THE TORCH - ISSUE 2 - 2009

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!

"Oh that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock for ever! I know that my Redeemer lives ..." (Job 19:24,25).

This is a most remarkable statement by Job, who lived in the time of the patriarchs we can read of in Genesis. Clearly God had revealed to him, in that far-off time, that a living Redeemer would come. As you receive this edition of The Torch, we are approaching that time of year when we celebrate the fact of a Redeemer, who rose from the dead and lives for evermore.

Job longed for this wonderful thought to be recorded for the benefit of others. He described various methods of doing this, but could not know that in our day and age there would be a method which would enable blind people to have access to written material, including the all-important Scriptures, by means of raised dots on paper. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Louis Braille who invented this system. As this year is the 200th anniversary of his birth, we have included his story in our My Story slot this time, and rejoice that he also knew and served the Living Redeemer.

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First Century Christians

by Mike Townsend

7. Silas

"Peace!" What comes to your mind as you contemplate the idea of peace? I find peace in a forest, with shady trees, dappled sunshine, and soothing bird song. Tranquility! Perhaps your peace is that found in the beginning of Psalm 23: Sheep grazing by a stream. Here is another picture of peace. Silas shows peace as a fruit of the Spirit.

1. The peace of God

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (Acts chapter 16:22-25.)

Prisons are not noted for their peacefulness. I have visited many. They are full of people who have done very bad things. The officers have to be strong to keep control. The Philippian jailer took great care to control Paul and Silas. Some of the prisoners I visit have put their trust in Jesus in jail. They seem like pools of peace in the midst of chaos. Paul and Silas were beaten in the market-place for proclaiming the love of Jesus. They then find themselves shackled in the town jail. Not treatment to sing about. But there they are singing hymns and praying at midnight. What is the secret? "He who dwells in the shelter of the most high will rest in the shadow of the almighty." (Psalm 91:1). Peace is not tranquillity. Real peace is the presence of God. The psalmist goes on to testify that even though thousands face trouble all around him, God's peace is like a protective shield.

Perhaps you are facing serious troubles at the moment. It may be family, finances, jobs, the credit crunch, uncertainty, physical danger or besetting sin. Paul reminded the Philippians of his jail experience with Silas, and this is my prayer for you: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7.)

2. Peace with God

Silas was a prophet (Acts 15:32). He was an effective evangelist and Bible teacher. He was usually seen in partnership with others such as Paul, Judas or Timothy. Here is a tremendous opportunity to share his faith.

Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody's chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "don't harm yourself, we are all here!" The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptised. (Acts 16:26-33).

The suicidal jailer was desperate, but this quickly turned to peace. Paul and Silas assured him that none of the prisoners had escaped. They were then able to lead the entire jailer family to believe in Jesus. We shall never find real peace until we trust Jesus personally. In my last year at school, I was desperate to find the real meaning of life. I tried all sorts of things including Zen Buddhism, Communism, Hinduism and Humanism. One day, I found a braille book left by a friend in the study. It was Peace with God by Billy Graham. It told me that I was separated from God by my sins; they were a barrier which could only be removed by Jesus and his death on the cross. I would not find peace until I trusted Jesus. Being a scientist, I decided to try the experiment. "Lord Jesus, I am sinful and not fit for your presence. Please remove the barrier. Help me to feel your presence, and know your peace." The room was filled with God's presence and peace. I can't really describe this wonderful experience. Jesus offers us all "peace with God" if we will surrender our pride and trust him.

3. Peace for God

Church splits are sad experiences. The early church was on the verge of dividing over whether Christians must also be fully Jews.

Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." (Acts 15:1).

Antioch was a gentile church and the men were resisting circumcision. It didn't seem consistent with salvation through faith in Jesus. My church split fifteen years ago. The issue was authority and whether church members must completely obey the pastor in everything. I was absolutely sure that I should trust God and him alone. I helped lead a group to get it "sorted". I was enthusiastic in the heat of battle! Does that sound like a loving church? I thank God for my good friend Sheila. She said to me, one day, "Mike you are getting very negative. You are usually very positive." It was true, and must have taken courage to say. Silas was a peacemaker. He was a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22.) After discussion, the church agreed that circumcision was unnecessary as faith in Jesus is something completely new. Peter stated: "We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are" (Acts 15:11.) A letter was written and entrusted to faithful leaders for delivery to bring peace to the church. The apostles said, "Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing." (Acts 15:27.) "Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers." (verse 32). Silas went throughout the Middle East and Greece, teaching and bringing understanding to troubled situations. Later, he helped Peter distribute his epistles.

With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. (1 Peter 5:12).

Silas, filled with the peaceful fruit of the Spirit, brought peace wherever he went.

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The Story of Louis Braille

(compiled by Lin Ball)

Two hundred years ago on a January day in 1809 a weak and sickly fourth child was born to a poor harness maker and his wife in the town of Coupvray, 25 miles east of Paris. He was baptised at four days old for fear of an early death. Not an auspicious start in life - but Louis Braille lived to become known and thanked worldwide as the inventor of a system for reading and writing by blind and partially sighted people. His alphabet of embossed dots read by the fingertips has been adapted into almost every known language.

Louis survived his early delicate health but became blind at the age of three, following a tragic accident in his father's workshop. Hypolyte Coltat, later to become Louis' pupil and close friend, has left us this account:

One day ... the child was sitting beside his father and wanted to work too and copy the movements he saw his father making. In one little hand he caught up a piece of leather and in the other the serpette (a slender, curved knife for piercing leather) and started to work. Weakness frequently encounters difficulties and this is what happened. The sharp tool slipped sideways and struck the poor little workman in the eye.

Nothing could be done. The damaged eye became infected and the other eye went blind when the infection passed to it. By the time Louis was five he was totally blind.

However, at the age of 10 and with the encouragement of his village priest, the boy earned a scholarship to the "Institution Royale des Jeunes Aveugles" (Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris), one of the first of its kind in the world. Though given the opportunity for an education, Louis underwent great privations at the school. The conditions were dreadful. Louis was served stale bread and water, the building was cold and damp, and students were sometimes abused or locked up as a form of punishment.

Despite everything, Louis excelled. He was bright and creative, particularly in music, and became a talented cellist and organist.

Students at the Paris school were taught to read by feeling raised letters, a method that was frustratingly slow. The system, invented by the school's founder Valentin Haüy, involved paper being pressed against copper wire. The books produced by this method were very heavy, generally weighing around 50 kilos each. The school had only 14 books and Louis read every one. The Haüy system gave no opportunities for writing.

Then in 1821, when Louis was 12, the school had a visit from Charles Barbier, a captain in the French army. He demonstrated an invention he called "night writing". His phonetic code using 12 raised dots and a number of dashes had evolved as a means by which soldiers could share secret information at night on the battlefield without needing to speak. Barbier felt it might have some application for blind people.

The young Louis familiarised himself with Barbier's system - soon identifying its shortcomings. Over the next couple of years he began to work on his own version, working late into the night after completing his studies. He settled on a less complex system using only six raised dots. The dots were set in 63 different permutations to represent each letter of the alphabet plus some short forms - each arrangement small enough to fit in the area covered by one fingertip and therefore speeding up the process of reading. Though his fellow students were thrilled, he got no encouragement from the school director, who didn't want to abandon the time and money invested in the old system and felt that the school's benefactors would not be pleased to be asked to finance a new system.

In time, a new director was appointed to the blind school. Initially, he also rejected Louis Braille's reading and writing system and banned the students from using it. But his system was later championed by another teacher who eventually won over the director.

Despite rejection and setbacks, the first book in braille was published in 1829 under the rather cumbersome title: Method of Writing Word, Music and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them.

Louis Braille went on to become a well-respected teacher of algebra and geography at the Institute, although sadly his system was never taught there during his lifetime. He also became organist at one of the biggest churches in Paris. After completing his reading and writing system, be went on to develop notation for mathematics and music.

Braille contracted tuberculosis in his twenties, no doubt a result of many years of living in the poor, damp conditions at the school. He died in Paris in 1852, aged just 43, having spent the previous eight years confined to bed. Recognition came - but too late for Braille himself to know about it. His system was not officially recognised in France until two years after his death. After a further four years, an American blind school began to use braille - but it took another 30 years before it became widespread in schools for blind children in Europe. On the centenary of his death in 1952 his body was re-interred from the humble plot in Coupvray to the Panthéon, the burial place in Paris for French heroes.

This short history has not yet touched on Louis Braille's character, which was apparently as remarkable as his achievements. It seems likely that he was a young man of great personal faith in God, perhaps dating from his early and significant relationship with the village priest. Jean Roblin wrote in his book, Louis Braille, (RNIB publication 1960): "He radiated happiness and joy ... Despite his blindness, despite continual ill health, despite the ill will of others which delayed the recognition of his work, in the face of adversity and of accumulated disappointment, he remained kindly, cheerful and faithful to his friends and to his ideal ... To those around him he brought material and spiritual aid with apostolic fervour and with a zeal that was saintly in its discretion."

Blind people owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Louis Braille. A contemporary blind figure, former British Home Secretary David Blunkett speaking in Louis Braille's bicentennial year of 2009, described Braille as "a liberator for me and thousands of blind men and women like me."

Blunkett said he was thankful to Louis Braille for "the ingenuity, the confidence and the determination that ensured that others like him sought and gained independence, equality and dignity."

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Penfriends bulletin

Here are some 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.

WYCLIFFE ALIONA, Vihiga Boys' High School, P.O. Box 140, South Maragoli, Kenya, East Africa. I am 38 years old now, hoping to become a schoolteacher. I am totally blind. Hobbies include: reading, writing music in braille, piano music, attending church meetings, meeting people and computer keyboarding. I welcome letters from people of every nation, in English braille, both ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. I very much appreciate The Torch magazine and Torch Times.

ISAAC NYAMUKAPA, Murewa High School, P.B. 662, Murewa, Zimbabwe. I am a single man aged 21 attending Form 4 at the above address and I live in Mutoko together with family. I like athletics and goalball, singing, going to church and visiting and also communicating with friends. I would like to correspond with people of both sex with age from 14 to 21 and I like letters in large print or braille or on my number 00263-912380359. I am looking for friends all over the world.

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Let the Scriptures speak

Philippians 2:5-11

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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An Old Hymn - Telling the Greatest Story ever told!

I wonder how old your favourite hymn is: perhaps from the last century or maybe the century before, like Amazing Grace, for example.

I want to take you back much, much further - to the first century; to within 30 years of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

Many theologians think that Philippians 2:5-11 (quoted above) is an early Christian hymn, quoted by Paul to illustrate the point he is making about the radical way in which responsibility is to be exercised in the church. The verses certainly have a lyrical form. This much we know: Paul's letter was written from prison. Most think it the prison in Rome, which would date the writing of this letter at AD61-62. It's a window onto the understanding early Christians had about Jesus.

Some hymns and songs express our praise and worship of Jesus and God; others concentrate more on our feelings toward him. Still others encapsulate Christian truth and teaching, helping us learn and remember what we believe. The Hymn of Christ, as one author has dubbed these verses from Philippians 2, falls into that last category.

Perhaps the biggest question that the Bible, and certainly the Gospels, seeks to answer is: "Who exactly is Jesus?" Since the Gospels weren't written until after Philippians, the sentiments of this hymn, if hymn it be, take us just about as close as we can go to the beliefs of the first Christians.

In two short stanzas, each a single sentence in the original Greek, we have a marvellously comprehensive answer to the big question. This hymn is all about Jesus. It opens by telling us that Jesus was "in the form of God". In other words, that he is by nature divine; that he is God. Even though he is divine with all to which that entitles him, he takes the form of the servant, the form of a human being.

It's not that Jesus changes in his progression from God to servant or from deity to humanity but, unchanged in his divinity, he takes on a servant heart and wraps himself in flesh. He is at the same time the eternal Son of God and a man limited in time and place. The creator inhabits his created order.

When we read the Gospels we observe the life and ministry of Jesus. We see him changing water into wine, commanding a storm to cease, rebuking a fig tree and causing it to wither instantly; we see him walking on water, speaking with incredible authority, shining with glory at the transfiguration ... and much more. He talks like he is God and he acts like he is God - and we can come to no other conclusion but that he is truly divine.

Then look again. We see Jesus experiencing temptation, eating and sleeping, feeling tired and hungry, praying and weeping, and - finally - executed by crucifixion ... and much more. He talks like a man and acts like a man - and we can come to no other conclusion but that he is truly human.

The disciples struggle to work this out; how can he be both? But this hymn expresses clearly what they came to believe.

At the centre of this hymn are two key words: "cross" and "therefore".

The first stanza ends with "cross". The cross is the destination for Jesus' downward progression of servanthood. Jesus couldn't have come lower.

Crucifixion was a slow and agonising way to die. It was also the most humiliating way to die. Whatever crime he might have committed, a Roman citizen would never be sentenced to crucifixion. Seldom were crucified criminals buried; their bodies would be thrown on the rubbish heap (in the valley of Gehenna, in the case of Jerusalem) for scavenging dogs and birds to pick over. The message is clear. The one crucified is almost less than human. Jesus could sink no lower. This is why Paul comments that the gospel of "Christ crucified" was "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23). How could somebody executed on a cross be the Lord of the universe?

So it's perhaps a surprise that the second stanza (verse 9) starts with the word "therefore". We might think "but" or "nevertheless" or simply "then" might make more sense. How can the total humiliation of God's son be in any sense the reason that he is exalted to the "highest place"?

The very same point is made in Hebrews 2:9: "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death". It's nonsense - until we remember what Jesus said about the "topsy-turvy" way things work in the Kingdom of God: "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:11)

Jesus exemplifies this kingdom principle. In the first stanza of the hymn the subject - the one taking the action - is Jesus. But, in the second stanza, the subject is God. Jesus humbles himself to the lowest place, therefore God exalts him to the highest place.

To the Gentile community of Philippi, this is revolutionary. Here the Imperial cult, the worship of the Emperor, is the religion. The hymn declares that the Jesus of the cross is the Lord over all, whose name outranks every name. Even those who oppose the gospel will one day bow to Jesus Christ and confess him as Lord!

This is epic - the greatest story ever told! The journey taken by God's only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, a journey that starts at the throne of God the Father and ends back there but includes servanthood, humanity and even crucifixion, is the longest road in the universe.

Perhaps most amazing is that this epic excursion was made for us. Jesus entered our world, took on our humanity and died for us that we might be rescued from the consequences of our sinfulness and live with him now and in eternity.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Paul's purpose in quoting this little hymn is not primarily to teach us truths about Jesus - though it does that beautifully. His intention is to show us that human power struggles have no place in the church. Instead we are to learn to think like Jesus who, rather than hang on to his divine status as Lord of all, offered himself as servant of all, even to the ultimate sacrifice, allowing God to exalt him once his work was complete.

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Here's a thought

God so loved the world

by Roy Lessin

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).

His love is unquestionable
its power unconquerable,
its impact unmistakable,
its meaning undeniable,
its mystery unexplainable,
its sacrifice incomparable,
its price unimaginable,
its depth immeasurable,
its absence unthinkable!

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Easter Message

by Canon Desmond Treanor

Some of us in the western world may be thinking, "Will the daffodils be over by Easter?" That is an important consideration for those who decorate churches. In other years, the flower arrangers might be asking, "Will the daffodils be out for Easter?" Why the difference? It is not just a matter of climate change. The fact is that, unlike Christmas, there is no fixed date for this festival. In most years Christians in different parts of the world celebrate Easter on different days. Why? Just because the churches of the East still use the old Julian calendar while we use the Gregorian.

However, on 12th April this year, the whole Church will rejoice on what is the happiest and most important day in the Christian year.

The season brings a welcome holiday to many, and for some it is accompanied by such delights as chocolate eggs. But for every Christian, Easter day has a significance which really has very little to do with these things, or with the weather conditions, even though this is the time of year when in many parts, everything seems to come to life again.

Easter marks the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Within a matter of hours the news of what had happened transformed the disciples. It changed the course of history, and it continues to bring hope to men and women from every nation and in every part of the world.

Death was not the end of Christ's story; nor is it of ours. As Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared over and over again to his friends before he ascended to heaven, so those who entrust their lives to him will also be raised from the dead. That is why we celebrate the great day, and why we remember it thankfully Sunday by Sunday.

In Jesus, raised from the dead, we see eternity brought into the midst of this life; and this life caught up into eternity.

Everything that was written about Jesus in the New Testament was penned by men who were completely convinced that, just as surely as he died on a cross at Calvary, he had been raised from the dead and was alive again. They were conscious of his presence with them wherever they were. The spread of the Church throughout the world and its continuation for two thousand years, is powerful evidence of the conviction so many people still share that Christ is the Son of God. He was not just a good man, a great teacher and a charismatic leader. He is our living Lord.

Your life and mine, and the things which absorb our attention day by day, will be erased from memory in a comparatively short time. But, because of what Jesus Christ said and did, we may be sure that we matter to God. He loves us and always will.

That is certainly something to celebrate!

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