The Torch - 2015, Issue 5

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!

by Gordon Temple, CEO Torch Trust

Light in the darkness

There’s a lot about light and dark in the Christmas story, the account of the birth of Jesus Christ, saviour of the world.

The birth of the baby Jesus happened during the hours of darkness and in the gloom of a stable, but the angelic announcement of the birth to shepherds caring for sheep in the inky blackness of the hills around Bethlehem came in a blaze of light. The magi (or wise men) noticed a bright new star and followed it until it had guided them to Jesus.

Speaking hundreds of years in advance Isaiah prophesied: “People walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). Elderly and devout Simeon holding the eight-day old infant declared: “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).

Writing later than the other evangelists, the apostle John doesn’t tell us the story of Jesus’ birth but instead ponders its impact: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Perhaps this reflection on light and dark seems an odd, even unhelpful, way to introduce a magazine for blind and partially sighted readers. And maybe it would be if it were all about physical light and dark. John is clearly using the words “light” and “darkness” to mean something even more significant than physical light and dark. When Jesus called himself the “light of the world” it obviously didn’t mean that Jesus shone like a torch, though once for a short while at the transfiguration, “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2).

In what way then is Jesus the “light of the world”? In ordinary speech we often associate light with knowledge or understanding. We speak of “throwing light on the subject” when someone says something that makes sense of something we didn’t understand. Yes, Jesus throws light on our understanding of God and of the world and of ourselves, but for sure it’s about much more than knowledge.

The longest Psalm includes the phrase: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105) and in the opening of his Gospel, John also calls Jesus “The Word”. So one way in which Jesus is light is that he helps us find our path in life. Jesus said he came with “good news” and that good news we know as the gospel, that Jesus came to save us from the power and penalty of our failures, to bring us to new life, a life lived in relationship with God through him. This light transforms us. It brings hope and it brings confidence, not in ourselves but in our Lord who has promised never to leave us.

Then, as now, there was much darkness in the world. Malevolent forces were, and still are, at work and there seems to be corruption everywhere. Jesus encountered and confronted these forces, no more so than on the cross. It looked for a moment like the darkness had in fact overcome the light but Jesus’ resurrection quickly established that the light has overcome.

Paul, writing to the Corinthian church explains this extraordinary light in these wonderful words: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

This is the exciting message of Christmas, that Jesus brought an inextinguishable light that makes sense of life. Because Jesus came we can see things clearly for what they are and live transcendent lives.

The challenge to us is to enter the New Year not only living in the light of Christ but also being light in the dark places of our own neighbourhoods and communities. This magazine is called The Torch and comes to you from the Torch Trust. Our prayer is that it shines the light of Christ into your own life that you might “glow” the more brightly, wherever it is in the world you live your life for him.

Christmas is not just for our enjoyment, not just a time to celebrate the coming of God’s son Jesus. As we join the shepherds, the magi and Simeon in awe-struck worship of the Christ-child it is a time to once again pledge ourselves into his service.

May God bless you and your family this Christmas time. We all wish you a very happy Christmas and a blessed New Year.

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Standing on the brink of revelation

by Susan Richards

I wrap my cloak more tightly around me as the chilly breeze whips across the hillside.  Being a shepherd in Bethlehem is tough, especially on winter nights. Reuben and Joshua lie slumped by my side but I fight off tiredness to keep watch over the sheep. Our flock is valuable so someone has to stay awake on the look out for wild animals or thieves.  Tonight that job has fallen to me.

The black sky appears like velvet, studded with a myriad stars. I could almost reach out and touch those twinkling lights. Heaven seems so close and once again my mind turns to thoughts of God. What is He really like?  I’ve lost count of the number of times I have looked into the night sky trying to find an answer to my question. God is the Creator of all things I’ve been told. Out of nothing, in six days, He made the earth, the heavens, plants, animals and people. How can I get my mind around such a fact?  I struggled to make a wooden cot for my baby son. If God created the whole universe He must be so much greater than me, a mere shepherd?

I remember the words of the Psalm, “You are from all eternity.” God is eternal, He has no beginning and no end. How can that be possible? Shepherds round here don’t live much beyond seventy years, and usually a lot less. We’re familiar with death and mourning, none of us will escape the grave. How different God must be to live for ever?

The breeze stirs the embers of the fire and a flame flickers in the dark. The ashes are still hot and I stretch my hand out to warm myself. I think of the time, long ago, when God had appeared on Sinai amid smoke, fire and lightning. His mighty voice had boomed out across the desert, “Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death, whether man or animal.” I shudder as I imagine one of my precious sheep grazing near the holy mount. Would I have dared run to rescue it? No, it seems to me God is as dangerous as the burning coals I’m sitting by, too holy for anyone to approach. God is not to be messed with. Only our forefather Moses could meet with him, as a man talks with his friend. Anyone else trying to get into His presence would have been consumed. What a fearsome, holy God!

Reluctantly I have to conclude that God is separate, different, holy, unapproachable.  Our religious leaders, the Pharisees, only reinforce my view. They seem to think they have a right of access to God through keeping their rules and rituals. But it is quite clear that shepherds like me are not included in their ceremonies. We will never be able to clean ourselves up enough to come into God’s holy presence. It is not for a shepherd to have such lofty aspirations. If only I could be holy enough to approach this God, to really know him, as Moses did. But this is where my thoughts always lead me on such a night as this. If only.

Little do I know, oh how little do I know! Even as I am musing, and maybe even praying, all heaven prepares to break in upon earth. Angels are assembling ready to burst into the night sky above my very field. Good news from this fearsome God, and I will be the first to hear. This very night, even as my heart is reaching out to God, God is reaching down to me. His Son, his very own Son, is being born in this remote part of Judea, in the humblest of surroundings. A daring rescue plan is being revealed. God himself coming to live among us in human form, so that in dying he could take the punishment we deserve.  This very night a way is opening up for sinful mortals to enter the splendour of heaven.

I put some more wood on the fire and pull my cloak around me unaware that I am standing on the brink of revelation.

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Let the scriptures speak

Luke 2:8-13

That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and the landscape shone bright with the glory of the Lord. They were badly frightened, but the angel reassured them.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The Saviour - yes, the Messiah, the Lord - has been born tonight in Bethlehem! How will you recognise him? You will find a baby wrapped in a blanket, lying in a manger!”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others - the armies of heaven - praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven,” they sang, “and peace on earth for all those pleasing him.”

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Old Testament Characters

by Michael Stafford

27. Daniel

Daniel was from an important family in Jerusalem – possibly connected to the royal family. He was “noble” enough to be included with others of the nobility who were taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar on the basis they could be useful to him. This occurred during the first of three attacks by Nebuchadnezzar on Jerusalem, which ultimately resulted in all but the poorest of the inhabitants being taken captive to Babylon.

The picture we get of Daniel is that he was a determined and faithful man of God, who refused to compromise his beliefs and practices. Right at the beginning of his book we find him as a young man who, together with his companions, chose to ignore the command of Nebuchadnezzar to adapt to heathen ways, and eat Babylonian food, which undoubtedly would have included items banned by the Law of Moses. The idea was to build them up physically so they could be fit to serve the king. The official in charge of them agreed to Daniel’s request to test them for ten days by giving them only vegetables and water instead of the king’s rich food. He was taking a big risk, as if they had appeared weak and thin he would lose his head!

The result of the test period was that these young men were far healthier than those who had enjoyed the rich food, and the king found them to be ten times better - not only physically but also in wisdom - than the other captives. Consequently they were taken into his service. Daniel himself remained in the service of the king and his successors until he was about 70 years of age, and in all that time he never wavered from his faithfulness to God and God’s Law.

Like Joseph, Daniel had an amazing gift from God of being able to interpret the meaning of dreams. This made him famous in Babylon, and successive kings honoured him. His first test was to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The dream disturbed the king and he called his wise men to interpret it. However, he did not trust their integrity, and decided to test them by insisting they tell him what the dream was. They rightly protested that this was an impossible demand, but the king decided to execute them all, including Daniel and his three friends.

Wisely, Daniel called a special prayer meeting of his friends and together they pleaded for God’s mercy. God revealed to Daniel what the dream was, and what it meant. The king was impressed when Daniel explained that the dream concerned a great statue, and spoke of future events. You can read in Daniel chapter 2 an account of the dream and the meaning of it. In chapter 4 there is an account of another dream which Daniel interpreted – a dream which prophesied doom for the King, explaining how God was going to judge him. It must have taken a great deal of courage for Daniel to tell this to the king, but he was a man who was always determined to speak God’s truth, even though it could have cost him his life.

Daniel encouraged the king to repent of his sins and do what was right instead of being cruel and heartless. No doubt because of the king’s high regard for Daniel he did not fly off in a rage and execute him, but neither did he take Daniel’s advice and repent, with the result that God’s judgment fell on him a year later and he went mad. He became like an animal and was driven out of his palace. Later he did turn to God and was restored to sanity and to his exalted position.

After Nebuchadnezzar died, his grandson Belshazzar reigned in Babylon and had no regard for the God whom his grandfather had come to believe in. He dishonoured God by using the sacred vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem as drinking vessels to honour many idols. God punished him and the whole of Babylon in a striking way. Belshazzar and his nobles were terrified when a hand wrote on the wall of the palace words which they could not read or understand. Then it was that the queen spoke up and recommended that Daniel be called to interpret the writing.

Clearly Daniel had been ignored since Belshazzar came to the throne, but now in desperation he is called upon to solve the problem. Once again, Daniel showed that he was a bold and courageous servant of God, and told the king plainly what the words meant. It was not a comfortable word for the king! It was God’s judgment upon him for despising the living God and honouring useless idols. Unlike his grandfather, he was not even given a chance to repent – the great Babylonian empire was doomed. It would be taken over by the Medes and Persians. That very night the Medes entered the city and killed Belshazzar, and a new king – Darius – was installed in the palace.

Daniel was now an old man, but had gained such a reputation that Darius immediately made him one of three administrators of the kingdom. The last verse of Daniel chapter 6 tells us that Daniel prospered during the reigns of Darius and Cyrus.

All this could have been very different if God had not worked a miracle for Daniel! It is no surprise that others of the nobility were jealous of Daniel and tried to find something in his behaviour which could have incriminated him and brought him down. In fact they could find nothing dishonest or corrupt in his conduct, and so they said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God”. They then hatched a plan which they hoped would appeal to the king’s vanity, “... the king should issue an edict ... that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next 30 days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den.” This order went out and Daniel was aware of it, yet he continued to pray to his God, with his window open, so all could see!

When the nobles went triumphantly to the king they reminded him that no law made by the king could be changed. The king was distraught, but try as he might he could not get around the law, and eventually Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den. The king said to him: “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you”. That night God did just that and Daniel was able to say to the king: “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions”. The king was overjoyed and had Daniel lifted out of the den, and all his accusers thrown into it!

Daniel is an example to all of us to live godly and courageous lives, even when times are hard and we suffer from the hatred and jealousy of others. God will honour us if we are faithful to him.

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Here’s a thought

God never allows the tests you face to be greater than the grace he gives you to handle them. (Rick Warren)

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Lost ... and found

by Jill Ferraby

For those who have children, have you ever lost a two-year old son or daughter in a public place? Probably not. But I have!

I was out shopping in a crowded market place. My two-year old son, Alexander, was in a pushchair enjoying the sights of milling people and market stalls. I looked at something on a stall for a few minutes; looked back at the pushchair ... EMPTY ... he’d evidently undone the strap and wandered off.

“Alexander!” ... “Alexander!” I called, but to no avail. No sign. Panic mounted as the search widened. I could only pray - God knew where he was.

I had no mobile phone in those days (34 years ago) to phone the police, but after about five minutes, a policeman happened to be passing, just patrolling on foot in the market. He told me to stay around in the area hoping Alexander would reappear, while he went off to search.

After about 15 minutes (which seemed more like 15 hours) the policeman returned and reported that a little boy of the same description had been taken into the police station! The police station was just the other side of a dual-carriageway from the market. I went in ... saw my little boy ... one of the best moments I will ever experience in this life.

Wow, what agony ... and what relief!

One of a parent’s greatest fears must be to lose a child or be separated from them, possibly for ever.

This got me thinking and led me to think about God and how he went through a similar trauma.

And this is how it happened.

God made us at the beginning of time, he loved us, adored us, even more than we can ever love our own children. And what happened?  We, his beloved children, wandered away from him. The Bible says our sin separated us from our God (Isaiah 59). In that amazing beginning we were in a perfect relationship with God; a relationship that fulfilled all our deepest longings.

But this perfect state got spoiled. How?

The relationship came with terms of agreement, namely that we would acknowledge that God was King, (like a child acknowledging the parents’ authority) that if we resolved to follow his perfect rule we would have everything we ever needed. But we wanted to go our own way, we reckoned we knew what was best for us and didn’t want to be told what to do. We walked away ...

This happened centuries ago but we are no different. We don’t want to submit to a tender loving God, even though he longs to fulfil the desires of our heart. That’s what the Bible calls sin. And it is sin that separates us from our God. Sin is not just killing someone or committing adultery. No, the Bible describes sin as walking away from God - even just in things we say and even think.

Now imagine God’s pain ... separated from his beloved children. It is impossible to imagine the depth of hurt and agony.

Well, because of his great love for us, God could not leave it like this, so he made a wonderful rescue plan to bring his children back to himself.

And this is where Christmas comes into it. Maybe we all too often focus merely on a cute baby in a manger, angels, Mary, Joseph, donkeys, stars, without thinking about the purpose of it all - God’s incredible rescue plan. And this plan meant coming to earth to sort out the mess. Well, the only one qualified to do this was his Son Jesus as he himself was sinless. But would He agree? Yes! Jesus said, “I will go”.

Jesus, perfect God, became a little baby, became like us, became vulnerable, entered our messed up, imperfect world. The Bible says the Son came to seek and save what was lost.

How did he do it? Well, as he grew up, Jesus did not walk away from God, he stuck to the plan, he submitted to God’s perfect rule in every way. He and the Father were one, maintaining a perfect relationship.

Then after 33 years on earth the culmination of this great rescue plan happened when Jesus allowed himself to be crucified, thereby taking the punishment we deserved. He willingly sacrificed his perfect relationship with his Father in order that our relationship with the Father could be restored the moment we acknowledge it was our sin that caused his death and claim the forgiveness that is now offered to us.

Wow!

That’s what Christmas is about: the start of God’s rescue plan. God sending Jesus, to find his lost children. Let’s think on this and thank him once again this Christmas time.

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