THE TORCH - ISSUE 3 2010

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

Where is God?

Each year the staff and volunteers at Torch House set aside a day for prayer and Bible teaching. This year the speaker at our Retreat was Declan Flanagan. He chose a passage from the book of Ezekiel to impress on us the importance of having a vision of God and not to lose our focus on him.

Ezekiel was brought up in Jerusalem and had trained from childhood to be a priest in God's temple. Because he was a son in a priestly family, there was no other job for him. At the age of seventeen disaster struck. Ezekiel was exiled with most of his countrymen to Babylon, hundreds of miles away.

Priests start their work at thirty. But when Ezekiel turned thirty he faced some problems. Where was Jerusalem? Where was the temple? Where was God? Ezekiel's life's work just was not possible. Ezekiel said, "I was among the exiles by the Kebar river, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God." (Ezekiel 1:1).

Chapter 1 of Ezekiel's book describes this vision. "I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north - an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The centre of the fire looked like glowing metal and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures." (verses 4-5). It sounds very frightening! God often appeared to the Jews in dramatic storms. As the vision took shape, Ezekiel saw four living creatures holding up an expanse (platform) with a throne on top. Ezekiel described these fascinating creatures with wings, faces and hands.

Ezekiel saw wheels in his vision. These wheels intrigue me. "This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; ... wherever the spirit would go, they would go." (verses 16 to 20).

Notice two things about these wheels. They go in any direction and they have eyes all round their rims.

God seemed very far away to the exiles in Babylon. The Jews were great singers and had some beautiful songs, but the Jewish people felt too distressed to sing. The Babylonians wanted to hear some of these lovely songs. "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, 'sing us one of the songs of Zion!' How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" (Psalm 137:1 to 4). This vision of God showed Ezekiel that God is not far away but a "go anywhere" God. He is not confined to a temple in Zion (Jerusalem). Those wheels travel in any direction carrying the throne of God. Do you feel God has left you? Jesus said, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20).

When we despair, does God know or care? That's what those eyes around the wheel rims are all about. Even when we feel abandoned with no hope, like Ezekiel, God still knows all about it. "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." (2 Chronicles 16:9.)

I am totally blind. It's a real mystery to me sometimes to know what sighted people can or can't see. "Why didn't you notice me?" ... "You were hidden by a tree." ... "That little drop of soup on my collar doesn't matter!" ... "Huh, you can see it a mile off!"

God sees everything! That can sometimes be a challenge. There are no secrets from God. For Ezekiel those eyes on the wheels were a reassurance. Even though he was far away from the temple, God still saw him and cared.

We call 2010 the year of promise for Torch. Ezekiel's vision of God was wrapped in a promise. "Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord" (Ezekiel 1:28). After the flood, God promised never to flood the world again. "I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth." (Genesis 9:13). Rainbows are signs of God's promises.

We need a vision of God. It may be scary like that one given to Ezekiel but the vision comes with God's promises. There are so many in the Bible. As you read those promises and notice rainbows, remember that God is always with us and sees and knows everything. "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7.)

Mike Townsend

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Old Testament Characters

by Michael Stafford

3. Noah

In the last issue of this magazine we looked at Enoch. We are now going to consider his grandson - Noah, described as a righteous man and a man of faith who found favour with God who had determined to destroy mankind because of their increasing wickedness.

"Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth ... God said to Noah 'I am going to put an end to all people ... so make yourself an ark of cypress wood ... I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life ... but I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark - you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you' ... Noah did everything just as God commanded him". (Genesis 6:9-22)

God is a patient and merciful God, yet he will not go on bearing with man's rebellion indefinitely. Genesis 6:3 says, "My Spirit will not contend with man for ever". This comes as a warning, and a reminder that a time will come again when God will put an end to the world as we know it: "... the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2 Peter 3:7). Most people are totally unaware of coming judgment, and that is exactly how it was in Noah's day: "In the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away." (Matthew 24:38-39).

But Noah was different: he knew God and listened to God's voice. He was a man of faith - enormous faith - since up till that time no rain had fallen on the earth but it was watered from streams (Genesis 2:5-6). Noah did not live near the sea, so he had probably never seen boats, even if such things existed! Yet he believed God when he was told to build a boat, and he was given precise details on its construction and size. Taking these measurements (Genesis 6:15) it has been proved that they would provide a vessel which would be very stable in water and not move much from its original location.

Can we imagine how Noah must have been ridiculed during the many years of construction. To build such a big project he must have employed local labour, and we might think that at least some of those men would have understood the reason for all that carpentry. But it seems that none of them did, for 1 Peter 3:20 tells us that only eight people entered the ark and were saved. They were Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives. There is a lesson to be learned here, for many people think that being involved in the work of God is enough to save them. However the gospel message is that only the work of Christ on the cross can save us - not our own works.

The ark preserved the life of Noah's family and also of every kind of animal and bird. After nearly two months the flood had receded and Noah's family and every creature came out of the ark. God then made an agreement with Noah, which superseded the agreement he had made with Adam and Eve. Instead of only eating fruit and vegetables, people could now eat the meat of animals. As before, men and women were to multiply and fill the earth, and they must also exercise justice on those who killed other people. God also promised never to destroy the earth again with a flood, and as a sign of this he set the rainbow in the sky.

Noah was a farmer and planted vines which yielded a good crop of grapes. It is possible that fruit juice did not ferment before the flood, but now did. Noah was unaware of this, and in drinking grape juice which had been kept for some time he became drunk and lay naked in his tent. One of his sons - Ham - came into the tent and saw his father lying there naked and reported this to his brothers Shem and Japheth. They covered up their father and were later commended for this. We do not understand the full implication of what Ham did, but one thing is clear - he himself was not cursed as a result of this incident. It was one of his sons - Canaan - who was cursed. Today we have the descendants of all three sons: the people of the Middle East are the descendants of Shem; the people of Africa are the descendants of Ham, and all other races are descendants of Japheth. But the descendants of Canaan are not to be found. They caused a great deal of trouble to the Israelites in Bible times but, being cursed, they have not survived.

The ark is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ: those who were in the ark were saved from destruction. Likewise, people who have put their faith in Christ are "in" him and are saved from condemnation and hell. Are you "in" Christ? If you want to know some of the blessings we have "in" Christ then read the first and second chapters of Paul's letter to the Ephesians: we are blessed in him, chosen in him, have redemption and forgiveness in him, have the Holy Spirit, are seated in the heavenly realms and brought near to God. The agreement of God with Noah has now been superseded by the "new" covenant or agreement - that we are saved as we believe in Christ and are accepted "in him".

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Let the Scriptures speak

Ephesians 1:3-10

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment - to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 2:4-10

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 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. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

[From the Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Published by Hodder & Stoughton.]

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Penfriends bulletin

Here is someone who would like to correspond with others. If you would like to correspond with this person, 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.

ALBERT JOSEPH KAMPUNZE, Instituto de Deficientes Visuais, C.P. 364, Beira, Mozambique. Albert would like to correspond with young and blind adults, male or female. This can be in English or in Portuguese, in Chichewa, Shona, Chisena. He is 53 years old, totally blind, married and father of two children. He likes playing guitar, reading Bibles, and is collaborating with the catholic radio station as an announcer, journalist and reporter. He also works for the National Institute for the Blind as a transcriber at the small printing house for the blind in Beira city. He lives with his children, his wife, his aunt and four nephews. He has three brothers and three sisters.

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My Story

by Ann Murdock (part 1)

For my first five years, my family lived with my grandparents in Leicestershire in England, before moving into the city of Leicester for my dad's work. It was a happy childhood, returning to my grandparents for school holidays, and meeting up with my cousins who lived in the same village as my grandparents - particularly special as I had no brothers or sisters.

I married Dave at the age of 21 and Rebecca was born two years later.

At this time I got caught up in the "swinging sixties" revolution with its hippy lifestyle and so called "flower power". Mum and Grandma had been quite strict and controlling, so I found this new era to be very liberating. The music of that culture played a big part, and I decorated the house in psychedelic wallpaper. I settled very happily into my new lifestyle and Dave was quite happy to let me do what I wanted. He himself knew he had to have his feet firmly on the ground, maybe because he was a fireman.

I thought I had found my utopia, but it was short-lived. It was while Rebecca was growing up that one night on the news it was reported that lots of babies and children were dying in Biafra, due to a famine in Africa. Although I always thought there was a God, I had never brought him into anything. I thought, he's up there somewhere but that's got nothing to do with me. But that night I found myself wondering what sort of a God would allow that to happen.

Not long after that, the Jehovah Witnesses called. I had plenty of questions - and of course they had all the answers.

Over the next 10 years I got more and more involved with them. This time Dave did object as it affected our lives considerably. For instance I wasn't allowed to celebrate Christmas or birthdays - but the effect it had on our marriage went much deeper than that.

Let me tell you a bit about my time with the Witnesses.

1. Every teaching comes through a fortnightly magazine called the "Watchtower". All over the world, every "witness" studies the same instructions. The Watchtower is the final word - no one is allowed to question it without suffering the consequences; it's all about rules and regulations.

2. They have their own Bible which isn't a true translation, but to my shame I didn't know any scriptures so it was very easy to be fooled. It is so close to the truth, and yet so far from it. The devil is very subtle and should never be underestimated.

3. They are red hot on Bible study, meeting in groups three times a week; that's quite impressive - but there is a scripture which says you can be for ever learning but never come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).

4. They are very close knit and not encouraged to have friends outside the Kingdom Hall (their church). This was fine by me as they are all lovely, gentle people. The elders are extremely strict, and everyone watches everyone else to make sure the rules are kept.

5. Right at the start, you are taught to hate Christianity. No one is allowed to go into a church or read any other literature outside of the cult. Dates and times are set for the end of the world, and when these dates come and go with nothing happening, many leave - fortunately!

6. Salvation isn't guaranteed, as it is viewed as depending on good works and on staying with the cult. The whole organisation is very structured ... very efficiently run ... they have thought of everything.

7. The Holy Spirit is seen as a beam or active force. They don't accept the Trinity which is why the Holy Spirit is so impersonal. Jesus is reckoned to be an angel, the brother of Satan.

I was with the JWs for about ten years, the last five doing door to door visiting and attending all the meetings. But I started to feel ill and very unhappy. I was feeling oppressed and full of fear. Looking back I can see that I had become a slave to the Watchtower; also the whole thing was dead, there was no Holy Spirit. Every day I tried so hard to be all they said I should be: loving, kind and patient, but it just wasn't there. I wasn't allowed to think for myself as they had stifled all of my personality. At the time I thought there was something wrong with me, still believing that theirs was the only true religion; after all, everyone else appeared to be alright.

I decided to have a complete break from all the routine and attending meetings, and almost immediately I felt better. I began to relax and laugh again. I watched TV and felt normal. All of the fear and guilt had gone ...

[The remainder of this story will be in the next issue of The Torch.]

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Wise Words

A loving father

Lesa ntula, wewatulile mulondalonda nga aliputwike. (Bemba language). This proverb means: "God, you who have helped the wasp from being cut in two, help me."

Africa has much to offer as a cultural and spiritual basis for the gospel. Prior to God's revealing himself to all peoples, each race had something of what was revealed. Before hearing the gospel, the majority of African peoples had the idea of One High God, to whom they gave many names - creator, provider, healer, father, mother, potter, controller, king. This Bemba proverb appeals to God who controls the world down to its smallest detail, even the wasp which would split in two without him. When God revealed himself to us, he filled out our sketchy ideas of him with a picture far more wonderful than we could ever have painted on our own.

Scripture

Not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's consent. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows! (Matthew 10:29).

The Scriptures tell us, like the Bemba proverb, that God's control of the world extends to the smallest detail, even the tiny sparrow. But Scripture tells us much more - God is also our loving Father. In John's letters and Gospel, God tells us that we are truly his children, for we have his life in us. We could never have known this, had he himself not told us. Being a loving Father, God values us. We are the most important part of his creation and he has great plans for us, which he will carry out, despite our fears of all the things that could hinder us from reaching our goal - violence, spirits, sickness, sorcery, slander, uncertainty, loneliness, death. His message to us is that we should not fear, for he is protecting us against all that endangers our final salvation. We are precious to him and he is working in us day and night, drawing us to our true home with him in heaven.

Prayer

God of the Universe, we worship you as Lord. God ever close to us, we rejoice to call you Father. From this world's uncertainties we look to your friendship. Keep us one in your peace, secure in your love.

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