Our blog by Jamie Muir

Jamie's Blog

Jamie, our Lead Elder at Beacon, writes this interesting Blog, which is often challenging and thought-provoking.

Just click on any of the Blog headings below to jump directly to that particular Blog Post.

 

Blog Posts

Why Alpha?   Are you religious?   The King of Integrity   Naked!   This is YOUR time!   Democracy   Gay Sex   Donald Trump   The friendship of God   Eternal security –  difficult passages   Eternal Security and Grace   Eternal Security - An Introduction   Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem   “Come in….your time is up”   “And we like sheep have gone astray” Isaiah 53:6   Why Church?   “Our God contracted to a span – incomprehensively made man”   Xxxxxx   God’s screening test   Courage? Just do it.   A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit   The Apprentice


Why Alpha?

Let’s admit it, It’s not always easy being a person of faith in the materialistic culture of the UK in 2017.   But let me ask, is it really that easy being an atheist?  When the evidence is all stacked up it would seem that the jury is far from decided. The Bible contains truths that are difficult to explain away.

For instance, did you know that?

  • Around 600 BC ( a millennia before Sir Isaac Newton defined gravity ) the Bible declared that God, “Hangs the Earth upon nothing.” (Job 26:7)  

200 years ago top astronomers estimated the number of stars at just over a thousand. The Bible told us in 600 BC that they could not be numbered (Jer 32:22) 

  • The water cycle was clearly described in the old Testament Ecclesiastes 1:7 2000 years before Pierre Perrault was postulating his amazing theories. 

  • The laws of hygiene are clearly laid out in the book of Leviticus 3000 years before Louis Pasteur discovered why handwashing worked. 

Perhaps even more than these scientific truths, buried in the old Testament are the prophetic truths. There are 332 prophecies about Jesus, for instance that he would be born in Bethlehem, he would be descended from King David, a messenger would be sent ahead to herald his appearing, he would appear riding on a donkey, he would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, he would be crucified, and people would cast lots for his clothing. Mathematicians have calculated that the odds of one person fulfilling just these eight prophecies are astronomical small, one in ten to the 21st power (1021).

Cynics would no doubt find wonderful ways of explaining all this away – and that I believe, is exactly how God would have it to be.

The writer of the proverbs King Solomon rather intriguingly wrote:  “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” (Proverbs 25:2)

But why?  If God is God then why doesn’t he make it crystal clear, why doesn’t he reveal Himself in a way that would dismiss any possible doubt or argument?

Well let’s think about this for a moment.

 Dietrich Bonhoffer, the German Pastor and theologian, said, “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.” 

You see, God is love, and at the heart of love is free will…  As Christians we believe that God has given us a choice to, accept Him and embrace Jesus as our Lord and Saviour,  or equally we can reject Him :Our choice.   If He had wanted automatic obedience He would have created Robots.  What He actually created was people ‘In His own image’ made ‘In His likeness’ who have free will to reject and rebuff Him. 

Christianity is not a set of sensible guidelines, it is a Faith! The very nature of a faith relationship, just like any relationship, is that it goes a step beyond ‘logic’ and into the realm of love.

Anyone who loves knows that love is not based on logic!   There are times when it feels illogical and times when it is sacrificial and far from convenient.

For instance, what is logical about this? “If you believe?” said Jesus, “you will receive whatever you ask in prayer!”

This is diametrically opposite to logic which would dictate “If you receive  then will you believe?”  

God is the invisible factor in the equation that makes faith stack up.

God, we are told, loves all of humanity (John 3:16) . Indeed, God so loved the world that He gave us His Only Son Jesus.  He loves all but, He is only pleased with Faith (Hebrews 11:6) .   Why? Because any self-centered tyrant can have logic. Only lover’s of God would have faith.

That doesn’t mean that you need to be brain-dead or deluded to become a Christian.  In fact, I would say that if you take the time to look into it the evidence for Christianity is overwhelming.  SO much evidence that many would say it takes more faith to be an atheist than a Christian.

An example of one such person would be Lee Strobel, an atheist and a journalist with the Wall Street Journal,  who wrote:

‘It was the worst news I could get as an atheist: my agnostic wife had decided to become a Christian. Two words shot through my mind. The first was an expletive; the second was “divorce.”’ He quickly realised that the best way that he could help his wife out of this delusion was to disprove the Resurrection, the cornerstone of the Christian faith. However his cleverly research arguments led him somewhere else instead.

’One by one my objections evaporated. I read books by sceptics but their counter arguments crumbled against the weight of historical data. In the end after I had thoroughly investigated the matter, I reached an unexpected conclusion:  it would take more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a follower of Jesus, which is why I am a Christian now. Not because of the fear of death or the need for a psychological crutch, But because of the facts.’

C S Lewis, Fellow at Oxford University and Professor of Literature at Cambridge and author of the Narnia books, wrote this about his Conversion to Christianity.

‘I had always wanted, above all things, not to be "interfered with." I had wanted  "to call my soul my own.’

 

Refusing to accept the existence of anything ‘supernatural’, he looked for a way of accepting Jesus’ teachings, which he could see were impregnated with truth and wisdom, whilst rejecting Him as God.  Finally, he came to a shocking realization; It was impossible to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher but not accept His claims to be God. He wrote:

‘A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.’

And so it was at the age of 30 he gave his life to Christ.   In his own words:

‘I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.’

If you are reading this blog and are not a Christian could I urge you to consider the evidence for Christianity?   Yes Messrs. Dawkins and others may mock, but over two billion people on the planet have so far decided that it is true.

Why not do the Alpha course starting on Tuesday 9th January 2018 and running until Easter? If you are 40 years old you have approximately 365 000 hours left to live.  Why not invest just 24 of them on Alpha, looking into the evidence so that you can decide for yourself rather than just following the crowd?

Truth or delusion? You will get the chance to decide for yourself.

If we two billion are right, then your eternal destiny may ride on it,  and eternity is a long time!  In the words of C.S Lewis   ‘Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.’

 

Are you religious? 

If anyone asks me if I am “Religious” I always emphatically deny it. To me religion speaks of jumping through hoops, scrambling over hurdles, fulfilling obligations – striving to “impress God” enough for Him to bless me and – more importantly – one day perhaps allow me into heaven.

All that sounds so dry dead and exhausting.  Fortunately, Christianity is not a religion.   Christianity is a living relationship with God through Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong.  If there is a prayer meeting, I will be there.  I go to church even on holiday. I give to the poor. I read my bible daily.   I admit, I behave for all the world like a religious person.  But there is a difference.   I go to church not to earn God’s love but in response to it.  I go to celebrate and thank Him for His love!

I am aware that actually there is nothing I could do to make God love me more than He does already.  All my efforts won’t buy me one single crumb extra of His love; I have the entire cake already.  Similarly, there is nothing I could do to make Him love me less.  He has made up His mind – since I received Christ, I am in His family.  He is going to love me through thick and thin. 

When I was a child I remember looking at people coming out of Church in their Sunday best…  looking pious and solemn …as if they had just done their penance,  “done their porridge” for another week.  It was almost as if they were itching to get home, get changed, forget about God, and do their own thing for another seven fun-packed days.  Is that really what church is all about?  Does God really expect us to “pay our due’s” every week?

Martin Luther a German monk started out life behaving like this.  He desperately tried to save his own soul.  He   was praying to seven saints a day – was whipping himself until he fell unconscious on his cell floor in the monastery trying to whip the sins out of his body – trying to cause himself so much pain and agony that he wasn’t tempted any more, and what happened? He utterly failed to convert himself.

Finally – and in contrast to the teachings of the Catholic Church at that time –  he had a revelation of the fact that salvation is not the work of man but the work of God – a spiritual “new birth” received by faith.

 His understanding that conversion was “Sola Fide” – by FAITH ALONE is of course what we are now in the process of celebrating – 500 years ago today.

 On Oct. 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed a list of grievances against the Catholic Church onto the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany; his “Ninety-five Theses” became the catalyst – the “starting gun” for the Protestant Reformation.  The greatest revival since Pentecost swept through the continent and changed the face of Christianity forever.

   Out of this Reformation emerged the five “Alones” – slogans that summarized the essentials of Christianity: “By Scripture alone, by Faith alone, by Grace alone, through Christ alone, to the Glory of God alone.”

Two hundred years later John Wesley who started the Methodist revival in the 18th century went through a similar journey to Martin Luther. He tried to save himself.  He was ordained a priest. He led the “Holy Club”.  He got up early. He prayed. He denied himself.   He went out to the American colonies to work among the Red Indians and was a miserable failure, and his missionary work after 2-3 years bought no results.  He came back saying “I went out to America to convert the heathen but who will convert me?” 

24th May 1738, at 8.45 pm he heard someone reading a book by guess who?  Martin Luther; – the preface to the book of Romans. He later recalled: ‘While he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

Trying to save yourself by religious activity it is like trying to pull yourself up by your shoe laces.

 It can’t be done .  ….Faith is a gift  from God …Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

I love those five words…“and this not from yourselves” In other words it’s not OUR faith that we have to have faith in on the judgement day.   We don’t have to lose sleep worrying if our faith be strong enough, because the answer to that is no… it won’t!    That’s why all we had to do was activate our will, and ask God for HIS faith! 

30 years ago next July my wife walked down the Aisle at our wedding to words of John Wesley’s brother Charles, words that exactly express this incredible truth of God’s lavish grace.  The words are as poignant, as moving and as tender to both of us now as they were on that day:

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Jamie Muir 31st October 2017

The King of Integrity

Billy Graham once said, ‘Integrity is the glue that holds our way of life together. We must constantly strive to keep our integrity intact.

So what exactly is integrity?
The word integrity comes from the Latin integer meaning ‘whole’. It describes an undivided life, a ‘wholeness’ that comes from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. It means acting according to the values, beliefs and principles we claim to hold.

As CS Lewis said – Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

Proverbs 13:6 says Righteousness guards the person of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.

Nicky Gumbel writes that one of his favourite illustrations of integrity is the story of the Titanic:

When the Titanic set sail in 1912, it was declared to be ‘unsinkable’ because it was constructed using a new technology. The ship’s hull was divided into sixteen watertight compartments. Up to four of these compartments could be damaged or even flooded, and still the ship would float.

Tragically, as we know, the Titanic sank in April 1912 . Over 1,500 people lost their lives. At the time, it was thought that five of its watertight compartments had been ruptured in a collision with an iceberg.

However, in September 1985, when the wreck of the Titanic was found lying upright on the ocean floor, there was no sign of the long gash previously thought to have been ripped in the ship’s hull. What they discovered was that damage to one compartment affected all the rest.

Rick Warren says “Many people make the Titanic mistake. They think they can divide their lives into different ‘compartments’ and that what they do in one will not affect the rest, HOWEVER ‘A life of integrity is one that is not divided into compartments.’

The King of Integrity was of course Jesus. Who else could look at his enemies who were trying to kill and say “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46) knowing that none of them could come up with a single accusation.

 Jesus’ enemies knew that He could never lie, and in desperation the only the strategy they could come up with to try and trap Him was to use his own integrity against Him:
Matthew 22:15-17 the Pharisees plotted a way to trap him into saying something damaging. They sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in, to ask, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students. So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

So there we have three great lessons on integrity that came straight from the mouths of Jesus’ enemies as they observed this man’s life 

1)   He taught the way of God accurately….no spin. No soft focus. No exaggerations. No slight twist on the word to make it sound more appealing or back up his opinion.  Just accurately passing on truth.  Someone once said the art of preaching was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.  Jesus knew how to do both in equal measure.

2)   Indifferent to popular opinion. How different from modern day politicians and leaders who will say anything to win votes. So often in our politics the tail wags the dog… and Christian values are sacrificed on the altar of popularity… whether it is Sunday trading, sex education, gay marriage, abortion on demand, designer babies or the sanctity of life. It seems that anything is up for grabs, anything is negotiable in the quest for votes, because votes mean power.  Gone are the days of  Winston Churchillwho reminded the nation that  The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.  As the bible says in Proverbs 12:19 Truthful words stand the test of time,  but lies are soon exposed.

And Jesus of course was the embodiment of truth. One of the most powerful moments in the gospels was that moment in John 18 when Pilot asked Jesus –- “What is truth?” 

He was staring truth in the face.  John 14:6 ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

3)  You don’t pander to your students. Jesus came out with truths that were deeply unpopular – in John 6 after his teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood –v 66 After this a lot of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?”  Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. Jesus responded, “Haven’t I handpicked you? Still, one of you is a devil!”   
Part of you actually feels sorry for the disciples – Jesus never pulled any punches did he…  but he knew the power of TRUTH – “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  (John 8:32)
Two millennia later in his book “leading Change”, Harvard professor John Cotter upheld Jesus ruthless adherence to truth at the expense of popularity:  “The first step in bringing about change” he said,  “is to magnify the problem. Establishing a sense of urgency is crucial in gaining co-operation.  The way we convince people that change is necessary is by convincing people how short they are falling … bad news can become eventual good news. It wakes people up and causes them to take decisive action.   The only thing worse than the pain of change is the pain of staying the same.”

 Jesus had the integrity to lead at the cost of his own popularity because His aim was not His own glory but the glory of His Father.

So there we have it.  A master-class in integrity from the one whose life has dominated the last two millennia of human history.

Lets learn the lesson and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to put it into practice.  For a start it would take so much of the stress and complexity out of life:

Zik Ziglar “With integrity you have nothing to fear since you have nothing to hide. With integrity you will do the right thing, so you will have no guilt.  With fear and guilt removed you are free to be and do your best.

 Jamie Muir  October 2017

Naked!

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as “unfit, stupid, or incompetent”. Finally, a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!   He’s NAKED!”

As far as I am concerned, a similar “NAKED!” cry has just rung out across the nation – in the form of Jacob Rees-Mogg during his interview with Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid on the “Good morning Britain” TV show on September 6th.

When asked about his stance on abortion Jacob Rees-Mogg brilliantly exposed the shame and disgrace of our nations Godless stance on abortion:

 “I am completely opposed to abortion. Life begins at the point of conception.”  

When challenged by Piers Morgan why he was prepared to take such a strong stance on Abortion as opposed to a less direct opposition to gay marriage he stated: “With gay marriage it is something people do to each other.   With abortion it is something done to the unborn child”
“Are you opposed to abortion in all circumstances?” he was asked.  “What about rape or incest?”

“Yes I am opposed in all circumstances.  Life is sacrosanct. My personal opinion is that life begins at the point of conception and that abortion is morally indefensible.”

Why is  abortion  morally indefensible to Christians?

Because God is our maker. The bible is clear.  He ‘formed you in the womb’ (Isaiah 44:24). God’s love for us extends to before our birth, to our very conception and the womb. Every human being from the moment of conception is created and sustained by God. ‘I have upheld you since you were conceived’ (Isaiah 46:3b).

Psalm 139 v 13-16 is just as explicit: “You formed my inward parts;  You covered me in my mother’s womb.14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;  Marvelous are Your works.  15 My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret,  And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me,  When as yet there were none of them.”

God recorded the Sixth Commandment in Exodus 20:13: “You shall not murder.” God values life highly and He wants us to as well.

And yet last year according to government statistics there were 190,406 abortions carried out in England and Wales.

And things are getting worse. Last night (22nd September)  the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists  formally demanded the full decriminalisation of terminations at any stage in a pregnancy and announced that they will now lobby Government for a change in the law. This follows the same decision by the BMA last June.

This means doctors performing terminations later than the current 24 week cut-off period in a pregnancy would face no criminal sanctions. They are calling for the current legal requirement for two doctors to sign off an abortion “on medical grounds”, to be scrapped.

The vote took place despite a letter signed by more than 650 doctors objecting to president Professor Lesley Regan’s “extreme stance” on abortion. Not unreasonably, they are deeply concerned that this could open the floodgates to sex-selective terminations as well as putting women in abusive relationships at risk of coercion to end pregnancies.

If you are reading this and you have already undergone a termination then the wonderful news is that there is grace and forgiveness at the foot of the cross for those who repent.  (I love the child’s definition of repentance: “being sorry enough to stop”).  Foreseeing the cross,  Isaiah was able to prophecy “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

The wonderful offer of Christ is that Mercy has triumphed over judgement.
1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

But without repentance there is little hope for this nation, as we rush headlong into apostasy and rebellion against God our maker.  Any fool will tell you that if you ignore the makers instructions you are heading for disaster. 

Just on a natural level this is not hard to predict. 

In 1934 a man called J. D Unwin wrote a book “Sex and Culture.”  He had studied 80 tribes and 6 known civilizations through 5,000 years of history and found an absolute link between the cultural achievement of a people and their sexual behaviour. He discovered that the whole of human history does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilized unless it has followed the teachings of the bible and been absolutely monogamous.  Worryingly, there is not a single example of a group surviving for more than 2 generations after it has strayed from those teachings.

The Centre for Social Justice… a think tank co-founded in 2004 by Iain Duncan Smith and Tim Montgomerie, has been highlighting what it calls an “tsunami” or an “epidemic” of family breakdown.  It reports that the number of lone-parent families is increasing by 20,000 a year ….In 2014 there were 2.0 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK, –  women accounting for 91% of lone parents with dependent children.

It estimates the cost of family breakdown – at  £46bn a year, over £1,500 for every taxpayer in the country.   For every £6,000 spent on dealing with the fallout from family breakdown, just £1 is spent on helping to keep families together.  How long before this economic burden becomes simply unmanageable?

So what more can I say but   NAKED!!!!   

We are NOT WEARING ANY CLOTHES!!!!  

For the sake of our nation – before it is too late – let’s open our eyes, realise our shame and disgrace and let’s clothe ourselves once again with the righteousness that comes form obeying the makers instructions – God’s Holy word, the Bible.

Jamie Muir 23.09.2017

This is YOUR time! 

With a top speed of over 27 mph, Usain Bolt is widely considered to be the best sprinter of all time and is the only sprinter to win Olympic 100 m and 200 m titles at three consecutive Olympics (2008, 2012 and 2016), a feat referred to as the “triple double.” 

Interestingly Bolt is Catholic and known for making the sign of the cross before racing competitively, and he wears a “Miraculous Medal” during his races…. a medal believed  to  prepare people to receive grace and dispose them to cooperate with it.

Of all his “inspirational quotes” the above is the one I am most struck by.  In effect “I don’t care what or who has gone before me…..This is my moment!”

Are you living like this?  Am I ?

Three things to keep us “on track” 

1.) Keep an eternal perspective:

2 Cor 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Col 3:1-3 Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.…

John Piper in his book “Don’t waste your life” distills this sentiment in one powerful story:   “I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.”

At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells.
Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life.
“Look Lord! See my shells!”

Please, please, please.   Don’t be sucked into the superficial, utterly fatuous, inane, dissipated ways of this present age.   Paul has a strong word for it  in Phil 3:8 skýbalon (variously translated “filth” “dung”, “muck”, or as here in the NIV translation…”garbage”  “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ”

In his classic book “Celebration of Discipline” Richard Foster opens with the observation: “Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant gratification is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people or gifted people, but for deep people”

DO me a favour…stop watching “Love island”…..

2.) Be filled with the Spirit

Ephesians 5:15 Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Does this mean we have to wear a white suit, look like models, have our hair perfectly in place and preach brilliant sermons?  No.  God’s spirit indwelling us means that in our weakness, God’s power is made perfect.

So stop making excuses,  stop disqualifying yourself,  get filled with the Holy Spirit and stop wasting your time!    As Mike Pilavachi  points out… Noah was a drunk, Abraham was too old, Isaac was a daydreamer, Jacob was a liar, Leah was ugly, Joseph was abused Moses had a stutter, Gideon was afraid, Samson was a womanizer, Rahab a prostitute, Jeremiah was too young, David was an adulterer and a murderer, Elijah was suicidal, Isaiah preached naked, Jonah ran from God, Job went bankrupt, Peter denied Jesus. The disciples fell asleep when praying, the Samaritan woman was divorced, Zacchaeus was too small, Paul murdered Christians, Timothy had an ulcer and Lazarus was dead! 

God wants to use ordinary broken, sinful, weak , foolish people like you and I,  and He does it by giving us His Holy Spirit …I love this definition of “anointing” :  “God on flesh doing what flesh cannot do”

3.) Train

1 Cor 9:24 “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  They do it to everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly”

And here we come back to Usain.   How does a Christian “train”?

  • Read. By being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2) … get into the bible, read the right books, (or get them read to you by audible books!)
  • Go to meetings…some things are “taught” but other things are “caught”. You have to be there…..preferably sitting in the front row and responding to the altar call. 
  • Pray . If you don’t know how to – turn up at prayer meetings and LEARN.
  • Live it! Witness to your friends.  Push yourself – as the motivational picture says… the magic happens outside our comfort zone!
  • Deny yourself. Yes that means films, books, internet sites, clubs, even people that you know are going to pull you in the wrong direction. As the bible says 1 Cor 15:33 Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.   Prov 13:20 Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Conclusion

One final thought……  Last weekend the news headline was “Justin Gatlin gatecrashes Usain Bolt’s London 2017 farewell party in 100m”

A poignant moment for the man who said “This is my time”.  It seems his time – at least as a champion sprinter… has finished.  His time as a believer has not.

I hope Bolt will follow the example of Studd.  C.T.Studd was an all England cricketer who after his retirement from international sport,  became one of the greatest missionaries of his era. In total he spent some fifteen years in China and six in India on his missionary work and then he devoted the rest of his life to spreading the Gospel message in Africa, founding the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade (now WEC International)

As he came to the end of his life he wrote these words:

I am getting desperately afraid of going to heaven for I have had the vision of the shame I shall suffer as I get my first glimpse of the Lord Jesus; His majesty, power and marvellous love for me, who treated Him so meanly and shabbily on earth, and acted as though I did Him a favour in serving Him! No wonder God shall have to wipe away the tears off all faces, for we shall be broken-hearted when we see the depth of His love and the shallowness of ours.

Jamie Muir 10.08.2017

 

Democracy

Imagine the scene in the oval office:

The President said, ‘I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.’

I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.”

Later in the conversation, Trump tried again, telling Comey: “I need loyalty.”

Comey replied: “You will always get honesty from me.”

Trump then said: “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.”

I do not envy James Comey, the former FBI director having to stand up to someone as over-bearing and powerful as Donald Trump. But I deeply admire his integrity.

I heard a story a few years ago that may be apocryphal, that the British government had commissioned a futurologist to investigate what he felt would be the greatest potential threat to the UK. They expected the answer to come back as “terrorism”, “climate change” or “disease”. The answer was totally unexpected. The greatest potential threat to the UK was predicted to be a loss of integrity.

Integrity is after all one of the pillars upon which a successful democracy is supported. If I had to pick the other pillars I would say freedom, humility and belief in the value of every individual.

These four pillars are the four legs on which the great table of Modern Civilization rests. Remove one and the whole system is in danger of crashing to the ground.

And right now, as never before, I believe we are in very real and present danger of undermining not one, but all four of these pillars.  As we embrace pluralism, relativism, and the “if it feels right then it must be right” culture, we are metaphorically lying under the table in a merry stupor, sawing through the legs of the great marble table above us.

It is just a matter of time before we get crushed.

Jesus is not often associated with having anything to say about democracy.  He did not live in a democracy, nor did he explicitly call for its creation – in fact, He explicitly denied that He was interested in setting up a secular political system.  He did however teach about these four values of freedom, integrity, humility and the value of each individual.  These teachings have not only brought about democracy but are the under-pinning values of our democratic civilisation.

Think about Jesus teaching on how we should treat one another. Think about how He treated women (Luke 8:1-3),  the sick (Matt 9:20-22), children (Matt 18:1-3), the disabled (Matt 9:27-34),  poor outcasts such as lepers  (Luke 5: 12-13), wealthy outcasts such as Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-10).  Those who  everyone else believed were morally corrupt and socially isolated:  the Samaritan woman in John 4:4-26 the woman caught in adultery, John 8:3-11  the “sinful woman” with the Alabaster jar of perfume, Luke 7: 36-48even enemies (Matt 5:44).

Jesus saw the infinite value of each individual “made in the image of God” and the infinite potential in each human soul. This was radical teaching in the Greco-Judean culture…it was this teaching that bought about a revolution that within a short space of time had swept through the Roman Empire and beyond.

Even the Communist Chinese academy of Social Sciences now recognise that “Christianity really lies at the heart of the rise of Western Civilisation.” 

 

So what is to be done?

Well, as I write this blog, the headline in the paper is “Theresa May’s closest advisers quit No 10 after Senior Tories demand they be sacked”  So let’s pray for wise counsel for Theresa May.

Maybe Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill have been made scape-goats.  But as advisers to Mrs May it is felt appropriate that they should bear some responsibility for this election that has brought disappointment to all parties. After all the Conservatives lost their majority. Labour suffered its third defeat in a row. The Liberal Democrats have barely moved, the SNP’s independence bandwagon has stalled, and UKIP seems to have evaporated. The only winners are perhaps the DUP.

So what sort of counsel does a First Minister need?  The bible makes it perfectly clear:

James 3:13–18  Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

We need Godly wisdom and Godly and courageous leaders. 

And for a democracy – we need a Godly electorate. 

In 1830 the French Philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville visited America to  assess their democratic system and asked a valid question:

 “What is going to keep the American democracy from pursuing its own individual self interests?” 

He believed that people were self-interested, but for democracy to work, we could see that people had to get beyond their own self interests,  get to know each other, and work together with their neighbours to make a good community.  Tocqueville’s conclusion after his visit to America was that Christianity was the only faith that could bring this about.

This is a nutshell is what concerns me about our culture. As we become increasingly secularised, increasingly ashamed of our Christian roots and heritage we are vandalising a democracy, until it becomes nothing more than a shabby vehicle for corporate selfishness. 

Paul’s teaching in Philippians 2:4 hits the nail on the head: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

In other words “Let each of you look not only to

  • your own financial affairs
  • your own property
  • your own family
  • your own health
  • your own reputation
  • your own education
  • your own success
  • your own happiness 

— but look to the financial affairs and property and family and health, and reputation, and education, and success, and happiness of others.

In other words, in the words of Jesus, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

But isn’t this asking for the impossible?  How could this possibly come about?  How can a leopard change his spots?  How  can an electorate suddenly become unselfish and altruistic?

Even the bible is clear.  It cannot. Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

As Oswald J Smith – the American author and Pastor – so succinctly put it : “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.”

The reason Christians have any virtue at all,  is primarily because they have recognized their heart condition and have asked God to forgive them and give them a heart,  a new nature…. A “heart of flesh” as Ezekiel 36:26 puts it. Quite simply, they have been “born again”.

Christians are people who are guided by the indwelling Spirit of God.  They are inspired by Christ’s example, they are stirred by deep gratitude for the unselfish love and grace shown to us by Christ. They are determined to obey the commands of Christ (John 14:15 whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me”)  Last and possibly least, they are encouraged by the prospect of reward(Matt 23:12 “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted”)

Only Christianity is radical enough to bring about this change of heart and behaviour.

So what is my conclusion?   
It is a warning. As we stray away from our Christian heritage and roots,  we are simultaneously ripping up the very roots at the heart of our democracy.

Eric Metaxas the  American author, speaker, and radio host puts it like this:
“In the West  we have got so used to the idea of freedom and democracy and economic prosperity, we take it for granted.  We have no idea that if it’s a cut flower,  it will continue to look beautiful for a season, but ultimately it’s lost the connection to the source of life”

James Muir   10.06.17

Gay Sex

Is gay sex not a sin?  Or has Tim Farron caved into  “Virtue Signalers”? 

On 25th April 2017 the newspapers announced “Tim Farron says gay sex is not a sin after he admits that he had allowed it to become an election ‘issue’”

Yet just a week before this rather startling admission, he had refused to say four times in an interview with Channel 4 News, whether he believed being gay was a sin.

For some reason he has now come and made his “politically correct” views known.

I believe Mr Farron was a lot closer to the mark in 2015,  when he was asked whether he believed gay sex was a sin and replied: “We’re all sinners.” 

Now don’t get me wrong. I love homosexuals as individuals …and I know that Jesus does.  More often than not I find gays to be compassionate, warm, intelligent, humble, vulnerable and honest.  Many are genuine and loving Christians.  Many are born with a powerful in-built genetic drive to love members of the same sex.  But as Mr Farron hinted in 2015 ….that doesn’t mean that homosexual sex is not a sin, any more or less than any sex outside of marriage is a sin.

Let’s face it, – like it or hate it – as Christians we believe the bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God.

All of it. 

It is the “maker’s instructions” – ultimately there for our own good. And I personally have no difficulty remembering where in the bible it says that gay sex is a sin:
It was in 2013 that “The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act” was passed in the UK, legalising same-sex marriage in England and Wales. As it turns out – perhaps providentially – the date is a bit of an “aide-memoire”, because it is in Leviticus 20:13 that the Old Testament Law degreed  “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads”

Now I know that is Old Testament.  Fortunately we now live under the grace and mercy of the New Testament.  But we must remember that the New Testament does not replace the Old Testament, but fulfillsit.  God hasn’t done a “U turn” and changed His mind – He has just made sure that mercy has been enabled to triumph over justice through the sacrifice paid by His Son Jesus on the cross.

SO what is my point about Virtue Signalling? Indeed what is “Virtue Signalling”?

Here I am grateful to Piers Morgan who yesterday introduced me to the phrase when he had a very public row on twitter with Lilly Allen:

Morgan laid into the singer, “Pipe down @lilyallen, you ridiculous virtue-signalling, PC-crazed, attention-seeking, hate-stirring, deluded clown.”

I turned to Google.  It turns out that “Virtue Signalling” is the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue. Interestingly it’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you “hate” things.

This claim to  hate something….for instance hating intolerance of homosexual sex, can be nothing more than a camouflage for boasting about your own wonderful gleaming beautiful virtue of love for all humanityand “tolerance”.  You deflect charges of vanity and self-aggrandisement, by your anger and outrage. But meanwhile, the under-tow may be less altruistic …you are seeking the reaction:  “why, you must be SO virtuous to be so cross!”

So let me finish with a challenge to all you “Virtue Signallers”: Is “tolerance” really “love for all humanity?”

The modern mindset is fixated on the right to “Freedom!” Freedom of choice has become almost sacred…the only sin which is not tolerated is intolerance. Everyone, apparently, should be free to live in any way they choose.

The only problem with this philosophy is that it doesn’t work.

Your freedom to eat junk food and watch TV will mess with your freedom to live a healthy long life.  Your freedom to watch pornography will affect how you relate to others. Even your freedom to enjoy football comes at the expense of freedom….. there are “rules” which may require some players to be sent off, some to even be banned from the sport.

But perhaps the greatest proof that this obsession with self–determining freedom is flawed is in the area of love.  Love simply cannot thrive without sacrificing freedoms. The modern couple want a relationship that neither requires them to change, nor demands that the other has to change.  The only snag is that this kind of relationship is only true in fiction.. it doesn’t exist in reality.

In reality we live in a world of God – given rules where the “ref” knows what ultimately works for the good of all, and what doesn’t. If we believe the bible then God is after all the embodiment of love: 
1 John 4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

We all want to be loved and to love – that is when we feel most complete – most fulfilled…but no love relationship can grow without a constraint of some freedoms.  

For married people this may mean a decision to avoid an extra-marital affair.

For doctors this means a decision not to date patients.

For teachers a decision not to date pupils.

And I am sorry.  For homosexuals this may mean a decision for celibacy. 

If you find this a very bitter pill to swallow, please find consolation in God, whose love is “poured out into our hearts” by the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 5:5) and whose words can reach into the most painful and private places of our hearts to bring comfort and peace:

Psalm 73:21-26

When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterwards you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion for ever.

  James Muir   May 2017

Donald Trump   

What a puzzle that someone so vulgar and self-absorbed, so irreverent and offensive to women and minorities, someone who seems so “un-Christian” should seem to be supported by so many Christians across the pond.

 Why should this be?  Can’t they see what kind of man he is?  Surely the fact that he is the focus of so many inquiries from the FBI to various congressional committees would give them a hint!?

Is it simply because he is against abortion, and same-sex marriage?

Or is it because he has surrounded himself with Christians such as Vice President Mike Pence, Jerry Falwell Jr, Mike Huckabee?

The other week while I was in Cyprus, I actually heard of a prophetic word being referred to from an American pastor that has made some sort of sense of the support that Trump inspires from Christians, despite his many character flaws.

You see there are many who believe that Mr Trump may be compared in some way to King Cyrus.

 “Cyrus the Great”, the pagan Persian king, conquered Babylon in 539 BC, freed the Jews, and returned them to Jerusalem where they would rebuild the temple. He might not have been one of God’s people, but he nevertheless definitely served God’s plans.

It would seem that this prophetic link between Trump and Cyrus, stemmed from a man called Lance Wallnau.  “I heard the Lord say, ‘Donald Trump is a wrecking ball to the spirit of political correctness,'” Wallnau says.

“After I met him I heard the Lord say, ‘Isaiah 45 will be the 45th president,'” he explains. “Isaiah 45 refers to King Cyrus:  “Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus….I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free”.

 Wallnau wrote a book ‘God’s Chaos Candidate’ which reached number 19 on the Amazon bestseller list shortly before the election.

To Wallnau, the message was clear. Trump was a warrior against the global “demonic agenda”, “raising the warning cry about the unravelling of America.”   Trump’s obvious faults and flaws only served to confirm the prophecy: Cyrus, like Trump, was powerful, rich, and pagan, not at all godly.

So the hope amongst many Christians and Jews, is that Trump will help Israel to “settle properly in its land”. Indeed Trump’s support for Israel, his daughter’s conversion to Judaism, and the president’s commitment to moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, all seem to add weight to the prophecy.

And in the months since Wallnau first reported his communication from God, there have been hints that Trump himself has become more religious; the respect he shows Evangelical leaders, and his assertion that he prays reinforce this conviction. Some even assert that Trump is ‘born again’.

Others however have become more sceptical, deeply pained by Trump’s lies, abusiveness, and impulsiveness, as well as his mean-spirited treatment of refugees from political and religious oppression.

Well, time will tell.

Cyrus in his lifetime was a brilliant leader. He maintained control over a vast region of conquered kingdoms, improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, created an effective organized army, formed an innovative postal system, as well as repatriating the Jews from their Babylonian captivity.   

Whether we are in the deeply sceptic camp, or the hopeful camp, one thing is certain; we have an obligation to pray for the man: 1 Timothy 2:1-3 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.

James Muir   May 2017

The friendship of God

The well known hymn says, “What a friend we have in Jesus,” but actually, God invites us to enjoy friendship and fellowship with all three persons of the Trinity: our Father, (1 John 1:3. This experience of communion with the Father), the Son (1 Corinthians 1:9. This wonderful friendship with his Son, even Christ our Lord), and the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14. The intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit).

The Bible says, “Now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God — all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God” (Romans 5:11 NLT). What did Jesus do for us? He died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin …removing the barrier between us and God for those who believe in Him. “All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends” (2 Corinthians 5:18a TEV).

Looking back over the last six weeks I can see some remarkable signs that God is right here by my side, my friend.    Here are just three examples

1)  A Plumb line. On Saturday 1st April I woke up thinking about what I was going to say at the up-coming baptism of my 14 year old son Daniel and his friend Luke. I felt God wanted me to use three illustrations – a sponge, a torch, and either a compass or a plumb line as an illustration. I headed off to the prayer meeting at the office at 8am still juggling this in my mind; should I use the compass, or should I use the plumb line?  I then headed off to help with the communal gardening at 9am. I reached into the bushes outside the job centre to pull out rubbish and to my surprise this is what I found: A plumb line!

Why was I so pleased? In the book of Amos in the Old Testament the Lord gives the prophet Amos a vision.

Amos 7:7. I saw the Lord standing beside a wall that had been built using a plumb line. He was using a plumb line to see if it was still straight. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” 
I answered, “A plumb line.”
And the Lord replied, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins.”

 A plumb line is a weight used by builders as a vertical reference point – to make sure what they are building is straight.  It does not deviate, it does not provide excuses, it does not just tell you what you want to hear, it does not change. It is unerringly straight and right.  This is how I felt God wants Dan and Luke to be in their generation. Others will look at them and be able to judge the quality of their own lives in the sight of God.

2) Paphos 

Sunday 7th May found me visiting my Nephew at his Bible College in Cyprus.

We had decided to go to Paphos for the day and for the first time in my life I felt drawn to the idea of just sitting in a café and reading, while my wife and sister visited some local archeological sites. The book was on Spiritual Warfare by Peter Wagner. It was a book I had pulled off the bookshelf more or less at random and on a whim had throw into the rucksack for the day. I pulled it out and started reading where I had left off on page 77.  Imagine my amazement when I read the content of the page concerned “the dramatic power encounter that began Paul’s evangelistic initiative in Paphos, Western Cyprus as recorded in Acts 13:6-12”

God’s finger-prints were evident once again!  He was sitting with me in that café!

3) Mike’s Monitors

My third example of God nudging me to let me know He was with me occurred just yesterday.  It is almost frivolous, but just as real to me.

I had met Mike in Cyprus – His son was at the same Bible College as my nephew, and  we had shared accommodation. He had returned to Connecticut the Sunday I had been in Paphos.  He emailed me a picture of his office. I noted no less than 5 monitors in the picture and quipped in a text: “Very impressive you ‘big shot’!”

I then sent him a picture of my desk  with it’s rather under-sized single monitor, and jokingly added “I have put in a request for another four monitors, including a couple of big ones on the wall…I hate to be out-done by a Yank!”

By the end of the day I had to send him another text with another photo. “God has a sense of humour! Without my prompting, the Practice manager has today replaced my monitor for a wide-screen one!!”

Am I imagining this, or had God enjoyed sharing that joke with Mike and I?!

So – you may be thinking – you poor deluded fool!  All these are just co-incidences. They happen to everyone!  Well yes.  But William Temple – Archbishop of Canterbury 1942-1944 once remarked “When I pray, co-incidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.”

Take these little co-incidences for what they are…..nothing.  And everything.  God in conversation, my friend “who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov 18:24) Evidence of the LORD who “watches over all who love him…” (Psalm 145:20) 

James Muir 13.05.17

Eternal security- difficult passages (2)

1 Peter 1:3-5  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heaven for you, who through faith are protected by God’s power for the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.…  

John 10:27-28 My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of My hand.   My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.

Eph 4:30 do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Romans 8:38- 39 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If these scriptures are correct that seem to speak so clearly and categorically about eternal security, then scriptures that seem to suggest otherwise must be either misapplied, out of context or not about salvation at all.

First of all let’s deal with

1)  PASSAGES THAT DEAL WITH JUDGMENT OF BELIEVERS WORKS rather than judgment of believers themselves.  (Remember when you grade the eggs you are not grading the chickens!)

Perhaps the most challenging example of such a passage is the passage we dealt with in my last blog on 20th March 2017– John 15 about the vine.

Here is another:

Heb 6:7-8  When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.

In this passage the EARTH/LAND is the believer.  If a believer is out of fellowship with God he or she begins to produce other things – thorns and briars. The result? The Greek word “useless” is ADOKIMOS = “Not approved”

Even today farmers burn the stubble – it doesn’t mean they burn the field, they just burn what is growing IN the field.

Incidentally we can see that word ADOKIMOS in another context in 1 Cor 9:27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  Was Paul – who wrote 2/3 of NT saying here that he was afraid he would lose his salvation?!  No ADOKIMOS means not approved.
This has nothing to do with salvation – he is talking about God’s approval of his works.

2) PASSAGES WHICH DEAL WITH THE DISCIPLINE OF BELIEVERS

Once you are in the family of God then God – like a good father will start to discipline His children. (Heb 12:5-13).  Discipline however is not the same as losing your salvation!   In fact it means you have NOT lost your salvation;  If you had lost salvation He wouldn’t be your Father, and it would be none of His business.   

This is however a sombre topic….  Discipline may not lead you to lose your salvation but it can lead you to lose your life. In a rather serious passage in 1 John 5:16 we read:
If you see a fellow believer sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it.  All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death.

 Ananias and Saphira were an infamous case in point – a couple who had lied to the Holy Spirit and paid for it with their lives.

In 1 Cor 11:29-31 we are told that those who take communion “without solemn reverence and heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ” risk discipline from God – indeed some of them were ill and some had died. Looking around the church today we see examples of believers who struggle with depression/anxiety and illness as a result of unconfessed sin, or issues over which they are refusing to submit to God.  (Hear me correctly – I am NOT saying that all physical or mental illness is a result of sin!  Some of the most fruitful and beautiful believers I know have had to battle with long term illness. Remember: God is more interested in our character than in our happiness.)

Does it mean you will lose your salvation? Not a bit. If God is still judging you then you are still His son or daughter  – your eternal destiny is still safe and secure in heaven.

A curious and intriguing Old Testament passage which exemplifies this, is King Saul.  He reigned over Israel for 40 years – one year in fellowship with God and thirty nine out of fellowship.  Finally his “sin unto death” was going to a medium – something God had expressly forbidden.  Lev 20:27 “A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them..” mediums who say they can bring people back from the dead are in fact conjuring up impersonating demons.  However in this unique exception, Samuel was allowed by God to return from the place of the dead – “Abraham’s womb” to give a message to King Saul:

1 Sam 28 15 Samuel said to Saul, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy? ….18 Because you did not obey the LORD …tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.

Not “tomorrow you will be cut off from God in hell”.  In fact these words are not unlike the words of Jesus to the Criminal on the cross beside him: “This day you shall be with me in paradise.”    So despite thirty nine years of disobedience and rebellion, Saul was destined for salvation.

3) PASSAGES TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT

 a) Matt 24:13 (Matt 10:22 is similar) “but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Some preachers will say “brothers,  unless we endure to the end we are not going to be saved!”     

BUT…“Saved” doesn’t only refer to eternal salvation – Sozo can mean “saved from the hands of the Philistines” etc.  One can tell from the context that Matt 24 is in fact talking about believers being saved from further affliction and martyrdom during the tribulation of the times.

b) Rev 3:5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.

Jesus was writing to the church in Sardis – believers in this church  “He that overcometh” – does this mean some of these believers wouldn’t “overcome” and so would be blotted out of the book of life?

No. Fortunately John – the same author who wrote Revelation by dictation – defines an “overcomer” in 1 John 5:4-5 as “every person who has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ”.  All believers will be saved!

 c) A third passage that could be mistaken for suggesting loss of salvation is this:

Hebrews 6:4 -6   It is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then turn away from God, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.

Heb 10:26 we see the same phrase  26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

These passages are talking about “apostates”.  Apostates have knowledge, but no application of that knowledge. They can be found in the church, among God’s people. Judas Iscariot is the perfect example – he had knowledge but he lacked true faith.   He was part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, eating, sleeping, and traveling with Him for years. He saw the miracles and heard the words of God from Jesus’ very lips, from the best preacher the world has ever known, and yet he not only turned away from Jesus, but was instrumental in the plot to kill him.  In the end he was remorseful about his sin, but not repentant…“Sorry he got caught” rather than sorry he had sinned.

Having turned his back on the truth, and with full knowledge choosing to wilfully and continually sin, the apostate is then beyond salvation because he has rejected the one true sacrifice for sins: the Lord Jesus Christ.  If Christ’s sacrifice is rejected, then all hope of salvation is gone. To turn away wilfully from this sacrifice leaves no sacrifice; it leaves only sin, the penalty for which is eternal death.

This passage is not speaking of a believer who falls away, but rather someone who may claim to be a believer, but truly is not. Anyone who apostatizes is proving he never had genuine faith to begin with (1 John 2:19).

 d) 2 Timothy 2:11 -13
This is a hymn Paul is quoting – one they used to sing in their day 
11Here is a trustworthy saying:  If we died with him, we will also live with him; 
 12if we endure, we will also reign with him.  If we deny him,  he will also deny us;  13if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself
“If you deny Him He will also deny us!”  Help!  What if I deny him under torture? Will I go to hell?
NO! 
“Deny” v 12 is used in the sense of denying some blessing or benefit  e.g. If you deny Christ – the use of your body as His temple, or to use you as an ambassador of the gospel, then don’t expect joy, peace etc., as you are out of fellowship. This drives you back to the arms of Jesus quickly!

Notice that the flip side of v 12 is  v 13  however .. “if WE are faithless  …” then watch out because you will be damned? 

No!  He remains faithful.  Salvation is HIS work  He cannot deny Himself.  WE are the reward for Jesus !  YOU are His reward and He will not be denied His reward! That is why he remains faithful.  It was for the “joy set before Him  that he endured the cross” (Heb 12:2) The work of salvation is the work of God. One day He will get us all as His marvellous reward in heaven. 

If you have reached the end of this blog, well done!  You are truly dedicated! HERE is your reward….one final passage that speaks of the rock solid assurance of salvation for all those who have ever truly put their trust in Jesus Christ:

Jude 24-25

 24To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy — to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Jamie Muir 10.04.2017

Eternal security –  difficult passages

 

 

(Warning: thinking caps needed!)

 

 

 

There are three basic camps  concerning the possibility of a  Christian losing his or her salvation:

  1. “The once saved, always saved” camp states that once you are truly saved, no matter how you live or what you do, even denying Jesus and turning your back on Him, you cannot lose your salvation. Although your sin might shorten your life or lessen your future rewards, you will still be eternally saved.
  2. “The perseverance of the saints“ states that a true believer would never ultimately turn away from the Lord, and therefore if you claim to be born-again, but die in sin, denying the Lord, you were never truly saved.

     

  3. The final teaching states that a true believer can lose their salvation. Jesus would never reject us, but if we deliberately reject Him, we can walk away from our salvation.

I don’t want to be divisive or dogmatic. Theologians and scholars far more learned and brilliant than me who I greatly admire and respect belong to camp (3). But I guess my own stance at the moment lies in camp (1)but with the camp (2) proviso that a Christian does have to be truly saved and born again:

Matthew 13:24-30 – the Parable of the weeds – tells us that there will be many in the church who are not true believers.  In 2016 the Barna Research Group conducted a survey to look into the question “What to people in this nation (UK) know and believe about Jesus? 

The results were interesting; Astonishingly, in the West Midlands although 57% said they were Christians,  only 6% regularly attend church, prayed or read the Bible.  Yes a staggering…… 51% of the population say they are Christian but do not go the church or read the bible.  I would tremble if I were in their shoes!

It is very possible to believe one is a Christian but not be “born again” – not have a new nature.

The New Testament church was infiltrated with such people. One such group of people who had found their way into the New testament church is referred to in 2 Peter 2:1  But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you. The whole chapter is a description of these false teachers. .. They weren’t born again. With true believers there is a change on the INSIDE; With these people there is only a change on the outside.  Sure, they accept the morals of Christianity v 20 they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, (they studied and started reforming but their inner nature never changed) they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.  

What makes me so sure these “false teachers” were unregenerate?  Answer: the phrase in verse 22: “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again: and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”

Peter was making it clear….they had never changed. They were “dogs” and “sows” inside ..not born again believers with a new inner nature.

In my first blog in this series I made it clear that “This is such a vast topic. There are many verses in the bible that seem to suggest we CAN lose our salvation”

The above passage from 2 Peter 2 is a classic example.

Another is John 15:1-6. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away [a]; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

A simple reading of this passage looks worrying from the perspective of “once saved always saved” camp.   However three vital keys can unlock this for is:

1) This passage is about FRUIT not salvation.

2) Verse 2 says “lifted up” not “takes away”
Notice that little [a] after the phrase “takes away” in verse two.  The footnote reads “or lifts up“ (New King James version) The Greek verb “Takes away” is the word “Airo”   means “Take away” or “Lift up”according to its context. The fact is that all vines grown on trellises. In Spring if a branch is hanging down this can restrict the flow of sap or the exposure to sunlight, so it is lifted up. 

God “lifts up” unfruitful Christians, He doesn’t “cut them off”!

3) In verse 6 there is a change in number. Lets look at the sentence in its entirety

5 -6 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much FRUIT; for without Me you can do nothing; If anyone (singular) does not abide in Me, he (singular) is cast (or placed) out as a branch (singular)  and is withered; and they gather them (plural)  and throw them (plural) into the fire, and they (plural)  are burned.

Why this change in number?  Because the second half is referring back to the first half of the sentence which is talking about the FRUIT, not the PERSON!

Let’s look at an English example: “I used to grow rose bushes;  I had a helper until we dug them up!” The “them” in the second half of this sentence refers not to the helper, but to the rose bushes he is producing. The reason it is not “the helper”, is because it is plural.  This is why in John 15:6 the “Branches”(plural) refer to the fruit not the man.

So here is a paraphrase of this passage:

“I (Jesus) am the vine, you are the branches.  If you remain in me you will bear much FRUIT, because apart from me you are not able to do anything. If anyone does not remain in me he is out of fellowship ..is grieving /quenching/ resisting the Holy Spirit,  and his life branch will wither.  The Angels will gather the fruit from such an out-of-fellowship life,  and burn it in the fire”

To understand this burning of “dead works” look at

1 Cor 3: 12-15 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved – even though only as one escaping through the flames.

One day our works will be judged. Works that were inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit will remain.  Works that were simply the result of our out-of-fellowship human nature and fleshly ambition will be burned up.  Let’s heed the real message of John 15 and seek to live in step with Jesus through abiding in Him.

Jamie Muir  20.03.17

Eternal Security and Grace

The 1998 Spielberg film “Saving Private Ryan” follows the story of a US Army Captain John Miller – who following the Normandy Landings – is ordered to go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.  He assembles six men from his company and by the end of the film five out of the six have been killed. Miller himself has been mortally wounded and as he lies dying he breathes his last words to Private James Ryan whom he has managed to track down and save.

“James, ” he whispers in a barely audible voice, “….earn this.   Earn it.” 

The film cuts to a now elderly and emotional Ryan standing in front of Millers grave fifty years later.

Every day I think of what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough.  I hope that at least in your eyes I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”

Ryan then turns to his wife and with tears in his eyes he asks her “Tell me I have lived a good life.  Tell me I am a good man

It’s great cinema. Absolutely heart wrenching.  However those two words “Earn it” betray Spielberg’s Jewish upbringing. No Christian would ever have thought to introduce the concept of needing to earn or re-pay for a life laid down in sacrifice.  The reason?  Christ gave his life with no strings attached. 

Not in a million lifetimes could we ever begin to repay the life of the Son of God given up for us.   His life was given as a love gift, not a payment for good behavior..

1 John 3:16  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

Jesus Himself spelled it out “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.” John 10:18

That is why Paul emphasises to the Ephesian church that salvation is received not earned:   Ephesians 2:8For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.…

Once you understand the full extent of God’s grace in freely giving himself for us then you will understand eternal security.

Some people feel you shouldn’t preach grace too much or you will be giving people a free rein to carry on sinning.  In other words, they believe the threat of a lost salvation is what produces holiness.  If you think this way, you do not understand love.  There is no threat in love.

Once you have accepted Christ, holiness is a response, not a pre-requisite to God’s unconditional love:

Titus 2:11-14   For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,  while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

So relax.  Enjoy your relationship with God.  In the words of the 2014 song by Pat Barrett & Anthony Brown,  He is not a tyrant.  He is a good, good Father.

I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a good good father.
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are.
And I’m loved by you.
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am.

   James Muir  13.03.17

Eternal Security - An Introduction

In 1876  a German-American clergyman and artist Johannes Adam Simon Oertel painted this picture “Rock of Ages”. His painting became enormously popular and was reproduced in millions of photographs and reproductions for sale both in the United States and England.

I heard a story of one particular lady who used to have this painting hanging above her bed. As she gazed at the poor wretch still tossed around by the stormy seas, clinging  tenuously to the cross shaped rock , a look of agony on her face she would say “That’s what it’s like….clinging on to the faith!”

Wistfully she would think to herself “How my arms used  ache for that girl. How I long to hold on for her”  

One day God began to speak to her about this. He revealed to her two particular  scriptures.

1 Peter 1:5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Heb 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith

Suddenly she felt as if the arms of Jesus were around her, loving her and holding her. She felt so warm and secure…utterly safe and peaceful.   After a few minutes bathing in His presence, she opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was this painting.

A few days later her family visited and were amazed to find a clean patch on the wall paper above her bed. “What has happened to the old painting?” they exclaimed.

“I took it outside and smashed it up!” She announced proudly. God showed me I am not clinging on by my finger tips. I am 20 miles inland!”

Eternal security is a controversial topic with ardent Calvinist leaning protagonists and Arminian leaning antagonists. But when I ask myself the question “Is it possible for someone who has truly believed in Jesus to lose their salvation and end up in the lake of fire and separated from Christ?” I find I have to answer “impossible”. 

For a season my wife and I used to be phoned every morning at 6 o’clock by a dear brother who had a schizophrenic illness.  “Jamie” he would say, “I am afraid I have committed the unforgivable sin. I have blasphemed the Holy Spirit!  I have lost my salvation!”.

“But brother, we have been through this” I would explain.  John 16:8 explains that the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin so that they can go to Jesus for salvation.  Blasphemy of the Holy spirit is resisting that conviction, and so never even calling on Jesus for His salvation. You however are a believer! You yielded to that conviction and DID go to Jesus for salvation!  So you haven’t blasphemed the Spirit!  A few minutes reassurance was needed before he could relax and continue his day. 

Others worry about the passage in Matthew 7:21-23 In this familiar passage our Lord declared, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

The point about that story is actually obvious when you think about it; they weren’t saved in the first place!  Any born again believer would say, “But Lord, you died for our sins on the cross. Our only hope is in what you did to pay for our sins!” These people didn’t say those things. Instead, they pointed to their works. They pointed to the very things which they were relying upon to earn them their place in heaven.

This is such a vast topic. There are many verses in the bible that seem to suggest we CAN lose our salvation. SO let’s come back to this next time.

For now let Paul have the last say:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  (answer: None!) Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, (nothing you do or think or say in your life will ever cut you off from God) nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

  Jamie  Muir   13.02.17

Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem

Now when the days of his ascension drew near, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. Luke 9:51

Thomas Cranmer is a hero to many.  He was archbishop of Canterbury from 1533 – 1556, and as supporter of Henry VIII he was able to push through the reforms that led gradually to the creation of the Church of England.  He supported the translation of the bible into English, and in 1549, he helped complete the book of common prayer.

However at the succession to the throne of the Roman Catholic Mary I, the tide of popularity turned for Cranmer.  He was tried for treason, and was forced to proclaim to the public his error in the support of Protestantism.  In 1556 he duly signed his submission to the Pope’s authority, but despite these recantations, Queen Mary refused to pardon him and ordered Thomas Cranmer to be burnt at the stake.

On 21st March, 1556, Thomas Cranmer was brought to St Mary’s Church in Oxford, where he was expected to deliver a short address in which he would repeat his acceptance of the truths of the Catholic Church. Instead he proceeded to recant his recantations and described the Pope as “the Antichrist, with all his false doctrine.” The officials pulled him down from the platform and dragged him towards the scaffold.

According to John Foxe, as the fire approached him, Cranmer demonstrating his regret for signing the recantations, put his right hand into the flames, keeping it there until everyone could see it burned before his body was touched.” Cranmer was heard to cry: “this unworthy right hand!”  as long as his voice would suffer him; and finally using  the words of Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” he gave up the ghost.

The bible is devastatingly honest.  Jesus Himself also came under extreme temptation to recant. In the garden of Gethsemane and on the eve of going to the cross –  where he knew he was to “become sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21)  and he “become a curse for us” (Gal 3:13) …He prayed fervently and repeatedly that if possible the hour might pass from him … “ being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

Fortunately for us, His battle over His will was won, and His resolve stood firm. 

The next day  three of the gospel writers record that the sun was darkened from midday until three in the afternoon as the sins of the world, past, present and future were placed upon the innocent Jesus, and he became our sin offering, – “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world”

Thank you Jesus. The words of the hymn by Stuart Townend express it all for me:

 “Behold the man upon a cross, My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there, Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life – I know that it is finished.”

James Muir       06.02.2017 

“Come in….your time is up”

This was the title of one of the later episodes of “Dad’s Army – the TV  sitcom  broadcast on the BBC from 1968 to 1977. The sitcom ran for 9 series and 80 episodes and regularly gained audiences of 18 million viewers.  I wonder if the writers chose the title, sensing that – although astonishingly successful – even the day of Dad’s Army was drawing to a close.

Such is life.  Look at most tombstones and you will see a date of birth and a date of death. In the middle is a small horizontal dash.  That dash is what this blog is about.

On the night before he died, Jesus made an astonishing claim. In his great prayer of John 17 he said to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (v.4).   How could Jesus have talked about a “completed work” when his three-year ministry seemed all too short?

The answer?  He understood time.

Ecclesiastes 3 is the great passage in the Old Testament about time. In it we find that God is involved in our time… “for everything there is a time and a season.” Fourteen contrasts are listed, varying from “a time to be born to die”, to “a time to search and a time to give up”

So what is time?  One definition is “a moment or a duration in which things happen for which we are accountable.” We are given a God-given stewardship for which we will one day be asked to give an account.

Why is time so valuable?  

  1. It is rare.  We can only spend it once. By reading this blog you are choosing not to do something else…thank you.  I hope you don’t regret the time you have given this!
  2. It is irretrievable. There are no re-plays. This is no YouTube.
  3. It affects eternity. Ecc 3:11 God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. What we do has eternal dimensions and consequences;  we are made in the image of God.  Eternity is hard wired into our hearts.
  4. Time is life’s building blocks. Life is made up of exchanging time for activity. This required we make strategic decisions about how to use our time. The difference between those who make a massive impact on the world and those who don’t often lies not in intelligence or gifting,  but mainly in the way they use their time.  Lucy Parsons  in her book  “How to ace every exam you ever take” describes how she grew up on a sheep farm and attended a local comprehensive school but  got into Cambridge with 5 “A” grades at A levels:  “Intelligence wasn’t the key to success – time management was. I realised that I needed to knuckle down – hard – so devised a rigorous study schedule from 4:30-6:30pm and then 7pm to 9pm four nights a week without fail, doing far more at weekends. Eight hours’ sleep a night and exercising regularly were crucial, too. Maintaining this consistently for two years was the only way for me to reach my goal.” 

If –like me- that makes you squirm, then try googling “The thousand hour rule”.    Read some biographies. Isn’t it astonishing how some people achieve the incredible with their short lives while others seem to achieve so  little.

SO what is the conclusion of all this?

  1. Seek first
    In his classic book “The tyranny of the urgent” published in the 1960’s Charles Hummel describes the ever present tension in our lives between things that are urgent, and things that are important. Far too often the urgent wins,  the important gets relegated.
    The Bible is clear. Priorities the important over the “urgent” but mundane. “Seek FIRST the Kingdom and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33)  In other words the main thing in life, is to  keep the main thing the main thing.
  2. Carpe Deim The thief of time is procrastination…. This exists to steal your incentive and take away your motivation. You may feel fired up after reading this blog.  Beware of procrastination! Seize the day.
  3. Choose wisely. I once heard that the difference between efficiency effectiveness is this: Efficiencyanswers the question “how fast can I drive across town?” Effectiveness “Do I need to drive across town?” Don’t just live efficiently;  live effectively!  William James the philosopher said “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” 

Practical steps

St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians gives some practical advice “15 Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (Eph 5:15-18)

 James Muir.   30.01.17

“And we like sheep have gone astray” Isaiah 53:6

 In July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem,  Stanley Milgram a Psychologist  from Yale University devised an experiment to answer the popular question at that particular time: “Could it be that normal Americans would have behaved in the same way as the Nazi’s who participated in the atrocities of the Jewish Holocaust that left 17 million dead?”   In other words were the Germans a particularly evil race in the 1940’s, or would we have all behaved in the same way under the same set of circumstances?

The experiment involved placing a subject in a room with an authority figure wearing a white coat who instructed him to administer an electric shock to another individual in a separate room who he believed to be another volunteer, but who was in fact an actor.  He could hear but not see the actor, and the shocks increased in 15-volt increments. 

 After a number of voltage-level increases, the actor in the next room would begin screaming with pain and banging on the wall, even complaining about a heart condition, and finally all responses by the actor would cease.

If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the man in the coat, in this order:

  1. Please continue.
  2. The experiment requires that you continue.
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  4. You have no other choice, you mustgo on.

The outcome of this experiment was incredible.  Although it had been predicted that only about 1% of people would be prepared to inflict the maximum voltage, in the event – although many were uncomfortable in doing so – 65% of experiment participants administered the experiment’s final massive 450-volt shock.

What can we learn from this?   Perhaps one of the main lessons is that despite any beliefs that we are decent people who would act according to our own individual consciences, in fact when it comes down to it, most of us are primarily driven by the “herd instinct” – as Isaiah pointed out 28 centuries ago we have gone astray not so much because we are unduly evil, but because we are sheep.

Will this excuse us? I am afraid not. To my mind one of the saddest passages in the bible is Revelation 20 verse 12  “ And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened…..anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

So many “small” people …people who never stepped out of line, who never said a proverbial “boo to a goose”, who just “went with the crowd” will find themselves condemned on that day because they swallowed the lie that Jesus was an irrelevance, a myth, or just a  “good teacher” along with Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi.

In Gods eyes the greatest sin is not murder, rape or even genocide, but unbelief.  John 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”

To our politically correct modern ears, trained to detect and despise intolerance, these words of Jesus seem desperately “unreasonable”.  But they are not unreasonable, they are designed to awaken sleepers, cause blind eyes to see and calloused hearts to become soft.

The real question is “are YOU reasonable?”

Blaise Pascal –  mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and pioneer of probability theory wrote:  “There are two kinds of people one can call reasonable: those who serve God with all their heart because they know him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know him.”

 If you have never heard an intelligent, compelling comprehensive presentation of the claims of Christianity, then can I encourage you to attend an “Alpha course”  such as the one starting in the Beacon office on Tuesday 24th January?

This course has been attended by 29 Million Guests in 100 languages in 169 Countries over the last 30 years, and is backed up by evidence so powerful that it will leave you realizing that more faith is required NOT to believe than TO believe. 

James Muir.   Leader of the Beacon Church.   23.01.17

Why Church? 

(Dr Jamie Muir shares his vision for Beacon church for 2017)

One valid question we could ask in today’s society is “do we really need the local church, when we can have excellent sermons and all the best materials on-line”?

Almost 60% of the Christian community is on Facebook so why not join the Facebook church, or join an on-line church?  Isn’t it old-fashioned in this day and age to get up and leave the comfort of home and come through all weathers to some drafty community building, and mix with people who may not be “our kind of people”,  who may have noisy children, coughs and colds, or make unreasonable demands on our time, tolerance or even our finances?

Well, of course it doesn’t have to be either one or the other. As you are experiencing right now, all churches could – and perhaps should  – have an on-line presence. It is good to network while we are off-line as well as on-line.  And for some – the elderly or disabled – on-line may be the only way they can enjoy church. But surely for the rest of us, church takes feet and faces –  a real presence –  not just the virtual presence of electrons and pixels.

I want to suggest four things that cannot be found outside a real church:

First of all church is a place to connect.

We probably have all heard the old illustration that ‘a coal that falls from the hearth will go out’. And it’s true. Christianity is about being together.

For a start, it is estimated by some that communication is only 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal. The non-verbal component being body language (55%) and tone of voice (38 %). When we talk to one another physically, we pick up so much more of what the other person is about.

So church is a place for all believers to follow the example of Jesus and his disciples who met together to pray, eat, chat, laugh, weep, shout, be real, explore God and learn.

It’s also a place to connect with God, in worship, prayer and in sharing the Lord’s supper.  According to Psalm 133, God commands a unique blessing of “life” over people who come together in unity. That is His presence among us by the Holy Spirit. So there is a vertical as well as the horizontal connection

Secondly church is a place to celebrate.

Jesus celebrated so much that the Pharisees accused him of being a “drunkard and a glutton”!  His intention was that the church should be a place to party!

So much of church life revolves around festivals: The rich cycle of creation and the natural cycle of our lives. Christmas, Easter, Harvest festival,  as well as the personal cycle of “hatches matches and dispatches” – the births, christenings, weddings, anniversaries, baptisms and funerals.  We celebrate God’s story in history, in the light of our community and our families.

And God is the great equalizer; rich and poor, women and men,  old and young, black and white, all different communities can come and celebrate together in church. We don’t give people religious tests to attend our parties, we welcome everyone. We feed everyone, we laugh with those who laugh, we weep with those who weep.

Third,  church is a place for renewal.

Church is a place where we are transformed.  Yes, all are welcomed and no one is turned away,  but it is also a place of radical life-change, where all are called to place every aspect of our lives under God’s rule and lordship.

Every church is called to embrace the dynamic marriage of inclusion and transformation. We are inclusive, but we are also called to repentance and holiness. In other words “You can come as you are, but you cannot stay as you have been.”1

And this transformation can only take place where we feel safe, where we feel we can be vulnerable and open with each other and with God, where we have the space to listen and be changed. The local church must be the right soil for us to embrace what God wants in our lives. ..through the worship, the preaching of the word, through spiritual gifts, through prayer, and through the sacraments of communion and baptism.

Fourth and finally the church is a great place to change the world. Church isn’t only about us and our renewal. It is about fulfilling the “Great commission” to reach the world with the great news of God’s salvation plan through Jesus. As Archbishop William Temple said “Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”

We serve the world by showing it something that it is not, namely a place where God is forming “a family out of strangers”

Our aim at Beacon church, to quote the sermon on the mount is to be “the light of the world, a city that is set on a hill that cannot be hidden.”   A beacon for social justice, a place of refuge and sanctuary for those trodden down by society, a place where we can live out radical hospitality …where the homeless and hungry, the prisoner the refugee can know that they will be welcomed.

For us, the local church is a place where we seek to live in peace as we walk humbly with our God. Where we seek to teach our society what being human is all about. A place where we not only believe the words of Jesus, but where we actively seek to demonstrate his teaching to a hurting world.

Church. What is it good for? Well it’s absolutely awesome. It is the place to connect, a place to celebrate, A place to bring renewal, and a place to change the world.

Church is a foretaste of heaven, and outpost of the kingdom of God. It’s where we begin to live eternal life and it is a place where we start making “family out of strangers”2

1  Mark Stibbe and Andrew Williams 
2  Rev Dr Pete Phillips, Director, CODEC Research Centre for Digital Theology

 

“Our God contracted to a span – incomprehensively made man”

How can one communicate the immensity of the miracle that is the incarnation?

There is a lovely true story of a man who found the perfect way to explain it , in the context of the people he was attempting to reach:

“Bruchko” is the astonishing story of a 19 year old Christian missionary Bruce E. Olson who was captured by a tribe of stone age Indian head hunters in Venezuela. The tribe had the dubious distinction of killing almost every outsider who set foot in their territory.

Olson through God’s grace managed to persuade them not to kill him  and to accept him as one of the tribe.  He had a longing to introduce the tribe to Jesus Christ . They were ready for this good news and in fact the folklore of the tribe even spoke about the man who “would set them free.”

     After living with the tribe for five years and becoming discouraged that he would never be able to really share the gospel with them, Olson heard one of their legends, and realized it was an ideal vehicle to speak to them about the incarnation of Christ. The legend was called

The Man Who Became an Ant

(This story explains why Ant hills look so much like the traditional homes of the Motilone Indian tribe)

A man had noticed some ants trying to build a home. He wanted to help them make a good home, so he began digging in the dirt. But because he was so big and so unknown, the ants had been afraid and had run away.

     Then, quite miraculously, he had become an ant. He thought like an ant, looked like an ant, and spoke the language of an ant. He lived with the ants and they came to trust him.

     He told them one day that he was not really an ant, but a human, and that he had once tried to help them improve their home, but his size had scared them off.

     The ants said their equivalent, of, “Really? That was you?” And they laughed at him, because he didn’t look like the huge and fearful thing that had moved the dirt before.   At that very moment he was turned back into a man, and began to move the dirt into the shape of an ant home. This time the ants recognized him and let him do his work, because they knew he wouldn’t harm them.

     Olson realized this story was a perfect parallel for what God had done through the birth and life on earth of Jesus.    He used the story to explain Jesus’ coming to earth. Revelation and understanding from their own oral histories began to grow among the tribe. They realized that Jesus was the God they were seeking. Eventually, the whole tribe came to know Christ

You see God becoming man wasn’t like us you or I moving from a hotel to live on the street. It was more in line with you or I becoming an ant.  The omnipotent, Omniscient Omnipresent all powerful everlasting God became a baby.

And what an extraordinary thought that while that baby was lying helplessly in a manger, needing regular feeding and changing, he was also fully God … “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”  (Hebrews 1:3)

Jamie Muir   19.12.16

Xxxxxx

The 24th letter of the alphabet 
Isn’t used very much in words, and yet
As a symbol it’s used quite frequently,
But sometimes it’s used where it shouldn’t be.
Read further my friend and I’m sure you’ll see.

X is a saltire, X is a kiss
X marks the spot, but more than this
X can show where treasures lie
And if you are Greek you can call it Chi

X can tell you an answer’s wrong
Or two, overlapped, show a sharp in a song
You sign with an X if you can’t write your name,    
Or challenge a nought when you’re playing a game

X is ‘times’, ‘product’, ‘multiply’
Or I’m voting for this girl, or guy.
X is “Who am I? On a valentine,
It really is a ubiquitous sign

X is an algebraic unknown, or
It can mean eXtra, if bigger you’ve grown

BUT!

X is NOT the title of my God and King
Redeemer, Lord, my everything
So as bells ring out and choirs sing
Please remember that
Christmas starts with Christ.

                          David Williams MMXVI

God’s screening test

There has been a lot of controversy about Prostate cancer screening with the blood “PSA” (Prostate Specific Antigen) test.  The reason for this in a nutshell is to do with over-diagnosis and over-treatment.

 
  • A high PSA can suggest prostate cancer when no cancer exists (a false-positive result). All that stress, anxiety and further testing for nothing.

  • Equally 15% of men with prostate cancer have normal PSA levels (a false-negative result.)  Hence there is a danger of false reassurance.

  • The PSA test can find slow-growing cancer that may never cause symptoms or shorten life. In other words many men would receive unnecessary and unpleasant treatment and years of worry,  or no reason.

So …in the UK a decision has been made not to offer PSA screening.

But other more reliable cancer screening tests exist – common ones being Faecal Occult blood testing for bowel cancer, Mammograms for breast cancer, Pap smears for Cervical cancer and Ca- 125 blood test for Ovarian cancer. These are well proven to be of benefit in the early detection of cancer, allowing life saving treatment to be given in a timely fashion.

As a GP I am mildly surprised by the number of people who decline screening tests.  The individual has either been too frightened, too confident or too apathetic to bother.  As a result I guess a fair percentage of the population are wandering around our streets oblivious to their cancer – blissfully in their ignorance.   Happy until the time bomb presents itself when it is too late to hope for a cure.

So what has this to do with the Christian Faith?  Well, when reading Romans chapter 7 I see an uncanny parallel.   Paul is enraged about the law in the same way as someone might be enraged about a positive screening test…verse 9: ”Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang into life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death”

 In other words – “I was happy!  I was carefree! I was having a great time and then that doctor sent me that  test and now I am utterly miserable and find I am going to die without radical treatment!”

The ten commandments are pretty much like a positive screening test…. We look at them and we get the result back that we are sinners.  We have broken the law of God and find out that the “wages of sin is death”

But fortunately for Paul and fortunately for us, there is an answer! A treatment that is 100% effective.   It comes in verse 25 “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

As the hymn writer put it: 

    On the mount of crucifixion
     Fountains opened deep and wide
     Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
     Flowed a vast and gracious tide
     Grace and love, like mighty rivers
     Poured incessant from above
     And Heaven’s peace and perfect justice
     Kissed a guilty world in love ”

The tragedy is that so many in our town are unaware of the ten commandments, unaware of the coming day of judgment from the Holy God who created us, and will one day call us to account for the way we have lived.  These individuals are too frightened or too confident or too apathetic to bother with all this. And so they merrily walk backwards towards the cliff edge…reassured by the banter of their unbelieving friends and family, mesmerised by a media machine that is entertaining them to death.

And they fail to reach out to Jesus for the remedy that is 100% curative…. the cross.

Jamie Muir 12.12.16

Courage? Just do it.

Spider-Man was introduced  to the world  the August 1962 in an issue of the comic book “Amazing Fantasy”. The guiding principle of Spider-Man’s actions was expressed as a caption in this original story:

“A lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come–great responsibility!”

And so in Christianity.   You don’t have to have been a Christian very long before you stumble across the “Great Commission” and realise that this is the caption also holds true over our lives….  With great power – the power in this case being the knowledge of the gospel – comes great responsibility.  The responsibility to take this gospel and make it known to all of humankind.

Does this fill you with joy or dread…..or (as in my case)  both?

According to Mark Twain the “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”   So whilst I sometimes dread the prospect of actually sticking my head above the parapet and risking ridicule, rejection and  abuse, as I stumblingly attempt to witness to my faith,  I do however derive some pleasure from knowing that my life has a purpose….namely to know God and make Him known.

So let me share with you the missing link that I believe we so much need as we seek to be joyfully responsible in the way we conduct our precious and fleeting lives:

We need to develop COURAGE.  And how can we develop courage?  Well – as the Prophet Nike says,  we need to  “Just do it”.

Aristotle made this point  : “Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it: men come to be builders, by building, and harp players, by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just; by doing self – controlled acts, we come to be self – controlled; and by doing brave acts, we come to be brave.”

“By doing brave acts, we come to be brave.”

That is good news isn’t it?  That  implies to me that bravely might actually become easier with practice! That suggests that I needn’t necessarily default to my usual state of cringing cowardice after every exploit or act of daring.

 They say, don’t they, that faith is like a muscle that increases with use.  Maybe the same can be said of courage.  Maybe that tight knot of fear – that sweaty grip of foreboding begins to diminish as we just step out, speak out and begin to witness to our friends or give out those invitations to our church events.

Maybe this is what Paul meant when he encouraged the Romans 8: 12-14  “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation, but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die;  but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

As we obey we  incrementally  become “Transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2) and find this whole courage business gradually easier and less stressful!

Maybe this is why Jesus encouraged the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2 that the antidote to the loss of their “First love” was to “Repent and do the things you did at first.”

Jamie Muir   05.12.16

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit

There is a lot of talk at the moment about the “Tyranny of the majority” in the context of Brexit.  52% of the UK population voted for Brexit and their will now has to imposed on the reluctant 48%.

If this is problematic in a finely balanced situation such as Brexit ,  imagine how Christians feel with only a small percentage of the population now professing to be “born again” Christians.

We have been through a season in the UK where militant secularists have pilloried and derided Christianity,  mocking those with faith  as deluded and unscientific.   This attitude was reflected in public life in 2003 by that devastating put-down by Tony Blair’s press secretary Alistair Campbell:  “We don’t do God”.

But have you noticed that something is stirring in our public life?  Christianity – which once looked as unpromising as an old tree stump,  is now beginning to put forth shoots again.

In the recent Conservative party leadership campaign,  several candidates –  Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom,  Stephen Crabb and  the final winner Theresa May , openly spoke of their faith. The leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron recently wrote a book “Liberal Democrats DO God”   “ I became a Christian” writes Mr Farron “because the evidence for Christianity was staggeringly compelling”

Martin Bashir  –  perhaps best known for his Panorama interview with Diana Princess of Wales – has noted this change in the political climate and has attributed it the need for authenticity and transparency.  “Being who you are” he says,  “is now the premium social value.”

People it seems,  are waking up to the fact that everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. He quotes the  late  novelist and academic David Foster Wallace  “There is actually no such thing as atheist.  If you worship money or things then you will never have enough.  Worship power and you will end up feeling weak and afraid,  and you will need ever more power over others”  Whether we admit our convictions or not, all of us are living for something – those with religious beliefs, and those without. And it’s what we worship that defines how we live work and play.

So,   the wind of change is blowing.   Now when it comes to change, Sociologists would split the population into  “innovators, early adopters, majority and laggards”   Frankly I am not sure if – as a professing born again Christian – am an ‘innovator’ or the ultimate ‘laggard’.  But I am happy to be feeling less isolated, and happy to see the stump of Jesse is putting forth shoots once again in our nation.

   Jamie Muir   28.11.16

The Apprentice

Isn’t it amazing that you can read the same passage of scripture year after year and then suddenly you see something you have never seen before?

This morning I was reading 1 Cor 13:5 “love keeps no record of wrongs” . I have always read this as a gentle reminder not to hold grudges but to forgive. Today I suddenly saw that God is not a hypocrite, He could not tell us to do something He was not already prepared to do Himself! God IS love (1 John 4:8) It follows that He of all beings in the universe has found a way of keeping no record of wrongs! Unbelievable but it must be true!

So many of us know in our heads that God forgives, but somewhere in the murky recesses of our hearts we have an inner voice telling us that we are rubbish, and that God is actually pretty displeased with us…if not downright angry.

But hold on. “Love keeps NO record of wrongs”! If that is the case, then why not believe that we are right up there with Jesus at the top of Gods celebrity “A list”? Completely loved by God who absolutely keeps no record of wrongs, whose love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres and never fails”?

Our inner voice protests: If God is basically a divine “Alan Sugar” who scrutinizes our every move with His all-seeing eye, then how can this be? We can’t hide our weakness and guilt and shame from Him! Surely when it comes to the big day of reckoning- the board room upstairs – then we can expect the finger to point, and the booming words to come: “YOU’RE FIRED!”

Well that’s where the remarkable truth of the gospel comes in. Jesus we are told – like divine blotting paper – took all of our failure, shame and guilt on himself so that we could be perpetually pure and clean before God.2 Cor 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus on the cross took the Alan Sugar judgment for everyone who believes in Him. On the cross he took the eternal “Your fired” so that we would never have to hear those words from God. Instead we get the “Welcome to my team!”

Isn’t that an incredible thought? For every sinner for whom He died, Jesus took that sinner’s eternal wrath. For the millions of sinners for whom He died, He took a million eternities full of wrath.

Are you trusting Jesus your Saviour? Then stop sitting on the wrong side of the table – you have been invited to sit with God on his team. 
Ephesians 2:6 God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus

Jamie 21.11.16