortable, but no, I would not commit myself to the life they were singing and speaking about. Perhaps some day…

What delightful childhood memories I have of trips to the seaside with my father, mother, brother and two sisters! In those days we did not fly off to exotic locations, but those trips to Warrenpoint or Sunday school excursions to Newcastle, Bangor or Portrush engendered just as much excitement. In the intervening years I have travelled to many distant places but to this day, perhaps one of my favourite spots in the whole world is “where the Mountains of Mourne roll down to the sea.” My aunt once had a caravan parked at the very edge of the beach in an area known as ‘Cranfield.’ I recall many days of sunshine there when we would splash in the sea or take long walks along the blue flag beach to the castle at Greencastle. At night the old lighthouse would throw out circling beams of light across the dark rippling waves. Even bad weather was enjoyable, creating its own special atmosphere. How I loved the sound of that foghorn, as the rain pelted against the windows and the tide surged in only yards from where we slept!

Of course, as the cliché goes ‘all good things come to an end,’ and whether it had been a day trip or a week-long holiday we knew that we must return home. Regrettably the ‘holiday’ had perhaps not been so idyllic for my mother as she had a great deal more work to do; in bygone days holiday cottages and caravans did not have the modern conveniences that they do today! As for those ‘return journeys,’ they are filled with special memories for me, for I recall that my parents very often would “sing on the journey home,” and always these songs would relate to their Christian experience. In those days their songs did not appeal to me – in fact I often felt irritated and convicted by them. Admittedly, my parents’ voices blended beautifully as they sang choruses and hymns on the journey home. Yet, underlying my feelings of conviction, I experienced a certain reassurance and inner peace in the knowledge that my parents loved each other and their Saviour, who was glorified in the words they sang.

So it came to be that as the years passed, I was to be convicted many times by the singing of God’s servants. There is something about joyful singing to the Lord that speaks to the heart – and even brings a tear to the eye! Then, one August Sunday morning in the year 1978, I was walking alone in a narrow cobbled street in Ostend, Belgium, when I heard joyful singing coming from somewhere on high. These were I believed, Christians who were singing hymns in the Flemish language but where were they? I looked up at the windows of tall narrow houses and I searched doorways for access but I could not find those singers, no matter how much I searched for them. Sadly I returned to the hotel where I was staying, feeling very empty spiritually. On the return journey I was terrified that the ship would sink or the train would crash for I knew that I was not ready to meet God.

After my return home, that deep conviction continued in my heart with intensity. Just hours later, on the bank holiday evening of Monday 28th August, 1978, a fierce spiritual battle ensued while I was alone in my bedroom. I have never felt anything like it in my life, either before or since. One power was telling me that I was ‘not that bad,’ and that I had my whole life in front of me; another was telling me to ask the Lord into my heart now for tomorrow may be too late. After much turmoil and struggle, I can only describe what happened next as ‘repenting of my sin and crossing that great divide from darkness into light.’ I felt a peace in my heart that only the Lord can put there – my journey to my real Home had only just begun! The years ahead were to be the happiest ones of my life for He had “put a new song in my mouth.” (Psalm 40v3). All my old ‘haunts’ began to lose their attraction and soon God’s Word and the joyful singing of His servants brought me more joy than anything in this world ever could. Now I had put my trust in the “Rock of Ages,” who is even more dependable than solid mountains, for even they shall some day be removed! And now with my mother and father I could sing the words of many lovely hymns, because they were so relevant to my new life begun in faith.

There is a hymn which always filled me with conviction in those days of my early childhood and youth. This hymn was often sung after appeals were made in missions or other meetings and I grew to dread the singing of it, because it made me feel so uncomfortable.  “Just as I am” describes accurately the experience I went through on that evening when I trusted the Saviour. Charlotte Elliott, the writer of this lovely hymn had a similar experience when she came to the Lord, for she was “tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt… fightings and fears, within, without…” I thank God that this lady was able to give words to her experience – words which have touched many a soul since the year it was written, in 1834. For me, the second last line of this hymn, “Here for a season, then above,” seriously highlights the brevity of my earthly life against the awesomeness of eternity.

Today I love that hymn because the Saviour did rid my soul of that “one dark blot.” I thank Him for His cleansing power in that instant when I trusted in His shed blood at Calvary. My prayer is that He will continue to work in my life and in the lives of other fellow Christians who have trusted Him to “cleanse each spot,” with the desire to be “His, and His alone.” Now I can claim this wonderful promise which was given by Paul to his fellow saints, as my own…  “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1v6)

(See also: My Testimony page)


My Visit to a Monastery in Rural Ireland

June 23, 2010

It was with feelings of apprehension that I embarked on a recent journey which would lead me into the confines of a monastery in the depths of rural Ireland. Travelling from our native County Meath, we took the motorway south of Dublin and it wasn’t long before my husband and I found ourselves in unspoilt countryside with not a dwelling house in sight. We had promised my brother-in-law that we would visit him at this time and so we took that opportunity, given that my husband had some business to attend to in Carlow Regional College and I wanted to distribute some books to the Carlow/Kilkenny area. That memory of driving deeper and deeper into beautiful countryside now provokes many thoughts and questions, including… “Are there any examples in God’s Word of His servants leading a monastic life?” Paul did not lead this sort of life and nor, indeed, did Peter who had a wife. (Matthew 8v14) The New Testament servants of God lived and worked amongst the people and wherever they travelled, spread the gospel. Paul, for example, worked for a time with Acquila and Priscilla who were tentmakers. (Acts 18v1-3)

We found my brother-in-law well, if a little tired, but given that he must rise at 4.30a.m. every morning that was hardly surprising! I gave him some literature that I had received earlier in the week from someone that I had met in the Dundalk area who had supplied me with many tracts taken from one of the shorter stories in a book of Priests’ testimonies: “Far from Rome, Near to God” by Richard Bennett, former Dominican Catholic priest and Martin Buckingham. The book (Catholicism’s Inside Story Revealed by Fifty Converted Priests) was first published in 1994 and as the title suggests, is a compilation of the stories of fifty Roman Catholic priests who came to put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

That verse: “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16v1) came to mind, as we drove down a narrow country road which was bordered by trees and high hedges. How can I physically make anyone see my spiritual point of view and least of all… how can I possibly make other human beings believe the truth of those words… “every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God;” (Hebrews 10v11&12) I wish with all my heart that everyone I meet would understand that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2v8&9) but I realise that only the Lord can work in an individual’s heart.

Yet, as His servant, I can (and must) spread the word and plant seeds wherever I go on this earth, for not one of those who serve the Lord is free from the great commission… “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16v15) And so we must go as the Lord directs; as individuals our calling is unique but He needs us to reach our loved ones, our workmates, prisons, hospitals, the people on the street and monasteries…

My brother-in-law took us on a walk around the grounds. It was so peaceful, with the birds singing in the trees, the little calves in the green fields and white swans in a small lake which was surrounded by swampy land and rushes. Still, only the Creator can impart that true peace of mind which comes from repenting of our sins at the foot of the Cross. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5v1) This peace passes all understanding. We can strive and work for our salvation; we can deny ourselves every worldly pleasure; we can remain celibate all our lives – but all to no avail. Surely these words in Isaiah 64v6 apply to the man (or woman) who has not come the humble way, by simple repentance and faith in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64v6)

Of course this verse applies to those who have not yet trusted the Saviour, for when we repent and turn to Him, then the following verse applies to our lives: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2Cor. 5v17)

On our walk within the grounds we came to a little wooden bridge over the river but as I walked across I noticed with concern that part of it had broken away. A technical person by nature, my husband pointed out the danger – and the fault with it. “There’s where the problem lies,” he said, pointing to part of the construction. A spiritual analogy was visible here too. Surely Calvary bridges the gap between God and man? This is not a broken bridge, but a bridge that we can depend upon; a bridge that can take us safely over Jordan to a land where we will dwell in green pastures for ever and ever at the feet of Jesus who gave His life that we might live eternally in the joy of His Presence. This is not a bridge of works but of faith in His finished work.

I wished that I had brought some bread from home for the swans, which is something that I love to do, but I am certainly glad that I brought the tracts for those whom I came into contact with. “Cast thy bread upon the water: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11v1) Perhaps not in the near future, but some day the Lord’s servants will see the fruit of their labour. Meanwhile, “let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Gal. 6v9) And so, spiritually speaking, I must sow in all conditions. (2Tom. 4v2)

I had looked up into the sky and noticed how grey it was, for clouds drifted across and I felt a spit of rain. Still, this did not prevent us from embarking upon that walk with my brother-in-law, with whom we wanted to speak. In the spiritual realm: “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.” (Ecc. 11v4)

Entering the monastery again, we sat in the old sitting room once more while sipping tea with my brother-in-law. A short time later a door creaked open and I looked to see who it was…

“Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” These words of Jesus (in Matthew 23v9) came to mind as my brother-in-law introduced us to two priests who resided at the monastery. We had been talking with my brother-in-law for just a short time when the first one arrived to meet us. I had absolutely no wish to show disrespect to these men personally, but God’s Word is clear on this matter. I cannot, and must not, address any man upon this earth as “Father” in the spiritual sense of that word.

As we took our leave of the monastery that day, casting a backward glance I knew that I must leave my concerns for my brother-in-law with the Lord. He tells me: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Phil. 4v6) Now was the time for prayer – and to enlist the prayers of others.  

My visit to Kilkenny the following day saw the successful distribution of my books to the Kilkenny Christian Bookshop, Khan’s Bookshop in Kilkenny and the Kilkenny Book Centre. Carlow Library and others throughout Ireland are also in possession of the books which is good, given that each book has the potential to reach numerous people.

On the way home we visited Duckett’s Grove and Baltinglass Abbey, both reduced from their former glory, to ruins where the birds make their nests – a timely reminder that nothing in this world will last but that the “Word of the Lord endureth forever.” (1Pet. 1v24&25)

How thankful I was to the Lord for our safe return home from that little journey, since roads these days can be treacherous. When we reached the motorway I saw an amazing sight. There had been a delay, with traffic backed up all the way in front and behind us and I wondered what was wrong. “Possibly an accident,” commented my husband, but then the car in front of us put on its hazard lights and we saw them: the beautiful little ponies being led safely away from the motorway by uniformed police on motorcycles. These young creatures, which had somehow strayed into dangerous territory were now trusting their guides and trotting along, they followed them through the traffic until at last they would reached a safe haven. Surely, too, we can trust our Guide to bring us safely home – for He knows the way; the only safe way through the maze of erroneous belief systems and the hazards and trials of this life.

© Elizabeth Burke 2010

On Millstones, the Sea, Sin – and Amazing Grace!

June 5, 2010

“Millstones…” Isn’t it strange how our train of thought takes an unusual tangent, when we are disturbed by something we hear on the news? The particular item I refer to is that of a recent report on the clerical abuse of children throughout Ireland. This abuse spanned a period of many years we are told – who knows how long? Well actually, God knows. In fact there is nothing He doesn’t know, hence the term that we use to describe His nature – “omniscient.” Every word spoken in secret, every evil and clandestine behaviour on the part of man (or woman) – He knows it all, and some day everything shall be exposed!  (Matt. 12v36; 1Cor. 4v5; Rev. 20v12).

“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,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 18v6. Having had an opportunity to view millstones in an old converted mill, I was impressed by how solid and massively heavy they were. There is no way that they could be lifted by ordinary human hands! Many would be of the opinion that these abusers deserved ‘a millstone necklace, and to be subsequently launched into the sea.’ As a mother, I felt justifiably furious by the idea that people in positions of ‘spiritual’ authority would use those positions to abuse children, given that we can never even begin to estimate the psychological damage sustained by the victims.

Then I thought of those millstones again – and the sea, and someone who had been a sailor. This person had taken advantage of his position to abuse African slaves on board ship, during the vile slave trade of the 18th century.

The seas were often treacherous on his long journeys back to his native England, but it was on one such journey that the Lord spoke to John Newton. On March 9th 1748 he happened to pick up and read a Christian book that he found in his cabin. Already disturbed by the contents of this book, the infamous slave trader became terrified the following day when the ship was caught up in a violent storm. Sadly, one man was swept overboard and the vessel severely damaged by the crashing waves. However the Lord used this terrifying situation to bring John Newton to his knees. He became acutely aware of his sin, to such an extent that he was convinced that he could not be forgiven. For weeks his ship drifted at sea, violently tossed to and fro by the angry waves; furthermore the crew were rapidly running out of rations. But during this time John Newton searched the scriptures, with a desire in his heart to get right with God. Then, miraculously, the winds abated and the ship found a safe haven in Irish waters, anchoring on the shores of the lovely Lough Swilly, County Donegal.

Here the locals helped the crew to repair the damaged ship and John Newton came to see that God’s grace and mercy is extended to the most ‘hopeless’ sinner – even him. Soon others noticed the changed life of this man who “once was blind – but now could see.” How marvellous that one who once blasphemed the Saviour’s name was inspired to write some of the most beautiful poetry and hymns in the English language. Perhaps the best known of these today is “Amazing Grace.” Written in 1772, it lived on to touch hearts over the centuries and continues to be sung even at secular events today. His numerous other hymns include: “How Sweet the name of Jesus Sounds” and “In evil long I took delight.”

Having been a drunken infidel, sunk in the mire of the deepest sins known to mankind, John Newton had put His trust in Jesus who still calls out to all who will hear His voice today: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16v26).

Whether a man wears the robes of a priest or bishop, or the rags of a debauched John Newton, is irrelevant to God, for He can see beyond the outward appearance, to the ‘inward man’ and his spiritual condition. In 1Samuel 16v7, we learn that… “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” What is more, He is willing to forgive the most awful sins of mankind, providing that they repent and put their trust in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary; He wants too, to heal the victims of abuse and crime.

Most of us have probably never sunk to the depths of depravity that John Newton sank to, but every one of us needs a Saviour, and not one of us will get to heaven without taking the humble route that John Newton took! Whether we wear a clerical robe, a salesman’s suit, a police uniform, or a judge’s wig – we must get right with God, if we have not already done so. We need to recognise the truth in those words in Romans 3v23… “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Then we must be willing to let God put matters right, by simply repenting of our sins and asking Him to take over our lives.

When we do this, it will be as if “our sins have been cast into the midst of the sea;” we read in many portions of scripture of the great mercy of God in this respect. While men may find it hard to forgive us, God does not remember our sins and hold them against us, when we are truly repentant, turning away from sin in His strength. “He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7v19). He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2Peter 3v9) Not willing that a millstone be hanged around anyone’s neck, but rather that their sins would be cast into the sea! If the Lord can bring about dramatic changes in the life of a man like John Newton, there is no limit to what He can do with your life, whatever it has consisted of in the past! Please trust Him now – for your destination for all eternity depends upon it, and in this life God can use you for His glory, just as He used His servant, John Newton.

© Elizabeth Burke 2008

Link for hymn: “Amazing Grace”: