THE TORCH - ISSUE 5 - 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.

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Christmas Greetings!

In Families

It's on those special occasions: Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries, even funerals, when families draw closest. If we can't physically get together with other family members, then we'll send messages of love or congratulation. As families we share the events of family life in its ups and downs, life's joys and sorrows.

At Christmas time we join with the worldwide Christian family to celebrate the most extraordinary birthday of all time, that of Jesus of Nazareth, carpenter's son and Lord of the universe.

As Christmas approaches we come toward the end of an exceptional year for the Torch Family. We have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Torch Trust as we know it, looking back to 1959 when Ron and Stella Heath took on this magazine and almost unwittingly embarked upon an adventure that built a mission with global impact. And so, in this our Christmas edition, we have included an article that takes us back to Torch's roots.

There's some sad news too. On September 29th at age 89 Stella Heath completed her life's journey and went to be with her Lord. Many gathered together in October to celebrate her life at a service of thanksgiving. Many others sent messages of condolence and appreciation. Stella was a remarkable lady.

Such was their God-given love for blind and partially sighted people, Stella and her husband Ron became known as "Mum and Dad" of the worldwide Torch Family. Their calling to the work was confirmed to them in the words of scripture: "you give them something to eat" - words from the story of the feeding of the 5,000. From the way Stella recounts this in her book, Coping with the Camel, they felt as helpless to meet the challenge as Jesus' disciples must have when faced with such a huge crowd without money or anywhere nearby to buy food. Yet through their faithfulness, vision and commitment, God's power has been released and tens of thousands have been impacted over the 50 year history of the Torch Trust.

But now we return our attention to the one who is greater than all others, our Lord Jesus Christ, God's only Son delivered into a careless, even hostile, world as that most vulnerable of creatures, a human baby, totally dependent on his human family and yet the one who is the radiance of the Father's glory. As it did then, the blazing glory of the Light of the World shines into today's dark and dangerous world: "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

And if you are to spend Christmas alone, as too many blind and partially sighted people will, remember that anyone who puts their faith in Jesus is a child of God, a member of God's family! And as a reader of this magazine you are a part of a family that extends across one hundred countries, the Torch Family.

"God sets the lonely in families" (Psalm 68:6).

This is our Christmas message to you. I, on behalf of the whole Torch Family, wish you a happy Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Gordon Temple

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Preparing the way

(taken from Inspire - October 2008)

A favourite Christmas song includes the lyrics: "Christmas isn't Christmas 'til it happens in your heart; somewhere deep inside you is where Christmas really starts."

It is all too easy to get so caught up in the commercial side of Christmas that at best the heart of the story gets pushed to the sidelines, and at worst, completely forgotten about.

Allowing time to focus on the heart of the message in the build-up to this wonderful event is vital if it is ever going to have a real impact on us. Spend time meditating and reflecting on the prophecies from the Old Testament relating to the forthcoming birth of Jesus:

Genesis 3:15: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

Isaiah 7:14: The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:7: Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Daniel 9:25: Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven "sevens" and sixty-two "sevens". It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.

Micah 5:2: But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

Hosea 11:1: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

Jeremiah 31:15: This is what the Lord says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more."

The people of Israel had to wait hundreds of years to see these words fulfilled. How do you cope with waiting for God's timing? Reflect on the advantages of awaiting his timing rather than trying to do things your own way.

* * * * * *

The above challenges us about waiting for God's timing. In this part comes the challenge of being willing to go God's way.

It is all too easy to simply go along with choices those around us are making. However, at times, God challenges us to pursue a far harder path instead. The two main characters this involved were Mary and Joseph. They faced a unique and unenviable challenge.

If possible have a look at the Christmas story as told in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-56.

How does the story challenge your attitude to God when he calls you to do something which is going to move you outside your comfort zone, get you noticed, or is potentially embarrassing - as happened to Mary and Joseph? Are we willing to echo the words of Mary: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me, as you have said."?

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No room

by Peter Jackson

No room was there for the Saviour born in Bethlehem that night.

No thought in the darkened minds of men for the world's only true light.

No hand stretched out to welcome him,

No smile to light his way,

No love except in Mary's heart,

In whose arms he lay.

No bed was there to lie him in, only a manger of hay.

No nurse was there to comfort him, to wipe his tears away.

No pretty clothes to wrap him in,

No colours his eyes to please,

Only a world of wickedness,

Full of hostilities.

Yet he came down from heaven to save us all from hell.

He is the way, the truth, the life, our blessed Immanuel!

Let's open now our hearts to him,

Give him his rightful place,

And thank him for his boundless love

That brought to us God's grace.

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A 50th year look back

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Torch, we, the Reigate and Redhill Torch Fellowship Group, thought readers of this magazine might like an update on this Group in Surrey where Mum and Dad Heath started the work with blind students.

Originally a small group, meeting fortnightly at Hethersett College, we currently meet weekly on Tuesday evenings at "The Hub" as it is now known. We have received great support through the years from the various principals, starting with Mr Cunliffe. We regularly have upward of 18 students attending, and are greatly encouraged by the Key Workers who come along with the students and who join in our activities. Our evening is spent enjoying a time of singing, during which two students take turns with playing the piano. The students love quizzes, and to pray for each other and for family and friends. They are always eager for news of Janet Stafford and the work in Malawi, as well as other Torch Groups. The grandparents of one of the key workers live in Malawi, so making a very real link for the students.

We have received many blessings during this time, and just over a month ago one of the students gave her heart to the Lord Jesus. We now have several young people who truly love the Lord. Students of course do move on, but Lilian Taylor remains in touch with some of the original students from when she worked at the college.

The students meet with other blind and partially sighted people in the area, including our friends from "Seeability", at our monthly Saturday meeting. Here we enjoy tea and fellowship, music, quizzes, celebrate birthdays, share news and have guest speakers. Each July we have a cream tea instead of an outing as we were finding it difficult to transport our Group but want to do something a little more special. Up to 40 people attend this meeting which is organised by our very small team after prayer to ask for God's guidance. And it is amazing how God has guided through the fifty years. We do give Him all the praise and glory.

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Here's a thought

The perfect fit

(from dayspring.com)

"Jesus is the gift that perfectly fits the size of every heart."

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Christmas Secrets: A study in Matthew

by Mike Townsend

What is your favourite Christmas carol? It's hard to choose. Silent Night sung by happy carol singers in the dark on our village green always moves me. The stillness, clear air, and atmosphere recall the secrecy surrounding Jesus' birth. Have you got some secret surprise plans or presents? The Gospel accounts are full of secrets surrounding Jesus' birth. We get so familiar with the Christmas Bible passages that I have decided to include them from The Message Bible.

1. Joseph's secret

What a shocking secret. His fiancé was pregnant and he wasn't the father. What should he do? The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn't know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. (Matthew 1:18-20.)

I love the way the Americans put things. "Chagrined but noble", Joseph planned to hush things up. Sadly there are many unmarried mothers today. If you are one, Jesus longs to be your "Emmanuel", God with you. In gospel times, Mary's was a rare and shameful situation. Her prospects would be dire! Secrecy was vital.

That night everything changed for Joseph. While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God's angel spoke in the dream: "Joseph, son of David, don't hesitate to get married. Mary's pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God's Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus - God saves - because he will save his people from their sins. This would bring the prophet's embryonic sermon to full term: Watch for this: a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; they will name him Emmanuel (Hebrew for 'God is with us')." Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God's angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

The secret was revealed. Mary's child was going to be special, fathered by God himself! This is known as "the virgin birth". Many struggle with this idea. Some see it as a problem or an optional extra in Christianity. It is an absolutely essential belief. Virgin birth means that Jesus did not inherit the sinful nature of humans.

Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12 - NIV).

Salvation required a perfect sacrifice. Humans are sinful. God's son could take the name "Jesus" which means "God saves".

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 - NIV).

The secret of virgin birth is salvation for you and me through Jesus' perfect sacrifice on the cross.

2. The scholars' secret

Stars are a shining part of the Christmas story. One Christmas when my daughter Christine was very small, she was riding home on my shoulders singing "Away in a Manger". "Dad, I can see the stars in the bright sky!" Those same stars shone at Jesus' birth. There was an extra one.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory - this was during Herod's kingship - a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, 'Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signalled his birth. We're on pilgrimage to worship him.'

When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified - and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, "Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?" They told him, "Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly: It's you, Bethlehem, in Judah's land, no longer bringing up the rear. From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel." Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, "Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I'll join you at once in your worship." (chapter 2:1-8).

Following a star might be quite difficult. Edith and I often used to get lost on journeys. Now we have a satellite navigator which speaks out the directions - although once it took us down a rough track into a muddy field! The scholars were doing well until they took their eyes off the star and followed their instincts. Surely, they thought, a king would be born in the capital city. So they turned up at King Herod's palace in Jerusalem. Astrology is evil. "Do not practise divination or sorcery" (Leviticus 19:26). The Hebrew word divination means things like astrology. Do you read your horoscope (or "horror scope")? It's not just harmless fun; it's actually dangerous. A friend of mine once consulted an astrologer about her future. She was told to go to Australia. How amazing! That was just what my friend had planned to do anyway, so she went ahead and booked her ticket. But she hadn't asked God about it. He stopped her going in rather a dramatic way; she broke her leg and couldn't take the flight. The plane she should have been on crashed! Sixty years later my friend is still serving God, thankful that he stopped her from following the advice from a horoscope. God's created universe announced the birth of the king of glory through a star. The scholars were astrologers seeking life secrets from the stars. Can God use evil, like astrology, for his purposes? Another friend read his horoscope: "Talk to a stranger today." He spoke to the stranger sitting next to him on the bus. That stranger was a Christian who led him to Jesus. God can even use evil people like the Pharaoh in the book of Exodus for his divine purposes.

Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. (chapter 2:9-11).

As the scholars headed out of Jerusalem towards Bethlehem they saw the star again. They were back on track. This is the secret of success in the Christian life. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12). As those pagan astrologers knelt before the baby Jesus and presented their gifts, the light of life flooded their souls and they worshiped.

3. Herod's dark secret

King Herod was terrified. He feared that the coming of the messiah meant that he and his family would lose their throne. Herod seemed to be a good man. He had built the wonderful temple at Jerusalem. At the secret meeting with the scholars, he said he wanted to come to worship the baby.

In a dream, (the scholars) were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country. (verse 13).

Herod, when he realised that the scholars had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem (verse 16).

This darkest secret of the Christmas story is hard to understand. It demonstrates Jesus' statement of the sad truth:

Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19 - NIV).

Herod's satanic efforts might have ended God's plan of salvation through Jesus. But,

God's angel showed up again in Joseph's dream and commanded, "Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him." Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. (verses 13 and 14.)

Buried in the lavishness of our twenty-first century, Christmas is the secret that God's son Jesus has come to offer us a special gift.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 - NIV).

Have you received that gift? If so then you can join me in part of Mary's song.

I'm bursting with God-news; I'm dancing the song of my Saviour God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened - I'm the most fortunate woman on earth! (Luke 1:46-8.)

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Making sense out of Christmas

(by Dick Innes from actsweb.org)

A certain man, so the story told by Paul Harvey goes, was by no means a Scrooge. In fact, he was just the opposite. He was generous, responsible, kind and caring. But he couldn't believe the account the churches told about Christmas - the bit about Jesus being God-man who came to earth to save people from their sins. To him, Jesus was undoubtedly a great religious leader, but as for the rest of the story, he just couldn't buy that. It didn't make sense to him and he was too honest to deny it.

"I don't want to disappoint you," he said to his wife, "but I just can't go to church with you this Christmas. I would feel too much like a hypocrite."

It was a bleak, heavily overcast night when the rest of the family went to church to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. After they left, it began to rain lightly. Soon the sky blackened even more. The drizzle changed to a downpour. Lightning crackled. Thunder roared. The man watched from the kitchen window for a while, but returned to his favourite seat in the family room to relax for the evening and read.

Later, he heard a strange noise that seemed to come from his living room. It sounded like the dull thud of snow balls against the window. He heard it again and again. When he went outside to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled against his house. Apparently, they had been lost in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, flew into the large landscape window. They were attracted by the light which they could see clearly.

He couldn't let the birds lie there in the storm, so what could he do? He couldn't allow them into his house, so he went to his large barn, opened the door wide and turned on the lights, hoping to attract the birds into the barn until the storm passed. But the birds didn't understand. He turned out the lights in his house, but they still didn't budge. He tried to shoo them into the lighted barn, but to no avail. They just became confused and frightened and scattered in every direction.

He pondered: "To them, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me, that I'm not trying to hurt but help them. But how?

"If only I could be a bird and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safety. But I would have to be one of them so they could see and hear and understand."

Just then he heard the church bells ring and toll out the good news of Jesus' birth. Suddenly, the Christmas story made sense to him. Now he could understand why God sent his Son to earth as a man - to identify with mankind and show them the way to safety; that is, to God and eternal life.

Because people evaluate most things on the basis of past experiences, it can be difficult to accept anything not previously seen or experienced.

For example, Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first to fly a heavier-than-air craft. They did something that no man had ever done before. The two were so excited they sent a telegram to their sister Katherine which read: "We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas."

Katherine rushed to the city newspaper office and thrust the cable into the hand of the editor. He read it, smiled and said, "Well, well! How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas!" The editor totally missed what could have been, for him, the news scoop of the century.

And what about Wilbur and Orville's minister father - a man who believed in God? Did he have faith in his own sons? Hardly. He was convinced that their desire to fly was heresy!

Strange creatures we are!

And what about the religious people who lived in Christ's day? Having heard Christ's teaching and seen his miracles first hand, did they believe in him? No. One of the tragic ironies was that the very people who believed in God and knew from the Bible that God was going to send a Messiah (Christ the Saviour), and were looking expectantly for his coming, didn't recognise him when he came. In fact, they rejected him and had him crucified!

They didn't accept Christ because he didn't fit into their past experiences and, consequently, their expectations. The Jews expected that Christ would come as a mighty king and overthrow the oppressive Romans and set the people free. Furthermore, in the opinion of the religious people, Christ didn't mix with the "right" people and, to make matters worse, he blasted the phoniness of contemporary religiosity.

Thus, most of the religious people of Christ's day missed the greatest opportunity anybody could have ever had. They met the Son of God in person and didn't know it. They could have received forgiveness for all their sins and been given the gift of eternal life. But because there was nothing in their past experiences with which to associate Christ or his teachings, they refused to believe in and accept him.

Many people today believe that Jesus was a great religious leader. But as for their committing their life to him, that doesn't gel with any previous experience, so they don't believe enough to act on his teachings.

A wise man once said, "To know and not to do is not yet to know." In other words, to believe and not to act is not yet to believe, for we only truly believe that which motivates us to action.

The proof of our belief in Christ is in what we do about him. Can you accept that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to earth to identify with mankind and die for your sins? If you haven't done so before, you can act on this belief by praying and asking Christ to forgive your sins, to come into your heart and life as personal Lord and Saviour, and by making a commitment of your life to serve and follow him. You can do this anytime. In so doing, you will receive God's forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.

Don't miss this - the greatest gift anyone could ever receive.

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A note for UK readers

Premier Radio on DAB digital is now available nationwide - not just the London area. So this means our 15-minute weekly programme, Insight, can now be accessed wherever you are in the country!

Tune in at 4pm every Sunday to listen to life experiences, guests, topical comment and much more, all linked to the theme of disability.

CD's of all the programmes are available from Torch Trust.

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