Archive for November, 2012

On Young People, Their Future – and Some Thoughts on the Exclusive Brethren

November 27, 2012

After attending the graduation ceremonies of two of my daughters in Dublin in recent weeks, I have been thinking about how difficult it is for young people to make a living in this current era of unemployment and widespread cutbacks. Most parents are apprehensive when their children set out to go to university – but then so thankful when they complete their degrees, accomplishing that goal they had set for themselves three or four years earlier. The Christian parent will pray for their son or daughter, in the knowledge that there is a much more important goal… they pray that their children will ultimately own the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives.

Of course we have concerns during the years they attend university. We wonder about the company they keep and the influences that permeate their lives from all quarters – but we cannot keep young people locked away forever from the outside world, whatever our strongly held principles.

If we truly know the Lord, we pray – and we continue to pray in faith for our children until the Lord takes us Home.

With this in mind I have been thinking in recent days about a religious sect known as ‘the Exclusive Brethren’ and just how difficult it must be for young people who are born into one of these homes where legalism seems to be the order of the day.

Exclusive Brethren young people are not permitted to have a third level education and many of them invariably end up working for a company or business which is run by their parents’ church colleagues. The Exclusive Brethren broke away from the ‘Plymouth Brethren,’ the latter having had its beginnings in Dublin in 1830, but formed its first congregation in Plymouth in 1831. John Nelson Darby, one of the original prominent preachers, separated from the Plymouth Brethren to form the Exclusive Brethren which is today governed by the Australian Bruce Hales who is known as ‘the elect vessel.’

Some previous ‘elect vessels’ have been very controversial indeed, but what is most serious is the cult-like influence that they have over their members who amongst other prohibitions, are not allowed to eat or drink with those who are not of their persuasion. They must live in detached houses and pets are also prohibited. If young people decide that they do not want to be Exclusive Brethren, they are ostracised by their loved ones within the church. Today the Exclusive Brethren have spread throughout the world and have a presence in most European countries, while church buildings are built in such a way as to deter visitors. How far removed this is from the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Master Soul winner, who ate with publicans and sinners!

One afternoon I was walking down the street in a local town, when I spotted two young ladies in headscarves. I had often seen other ladies dressed similarly and was curious to know what religious denomination they belonged to. (At that point I knew nothing about them.) I somehow got talking to one of the girls, although her friend was a little reluctant to talk to me at all and kept her distance. Obviously married quite young, they were pushing young children in buggies. As I listened to the girl who spoke to me about their beliefs, I also told her of my own personal experience of coming to know the Lord as Saviour. However, when I asked her of her personal experience, I learned that she had none at all. “I believe what I believe because this is what my parents brought me up to believe,” she told me. I came away from that brief conversation with a terrible feeling of sadness. This young girl had told me of all the ‘don’ts’ in her life but she evidently had no living personal relationship with the Lord Jesus as Saviour. She dressed modestly, lived without all the modern trappings of this life and perhaps even prayed and read the scriptures – but she appeared to have no joy and no knowledge of sins forgiven, no life of faith – but one of works alone.

As I looked at my photographs of the young graduates of Trinity College, Dublin just recently, I thought of Edward Cronin, a young medical student in that same college over 180 years ago and how he was the one to start meeting with others for the ‘breaking of bread’ in a private house, because he was refused communion unless he joined one of the dissenting churches. John Nelson Darby then entered the equation but he was to draw others away with him, over a disagreement about prophetic interpretation. From 1848 the Brethren became two distinct groups; the open Brethren held to the principles upon which they were founded but the Exclusive Brethren became increasingly cult-like, with one central figure dictating how member families were to lead their lives.

There have been many schisms throughout all factions of the Brethren movement, but today I pray for members of the Exclusive brethren and I especially think of the young people who are brought up within the system. Yes, and I pray too for my own children whom I love dearly – and for all children and young people, whether they have had the opportunity to go to college or not, in the knowledge that “except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.” (Psalm 127v1)

Our Little Pet Hedgehog – and a Spiritual Lesson

November 13, 2012

One late summer evening our elderly cat was sniffing curiously around some creature which was sitting at the back door. At first we thought that it was a rat… but then thankfully discovered that it was a little hedgehog! At that first sighting he ambled away like a small spiky ball rolling down the garden path. This autumn we have succeeded in taming both him and two stray starving cats – ‘Mini’ (barely more than a kitten) and ‘Maxi,’ (a white and grey Tom) with a view to getting the cats good homes. Meanwhile the hedgehog has been bullying the cats away from their saucers of food, while our cat has become angry and insecure about all the attention her fellow mammals are getting.

The chorus to one of my favourite hymns as a child is:

“All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.”

Yes, He made them all and I have a special love for them all! I also believe that there are many spiritual lessons to be learned from animal behaviour. At first the little hedgehog would run away from us and hide his head behind something; because he couldn’t see us, he assumed that we couldn’t see him. There is a widespread philosophy in Christian circles that ‘God cannot see us in our sin, if we have committed our lives to Him.’ While the ostrich buries its head in the sand and other creatures hide their heads in other ways, of course they can still be seen. The Bible tells me: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1John 2v1) Note the word ‘if’ here and not ‘when.

After Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, we are told that they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3v8) But of course God knew exactly where they were and what they had done, even though He called out: “Where art thou?” (v9)

The ‘hiding your head’ philosophy also ties in with the commonly held viewpoint that ‘all our sins (past/present/future) are forgiven, when we commit our lives to the Lord.’ Where in scripture am I told this?

Another statement which is nowhere to be found in scripture is: ‘We sin in thought, word and deed every day.’

There is no doubt that when I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour that all the sins of my previous life outside of Him were forgiven, because I had repented of them and turned to Him in faith, asking for His forgiveness. However, what of future transgressions? Surely no sin is forgiven – unless it is acknowledged, confessed and repented of?

A third statement which I have heard from a pulpit in recent years is that there are ‘saved sinners’ and ‘lost sinners.’ Nowhere in God’s Word are those who know Him referred to as ‘saved sinners.’

Psalm 1 sets the standard for those who are His followers: Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” (Verse 5)

I am aware of situations at this very moment where those who claim to be Christians are living in deep sin. The Lord Jesus Christ is returning, perhaps very soon. Like His children, all of “creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” for His return. (Romans 8v22) However, unlike the innocent animal kingdom who have nothing to fear from His return, the members of the human race must be ready for Him. We must not be under the illusion that God cannot see us in our sin and will disregard it, because of some past commitment we have made.

Just recently our little hedgehog has gone into hibernation. He had made adequate provision for the possibly harsh winter ahead, by consuming as much nutrition as possible during the summer and early autumn. We too need to be adequately nourished and built up by God’s Word – reading and digesting His message to us and being comforted by His Presence as the days grow darker, colder and hungrier spiritually speaking. However seemingly impossible your situation, He can lift you out of it, if you but only depend on Him alone to help you. Remember – He loves you, means you no harm and He wants to feed you spiritually. We can never depend on the words, philosophies and sayings of mankind when it comes to Judgement Day – but we can depend on God’s Word and on Him “That is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” (Jude v24)

On the Forthcoming Children’s Referendum in Ireland – and Making an Informed Decision

November 7, 2012

I rarely comment on political matters; however the forthcoming referendum is something which I believe could have very deep repercussions for our society as a whole. Most political parties are urging people to vote ‘yes,’ with appeals on hoardings worded in such a way as to touch the heart of any concerned and caring parent…. “Vote yes,” they say, “to protect your children.”

I felt that the information booklet on the Children’s Referendum which was distributed to Irish households did not give individuals the comprehensive information they needed to make an informed choice and so, as an individual who sincerely wanted to do the right thing with my vote, I prayed about it and asked the Lord to show me what to do.

I then discovered that under the new legislation children can be brought out of the country for abortions – even if the child disagrees, while the state can decide to give birth control to children of any age, even if they are below the age of consent.

Children can be taken from their parents and given over for adoption by mere virtue of the fact that they have fallen into poverty and children, far from having ‘rights,’ could, I believe, become pawns in some very sinister decisions about their future, including being forcibly adopted by some highly unsuitable couples.

I am happy to say that all of my children are now in their twenties… but what of their children, if they ever have any? Therefore I cannot be complacent, for what we do as individuals with our votes now, will collectively affect generations to come. I feel that those who claim to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour have a responsibility in these matters to be prayerfully informed – just as they have a responsibility, like the saints of Berea, to search the scriptures daily, to see whether the things they are told are correct. (Acts 17v11)

I find it surprising that many people appear to accept blindly every word that is uttered behind a pulpit, just as individuals accept words projected to them from a political hoarding and vote accordingly.

Thankfully in our society we can still read the Word of God, without fear of reprisal – and yet we may discover that if we quote from God’s Word and stand by it, many will be against us. This reminds me of Daniel who “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank…” (Daniel 1v8)

Those who claim to own the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour must ‘purpose’ in their hearts not to defile themselves by going along with popular opinion or the philosophy of the age. Our every word, action and opinion must be prayerfully considered in the light of God’s Word – whether it is simply casting our votes or forming opinions on something as crucial as the future welfare of little children or older children who have fallen into vulnerable circumstances in our society.