The Torch - 2015, Issue 2

Torch Trust
Torch House,
Torch Way,
Market Harborough,
Leicestershire,
LE16 9HL UK
Tel: +44 (0)1858 438260
Fax: +44 (0)1858 438275
email: info@torchtrust.org
website: torchtrust.org

The Torch Trust for the Blind
A charity registered in England and Wales no. 1095904
A company limited by guarantee no. 4616526

The Torch is available in the following formats: audio CD, braille, email and large print (17, 20, 25 and 30 point). It can also be downloaded from the Torch website as an HTML file.

Contents

Greetings!

As Easter approaches, I’ve been thinking about a quote from Paul’s letter to the Philippians chapter 2 verse 7: “... He made himself nothing ...”. With this in mind I’d like to share with you a story which, just a little, illustrates Jesus’ willingness to be made nothing, or “marred” as Isaiah puts it, in order to identify with us.

A man was severely burned attempting to rescue his parents from a fire. He did not succeed and they died. Depressed and disfigured, he went into seclusion refusing to let anyone see him, not even his wife.

Desperately looking for help, his wife went to see Maxwell Maltz, a prominent plastic surgeon. Even though he told her he could probably restore her husband’s face, the man stubbornly refused treatment. So when the woman came back alone to see Maltz he was surprised. But this time her question blew him away. She asked, “Can you disfigure my face, so that I can be like my husband and share his pain? That way maybe he will let me back into his life again!” That is how much she loved him!

Maltz was so moved, he prevailed on the woman’s husband to accept his help and thankfully the story has a happy ending.

The Bible says before Jesus left heaven he “was like God in everything ... But gave up his place ... and made Himself nothing. He was born to be a man and became like a servant.” Our limited human minds cannot begin to comprehend the world Jesus left. The homes of the rich and famous are like run-down shacks by comparison, and our finest clothes like dirty rags! The Bible says, “The Word became flesh and lived among us ...” (John 1:14 NRSV). Just think: the God of the universe willingly left the splendour of heaven, was born into poverty and died on a cruel cross for wayward humanity.

Why? Because that is how much he loves us!

May God bless you this Easter as you reflect on this amazing fact.

Jill Ferraby and the editors

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Old Testament characters

By Michael Stafford

24. Hezekiah

In this series we will look at just one of the kings of Judah after the division of David and Solomon’s kingdom into Israel in the north and Judah in the south of the land.

1. Hezekiah’s character

King Hezekiah was one of the few “good” kings of Judah and could be described as a rose between two thorns! He was the son of Ahaz - one of the most wicked of the kings, who led his people away from the Lord into idolatry and to following the religions of the pagan nations. 2 Kings 16:3 tells us that he even followed other nations in sacrificing his own son to the idol called Moloch whose huge idol in the Valley of Hinnom was hollow and could contain a fire into which the victim was thrown. Hezekiah’s son was Manasseh, who was as bad as Ahaz.

But Hezekiah’s reign was exemplary: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord ... (he) trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook ...” (2 Kings 18:3, 5-7).

2. Hezekiah’s difficulties

Hezekiah’s reign was a struggle as the Philistines and then the Assyrians were constantly threatening him. He overcame the Philistines and temporarily resisted the Assyrians, however the Assyrians totally overcame the northern kingdom of Israel and took many of its people captive. Indeed, Assyria became the greatest and most powerful nation of the time and soon turned its attention again to little Judah. Hezekiah spent much of his reign buying off the Assyrians with gold and silver from the temple in Jerusalem. But eventually Sennacherib, king of Assyria, determined to take Jerusalem and tried to intimidate the Judean leaders, saying that their trust in the Lord was futile. He lied when he said that the Lord had sent him to destroy Jerusalem.

What did Hezekiah do in response to Sennacherib’s arrogant threats? “... he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord ...” (2 Kings 19:1). There was a temporary respite, when the Assyrians were diverted from Jerusalem to attend to threats from Libnah and Egypt. But when this was dealt with Sennacherib again turned his attention to Jerusalem and sent a threatening letter to Hezekiah. What was he to do now? “Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: ‘O Lord, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth ... Give ear, O Lord, and hear ... deliver us from (Sennacherib’s) hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.’” (2 Kings 19:14-19).

God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and promised deliverance. Suddenly the Assyrian army surrounding Jerusalem was struck down - probably with a virulent plague - and the majority perished. Sennacherib was forced to abandon the attack and return to Assyria where his own sons killed him in a rebellion.

3. Hezekiah’s sickness

Isaiah’s prophetic ministry encompassed the reigns of four kings, including that of Hezekiah. Clearly he had a close relationship with Hezekiah due to the latter’s godliness and also probably a family link. So when a very ill Hezekiah heard from Isaiah that the Lord was going to take his life from him he knew it was the truth. We can understand Hezekiah’s reaction to this news: “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, ‘remember, O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully ... and have done what is good in your eyes.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly”. (2 Kings 20:2, 3).

God heard his impassioned prayer and promised him another 15 years of life, as well as deliverance from his enemies. Furthermore, God gave him an amazing sign to show that he really would fulfil his promise. He gave an extended day that was 10 hours longer than normal.

Was Hezekiah right to plead with God for his life? It seems he could not accept what was clearly God’s will. God will sometimes give us that which we yearn for, even though it is not his original will for us to have it. This is summed up in a verse in Psalm 106:15 - “So he gave them what they asked for but sent a wasting disease (AV ‘leanness’) upon them”. The Israelites in their desert wanderings had a craving for meat, which was not necessary. God had provided manna, which contained all the nutriment they needed, but they so strongly pleaded for meat that God gave it to them, though they suffered as a result. In the case of Hezekiah two things happened in that extra 15 years which were detrimental.

Firstly, he foolishly entertained a delegation from Babylon, which at that time was small and would not have been considered a threat. He showed them everything he had - all his treasures in his palace and in the temple. This was later to result in the king of Babylon coveting what he had and attacking Judah and eventually Jerusalem itself. In the end it brought about the total destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, together with the removal of a large number of its inhabitants who were deported to Babylon.

Secondly, during those 15 years, a son was born to him named Manasseh. This man would become king after Hezekiah, and was one of the most evil of Judah’s kings who led the people astray by following other gods. It would have been better if Hezekiah had accepted God’s will in the first place and avoided these two catastrophes.

We can sympathise with Hezekiah in his reluctance to face death, but if we are true believers we can take comfort as we grow older by remembering the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 31:15 - “My times are in your hands ...” In other words, God knows the right time for each of us to leave this world and enter eternity with him.

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My story

By Grace Davis

[Grace joined Torch staff last December. With a degree in Media Production, she has taken on the role of Communications Co-ordinator.]

One of my earliest memories is of standing in the sun outside the small church near my family’s first home. We had just witnessed my brother’s dedication service. I was not old enough to understand the significance of the event - nor did I remember my own dedication, three years before. But I do remember feeling that something important had happened.

Before I came to Torch, I was going through a strange period in my life. I had spent the past year rehabilitating from surgery due to a varsity fencing accident at university some years earlier. Enforced bed rest had given me a lot of thinking time and one thing in particular became very clear to me: I needed to make some changes. I was dissatisfied with my health and dissatisfied with my job.

I knew that I had to find a career where I could be creative; everything I enjoyed, everything I had chosen to study, pointed me in that direction. At last, having come through the darkness of the past year and grown stronger for it, I felt it was time to really start looking for my life.

I began searching for jobs. “Creative” was the word I was holding on to: if it didn’t involve creativity, it wasn’t for me. One day I clicked onto a job website I’d never noticed before and there it was: “Torch Trust is seeking a radio producer and writer”. As I read through the advert I felt a shiver of excitement. I had found a job I wanted to do. This thought was confirmed when I read Torch’s core values: “Christ-centred, people-focussed, open and creative”. There was the word: creative! The other values sounded pretty interesting as well.

Coming to work at Torch has been a brilliant experience. I finally feel I am on the right path, that God has led me to a place where I can do something useful, interesting and fulfilling. Looking back, I can see what I couldn’t before: my experiences, study, even my previous job, which included involvement with blind children, have all played a part in leading me here.

So, just like when I was a little girl standing in the spring sunshine, I may not fully understand God’s plan but I do know how important it really is.

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Christ holds it all together

(Colossians 1:15 - 2:3 - The Message)

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels - everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organises and holds it together, like a head does a body.

He was supreme in the beginning and - leading the resurrection parade - he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe - people and things, animals and atoms - get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.

You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other message - just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this message.

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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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Let the scriptures speak

John 15:1-5 (New Living Translation)

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

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The vine

By Gordon Temple

Vines are not that common in the UK - it’s just a bit chilly for them. Some of you reading this will know much more about vines than I do. Others may never have seen one. Vines don’t like it hot either. So let me tell you what I do know.

Vines have roots that draw moisture and nutrients from the ground. There’s a stringy thick part that rises from the soil and from this core or trunk many branches spread. The branches wind and twist and cling to anything that will give them support. Along the length of the branches, bunches of grapes form and hang in clusters shaped like inverted cones.

But on visiting a vineyard it doesn’t look quite like that. The branches have been neatly pruned and arranged to form compact bushes from which the fruit can be more easily collected.

Vines were very familiar to the people Jesus spoke with and he used vines as an illustration or metaphor on several occasions. Wine was the principal drink of the day. Just think how much of it he made with his first miracle, the one at the wedding feast in Cana! His words recorded in John 15 on the subject of vines are very much on our minds at Torch right now, as this is Torch’s Year of Faith and Fruitfulness and our text for the year is:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

In the picture Jesus paints, he is the core or trunk of the vine. When we become Christians and place our faith in Jesus - when we turn to follow him - we become connected to him as branches on the vine. Like sap, his life flows into us and through us. The result is that fruit grows.

When you read that Torch has made 2015 its Year of Faith and Fruitfulness, you may think, “Sounds good, but how do you know it’s going to be fruitful?”. Well, I’m going to turn that question around and ask, “How do we know we are connected to the vine?”. The answer to that question surely is, “By faith in Jesus”. In that case, we can be assured of being fruitful because Jesus said, “If you abide in me ... you will bear much fruit”. Now we may not always see the fruit, we may not be able to measure and count it but we can be assured that true disciples of Jesus will bear fruit. You will bear much fruit.

Perhaps that all seems too simple. To me, the key lies in the word in the Scripture text that’s translated “remain” or “abide” in most English language Bibles. Jesus is very direct about what happens if we don’t [remain or abide]: “For apart from me you can do nothing”. Not connected to the vine: no fruit. If we abide in Jesus there will be fruitfulness.

I favour the word “abide”. “Remain” somehow seems too mechanical to me. “Abide” carries the sense of making home. Our childhood home was the place where we grew, where we were safe and supported and nurtured. When we became adults we lost that. We tend to stop receiving and we create a new home for ourselves and our family in which we are giving instead. Jesus offers us a lifelong home in the vine, in himself - a constant unchanging place of security from which we serve in an ever-changing world.

Jesus opens his remarks with “I am the vine”. This is the seventh (and last) in the sequence of “I am” sayings of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel. Seventh had a special significance to his Israelite audience. Sabbath is the seventh day - a day of rest - because in the creation account of Genesis 1 God rested on the seventh day. And so abiding in Jesus also has overtones of resting. We abide in Jesus and find in him a rest in a restless world.   

But “ouch!”. What’s this about pruning? Just as we are getting comfortable Jesus sets us worrying about pruning. It sounds painful.

This is not the only place in Scripture where we read about discipline or trials or pain. Secure in the vine though we are, we all have difficult things to face. This is what James has to say on the subject:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

An unpruned vine gets straggly and tangled and both the quality and quantity of the fruit suffers. As I think you will already realise, I’m not a horticulturalist, nor even a gardener of any ability. But this is how I understand pruning: when we shorten the branches we force the fruit to grow from a more developed and mature part of the branch, and much closer to the main trunk of the vine. The fruit grows stronger and sweeter as a result, making the pruned branch more productive.

Jesus’ first miracle of wine-making at Cana anticipates the wine at the Last Supper of when Jesus speaks of his impending crucifixion: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”. From the cross he looks forward to a day when we will be gathered with him: “For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18).

As we connect to the vine - to Jesus - we become connected to one another - to Christian people the world over. This is a joy. Pruned branches are not long straggly things but are part of a compact bush of branches, all close to the trunk and close to each other. Though we can feel lonely at times - and too many people living with sight loss find themselves far too lonely - we are never far from Jesus and never alone in following and serving him.

So what might the fruit of the vine that grows out from us look like? The apostle Paul lists the “fruit of the Spirit”: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). The context of this verse tells us this is not just a matter of personal character but also very much about how we are together as a community of God’s people.

We could imagine Torch as a branch on the vine with many, many little “branch-lets” extending right across the world bearing fruit in many places and communities. The geographic distances involved might make this look very straggly indeed, but no, not when we all abide close to the Lord who is the vine from whom we all gain our nourishment. Then there is fruitfulness in our lives, in our ministry to one another and in our communities.

Do continue in your prayers for Torch in this our Year of Faith and Fruitfulness. We have known times of pruning recently but at the same time we have seen the first fruits of new growth. Connected to the vine by placing our faith in Jesus our Lord, we look forward to the fruitfulness that will surely result.

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