THE TORCH - ISSUE 1 2011

From:-
TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: (01858) 438260, Fax: (01858) 438275, email: info@torchtrust.org
Charity Number 1095904.

Contents

Greetings!

Have you experienced times in your life when you have said - or at least thought - Why does God allow this? Why did God allow that? Where is God in this? I expect so. I certainly have. There are times when I long to be able to understand what's going on, and to have a reason - a good reason - for what's happened or happening.

But we cannot understand - nor do we need to try to understand. God is sovereign, and his ways are not our ways, neither our thoughts his thoughts. We are limited by our finite minds, and we cannot conceive of his infinite ways. We are not expected to understand, but we are expected to trust.

Even more wonderful is that we can trust, because the One we trust is totally trustworthy. He alone knows the end from the beginning, and all his plans are good.

As we launch into a new year, we have no idea what is ahead, but our God - who says, "I know the plans I have for you ... plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" - knows exactly what lies ahead and has planned everything according to his good and perfect will.

So let's make sure we have our hand in his hand as we step into the unknown, trusting and safe in the knowledge that he does all things well.

Jill Ferraby and the editors

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Old Testament Characters

by Michael Stafford

6. Jacob

In number four of these studies we took a look at Abraham, the "Friend of God", who obeyed God even in the hardest of circumstances and received wonderful promises from him. His son Isaac was a miracle baby - born when Abraham and Sarah were both far too old to be parents in the normal way of things. But we are now going to be concerned with his grandson, Jacob, a very different character who was often a disappointment to God and to himself. His very name means "deceiver", and he lived up to that name. The greatest lesson we can learn from his life is that God can change bad people into the kind of people he wants them to be. He is patient and persistent with us, and doesn't give up on us when we fail him.

Jacob and Esau were twin brothers, but Esau was slightly older than Jacob, and should have inherited the blessing reserved for the oldest son in the family. However, Jacob, aided by his mother, schemed to get the blessing and deprive Esau of it. To do this he pretended to his father, who was blind by this time, that he was really Esau. He did this by wearing Esau's clothing, and by putting hairy animal skins on part of his body, to imitate the hairy body of Esau. Isaac was suspicious, but in the end agreed that he must be Esau, and gave him the family blessing. In practice this meant that he had the honour accorded to a first-born son, and inherited the promises of God given to his grandfather Abraham.

Not surprisingly, Esau hated Jacob after this, and the brothers became enemies. It became dangerous for Jacob to remain at home, and his mother sent him off to her brother Laban in a far-away place called Paddan Aram. She justified this to Isaac by saying that Jacob should not marry one of the local women, who were ungodly and troublesome.

So Jacob set out on his long journey north, and it was on this journey that he had his first encounter with God:

"When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: 'I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying ... I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you'". (Genesis 28:11-15)

The image of the stairway or ladder from earth to heaven must have alerted Jacob to the fact that God desired to communicate with him. The promise to Abraham is here specifically passed on to Jacob.

Jacob continued his journey and arrived at Laban's place. He was immediately struck by the beauty of Laban's daughter Rachel, and desired to marry her. But Jacob received some of his own medicine when Laban tricked him into marrying his other daughter, Leah, who was not attractive like Rachel. According to custom, Jacob had to work seven years as bride-price for Leah, and then another seven years for Rachel. In this way Laban got free labour for 14 years. Eventually Jacob got his own back on Laban and secretly ran away, taking his two wives and two concubines with him, and the 11 children he had fathered.

We see from all this that Jacob was a scheming rascal, yet God continued to be with Jacob, as he had promised, reminding us that his love is unconditional. Nevertheless, God was not prepared to simply overlook Jacob's sins and allow him to continue in his deceitful ways.

As he fled from Laban, Jacob had another encounter with God. He heard that his brother Esau, who had wanted to kill him, was coming to meet him. Not surprisingly, Jacob was terrified, and it was in this state of fear that God met with him:

"... Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, 'Let me go, for it is daybreak'. But Jacob replied, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me'. The man asked him, 'What is your name?' 'Jacob,' he answered. Then the man said, 'Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.' Jacob said, 'Please tell me your name.' But he replied, 'Why do you ask my name?' Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, 'It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared'." (Genesis 32:24-30)

From that moment, Jacob was a changed man - no longer the deceiver, but now a prince with God. His encounter with Esau proved to be much less threatening than he had feared. His new name became the name of the nation which he founded, with his twelve sons being the fathers of the twelve tribes.

All of us have something of the "Jacob" in us, as Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God". But God does not cast us off, and gives each of us the opportunity to change. We all have the capacity to become "A prince with God" by his mercy, longsuffering and grace, and by the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

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My Story

by Catriona Cumming

I'll start by introducing myself. My name is Catriona, and I've lived in Market Harborough for three years. Before that I lived in York for five years. I went to university there, and worked in Harrogate after I graduated with an MA in Public Policy and Administration. I love that part of the world very much, and if I had to call anywhere home, I think it would be York. I was born in Norwich, (another pretty cathedral city) but stayed there for a grand total of ten days. Until 1990 my family lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

My work up until May of this year was in retail. I worked for Clarks shoes during university and carried on working for them after I graduated. I loved meeting lots of different people, and serving others as part of my job, but I felt that I was called to do more - to take part in God's mission more fully. As always God's timing was perfect, and since May have been working at Torch, a place full of wonderful people, who seek to further God's kingdom, and who have been wonderfully welcoming to me.

My role of volunteer coordinator is an amazing one to have. I get to work with people who are doing what they do, not because they have to pay the bills, but because they love the work, the people, and the mission. That makes supporting them and encouraging them in their work both incredibly important and incredibly rewarding. It's also really exciting discovering new people whom God has drawn to Torch.

Other things I enjoy: I play the piano (not brilliantly it has to be said); I sing with the Leicester Philharmonic Choir; I love to cook for friends, and I have recently joined a gym and started jogging again. One disadvantage of working at Torch against working in a shop is that I don't move around nearly so much as I used to, and I have had to compensate accordingly!

Outside of Torch, I'm involved in my local Anglican church. I sing in the choir, lead the music group, and I lead or help to lead Taizé prayers, all age services, family services and an alternative worship group.

My faith has really developed since university. I was brought up in a Christian family, and went regularly to church, sang in choirs, helped lead worship, and went to an Alpha course. I went through a period in my early teens when I rejected the Christian faith, but God never let me go. What really drew me back was the joy of art and music. I simply could not square such exuberance with a world based solely on science.

The slow burn of my faith has led me to some wonderful discoveries, and a developing relationship with God, which I treasure above all else. The idea that it will take a lifetime to explore this wonderful love is tremendously exciting.

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Let the Scriptures speak

Part of Psalm 18

Verses 1 to 6

I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

Verses 30 to 32

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.

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Wise Words

The Advice of the Wise

Akanwa ka mwefu takabepa. (Bemba language). This proverb means: "The bearded mouth does not lie."

Wisdom

Old people generally speak wisely. They have lived longer, seen more and learned from a wider range of mistakes and successes. They are more experienced than the young. They have travelled farther on life's road and know its twists and turns. This is what fits them to judge wisely and correctly in the affairs of life. They are, therefore, the ones best qualified to give good advice. Traditional life was guided and ruled by the wisdom of the elders. Think of some person whom you consider to be truly wise. The wisdom and advice of age should not be treated lightly.

Scripture

"How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him." (Matthew 9:7).

To be lost in the dark is a frightening experience. You don't know which way to go, and you wonder if you will arrive home safely. Life, at times, can be like this. You can get lost and confused in life's problems: work, money, marriage, security.

Think of a problem from which you thought there was no way out. One of the "good things" we most need in life is light; light to see how to conduct ourselves wisely in the busyness of life. We can read, reflect, listen. Above all, we need to pray to God and trust his wise guidance. His word is a light for our steps. The way he shows us may not be always the way we want to go. But then the advice of the elders may not be always to our liking either. We trust them, however, because of their experience and wisdom. How much more should we have faith and trust in our all-wise Father.

Prayer

Lord, in the changes and uncertainties of this life, help us to do always what is right. Guide us in our choices with your light, so that we may always do what most pleases you.

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Here's a thought

I believe

I believe in the sun
even when it isn't shining.
I believe in love
even when I am alone.
I believe in God
even when he is silent.

These words were found scrawled on a cellar wall where Jews had hidden in World War II in Cologne, Germany.

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Living Interdependently

by Gordon Temple

I have recently returned from a visit to Malawi and Uganda. This has been only my second visit to Africa, and nine years have passed since I was last there. If you are among those I met on my trip I want to thank you. You have blessed me. It has been my privilege to meet you and speak with you. I have learned so much from you.

The life experience of those living in the African bush is so different from that of those living in Europe. And in the starker realities of African life, what has struck me most has been the dignity of those who have a living relationship with Jesus as their Saviour and Lord.

We are all made in the image of God. This is a fundamental truth that is equally valid for all of us, European or African, blind or sighted. It's also equally true of all of us that the image of God in us has been marred and obscured by sin - disobedience to God that's rooted in our desire for independence, to assert our own will against God's.

Based on Jesus' words to Nicodemus (John 3) we often refer to becoming a Christian as being "born again". It's through being born again that the image of God is restored in us. And that shows. If it doesn't show, we need to wonder why because it's supposed to - even if through our human frailty that image of God in us gets tarnished from time to time. Perhaps it's the complexity and materialism of the Western world that blurs the distinction between Christian and non-Christian - a distinction that seems to me so much more apparent in the simpler but harsher circumstances of Africa.

We need to grasp this most profound of truths: that we are all made in the image of God. This is where the dignity of humanity is rooted, not in our own achievements or the approval of others but in a restored relationship with our creator God.

Some of us need to hear this afresh. The psalmist expresses it beautifully, you are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). This is how God sees you. He made you and he loves you unconditionally. It makes no difference that you see or don't see, or that you live with any other disability. It doesn't matter whether you think you look beautiful or not. God made you and loves you.

What does it actually mean when the Bible tells us we are made in God's image? We can't see God - even with perfect eyesight - so it cannot be about appearances! What then? As we reflect on the character of God we will surely find many answers to this question. But there's one answer that has recently impacted me with its powerful significance.

In Genesis 2:18 we read that God declared "it was not good for man to be alone". What is so striking about this observation is that it is made before the Fall, at a time when God sees all that he has made and declares it to be universally "good". God's response to this deficiency is to create woman to be a companion to the man. To be alone is "not good" and yet it's an experience far too familiar to far too many blind and partially sighted people.

When God creates man he says, "Let us make man in our image" (Genesis 1:26). Notice the plurals: "us" and "our". Though there is but one true God, Scripture introduces us to God as the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is community - one God in three persons. There is a perfect and unending relationship between them and in the creation of humanity they act collectively. It is therefore not a surprise that God recognises that something vital is missing when Adam stands alone.

We are all imprinted with the image of God and that includes the Godly characteristic of community. We don't function at our best when alone. We are made for relationship - and I believe that's much wider than the archetypal man-woman partnership that is God's immediate response to the problem of man's loneliness. We are designed and built for companionship and community - it's in our DNA!

In his great and final recorded prayer (found in John 17), Jesus the Son petitions God the Father: "that they may be one as we are one". He craves for us a quality of relationship that is modelled in the relationship among the persons of the Godhead.

The materialistic and consumerist culture of the West that seems to be spreading steadily across the world fosters an individualism, even a selfishness, that works in opposition to Jesus' heartfelt desire. We should beware: it was man's appetite for independence from God that led to the Fall and so often leads to our own "falling" day by day.

The aim of bringing independence to those who live with disability has driven much that is good and helpful, and is to be celebrated. But in the pursuit of independence there's a danger of going too far, leaving disabled people isolated and lonely. The goal of independence is to some degree a reaction to the negatives of the dependency that so many blind and other disabled people have suffered - of being patronised and institutionalised. But there are times when we all need the help of those around us. This is not about weakness or failure, but how things should be.

The Bible affirms the dignity of all people and by his encounters with disabled people, Jesus confirms this, and supports neither a strident independency nor abject dependency but gives us wholesome pictures of interdependency.

One of the most powerful Scriptural illustrations of the church is of a body. "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body" (1 Corinthians 12:12). For the body to function properly, its many different parts must work together in a mutually supportive way. One part suffers and all the others suffer too. If one part is honoured, all the others share in rejoicing (v26). No part is unnecessary or unwanted (v 21). And in the middle of this passage is an extraordinary statement: "those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable" (v22).

No one can go it alone. We need each other. It's often said that "no one is indispensable", usually to people in leadership (like me!) to stop them becoming too self-important. But in the church everyone is indispensable. God has gifted us each to contribute in a diversity of ways, and it's tragic when the only response of the church to disabled people is to see them as in need of compassion and care. They may well need the help and support of others, but that's not the end of the story.

There are ways in which all can serve the body. Maybe the support most needed by blind and other disabled people is specifically to enable them to use their God-given gifting for the blessing of the church as a whole. Both giving and receiving demand grace - some of us are better at one than the other! - and both can be a source of deep joy.

Within the Kingdom of God there's a place of significance for every one of us. We are all made in God's image, and through new birth into God's Kingdom that image has been restored in us. We are imprinted with the image of a God who himself lives in community and models relationship in perfection, and he calls us to foster Kingdom relationships that aspire to that quality. We are made to live interdependently in communities and families - in a constant interplay of giving and receiving. We need one another, and it's only together that we can be the church, Christ's body living on earth and engaged in the crucial work in kingdom building. Whether we have a disability or not is irrelevant. As essential parts of the body we each have a vital part to play.

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