The Torch - Issue 4 2012

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From:-
TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: +44(0)1858 438260, Fax: +44(0)1858 438275, email: info@torchtrust.org
The Torch Trust for the Blind, registered charity number 1095904.

Contents

Greetings!

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are looking for an inspirational word to keep you going in tough times consider Joshua 1:9. Joshua and the people of Israel were about to enter the promised land. God knew what was coming their way, and that courage and strength were necessities. So he told Joshua three times to "be strong and courageous," finally adding the promise: "God will be with you wherever you go."

That's a promise not only for Joshua and Israel - it's a promise for all of us! The fact that God promises us his presence makes the challenge of being "strong and courageous" do-able. It is in him that we can find courage, and it is in him that we find the strength we need to take on whatever may come our way.

"Be strong and courageous ... for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Now that's a promise to cling to. That's a promise to claim!

God bless you.

Janet Stafford and the editors

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Old Testament characters

by Michael Stafford

13. Gideon

We now come to characters in the book of Judges, which is a book that describes a pattern of life in Israel at that time (c.1200 BC). That pattern is a recurring theme throughout the book: 1) Israel worshipped other gods; 2) God judged them, making them captive to their enemies; 3) The people repented and turned back to the true God; 4) A leader was raised up, known as a judge, and was empowered by God to deliver the people from bondage; 5) A period of peace followed, then a turning away again to other gods. This cycle happened again and again.

One of the greatest of the judges was Gideon, who came from a very humble background. At that time the Israelites were enslaved by a pagan people called Midianites, who wrought havoc on the people, destroying their crops and livestock and causing great hardship so that they lived in constant fear. Eventually the Israelites cried to the Lord for help.

Gideon's call

Gideon was threshing wheat secretly when God called him to deliver his people from their enemies. Gideon was astonished when God said he was with him, as all the indications were that God had abandoned Israel. God then said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?" Gideon objected, saying "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family". God said "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together". (Judges 6:12-16).

God had said "Go in the strength you have", but Gideon protested his weakness. What was meant, though, was that as God was with him he had all the strength needed, and more. To prove this, God told Gideon to do a very daring thing: he was to break down the altar that his family had built in honour of Baal, and replace it with an altar to the true God. Gideon was afraid and did it at night. The situation looked bleak for Gideon in the morning when his action was found out, but his father sprang to his defence, and pointed out to the citizens that Baal could look after himself. Needless to say, nothing bad happened to Gideon and the people left him alone.

Gideon's test

Gideon's big test came when he was faced with a huge enemy army of Midianites and other pagan tribes. He called for recruits to his army and ended up with 32,000 men. However, he wanted to be absolutely sure that God would give him victory, as the enemy numbered far more than this. He said to God: "If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised - look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing-floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said." And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew - a bowlful of water (Judges 6:36-38). Even after that, Gideon was still unsure and asked God for a similar sign, which God granted to him. Then Gideon was ready to lead his army into battle.

God, however, was not satisfied with Gideon's plans. He demanded that Gideon's army be reduced. This was accomplished by sending away all the men who were frightened - 22,000, leaving an army of just 10,000. Still God was not satisfied, and the army had to be reduced again through a testing of the men. The test was to make all the men drink from a stream or pool of water. Gideon was to watch how they drank. Most of them knelt on the ground and lapped the water like an animal. Just 300 did it in a different way - they scooped up water in their hands and drank from that. God said these would be the men to accompany Gideon. It must have seemed ridiculous, but actually, these 300 proved by the way they drank that they were watchful. If they had knelt down to drink, like the others, they would not have been able to watch.

How could Gideon conquer a vast army with just 300 men? He could not, but God could use his obedience to show his own glory and power. So Gideon was obedient to God and equipped his men with three things: a trumpet, an empty jar and a torch. Again, one would have thought that spears and swords would have been more appropriate, but God had his reasons for equipping the men in this way.

Gideon's victory

Surrounding the enemy camp at night when all were asleep, the 300 men at a given signal broke the jars, held aloft the flaming torches and blew the trumpets. The result was electrifying - panic took hold in the camp, the enemy fled and in the confusion started killing each other. They were now hotly pursued by a great company of men who Gideon called to follow them and slay them. They succeeded in killing the enemy leaders, and Israel was at last set free from Midianite domination.

Why did God insist on such a small army? Surely it was because he didn't want the Israelites to think that they had conquered the Midianites in their own strength. It was going to be clear to everyone that the victory was due to God's power alone. Nevertheless, Gideon was considered a hero by his people, and they wanted to make him a king. Very wisely he refused, as he knew that God was King of Israel and ruled through judges such as Gideon himself.

Gideon's mistake

Up to this point Gideon's life had been exemplary, but then he made a mistake - he gathered gold jewellery and made an ephod with it (we don't know exactly what this kind of "ephod" was. It could not have been an article of clothing like that worn by the priests. It was probably an "oracle" which people consulted for guidance). Sadly this became an object of worship which was a snare to the Israelites, who so readily worshipped idols.

We can learn much from Gideon's life including his faith, obedience and humility. But also we can be warned by his mistake, never to put something or someone in the place of God, or to seek one's own glory instead of his.

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Partners

by Elaine Waterfield, Kenya

In the 1970s I used to be a volunteer at Torch House Hallaton during school holidays and I was baptised in the swimming pool there. I must have been about 17 years old. My time there was a good foundation for having faith for provision.

Thirty years later I left my home in Southampton after my late husband died (two years ago), and I am now working in Chungni, a remote village in Suna Migori, Kenya as a missionary, and director of RE DIM Rural empowerment development initiative movement and CBO with George Okoth. It has been very difficult with the culture change and language barrier but God is good all the time. We deal with young girls' education as so many girls don't go to school because of school fees, early marriages and early pregnancies. We also deal with elderly groups, widows, orphaned and disabled, also people with HIV/AIDS as Suna has a high percentage of sufferers because of polygamy, illiteracy and ignorance.

There is a high percentage of visually impaired people and for many they are seen as a curse in the family and kept locked away in their houses. Disability is also made far worse because of lack of wheelchairs, crutches and walking sticks, plus white canes for the visually impaired. Most equipment is very prehistoric.

Most disabled people end up begging on the streets for money, and disabled children, especially those who are visually impaired, have a poor chance of education and employment.

People here need educating and ignorance needs to be eradicated.

We hope to empower disabled people and other partners of disabled groups by sending them Torch literature and magazines, and it's our prayer to have a Torch Trust group in Migori as the visually impaired need support and encouragement. People here have no Bibles or braille Christian literature and so Torch will be a lifeline to them.

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Worry doubles trouble

by Gordon Temple

"Worry doubles trouble" was a little phrase coined by the famous preacher John Stott when, early in the seventies, he took the Sermon on the Mount as the topic for his series of Bible readings at the Keswick Convention. And that little phrase has stuck in my mind to this day.

Are you a worrier? Which of us isn't? Some people show it - and talk endlessly about their worries. Others bottle them up and hide them away. Envious, we watch them live apparently serene lives through all sorts of trouble.

Worry can be debilitating. Sometimes we are so worried we stop doing anything - even doing something to solve the problem we are worrying about!

Our "Let the Scriptures Speak" passage in this edition of The Torch is the relevant passage from the Sermon on the Mount (from Matthew 6). Jesus takes a common sense approach. John Stott summarised Jesus' remarks as, "Worry is incompatible with common sense". He goes on, "All worry is about tomorrow ... but all worry is experienced today". In my experience as a worrier, the things I worry about may not be as far away as tomorrow! We might rephrase Stott's statement: all worry is about later, but experienced now.

A bit of research from the world of business revealed that people, on average, only spend about 2% (one fiftieth) of the time worrying about things worth worrying about.

Of the other 98% of the time:

Leaving just 2% of our worry time on things actually worth worrying about!

As Jesus said, each day has enough trouble of its own. So when we worry about what might happen tomorrow we double the trouble. We worry about tomorrow's troubles at the same time we are dealing with today's, and then when tomorrow comes we're troubled again about the thing we worried about today. So don't worry about tomorrow, is Jesus' message.

"Easier said than done," I hear you cry. True enough, so how is Jesus seeking to help his audience then - and now - deal with worries?

He encourages us to move our attention off ourselves and our own needs and turn our attention toward God - seeking not our own good, but God's: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:35).

Jesus is the antidote to worry. Listen again to the words of an old song ...

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

We could express what Jesus is saying this way: if you must worry about something, then worry about God's rule and God's righteousness - and stop worrying about those very real worries of food and clothing, for he will take care of them, while we focus on doing his will and doing things his way: "Your heavenly Father knows that you need them".

Of course this doesn't mean that Christians can put their feet up and live a life of idleness, doing nothing to provide for themselves. Jesus used birds as an example of how God provides, but they still fly around to collect their food. Jesus seeks active followers whose ambition is for his kingdom rather than for themselves. And as we throw ourselves into his kingdom work, he promises to help us with the essentials.

Jesus wasn't a worrier. With the disciples in a boat, caught in a furious storm that his companions feared would sink the boat and drown them, he slept. When he was woken, it wasn't by the buffeting of the waves or the noise of the wind, but by agitated disciples. We can read this story in Mark's Gospel:

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" (Mark 4:37-41)

In the original Greek two different words for fear are used in this passage. The first is used by Jesus to describe the disciples' fear for their lives - they were "so afraid". They were worried "big time". The second refers to the disciples terror when, in response to Jesus' command, the storm comes suddenly to an end. Was it then that it dawned on them: "We've got God in the boat with us!"? I can understand their consternation, but there is another side to that coin.

All of us experience storms in our lives, and to know that Jesus - the Son of God - is in the boat with us is a huge comfort. Jesus rebukes the disciples for a lack of faith. By now, it seems to Jesus, the disciples should have understood that nothing was beyond his power to control. They could trust him, and have faith that at any time, even in a crisis, Jesus is untroubled and ready to help.

Faith in Jesus is indeed the answer to worry. And it is not the strength of our faith that counts, but faith - even our weak faith - in his strength that saves us. It's placing our confidence in him ... confidence that he knows what we need and what's best for us, even when the circumstances of life might threaten to sink us.

The apostle Paul faced plenty of challenges - even some life-threatening situations - and he encourages us with these words:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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 4:4-7)

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Let the Scriptures Speak

Matthew 6:25-34

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

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Here's a thought

(taken from Our Daily Bread)

I heard about a submarine that was on patrol during wartime and had to remain submerged overnight. When it resurfaced the next day, a friend on another ship radioed the captain, "How did you fare in that terrible storm last night?" Surprised, the officer exclaimed, "What storm? We didn't know there was one!"

Although the ocean's surface had been whipped into huge waves by high winds, the vessel was not affected because the waters below remained calm and tranquil. Likewise, the Christian's mind can be protected from the distracting waves of worry caused by troubling circumstances. American pastor and author, A T Pierson (1837-1911), described the peace of God as "that eternal calm which lies far too deep in the praying, trusting soul to be reached by any external disturbances."

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My story

by Eleanor Logue (volunteer reader for Torch)

When asked to write my story for The Torch magazine, I immediately said yes. However, when I sat down and started trying to think what to say, I struggled to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Would the readers of The Torch really be interested in me and my story? Then I remembered that God is interested in everyone's story and in fact he has made each one of us unique and different with an interesting story to tell. So, here goes!

My grandfather was a wonderful man who lost his sight in the first world war through a bullet severing his optic nerve. Although he died when I was eight, I remember him sitting me on his knee and playing with his braille pocket watch. He led, in my eyes, a completely normal life and it was only as I grew up did I realise how remarkable he was, memorising pages of figures and stock control to run a very successful business.

I lived in Australia for four years in my early married life and did a stint of work with the Royal Australian Blind Society as a trainee counsellor. I have always wondered how I could help people with less sight than I, but I didn't expect my voice to be the means! Over ten years ago, I was asked by a staff member of Torch if I would consider reading the extra scripture passages for Every Day with Jesus (daily Bible reading notes) for the audio cassettes regularly distributed to visually impaired people. Having agreed, I never expected this to bless me and my family as much as it does. This is no one-way thing for me sitting and reading words into a microphone; time and time again, as I read, God speaks into my and my family's personal circumstances. It is an incredible privilege being able to do this. I cannot imagine any other "job" where one could sit and read the Bible out loud and then be thanked for it at the end of the day! I love doing it and although it is sometimes hard to fit in around a busy family life, I know that it is an incredibly important part of my weekly life.

So a little background about me. I have been happily married for 25 years to Neil who has a passion for education, and am the equally happy mother of four beautiful children, Josie (21), Michael (20), Hannah (18) and Sarah (15); what blessings they all are - yes hard work at times but I wouldn't change a thing. We live in Leicestershire with my recently widowed mother next door to us, and we run a house with an open door as we all love offering hospitality to our friends and the friends of our children. God has blessed us with so much, - yes, a few trials along the way, but he has never ever let us down. My favourite verse in the Bible is Philippians 4 verse 4: "Rejoice in the Lord always, I say it again, Rejoice" - closely followed by Nehemiah 8 verse 10: "The Joy of the Lord is my strength". And that is how I try to live my daily life, rejoicing and relying on God.

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