Archive for December, 2010

The Greatest Gift of All – A True Story

December 24, 2010

My Aunt Frances adored her children. There were five of them altogether – four girls like ‘steps of stairs,’ and finally a boy, all born in the 1940’s and 1950’s. She encouraged them educationally and when it came to the Christmas season, she ensured that each one wakened up on Christmas morning to a beautiful gift. This was quite an achievement, given that post-war times were hard and money was scarce in most households.

In those days she lived in a small town house, and I know (from experience) that under such circumstances it can be difficult to find extra storage space for those gifts we want to surprise our loved ones with on Christmas morning! Anyway, one particular year she bought many lovely gifts for her children, including a little iron and ironing board for one of the girls, but where would she hide them? At the time my parents, siblings and I lived in an old country house (where my aunt had lived previously) and although lacking in many modern conveniences, we had a little bit more space to hide the Christmas gifts and so my parents agreed to keep them for my aunt until Christmas Eve. As a child I loved Christmas, but somehow I recall that Christmas Eve was a busy, often stressful time – especially for women.

That year (as was the tradition for many years) it had previously been agreed that my parents would drive over to my aunt’s house with my cousins’ presents on Christmas Eve. When it came to the evening in question they did go over to visit her, but with all the activities and conversation – they completely forgot the real reason for their visit. They didn’t even think about those toys until they were back at home, preparing to go to bed and heard a knock at the door…

There standing in the cold December night was Aunt Frances with her bicycle, having cycled the entire distance from the town to our country house! In those days most people didn’t have a telephone in their homes (never mind a mobile ‘phone) and so, the only way she could get those essential gifts was to cycle out to us. That night my father packed my aunt’s bicycle into the car boot with the toys and drove her home, and then, in the quietness of the night while the children slept, she carefully laid out the surprises for the morning.

I was touched by this true story of a mother’s love for her children after hearing it from my own mother just recently, for I could also see some spiritual parallels. The miles that she cycled may not seem much nowadays for modern day cyclists who possess high-powered mountain and racing bicycles, but I am certain that my aunt possessed neither. Also, in her youth she had had an accident in which her legs had been badly injured, so that cycling may possibly have caused her some discomfort. What trouble she went to, for the sake of the happiness of her children!  In the Bible, a mother’s love is referred to in Isaiah 49v15, because it is normally one of the most unselfish and self-sacrificing of all the relationships between human beings. “Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”

Therefore we learn that it is possible for even a mother to be lacking in love, but God’s love for us transcends all loves. In 1John 4v8, we learn that “God is love,” and in Romans 5v8 we are told: “But God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” At this time of year gifts (large and small) are on our minds, but surely the Greatest Gift of All is that which God gave to us at Calvary? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3v16&17)

If my cousins had refused those beautiful gifts on Christmas morning, how heartbroken my aunt would have been; having gone to so much trouble over them. Jesus, the perfect Son of God having humbled himself to die on a cross has paid the ultimate price for our sins at Calvary. Today He still stands with outstretched arms, offering His gift of salvation to “whosoever will come.” All He desires is that we acknowledge our sin, repent of it and ask Him to come into our lives, so that He can make us “new creatures.” (2Cor. 5v17) Will you trust Him today? It is a decision you will never regret – for I have proved it in my own life! Remember tomorrow may be too late, for no one knows what tomorrow holds, and some day soon He will return to receive “His own.” (Matthew 24v44). Oh that you would be ready for His return and that you would know the joy of His presence in your life today!

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6v23) “For 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.” (Eph.2v8&9)

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“Wash Me and I Shall be Whiter than Snow!”

December 16, 2010

I am always struck by the purity of snow, particularly when it is covered by a layer of frost in the early morning sunlight. Everything appears innocent, beautiful, clean and new; in a sense reminiscent of the new-born babe in Christ. David said: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51v7)

These days purity in the human realm is almost sneered at, while sadly, in Christian circles purity is rarely encouraged in the Christian. There seems to be a widespread culture of preaching by which we are told that ‘we are all sinners’ and that ‘we sin in thought, word and deed every day’ – statements which are nowhere to be found in scripture. During the summer I attended a Christian conference where a speaker referred to ‘saved sinners and lost sinners.’ My heart sank at these words and after this I felt that the spirit was not in the meeting. Again, the term ‘saved sinner’ is nowhere to be found in the Bible and those who have been born again by the grace of God are never referred to anywhere in His Word as ‘sinners.’ In Psalm 1v5 we learn that “the ungodly shall not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”

No, it is not impossible for us to sin as Christians and we learn in 1John 2v1&2 that “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Note the use of the word ‘if’ here – not ‘when.’

In Psalm 51v10-13 we learn that a pure heart is a prerequisite to reaching others with the gospel… “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”

Those who talk of ‘saved sinners’ will often quote 1John 1v8: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Yes, if we know that we have sin in our lives, then it must be confessed and repented of. However, we cannot read 1John Chapter 1 in isolation, for Chapter 2v1 emphasises: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” Furthermore this chapter goes on to set the standard for the Christian, with verses like this one: “he that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (Verse 4) Finally, in this chapter we learn that: “If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him. (Verse 29)

In Chapter 3v3 we read: “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure,” while Verse 3 carries a warning to those who could be deceived by dangerous theology… “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.”

We must not let men deceive us into thinking that the term ‘saved sinner’ is an acceptable definition for those who have been born again by the grace of God.  Sin should be regarded as a disease – something alien in the life of the Christian, and once found it must be confessed to the Great Physician and repented of immediately.

If there is something in our lives which needs to be dealt with, or if we feel that we fall short of that “perfect love” referred to in 1John 4v17&18, we have need of His touch.

Of course we cannot live a life that is pleasing to God in our own strength but surely with God all things are possible?  If we can trust Him to do it, He can cleanse, fill and empower us… for the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ washes whiter than snow!

Link to the hymn: “Whiter than snow:” http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/w/h/i/whiterts.htm

Homeless in the Bitter Cold of an Irish Winter

December 9, 2010

Last night I heard a pitiful “Meow” and glanced out to see the most beautiful ginger and white cat, his green eyes shining in the icy darkness. I left some food out for him and closed the door again, watching from the kitchen window to see that he licked the plate completely clean. This beautiful cat is wild, clearly homeless and ravenously hungry – still hungry after four plates of food.

At that point I started to think about homeless people. For such a small country, Ireland has more than its fair share of them and I was shocked to hear some news at the weekend about homeless people who are actually sleeping outdoors in this weather. Some of those who were interviewed said that they were afraid to stay in hostels which were run by charities because they have been attacked and their limited possessions stolen in such places. One young man said that his mother had thrown him out because of his drug addiction. How terrible!

How many needy souls there are in our own communities! There is a world of work for the Christian to do in this world; we can pray for the immediate needs of those around us but if we have the opportunity to help in a practical way we should do so. Homelessness may not be the fault of the victims of it and I don’t believe that it is God’s will for my fellow human beings to live under these circumstances. Drugs, alcohol and poverty abound – but His grace is greater. I remember hearing the story of a young woman from the Ukraine who was homeless in Northern Ireland. One night she suffered from severe frostbite and as a result had to have her lower legs amputated. The town where this happened was, I am told, full of Christians. Did anyone see her alone in a cold doorway, as they passed by? If only she had known; there was no need for this terrible thing to happen, because if she had even gone to the police, they would have made sure that she was properly accommodated. And if only those who are in need right now would realise that there is a God in heaven who cares deeply about their situation and wants to give them good living conditions and a life that is pleasing to Him.

“I wonder where that cat sleeps at night?” I asked my daughter. “I wish that we could tame him and give him a home.”

“In that old deserted farmhouse at the end of the lane I think,” she said.

If the Lord can provide for His creation in such a manner, it is surely His will that men, women, boys and girls for whom He sent His Son to die, would have all their basic needs met in this life – and above all that they would possess those spiritual gifts of joy and contentment which only the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, can impart to human hearts. Surely…“my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4v19) is His promise to those who come to Him by faith for all their needs, whether spiritual or material!

Footprints in the Snow

December 2, 2010

Before the advent of television, story telling was a wonderful tradition in Irish homesteads. Particularly during the long winter evenings, neighbours would gather in around a roaring log or turf fire to recount their old tales. There is a little story (possibly true) which I heard many years ago that somehow made a lasting impression on me, and I never fail to think of it when I see the ground covered in pure white snow…  

One evening a man, having made his journey on foot through deep snow, sat at a bar drinking pint after pint. After some time he looked through the blur of cigarette smoke and was shocked to see his young son standing there. “How on earth did you know where I was son?” He asked with concern.

“Dad,” replied the little boy, “I saw you slipping out of the house, and then I noticed your footprints in the snow. I couldn’t keep up with you, but your footprints were my guide!  Placing my feet in each footprint, I walked on and on through the cold night… and eventually I found you here.” 

The lesson is clear – our children can follow in our footsteps, and so we must be careful where those footsteps lead! Sadly I am reminded of the amount of alcohol that is consumed around the Christmas season in Ireland and the fact that many families have been adversely affected by the over-consumption of alcohol at all times of the year.

The Bible does not tell us when Jesus was born but we know why He was born… “To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet unto the way of peace.” (Luke 1v79)

Surely there can be no peace when an addiction of any type has us in its clutches? Jesus said: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1v18) If someone reading this has a problem with alcohol or any other drug, remember that the Lord Jesus Christ loves you and wants to heal you… to set you free, for “if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8v36) Why not ask Him to forgive you and to heal you now, for it is His will that you would get the best out of this life – and be with Him forever in the next life.

Having heard the stories of former addicts, how encouraging it is to know that their lives now give testimony to the fact that “with God all things are possible!” (Luke 1v37)

Praise God that He can place our footsteps “on the path of the just” which “is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” (Proverbs 4v18) This is a path which we will want our children to follow us in!