The Torch - Issue 2 2013

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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!

Killing the Roots

Do you struggle with roots in your garden or location? I do.

We had a lot of rain last summer and the friend who looks after my garden said he'd never seen such an amount of horsetail weed. It spreads and covers wide areas, and getting rid of it is a huge task.

All this started me thinking about everything that grows and spreads in our lives which stops us living in the freedom God gives. We know for ourselves what they are. Weeds are attached to roots which go deep in to the soil. Trying to pull them out can be very hard.

Do you have what the Bible calls a "root of bitterness" in your life? Hebrews 12:15 (NLT) says, "Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many." This root can spoil our enjoyment of God and ruin our relationship with others. We can have roots of envy, jealousy, or unforgiveness. Paul prays for the Christians in Ephesus that "Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" and that they be "rooted and grounded in love." (Ephesians 3:17 NIV)

The best solution for uprooting the weeds in our life is to put our roots down deeply into the love of God. We can do this by reading the Bible and talking to the Lord. He is the best one to get rid of our bad roots once and for all.

God bless you all.

Nessa Graham and the editors.

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God wants to bless you!

by Gordon Temple

A few weeks back I went to visit one of our Torch Fellowship Groups. The theme they had set for the meeting was "Blessings" and, yes, they did sing that famous old hymn, "Count your Blessings", part of which I've included at the foot of this item.

Jesus' Sermon on the Mount begins with what we call the Beatitudes (Matthew 5 and Luke 6 - see Let the Scriptures speak following this article). Somebody at the meeting suggested the word "Beatitudes" might be a shortened form of "beautiful attitudes". It wasn't the first time I had heard this, and I've always thought "that's neat".

The poetry and familiarity of these wonderful sayings tend to mask the radical impact they had when Jesus delivered them.

The audience for the Sermon on the Mount were people from all over the place, followers of Jesus and many others. In the main these were ordinary people, dealing with the ordinary stuff of life, people living with the hardships and oppression of Roman occupation. There's little sign of the self-righteous religious types that were so often out to trap Jesus, those whom Jesus was later to rebuke thus: "... you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them." (Luke 11:46)

For the ordinary Jewish people their religion had become more of a burden than a joy. There were laws for this and laws for that. The up-tight Pharisees were like the secret police checking up on people. And when you went to worship God at the Jerusalem Temple there were a thousand reasons why you might be excluded - kept out of the Temple court where you had to go if you wanted to offer a sacrifice for forgiveness of your sins. Incidentally blind people would have been excluded. Communities are often defined by those they exclude.

Blessed people would be those at the heart of the religious community, those involved in the life of the Temple and the synagogues, the appearing-to-do-everything-just-right Pharisees, the nose-in-the-air priests and the intellectual scribes. They obviously had God's blessing - or that's what they told people! Blessed people had status, healthy families, power, plenty of everything and lived charmed lives.

So Jesus' words must have been quite startling for those ordinary folks who first heard them. They would have included many who considered themselves spiritually poor as compared to the spiritually well off "Temple set". The people that Jesus says God is blessing are those who are not "blessed"! It's not the "haves" that are blessed, but the "have nots", those who have experienced loss and mourn, those who are powerless, those who are only too conscious of their need to be more righteous.

What did the ordinary person in the crowd Jesus was addressing think about God? I suspect it was not so much about a loving God but more about a judgemental God.

Too often, I fear, we think of God as someone who is against us, someone who is on our case, looking disapprovingly upon us, looking to punish us - almost as if God is just waiting for us to fail. And we might feel we have to work ever so hard to keep him just happy enough not to smack us!

How wrong can we be! God wants to bless us. He loves us and looks for opportunities to bless us, not excuses to punish us.

Sometimes it has been said that the character of God appears to change between the Old and New Testaments - perpetually angry and vengeful in the Old, but loving and forgiving in the New. This, I'm sure, is a misunderstanding. In the opening books of the Old Testament, often referred to by Jewish people as the Law, we read, "The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion" (Numbers 14:18). Sadly the Old Testament goes on to tell of people who again and again pushed a "slow to anger" God to deal with unremitting stubborn rebellion.

The problem never was God, but people. It is not that God wants to hold back his blessing - it's we who block the blessing God wants to shower on us. We want to have things our own way, do our own stuff, ignore God and then have his blessing too! Let's think how this might appear by turning these Beatitude sayings on their head.

How can he bless us when we consider ourselves so spiritually rich - so devoutly religious that people can look up to us instead of God?

How can he bless us with comfort if we have nothing to mourn? How could God trust us with "the earth" if we are so assertive we aren't prepared to listen to him and consider the needs of others above our own? How could he fill us with his righteousness if we don't first recognise our hunger? How can we expect mercy from him if we are not merciful to those around us? We could go on looking at each Beatitude in turn, but jumping to the end: How can we expect any reward from our God if the importance we place on our relationship with him is not enough for us to stand up for him in the face of opposition?

Sadly the truth is that we give God more reasons to punish us than to bless us. But he still wants desperately to bless us, just as a parent would much rather reward their children than punish them.

There is a solution. The solution is the cross where Jesus died, bearing the punishment due to us, so that the way was cleared for God to get back to his daily business of blessing us. This is grace! Because of Jesus we don't get what we do deserve but instead we do get what we don't deserve. Instead of punishment we get blessing.

God loves to bless us and he blesses us especially when ...

Even when things do go wrong for us and everything seems against us God is looking to bless us. We may not always feel it at the time but he has promised to be with us in the dark times and it's often when we look back we can see how God has blessed us.

Remember this: God wants to bless you!

You may remember this old hymn with its simple, but profound, words:

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

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Let the Scriptures speak

Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12, NIV)

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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My story

by Andrew Nicholson

[Andrew Nicholson is Chief Operating Officer for Torch Trust, responsible for the teams providing the office functions that enable our missional activities to happen.]

Today I listened to a recording of a children's choir as they sung under a Boabab tree in the heart of Africa. They were singing about Jesus. It took me back to when I was a teenager and I heard an American choir singing in a church in Scotland, just 40 miles from where David Livingstone, the African pioneer missionary, was born. The choir was also singing about Jesus as people were baptised. There was an invitation to come afterwards and speak to those in the choir about being baptised.

I wonder if you recall the young man in the Bible who came to Jesus and said, "What must I do to be saved?" (Luke 18). I was like that young man. I wasn't rich, but I had not really understood what God wanted of me. When a choir member asked me "What is a Christian?" I started to list all the things a Christian is expected to do: keep the commandments, pray, read the Bible, go to church and so on. I completely failed to explain a Christian was a sinner forgiven by a gracious and merciful God, who was now a follower or disciple of Jesus and who had his Holy Spirit living within. And so there and then I committed my life afresh to live for Jesus - and so it continued through my school years and in my first job and beyond.

Eventually I became a minister of a church. The building was next to lots of houses and so we didn't have to walk far to tell people the Good News about Jesus. Two ladies come to mind immediately.

The first had been hesitant to come to any church for years as she was running away from God. She found courage to come one Sunday, only to find that I was preaching about Jonah, the man who ran away from God! She wanted to leave right away, but found she couldn't. God did a marvellous work in her life and one day she came back from the market in town to find that her husband had also committed his life to God.

The second person was very religious, going to another church every week. No one else ever spoke to her there and she never read a Bible. Another lady who was a neighbour and who also came to our church invited her for a meal and to come to church. There she discovered the Bible, read it for herself and through it came to discover the life-changing Jesus who saves and gives eternal life. She had to give some things up that did not honour God and every week after that she visited people in those houses next to the church to tell them the Good News she had discovered.

God has often used people like these to bless me and to teach me. He has used very unlikely people to do, in their weakness, what I had not managed to accomplish in my strength.

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Partners

by John Cartledge - Ghana

I had a very promising career as a youngster having played semi-professional football for many local teams around the Cheshire area and also had trials at Manchester City. I worked in my father's business, married Jennifer and had three children, the future looked rosy!

But over a period of eight years I went from social drinker to an alcoholic and drinking on public park benches, and eventually prison and the inevitable divorce.

In 1991 at the age of 46 I found myself in Winwick mental hospital yet again. While there I picked up a Bible, and it became clear to me that my problem was sin and the only way to change was to acknowledge and confess that sin to God. As soon as I did this I received a new nature through God's Holy Spirit and this miraculously took away from me the desire for alcohol.

From that day on, all I wanted to do was to serve the one who had given me that wonderful elusive peace.

The call to long term mission in Ghana came after a four month stint in America working at a Christian drug rehab in downtown Atlanta. I was asked to go to Ghana to help develop a project for World missions in the predominantly Muslim city of Tamale in the Northern region.

I noticed the appalling lack of Christian books in the north and felt that God was prompting me to provide a Christian Book Ministry. Malak Christian Book Ministry was born.

It was around this time that I met a blind lady named Euphenia Sala Alhassan who told me she had not read anything for seven years since leaving the School for the Blind at Wa.

I went to visit Madam Euphenia Sala Alhassan with books from Torch. The joy on her face as she read the Word of God in braille in perfect English gave me the greatest experience in my eight years of ministry in Ghana. She said, "I have not read anything in braille since leaving blind school seven years ago and now I am not only reading braille but the Word of God." She had been brought up in a Muslim home and became a Christian and was baptised when studying at the residential blind school in Wa. Turning her back on her Muslim family's faith was not without a cost and resulted in her being disowned by the family.

I and my wife Akua had several options of how we would use a new building constructed on our compound in 2012, but decided after prayer, and due to circumstances, to commit it to the Lord as a Resource Centre for the blind people of Northern Ghana.

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Old Testament characters

by Michael Stafford

15. Samuel

Last time we looked at Samson, whose birth was miraculous as his mother was barren. This time we look at another character, whose mother was also barren but was able, in answer to prayer, to conceive and bear a son - Samuel. Samson and Samuel shared a similar birth situation, but in other ways they were completely different: Samson, a spoilt child who grew up to be a sensual and selfish man; Samuel who became a great man of God who lived an exemplary life and was a great inspiration to others.

Samuel's call

Samuel's mother, in gratitude to the Lord for giving her a son, gave him back to the Lord to serve in the Tabernacle. So, right from the time he was a young child, Samuel learned to love and worship God, but he had never heard God speaking to him until one night he heard a voice calling his name. He thought it was the High Priest, Eli, calling him. This happened twice more, but Eli at last realised that it must be the Lord who was speaking to Samuel. Samuel then said, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:10). God did speak, and gave him a sombre message concerning judgement for the High Priest's family, as they had despised God and his law and misused the animal sacrifices, which had been brought into contempt by their corrupt actions.

The lesson we can learn from Samuel's experience is that we need to be careful, in the midst of serving God, to give him time and opportunity to speak to us. Unlike Samuel, we do not normally hear God speaking in an audible voice, but we do hear him speaking when we read his Word in the Bible, and ponder it in our hearts. May we be able to say, as Samuel did, "speak Lord for your servant is listening".

It took a great deal of courage for this boy to relate to Eli the awful message from God, which meant the downfall of Eli's family, but God enabled him to do it, and Eli recognised that God is sovereign and his will must be carried out.

Samuel's ministry

The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognised that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word. (1 Samuel 3:19-21)

As in Samson's day, the Philistines continued to be a threat and danger to the Israelites, but in Samuel they had a spiritual and temporal leader who knew that the only way the Philistines could be subdued was by the Lord's hand. Thus we find him praying and offering sacrifices, having first turned the Israelites away from their obsession with foreign gods, and brought them to repentance. God answered his prayer and gave them a wonderful victory:

While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. (1 Samuel 7:10).

Samuel exercised a very long ministry leading Israel, as a prophet and as a judge. As an old man he knew his days were numbered and that he must make provision for the future. Naturally he considered that his two sons should take over the leadership of the country from him but, as in the case of Eli and his sons, Samuel's sons were dishonest and corrupt. This led to such discontent among the people that they decided they wanted to have a king as leader, like all the nations round about them. This was not God's way - he was their leader and king - but the people wanted to be like their neighbours and insisted that Samuel should give them a king to rule over them.

Israel was different from all the other nations. God had chosen them and set them apart to be special and to be a witness to his power and glory. Sadly, they didn't want to be different and special - they wanted to be like everyone else.

Is it not true that we also want to be like everyone else, even though, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are set apart and special to him? We are designed to be witnesses to God's love and power to save among those we come into contact with. Let's not be afraid to be different in our behaviour from those around us, when others are living in ways that are not pleasing to God.

Samuel the king maker

Samuel got the go ahead from God to give them a king, though he had to warn them about the problems that would result, because the king would put many demands upon them. Saul appeared to be the ideal man for the job - tall, strong and handsome. However, although he started his reign well, he proved eventually to be a disappointment, doing his own thing instead of following God's will. In the end God rejected Saul and told Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the new king. Samuel was now a very old man, but he still had an important lesson to learn from God. Jesse had seven sons, Samuel knew that one of them was to be the new king, but which one? The first six all looked very promising, but God said none of them were his choice. The least likely one was the youngest - David, who was out in the fields looking after the sheep. God said:

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

Although David was the youngest in his family he had proved himself as a humble shepherd, and shown great courage and skill in dealing with the dangers to the sheep from wild animals. God said, "This is the man, anoint him". He was certainly the right man for the job, and proved to be the greatest king that Israel ever had: a man who walked closely with his God, and who was a courageous military leader also.

Samuel had proved himself to be a fearless and faithful servant of God throughout his long life, and had remained teachable to the end. May he be an example to all of us, to be like him - a person God can rely on and who is always ready to learn from him.

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