TORCH TRUST FOR THE BLIND, Torch House, Torch Way, Northampton Road, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: (01858) 438260, Fax: (01858) 438275, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Charity Number 1095904.
We trust that you have had a happy Christmas, rejoicing that God came to be among us as the helpless little baby Jesus. But, of course, healthy babies grow up. Often, the Lord Jesus made certain "religious" people angry by things he said and did. For instance, he healed on the Sabbath Day. Some said this was work, and no work was to be done on the Sabbath. These people became even more angry with Jesus when he revealed that he was none other than the son of God.
As we go forward into 2009, we will soon be thinking about the events surrounding Easter, when the anger against Jesus reached fever pitch and resulted in his cruel death on the cross. Praise God that death had no power over Jesus, and we can still be his followers today.
At the beginning of a new year, we wonder what it will bring. Like Barnabas in this issue's Bible study, we may face many difficult challenges. He must have felt gutted when Paul refused to take his cousin, John Mark on any more missionary journeys. As you will read, Barnabas persisted with encouraging John Mark until years later, Paul agreed that the young man was indeed a true and worthy follower of Jesus - "Useful" to him.
In the study, Mike relates how the Lord gave him an opportunity to speak the truth to some Jehovah's Witnesses and that one of them became a Christian. Let's pray that this year, we'll be prayerful when the Lord presents us with opportunities to speak of him. Some people can be very persuasive and may try to convince us that they are right and we are wrong. It's so important to know what the Bible says and to rely on the holy spirit to help us when we're faced with someone who doesn't believe that Jesus is the only true way to God, that he died for our sins and rose to new life.
Let's pray that we will be good and faithful servants of our Lord throughout 2009.
Sheila Armstrong and the editors
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by Mike Townsend
These cold dark winter days can get you down. We need someone who is good enough to cheer us up and give us some encouragement. The man who encouraged people in the first century church was Barnabas. "He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith." (Acts 11:24). Our fruit of the Spirit this time is "goodness".
A key aspect of Barnabas' goodness is indicated in his name: "Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means son of encouragement)" (chapter 4 verse 36). Joseph was evidently such an encourager that his name was changed to Barnabas. The meaning of the name is not clear in our language. I think it would be great to be known as "Encourager Townsend!"
We shall look at the way Barnabas expressed his goodness in encouraging people: the first members of the church, the newly converted Paul, and struggling John Mark.
After Pentecost, the church expanded rapidly. All kinds of people responded to the gospel, both rich and poor. "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had." (chapter 4 verse 32). Barnabas' goodness was demonstrated in his generosity. He "sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet." (chapter 4 verse 37). Such generosity contrasts markedly with the grudging giving of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5.
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians chapter 9 verse 7.)
When I was a student in London, I used to help at the Embankment Mission. On Sunday afternoons we provided tea for the "down and outs". I loved sitting down and eating with those men. They had fascinating stories. Lots of them became Christians. I discovered the secret when one of the men said to me, "You lot are different. You join us in the meal, and treat us like yourselves. Them others just fling us handouts." We all like personal service. It is the pinnacle of attention. Jesus gave us total personal service. He left heaven to become a human being. Though he is perfect, he died for our sins. You can't get more "personal" than that.
Barnabas not only expressed his goodness in giving money, he gave of himself. The church at Antioch was experiencing rapid growth. Many of the new believers were from Barnabas' home country of Cyprus.
News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. (Acts chapter 11 verse 22).
Barnabas' goodness was so attractive that he proved to be a very effective evangelist. "He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord." (verse 24). The Holy Spirit can fill us with that attractive goodness.
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Do you have any enemies or people you fear? Saul assisted at the stoning of Stephen and became one of the most feared men by the early church.
Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (chapter 8 verse 3.) When he [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. (chapter 9 verses 26 to 27).
Barnabas' goodness overcame his fear, and he got alongside Saul and discovered the transformation Jesus had made in his life.
One day I opened my door and the visitors flapped a piece of paper at me. "Oh, you can't see this can you? Do you like Bible study?" "Oh yes!" I replied, "would you like to come in so we can read the Bible together?" They were Jehovah's Witnesses and really wanted to study the Watchtower publications. We had great Bible studies together over several months. We looked at the centrality of Jesus in God's plan. The truth is quite clear even in their own New World translation of the Bible. They eventually brought round the "Midland Servant" who was the sect's leader in the area. Even he could not dispute what their Bible said. This was quite a challenge to my visitors. One became a Christian and the other left the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Are you frightened by people from the sects? An ex-Jehovah's Witness challenged me. "Christians are so scared, they shut the door and don't tell us the truth." We need to show God's goodness and love to even the most worrying of people.
Baranabas' goodness to Paul led to a powerful partnership which pushed forward the frontiers of the church in a dramatic way.
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Barnabas was keen to recognize other people's gifts. He enlisted Paul's teaching abilities to complement his evangelistic activities at Antioch. Their first missionary outreach commenced in Barnabas' home country, Cyprus, and they took along his cousin, John Mark.
The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, ... sailed from there to Cyprus. ... John was with them as their helper. (chapter 13 verses 4 and 5.)
The dramatic events on Cyprus, including the conversion of the Roman proconsul, established Paul as the leader. Barnabas, always humble, did not resent this change. But John Mark did. He left the mission. Often we hear the phrase, "I don't want to play second fiddle!" But think how thin an orchestra would sound without the full complement of players. God's work is the same. We each have our God-given gifts. Think! Are you bearing a grudge? Is God not using you in the way you expect?
Later, another mission outreach was being prepared.
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas. (chapter 15 verses 37 to 40.)
Christians do have sharp disagreements, particularly church leaders. Paul was so concerned for the success of the mission that he rejected John Mark. Barnabas, ever the encourager, wanted to rebuild Mark's faith and ministry. Out of disaster came blessing. Two missionary bands embarked on God's work. Mark went on to become a responsible leader in the early church. Paul even asked Timothy to "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." (2 timothy 4:11).
"Lord, make the bad people good, and make the good people nice." (Prayer of a little girl). The Holy Spirit made Barnabas good and nice.
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Sr. Antonio Padilla was a gentleman who became blind after an accident. He loved and followed the Lord Jesus, and wanted to spread this good news to other Spanish-speaking people. Spanish is spoken by many people all over the world, and Sr. Padilla set up Nueva Luz (New Light) to spread this news worldwide. The Lord called this great man home on 23rd September. What would happen to his beloved Nueva Luz now?
Paul and Susana Wood had been feeling God's call to help Mr Padilla, who was in his eighties, to carry on this important work. So a few months before his death, they went out with their little daughter, Lidia, to set up home in Madrid, Spain. Susana is Spanish and Paul is gradually learning the language. The Lord provided the family with a flat near Susana's parents.
In October, the Padilla family called a meeting to decide what should happen next. The key supporters of Nueva Luz, both churches and individuals, were invited to state how they saw the future of the organisation. Gordon Temple, Torch's Chief Executive, came a few days earlier to give help and support. He had meetings with Paul and other Nueva Luz staff and also David Padilla, Antonio's son. It turned out that David himself had a couple of times sensed a calling and offered to take on the work of Nueva Luz, but his father had said 'No'. This work was so close to Sr. Padilla's heart! But now others would need to carry on where he had left off. What if everyone had different ideas about how things should be done? Many people prayed - and God wonderfully answered!
At the meeting Gordon and Paul explained that Torch wanted Nueva Luz to continue as a Spanish mission reaching out to Spanish-speaking blind people. After that the meeting was opened up for ideas and discussion. There was soon a definite agreement amongst the people present that firstly the work should continue, that it should be a Spanish work and that it should be legally registered. The example of Joshua following Moses was mentioned a few times. With the emphasis on their differences and the different style of Leadership they had. Soon there seemed to be agreement that the "New Leader" would have the freedom to express his own style and way of working etc, even to reaching out to including working with different Evangelical Churches and Missions.
So who could do this important job for God? David Padilla was suggested, together with Debora and Paloma who work for Nueva Luz, and Paul, forming a new committee. David confirmed that he still felt some call, but that if he was called, his wife would also need to feel called. He would also need the Lord's guidance over his job. He and his family live quite far away from Madrid.
In the meanwhile, Nueva Luz is now producing all the magazines in CD format, and a DAISY library book has been produced. More info can be found at www.nuevaluz.org, but only in Spanish at present.
Please pray that Nueva Luz will go from strength to strength; that everyone will be able to work well together; that David will be guided by God as he leads; that Paul will be able to learn Spanish and that many Spanish-speaking people all over the world will come to know Jesus as their saviour through Nueva Luz.
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by Ludger Fremmer
Solomon, whose wisdom is renowned, once said, "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit." (Proverbs 18:21).
As part of every day life, many people's language is littered with swear words, many blasphemous. Even the best of us probably swear on the odd occasion when we get really angry. It is so normal today to speak with "inappropriate language", that we may not be surprised to hear the story of a little boy, who said to his mum after hearing the Christmas story: "Mummy, why did they call the baby a swear word?"
We need to realise that the words we say can be a matter of life and death. Jesus said, "... you must give an account on judgment day of every idle word you speak. The words you say now reflect your fate then; either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37).
Our words can build up or they can tear down, they can wound or they can heal. Our words show what is in our hearts. They show who we belong to - and my hope is that for those of us who are Christians, they show that we belong to Jesus.
Paul said, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (Colossians 4:6). Salt here means the goodness of God's Word which brings life.
Why is this so important? Because we need to know that words have power for good or bad. By the Word of God the heavens and the earth were created. By a word Jesus healed the sick, cast out unclean spirits and raised the dead. Words have power, and the negative things we say become a curse and the good things we say become a blessing.
Let us make up our minds now, to submit all our thoughts to Christ. Let us come before him and confess that we need him. He can cleanse our hearts, so that our words, which come out of the overflow of our hearts, will become blessings, that they will bring life.
[Ludger Fremmer is the rector of St Wilfrids Church, Kibworth, Leicestershire.]
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by Simon Beaumont
I was born in November 1970 and have been deaf from an early age. I was partially sighted when I was in junior school. I had an unhappy family background, because my parents split up and I was brought up by my mother. My time at school was not always a happy one but books helped me a lot. I was a shy, lonely person, and timid. I am only 4ft 11inches in height. When I left school I went to college and, because of my hearing loss, I was placed in a special needs class. A student picked a fight with me for no apparent reason and after that I gradually went completely blind. Though deaf I am able to use my own voice to speak to people.
I went to a special college to learn to live independently. Other students there were disabled - blind, partially sighted, or suffering with epilepsy. During this time I was invited to a holiday houseparty organised by the Torch Trust for the Blind. My braille teacher knew about Torch and I went along despite my shyness. I had no idea it was a Christian organisation.
When I got there I found other young people, including some who could see. An interpreter communicated with me through the deaf-blind alphabet. I felt something important was happening through the joyful celebrations, singing, prayers, and the Bible talks. At first I wasn't interested because I did not understand the importance of the Bible, though part of me was curious. I wanted to know what all the talk was about thanking God for Jesus on the cross. One day I asked the speaker lots of questions through my interpreter. I learned about Adam and Eve, the meaning of sin, and why Jesus died.
When I began to understand Jesus better, I wanted to become a Christian. So I shyly asked Jesus into my life, not knowing what to expect, but longing for Heaven. My face changed dramatically; I could not hold it still until I broke out into a really big smile! I felt my cheeks burning me!
After I became a Christian it seemed like my life was back to normal except for this renewed hope in my heart. After a year of waiting and searching for the right church, my braille teacher invited me to her Evangelical Free Church and I was made welcome.
Over the following five years, through painstakingly slow communication, I was able to pick out the main themes of the Christian faith. I asked the pastor about being baptised. I still felt a bit confused, but I wanted to be baptised, and he decided I was ready. On the day I was baptised in a pool of water, I was very nervous but highly excited and joyful. I never felt so happy before! My baptism verse was Philippians 4:4 - "May you always be joyful in your life in the Lord. I say it again, rejoice!" Many people of all ages came and saw my joy as my heart shouted out that I belonged to Jesus!
After this, it was not all joyous, as being baptised was; but I know it was God's plan that I should change the way I live after my baptism into a new life. I continue to struggle with this and I am doing my best to grow to love Jesus, by reading the Bible each day. I feel I still have problems, but I look forward to the day when Jesus will come as King!
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by Gordon Temple
The 1st January is really just like any other day, but the start of a new year, the opening of a new diary, often sets us thinking about our lives. We attack the new year with a determination to put things behind us and firmly resolve to be better and do more.
Have you ever wished you could make a completely fresh start? - to walk away from the situation you're in with all of the seemingly insuperable challenges you face, to leave behind embarrassments, mistakes and failures that seem to travel with us as unwelcome companions?
The good news is that each of us has that opportunity. Tempting though it might sometimes seem, running away and hiding is not the answer. We cannot just walk out on our responsibilities but we can still make a totally new start in our lives. In fact the new start in life that Jesus offers is so fundamental that he put it this way to Nicodemus: "you must be born again" (John 3:7).
Our first grandson is just a few weeks old. He lives for the moment - his needs simple and immediate. He doesn't yet know "the sting of old regrets" (to quote a familiar song). He has no frustrated ambitions, no missed opportunities and, best of all, he's not fretting about any embarrassing gaffs.
The first milestone in the journey of a Christian is believer's baptism. It's a dramatic action with rich significance. Water washes, removing grime and smells, leaving us fresh and clean. In Scripture, it is linked with one or both of two things; repentance and belief - facing up to our sin, and trusting in God's offer of forgiveness and renewal.
John the Baptist did his baptising in the river Jordan, the very river the early Israelites crossed when they arrived at their promised land after 40 years of wandering around in the wilderness. Baptism marks the crossing into the new life promised to us by Jesus, and received by us in faith.
Instructions given for baptism in the early Christian era specified flowing water, giving emphasis to the picture of cleansing. In Romans 6, Paul paints an even more powerful image, likening the immersion of baptism to dying and being buried, then to rising to a whole new life. The old person with the stains of sin is killed off and left in a grave so that the new person that emerges from the water is released to make a fresh start in life.
Of course you may have become a Christian many years ago and still feel that need to start afresh. Baptism is a once-only thing. Can we again capture that sense of a fresh start? I believe we can.
In what promises to be the most miserable book of the Bible - in Lamentations - we find these encouraging words, "for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23). I value my quiet time each morning - some moments with God where I can discover that newness. The apostle Paul adds his encouragement; "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16).
We may feel we have failed, that we have let God down. That once again we are tainted by sin and burdened with failure. In his answer to a question about how to pray Jesus gave us a model prayer, the Lord's Prayer, a prayer that many use regularly, and it includes an appeal for forgiveness: "forgive us our sins".
In explaining forgiveness to Peter, Jesus describes it not as a once-only thing, but something done again and again, over and over (Matthew 18:22). John tells us that if we come to God confessing our sins, "he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9)
Can it be that simple? Sometimes there is no escaping the fallout from our mistakes but in Christ we can still find renewal.
Jesus invites us: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 18:28-30).
But there is a condition for God's forgiveness. In the Lord's Prayer, that appeal for forgiveness is followed by the words, "as we forgive those who trespass against us". Jesus goes on to explain; "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15).
And it works the other way around too. We not only need to learn to forgive, as Jesus forgives us, but to go out of our way to bring about reconciliation with those who have something against us. As we come to worship, Jesus tells us, "First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:24).
God's arms are always open for us to run into. A fresh start is always on offer. Seeking forgiveness from God we need to be ready with forgiveness towards others, being eager for reconciliation. As we come in repentance and humility to our ever-loving Lord we will find forgiveness and renewal. In our relationship with him, the living Lord Jesus, there is strength for the day. His grace is sufficient - even though we may still have to wrestle with the consequences of our mistakes.
Looking for a fresh start? Look no further.
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At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
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We congratulate the following people who have successfully completed Bible study correspondence courses:
Martin Bwabi (Kenya)
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Martin Bwabi (Kenya)
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Micheal Sey (Ghana)
If anyone would like to do this course please write direct to Nessa Graham at Torch House and she will reply giving more information.
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Here are two people who would like to correspond with others. You may like to braille a letter to one of them. Introduce yourself by giving your name, your correct postal address, your age, and some information about yourself, your family and your country.
Anybody reading this who would like us to include their name and information in our next bulletin, send in your full name, postal address, age, and tell us about the things you enjoy doing. The aim of having a penfriend is to develop a friendship and exchange information and ideas.
WILLIE MANSFIELD, 048812-G1122 Single, Dade Correctional Institution, 19000 South West 377th Street 300, Florida City, Florida 33034-6409. I'm a 52-year old man, single Christian that would like to hear from anyone from all corners of the world. Printing is how I would be able to communicate with everyone that writes letters. I enjoy receiving pictures of people, places or things, only 3 at a time. I like listening to music, reading books, writing letters. My skills are carpentry, masonry. My hobbies are woodcraft, string art and communicating with beautiful people.
CAROLINE COPELAND, 52 Coronation Place, Lurgan, Craigavon, Co Armagh. BT66 7AN. Aged 41. Wants to keep in touch with Christians from anywhere but specifically Scandinavia, Europe, Canada, Australia. Is 41. Wants friends between 35-45 if that is possible. interested to hear how others in foreign countries struggle to survive despite everything and their faith is really, really strong. Wants tape correspondents if possible and nothing else. Anyone in Britain aged mid 30's to mid 40's. Enjoys Searchlight magazine.
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