Torch Times – Issue 1 2016

A Christian magazine for the thoughtful reader

Produced and published by
Torch Trust
Torch House,
Torch Way,
Market Harborough,
Leicestershire,
LE16 9HL UK
Tel: 01858 438260
email: info@torchtrust.org
website: torchtrust.org

Editorial note

We may not necessarily agree with the particular views of an article, because on certain controversial subjects there are several acceptable evangelical viewpoints. It is our aim to give a fair representation of these in this magazine.

Unless otherwise stated, articles in this magazine are transcriptions of material received and as such are unedited.

Contents

Editorial

All of us who are genuine, committed Christians have certain beliefs in common – we all believe in God, in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and in our need for salvation and that Christ accomplished this for us at the cross. However, there are many peripheral issues where we tend to differ in our opinions. In the past this has led to serious divisions in the Church and a tendency to ignore the fact that we are “all one in Christ Jesus”. Though we are now generally much more tolerant of the beliefs of other Christians, we still have our own opinions and there is nothing wrong with that.

One of the articles this time is about Yoga, which attracts a difference of opinion in many believers. Some say it is definitely not acceptable due to its pagan origins, others would say it is harmless exercise. How can we know what is right with this or any other practice. I remember as a young Christian being warned that true believers should never enter a pub or attend a cinema or theatre or dance hall! Now, most of us would say these are not off-limits. But we must all be clear in our own consciences, and this must always be guided by God’s Word.

Several of the articles directly concern the Scriptures: historical research and archaeology often confirm facts stated in the Bible; Ezra and Nehemiah faithfully rebuilt Jerusalem, not only in a physical sense but also by teaching the people from God’s Word; the prophet Gad fearlessly challenged King David with God’s Law. We are also reminded in one article of the fact that God can break through the culture of the world to bring enlightenment to people who previously had no thought of God or salvation.

We trust that you will find this issue of Torch Times interesting and instructive in the variety of topics covered.

Michael Stafford and the editors

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Rebuilding a nation

by Phil Reid

(taken from Evangelicals Now - January 2016)

[Phil Reid walks us through the ideas embedded in Nehemiah 8:1–12.]

A nation lies in ruins. There is a need to rebuild – physically, morally, spiritually. But where do we start? On what foundations should a nation be rebuilt?

When we look at countries suffering from civil war, like Somalia or South Sudan, our instinct is to relieve people’s physical suffering – sending food, building refugee camps, supplying water. This is right and good, but where do we go from there?

The Old Testament talks about a nation rebuilding itself after being destroyed. The nation is Judah, centred on Jerusalem where the Lord’s temple was.

Despite God sending prophets, and some good kings, the nation descended so far that God had had enough. He sent the brutal Babylonian army who devastated the land, taking wave after wave of the people away to exile, until, in 586 BC, Jerusalem and its temple were burned down. It was complete destruction and humiliation.

But, 70 years later, God moved the heart of Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon. He decreed that the Jews should return and rebuild the temple. A small number went back to Jerusalem and did this, but they stopped there. Decades later, God raised up Nehemiah, a very capable and godly man, to lead the people to rebuild the city’s walls and gates. They faced many threats. But amazingly they finished the job in 52 days!

Spiritual rebuilding

Aside from the physical rebuilding after the exile, the nation needed rebuilding. After the excitement of reconstructing the temple, the people neglected their worship. The new temple stood forlorn in the otherwise-still-ruined city of Jerusalem, and the priests and Levites took off their robes and went back to their fields to work. The returnees married local non-Israelites, forgetting God’s law and becoming indistinguishable from the pagan nations around them.

The people needed a spiritual rebuilding project as ambitious and radical as the work Nehemiah had done.

God’s Word – heard & understood

God had been preparing, born during the exile, a priest called Ezra for this spiritual rebuilding project. He was going to teach God’s Word.

In Nehemiah 8 we see Ezra at work. The returnees from Babylon gathered in Jerusalem and asked Ezra to read them the Book of the Law of Moses. If you’ve been to a large Christian conference, you can imagine the challenges of getting such a large number of people together to hear God’s Word without amplification or the printed word - as in Ezra’s time. They built a high wooden platform for Ezra to stand on as he read, so people would be able to see and hear him, even when they were all standing up (v.5).

He read from the scrolls from daybreak till noon; six hours of Bible reading. But God’s Word wasn’t only read. In v.7-8 the Levites instructed the people. You can imagine the groups of people gathering around the 13 teachers. They read from the Book of the Law, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. In my Bible there’s a footnote, suggesting that ‘making it clear’ could mean ‘translating’, and I think it’s quite likely they did translate. After two generations in Babylon, speaking other languages such as Aramaic, and intermarriage with Gentiles, the people needed translators to help them understand the Law of Moses in Hebrew.

But as the Bible is understood it has a power to transform individuals, families and whole nations! Had the crowd listening to Ezra really heard God’s Word with humble, willing hearts? Let’s see what effect God’s Word had on them.

God’s Word – that brings pain

The huge crowd had stood for six hours, hearing God’s Word read to them. They worshipped God in prayer, lifting their hands and responding ‘Amen! Amen!’ as Ezra praised God, and then bowed down in worship (v.5–6). The team of Levites translated and expounded the Word to the people, and as they understood they had started to weep (v.9).

Weeping, pain, sadness. This is their response to God’s Word. This was supposed to be a festival, a time of joy – Ezra and Nehemiah tell the people not to mourn or weep. But their initial response was entirely right. If only their ancestors had wept at God’s Word, they wouldn’t have been in the sorry state they were in.

What had Ezra been reading? It was the Law of Moses – God’s commands for the way they should live. ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.’ All the law was based around the Ten Commandments: ‘You shall not make for yourself an image … you shall not bow to them or worship them for I am a jealous God …’; ‘You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God’; ‘Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy’.

They had failed in every one of these commands – dishonour of parents, murder, adultery, theft, false testimony, coveting. They were to love the LORD their God with all their hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5). But they had failed. We have failed.

God’s Word shows us our sin. Like a demolition ball, God’s law pulls down the false, shaky structures we have built without true foundations. It cuts to the heart. When the people understand God’s Word, they weep.

Still, Ezra and Nehemiah tell the people not to mourn or weep – ‘It’s a time to celebrate, not to mourn’ – and they give them reasons to celebrate.

God’s Word – that brings joy

Nehemiah says: ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared’ (v.10). They are to enjoy what God has given them and share it with others who have none. This is a festival – a time to celebrate and be generous.

He goes on: ‘This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’ This could be translated, ‘The joy that the LORD gives you is your protection.’ How could this be? They had a rightful sense of their sin. They deserved God’s judgment. Why would God’s joy protect them, so much so that they were free to celebrate instead of to grieve?

The word translated strength here means a refuge, a fortress, a place of strength and protection – for example: ‘The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress [same word] of salvation for his anointed one’ (Psalm 28:8)

When Jesus was baptised, his Father said ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased!’ The Father loves his Son Jesus and delights over him. If we trust in Jesus – in his perfect sacrifice in our place on the cross, then he will take away our sin and guilt, and in its place we get included in his wonderful relationship with his Father. He’ll shout and sing over us as his children. This is the joy of the LORD, a joy that comes through hearing and believing God’s Word.

The foundation of a nation

God’s Word doesn’t only give us the foundation for our lives as individuals, but also for entire nations.

In his fascinating book, The Book that made your world, Indian philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi reminds us of just how profound an effect the Bible has had on Western culture. From music and art to technology and science he shows how much we owe to the Biblical worldview in ways we often take for granted. For example the intrinsic value of an individual human life, stemming from Genesis 1:27, stands behind great advances in medicine, the abolition of slavery and the invention of labour-saving technology. In the economic field, a climate of honesty enables entrepreneurs to succeed and innovation to be rewarded.

Around the world today, many nations remain untouched by the Bible and the benefits it brings. Those translating or teaching the Bible in mission can feel irrelevant, or marginalised, when compared with those bringing more tangible forms of development. We so easily forget that God’s Word is the foundation, and that without the change in worldview it brings, our efforts in relief and development will not produce lasting fruit. How much we need to remember how precious God’s Word is.

[Phil Reid is a Bible translator with SIM and GBM working in Burkina Faso.]

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Re-writing history

by Chris Sinkinson

(taken from Evangelicals Now - October 2015)

Regular readers of this column will know my interest in history and archaeology.

For the defence of the faith, I encourage all Christians to take an interest in the evidence for the Bible that emerges from the ancient world. So the recent destruction of historic sites by the Islamic terrorist group known as ISIS has profound implications for apologetics.

The humanitarian catastrophes emerging from the Middle East have rightly dominated the news. Whether the refugees fleeing Syria or the violent persecution of Arab minorities in Iraq, there is no question that these should be uppermost in our prayers and social action. But ISIS is also at war against history, archaeology and antiquities. Claiming to be destroying idols, it is systematically erasing ancient sites and artefacts in the regions that fall under its sway.

Temple of Palmyra destroyed

On 31 August 2015, satellite imagery confirmed that Islamic terrorists had destroyed the main building of the Temple of Palmyra in Syria. This was only the latest, and most dramatic, example of their destruction of archaeological locations. Others have included the traditional site of the burial of Jonah, the Mosul museum collection and the Assyrian palace at Nimrud.

Torture and beheading

During this summer they beheaded the 82-year-old antiquities scholar Khaled al-Asaad for refusing to help them locate valuable artefacts. This cruel act reveals their hypocrisy. They had tortured Khaled al-Asaad in an attempt to locate objects that they could sell on the black market. Have you wondered how ISIS manage to equip themselves with so much weaponry? The antiquities black market is a major source of revenue for their military campaign. The claim that they are destroying idols is bogus. ISIS sell idols for money wherever possible and only destroy objects too big to plunder (such as the temple at Palmyra).

The importance of history

Why should this destruction matter? Palmyra was an important city in Roman times. It was situated at the meeting point of Greek, Roman and Persian trade routes. It was home to a substantial Jewish community and among its remains was the longest biblical Hebrew inscription from the ancient world (of Deuteronomy, the Jewish Shema). The impressive Roman temple itself was built in 32 AD and dedicated to Baal.

Some Christians might suggest that the destruction of a pagan temple is a good thing, but such an attitude is far from biblical. Paul was opposed to the pagan worship of the Athenians but could still admire and respect their impressive statuary (Acts 17). Christianity is a historical faith, built on convictions that history is real, that we can learn from history and that God has acted in history.

Even the remains of the pagan world deserve our respect and help us to understand the truth about our past. Historical discoveries will always demonstrate the reliability of God’s Word, even while correcting our misunderstandings of that Word.

Obliterating evidence

Many of the statues and temple adornments Paul had seen in Greece and Turkey have been faithfully preserved in the British Museum in London. ISIS show no appreciation of culture, nor do they wish to preserve history. Their attempt to erase the past is part of a desire to rewrite history. It reflects their desire to promote a warped Islamic view of the past and obliterate any counter evidence.

In contrast, biblical faith has always encouraged an interest in the material remains of our past. Many of the pioneer archaeologists were evangelical Christians, guided by their conviction that the Bible was a reliable work of history. Those convictions proved valid time and again. ISIS demonstrates that those who oppose the God of the Bible inevitably end up opposing the record of history itself.

[Chris is the D.L. Moody Lecturer in Apologetics, and Evangelism at Moorlands College.]

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Secularism can’t stop conversions

by John Piper

(taken from Evangelicals Now - October 2015)

[John Piper addresses a question on many Christians’ minds today.]

A few weeks ago, I was talking with some pastors in England. In spite of the fact that Britain has been outpacing the United States in the usual signs of secularisation, one of the pastors said that developments in the last couple of years, even in Britain, have had a new effect on people in the church. It seems now to many believers that true Christians hold views so different from the culture that they wonder if anyone can be converted.

I think this is a common feeling. Will deeply secular people, with little or no Christian background, see the moral implications of following Christ as so unimaginable that they treat Christianity as equivalent to the Greek myths of Zeus and Hermes?

Here are three biblical perspectives that make that kind of pessimism unwarranted in the church.

1. God is always at work loosening individual people from the group-think of the prevailing culture of unbelief.

It is a mistake to look at the ‘culture’ and assume that all the unbelieving people are in lockstep with the spirit of the age. In fact, someone’s child just died. Someone just found out he has cancer. Someone just lost his job at 55. Someone just had a terrifying dream about hell. Someone alone in a hotel room just happened to read the story of the prodigal son. Someone has just decided his life of self-indulgence is meaningless. A young couple have just had a long conversation about the absence of moral standards to pass on to their children. Someone just felt a wave of guilt pass over his soul, and a deep sense that he is accountable to a creator.

In other words, we make a huge mistake if we forget that people get saved one at a time as unique individuals, not as mere specimens of the ‘culture’. At any given moment in the secularisation of our culture, God is at work in 10,000 ways to prepare particular individuals to hear the gospel.

When you get on a bus, or go to the gym, or stand on the sidelines of your child’s soccer game, the dozen other people there are not in lockstep with a monolithic secular culture. There are 100 other things going on in their lives, and you never know (until you probe) whether five of these factors are actually making them disillusioned with the very culture you think is enslaving them. Don’t think of people as specimens of culture. Think of them as individual people that providence may well be leading to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Take heart from the way the New Testament paints both with big brush strokes of cultural darkness and in fine brush strokes of individual conversions. Paul knew he was entering enemy-held territory every time he went to a new city. ‘The prince of the power of the air was at work in the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2:2). The ‘god of this age’ was blinding all unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4). It was an ‘evil age’ (Galatians 1:4). And Peter described this world as ‘living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry’ (1 Peter 4:3). None of these broad brush strokes are favourable for fruitful evangelism.

But then there are the fine brush strokes of amazing conversions in this impossibly dark culture:

God saves individuals. None of them is merely a product of sensual, spiritualistic, or secular culture. God is at work loosening thousands and thousands from the group-think of the secular media or any other pretenders to cultural hegemony.

2. Initial animosity from secular people may be a prelude to their awakening.

3. It is no harder for God to raise the spiritually dead in post-Christian America than it was in Puritan America. Dead is dead.

[This article was written by John Piper. ©2015 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org and is used with permission.]

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The beautiful religioznik

(taken from Evangelicals Now - August 2015)

As the persecution of Christians increases across the world, it is good to remember that God can speak to the persecutors.

Sergei Kourdakov and his friends were naval cadets used by the Russian police in the late 1960s to attack Christians (religiozniks) who met in secret in the old Communist Soviet Union. Later he escaped to the West, but after telling his story on many occasions was found dead. The following is an edited extract from his book, Forgive me Natasha.

At last it was 9.45 – time to go. On the way out of the Petropavlovsk police station to the truck, we picked up our police clubs and handcuffs. ‘Keep the clubs short’, I said. ‘We’ll be in close quarters tonight.’

The truck raced across the city. As we came within a few blocks of our destination, we shut the siren off, lowered our lights and slowed down. As soon as we had parked, I pointed to a couple of men in the back of the truck and said, ‘You two, get out and block off the street.’ We had strict orders from Nikiforov, our commander, to keep passers by away.

Surprise raid

Now everything was set. Stealthily we moved toward the front door. After one more check to make sure everyone was in place, I said ‘Let’s go!’ Then I hit the door in a flying run and snapped it open. Inside 15 startled people on their knees, praying and singing, looked up in disbelief. Their faces were filled with a mixture of surprise and fear. Yet some kept praying and others continued to sing without missing a note.

I shouted, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Praying’, someone replied. ‘To whom?’ ‘To God.’ ‘There is no God, you fools’, I yelled. Then suddenly one of my men swung his club. We waded in, hitting and kicking.

Smashing everything

Nothing in the house – people or furniture – escaped our wrath. We smashed everything in sight. Half covered by the debris were the Christians, some unconscious and the rest in agonising pain. I saw Victor grab a young girl who was trying to escape. She was a beautiful young girl. Victor caught her, picked her up, lifted her above his head. She was pleading, ‘Don’t, please don’t!’ Victor threw her so hard she hit the wall at the same height she was thrown, then dropped to the floor, semi-conscious, moaning. Victor laughed. ‘I’ll bet the idea of God went flying out of her head.’ But I was thinking, ‘She’s a real beautiful girl.’

‘Get those two men!’ I ordered, pointing to the leaders who matched the description Nikiforov had given me. We went around the room taking identification papers. I got the beautiful girl’s identification card. Her name was Natasha Zhdanova. The job was done. It was time to go.

Young people’s meeting

Three days later eight members of my operations group were called to raid a meeting in Nogornaya Street. We roared up there, jumped out of the truck and crashed through the front door. To our astonishment, they were all young people. We went right to work on them, slapping and shoving them. I quickly surveyed the room and saw a sight I couldn’t believe! There she was, that same girl! Only three nights before, she had been at the other meeting and been viciously thrown across the room. She was more beautiful than I first remembered – flowing blonde hair, blue eyes.

‘Well’, I shouted, ‘it doesn’t look like you did a great job last time, Victor!’ I picked her up and flung her on the table face down. Two of us stripped her. One of my men held her down and I beat her until the blood flowed. To suppress her cries she bit her lower lip and blood ran down her chin. I pushed her off the table and she collapsed on the floor. We took the youth leader and left. I could understand foolish old people who were infected with religion. But young people believing in God!

‘She’s a Believer’

I was interested in finding out more about Natasha Zhdanova. The Youth League kept a record of all young people in our area. I looked up her file. She was born in the Ukraine. Her parents were workers on a collective farm. As a little girl she had moved to live with her uncle in Petropavlovsk, to get a better opportunity. She now worked as a proofreader for the Petropavlovsk Pravda newspaper.

I went to her place of work. One of her superiors told me, ‘We’ve never had any problem whatsoever.’

‘We’ve found her twice in secret meetings of underground churches’, I said. ‘She’s a Believer.’ A gasp went up. The newsroom workers looked at each other. It was as if I’d said she was a leper or a mass murderer. I left a message ordering her to report to me at a certain time at the police station.

Interviewing Natasha

She came. I could see she was frightened. I asked why she was a Believer. ‘What should I be?’ she replied. ‘An alcoholic? A prostitute?’ Then she asked, ‘Did you find anything wrong with my work record?’ ‘No, I didn’t, I admitted. ‘But somewhere you went wrong and are mixed up with people who are a great danger to our country.’ I lectured her and warned her of real trouble if she continued her ways.

Finally, I saw I wasn’t going to shake her. I warned her once more that this was going on her record and she must never be found mixing with Believers again. Despite her apparent fear, she began to tell me why she believed in God. While she talked I was conscious of the deep marks on her lower lip. Once I had all the information I needed, I dismissed her abruptly and roughly.

A familiar face

About a week later we were called for another action against a secret church. I posted guards again and blocked off the street. When all was ready we burst in, swinging clubs wildly. The shocked believers began to scatter, trying to protect themselves from the rain of blows. There was lots of noise – shouts and screams. And then I caught a glimpse of a familiar face. There she was – Natasha Zhdanova! Several of the guys saw her too. Alex Gulyaev moved towards her, hatred filling his face.

Totally unexpected

Then something I never expected happened. Without warning, Victor jumped between Natasha and Alex, facing Alex head-on. ‘Get out of my way’, shouted Alex. Victor’s feet didn’t move. ‘No one touches her’, said Victor. One of my most brutal men was protecting one of the Believers! Angered, Alex shouted, ‘You want her for yourself, don’t you?’ ‘No’, Victor shouted back. ‘She has something we don’t have! Nobody touches her! Nobody!’ I had to break this up and fast. Victor stood still with his arms out, protecting Natasha, daring Alex or anyone to take a step towards her. What was I to do? I nodded to her, then motioned for her to leave. She turned and hurried out. I nodded a sign of approval to the guards.

‘Something we didn’t have’

For one of the few times in my life, I was deeply moved. She had gone through unbelievable suffering, but here she was again. She had something we didn’t have. ‘What is it?’ I wanted to run after her, but she was gone. Shortly afterward, she returned to the Ukraine. This heroic Christian girl who had suffered so much at our hands somehow both touched and troubled me very much. I felt, for the first time, that the Believers may not be the fools and enemies I had thought they were.

[Forgive me Natasha was published in 1975 by Marshall Pickering, which is now owned by Harper Collins, from whom permission has been sought to print this article.]

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I was sick and you visited me

by Mike Mellor

(taken from Evangelicals Now - January 2016)

[Mike Mellor, of Hope Church, Ferndown, encourages us to minister hope in times of need.]

She was frail as a sparrow. Her legs were like pencils and her ill-fitting teeth barely kept up with her mouth as she spoke. But on asking how she was as she lay in her bed, Gracie’s china blue eyes twinkled mischievously as she beamed and chirped: ‘I’m packed and ready to go, pastor!’ And indeed she was and she did, as a few days later the Lord gathered up another of his jewels. It had been my immense privilege on my visits to seek to make her transition a little more comfortable.

Loving channels

I would frequently receive the same message: ‘Gracie’s fallen again.’ I knew the cause of the fall before I called on her, of course. Those legs were just not built for speed. However, I lost count of the times I returned from visiting her thinking the same thought: ‘Just who ministered to whom there?’ Once more I would be reminded of the eternal dimension to this work of ‘visiting the sick’, and the blessing that God grants to those who go in Jesus’ name.

Bible teacher and author Warren Wiersbe rightly states that ‘Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God.’ (On being a servant of God p.3. Thomas Nelson Publishers 1993.)

Weak servants

We all no doubt feel our utter weakness and inadequacy when it comes to thinking how we could possibly be of any real benefit or blessing to someone in pain or discomfort. We naturally function better on those bright days when the sun is shining and the air is filled with a sweet fragrance. Not so much when all seems dark, the air stale and pain is etched upon the face of the one we are visiting.

But ‘A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity’ (Proverbs 17.17) and so, in our felt weakness and uncertainty, we go in faith to be someone’s friend, brother or sister in their time of need.

My prayer is that God might open a window into the sick room for a beam from heaven to shine in upon the troubled scene as we visit in Jesus’ name.

Who should visit the sick?

Pastors

You are a busy, conscientious pastor with a firm view on the primacy of preaching. You have a biblical conviction that you must ‘give your attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word’ (Acts 6:4). That is right and true, and yet there is something disturbing about the servant of God who informs his church that he sees his calling is to preach to the flock, but not to visit them.

There is something that happens within the heart of the pastor when he visits the sick that gives a dimension to his pulpit ministry which could be gained in no other way. A dimension which, if missing, causes even the soundest preaching to have a distant, metallic ring about it. It is a cutting indictment – yet containing too much truth to shrug off – that ‘some men love preaching more than those to whom they preach’. May that never be true of you, dear pastor.

It was said of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, whom so many of us would look to as the model pastor: ‘He would visit the sick and grieving, often for many consecutive days, praying with them, reading Scripture, and encouraging them in their walk. At the end of one such full day he wrote, “O how sweet to work all day for God, and then to lie down at night under his smiles”.’ This no doubt was one of the factors that contributed to his unique power in the pulpit and his influence among the people under his care.

Elders

It has been encouraging to see a recognition and return in recent years of the importance of setting apart men (with the necessary gifts of course) within the fellowship as elders to jointly govern Christ’s church as a pastoral team.

For those of us who have witnessed the sad outcome over the years of good men who have burnt themselves out, nobly perhaps but unbiblically, by a ‘one-man’ mentality, this is a welcome return and can only be of blessing to both pastor and people. To be sure, it is important to recognise that there will be a ‘first among equals’, the man who is equipped with particular gifts and to whom is due financial support and care (1 Timothy 5:17) – this man we fondly call ‘The Pastor’.

Yet to expect him to carry the burden of shepherding the flock single-handed is both unreasonable and impractical, especially in the context here, of visiting the sick. And of course, pastors too are sheep and themselves stand in need of shepherding.

You may work out your own system in the church concerning the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of visiting those who are unwell, but of course you first need information! It is surprising just how many in the church expect the elders to possess some psychic gift which enables them to know when they are sick! One simple yet effective way – if you have midweek home groups – is for the members to keep on the alert for any within their group who are unwell. They can contact the leader, who in turn can alert the pastor or elders of anyone requiring a visit. This also helps drive home the vital message that, as the body of Christ, we ‘should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it ...’ (1 Corinthians 12:25, 26).

Deacons

The function of a deacon should never be seen as one merely ‘taking care of the fabric of the church’, ie taking care of the ‘practical’ matters while the elders take care of the ‘spiritual’!

In the early church, Stephen – generally recognised as one of the first church deacons to be set apart – was ‘full of faith and of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 6:5). Surely just the kind of person you would like to have visit you when sick! Deacons are well placed to co-ordinate provision for the inevitable practical needs of those who are sick, have just given birth, or for any other area of need that may arise.

The provision of lifts, meals and visits falls within this remit – and this is in addition to pastoral visits from the eldership. Another significant advantage in having deacons visit is that some churches have women in the role, which works well especially for visiting lone females.

Church members

We live in an increasingly individualistic and self-centred culture and sadly many, even within the church, seem to be seeking freedom from any commitments that may impede their ‘free-spirited’ agenda.

However, the Scriptures teach plainly that there can be no such thing as a ‘Lone Ranger’ Christian. All who claim to be looking to Christ as Saviour are interconnected as members of one body with Christ as our Head (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:15,16). This is the reason why the King will say on that day, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these ... you did for me’. (Matthew 25:40). When Saul maliciously persecuted the church, he was actually persecuting Christ (Acts 9:4) and when we minister to one of the body, we minister to the head. The New Testament is packed with ‘one another’ verses that forcefully remind us that we each have a duty lovingly to care for one another.

Even the busiest may find a way to encourage when hearing of one who is unwell. Letters, cards, telephone calls, assurances of prayer – all are apt if visiting is not possible or appropriate at that time. Love always finds a way.

No boundaries

The loving concern and compassion we are to show in visiting the sick is to be without any limitations or boundaries of church, colour, class, sexual orientation, belief or non-belief. Perhaps the best known and loved of the Lord’s parables is that of the Good Samaritan. Jesus left us no ‘wriggle room’, expecting us to be frontier breakers, ministering to those who might consider us as enemies with an overflow of grace and mercy that comes from heaven itself. Who is my neighbour? Everyone outside of the square foot of earth I occupy!

Equipped for the job!

It is plain when we look at the gospel of God’s love for a fallen and dark world to see how he has fully equipped us for this incredibly important work. We have a tender heavenly Father who sends us into this broken world he so loves. A Saviour who, by his death and resurrection, provides all that we need in order to be messengers of forgiveness, comfort and hope. And we have the Holy Spirit who empowers us and provides all the compassion, strength and wisdom we need for the task. Clearly, we have no excuse not to go!

[This article is an edited extract from I was Sick and you Visited me by Mike Mellor, recently published by DayOne.]

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Should Christians do yoga?

(taken from Idea - Jan/Feb 2016)

Ever since yoga hit the western world’s fitness scene in the early 2000s, much of the UK has been hooked on the spiritual, mental and physical discipline that originated in India around the fifth century BCE. And ever since our neighbours and friends have been attending the classes, Christians have been debating whether or not we should join them.

Can we participate in a practice that has roots in Hinduism and asks yogis to clear their mind? In our recent survey into health and wellbeing, 50 per cent of evangelicals said Christians should never do yoga. Of the rest, 23 per cent wouldn’t try it themselves, 14 percent weren’t sure it works as a form of therapy and nine per cent might try it if other options didn’t work. But three per cent of evangelicals polled admitted they had used yoga as a form of therapy and it worked.

So what do you think? We asked two Christians who have tried yoga to give us their thoughts.

1. Alexandra Davis: The most important thing about doing yoga is, like a lot of things, going in with your eyes open, both literally and figuratively.

Yoga is a great way to exercise and keep fit. It’s low impact if you’ve got dodgy knees, but you’ll get a good burn if you do it right. It’s also undeniable that it has its root in eastern religions and there are some spiritual dimensions that Christians should be aware of.

So, like a lot of things we Christians do, it’s something that we can take part in despite the fact that it originated in a context from which our one true God was absent. We just need to be aware of what’s happening around us, discerning of what is good and right, and courageous to remove ourselves if we know what we’re doing is putting distance between us and God. Bit like being in the pub on a Friday, or out shopping on a Saturday.

This might mean that the yoga class at the local gym isn’t for you - maybe the teacher has fully bought into not only the physical movements of yoga, but also the spiritual disciplines of emptying the mind and acknowledging the gods in each participant and teaches them as an essential part of the yoga course. So go in with your eyes open, aware that this kind of spiritual teaching might occur and being confident enough to choose not to participate. The important point here is that it’s not the physical exertion of yoga that can lead you away from God, but the spiritual values that can get taught with it.

As Christians, everything we do should be for God’s glory and that includes exercise. An increasing number of Christians who enjoy yoga are linking their own faith and spiritual journey to their practice of yoga. Holy Yoga is a great example of this - a place that acknowledges that our bodies and our spirits are linked and uses the physical shapes made popular through yoga to allow people to connect worshipfully and spiritually to God through their exercise. Again, it’s not the physical exertion of yoga that can lead you towards God, but the spiritual values that can get taught with it.

Christians should apply the same principles to yoga as we apply to going to the pub on Friday and the shops on Sunday - these things don’t lead us to God, they can’t save or satisfy us, but we participate in them because our workmates are in the pub on Friday and a drink or two with them allows us to share life and the gospel with them, or because the shops provide for us the same necessities as our neighbours and allows us opportunities to share common grace with them.

In the same way, doing yoga is an opportunity to use our bodies to glorify God, to meet with him through physical exercise, and maybe to share the good news of Jesus to the person next to us in the yoga class, even if it’s because you’ve decided to give it up.

2. Paul Gosbee: Hatha yoga more than just posturing? I think so.

Some claim that Hatha yoga is an excellent, non-religious exercise regime. However, I think that Christianity and Hatha yoga are incompatible. In the early 1980s, I attended Hatha Yoga classes, so, many of the issues mentioned, I have experienced first-hand.

Yoga means “union”. People think it relates only to Hatha yoga, because they are unfamiliar with the deeper levels of philosophical and spiritual teachings.

Hatha is a simple form of yoga. One could argue, what could be wrong with just gentle exercise? The practice is based on a far eastern view of the spiritual, as well as physical, makeup of the body. The exercises have been created to ‘open up chakras’. These seven chakras are spiritual energy centres in the body. Through these, the kundalini – the latent ‘serpent power’ coiled at the base of the spine – passes through a person as they move toward greater enlightenment. Each chakra is also linked with a certain Hindu deity. What does Ephesians 4:4-6 say?

There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Practitioners may have no knowledge of these things. Hatha yoga allegedly prepares one for these kinds of spiritual experiences.

The Bible says the presence of God can only be accessed through being “born again”. This leads on to a higher consciousness of God, but is totally different from anything offered through yoga. Biblical salvation is not the result of some ‘serpent power’ travelling up through the spine from within, it’s a gift from God.

The ‘serpent power’ is not from the Holy Spirit, but from Satan. Some Hatha yoga postures are actually worship, like the ‘sun salutation’. What does the first commandment say?

By practising Hatha yoga, it could be argued one is penetrating a spiritual realm beyond the natural realm; a higher sphere that the Bible teaches is dominated by powers subservient to the Prince of Darkness. The Bible even warns that Satan can counterfeit spiritual experiences.

If the teacher of the class subscribes to the whole yogic philosophy, there will be a subliminal spiritual transference from the teacher to the student. Perhaps those who are weak in their Christian faith may have their faith eroded over a period of time and end up being drawn into this darkness.

Even if the class atmosphere is relatively harmless, there is a temptation for those involved to learn more about the whole yoga philosophy. So it may become the bait into a vast belief system that involves much more than physical exercise.

We must also consider spiritual endorsement. Those who see Bible-believing Christians participating in Hatha yoga classes could easily construe it to be a Christian endorsement for the whole yoga philosophy, not just the exercise. This issue is very similar to Paul’s admonition to early Christians in 1 Corinthians 8: 9-11 about eating meat sacrificed to idols and the confusion it may cause non-believers. We will be held accountable, as is written in Mark 9:42.

In conclusion, Christian yoga is a contradiction. It’s full of spiritual seduction and danger. Those who practise it will knowingly or unknowingly connect with a power that is not from God as revealed through his word.

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The Prophet Gad

by John Bennett

(taken from Precious Seed - August 2015)

For many believers there might be an enquiry as to who was the prophet Gad. Whilst we may be familiar with the name as one of the twelve tribes of Israel, the man who forms the basis of this simple study may well be unknown. In general terms, he is one of those people who appear on the pages of scripture and then disappear again. Yet, while he occupies little in the way of space, clearly he had a role to fulfil and a work of the Lord to do. In modern terms, we would never have heard of Gad, never have seen his name in a magazine, and never have appreciated the contribution he made in his day. However, the Spirit of God has left us the record of the man and his mission for the Lord, and there is much that we can learn from it.

His genealogy

It is remarkable that scripture tells us nothing about the man. It tells us what he was, King David’s seer, but nothing about his parents, his family, his tribe, or where he was from within the land of Israel. He remains a mystery. He appears, fulfils his role, and disappears as he had come.

As far as we know, he did not come from a famous line of seers, prophets, rulers, or leaders. There seems to be nothing about his family that would draw the comment of the writer of scripture to indicate that he came from ‘famous stock’.

I would suggest that there is something of practical significance in this lack of detail. We do not need the advantage of godly parents, or the influence of a godly home to be active in the Lord’s service. We do not need a wealth of godly heritage upon which to draw. What we need is a willingness, like Gad, to be used of God. He has a work to accomplish in our hearts and lives. We do not know much about who Gad was but we do know what he achieved for God.

His appearance

When we write of Gad’s appearance we are not interested in his physical characteristics. It is the timing of his emergence that is of importance, from two different aspects. We should notice that this was:

A time of change

1 Samuel chapter 25 verse 1 records ‘And Samuel died’. The significance of that death was great. The spiritual guidance that Samuel had given to Israel and to its king would be lost – he was no longer available to give that guidance. As the day of his death would be near in chapter 22, it is reassuring to know that though Samuel is about to be taken, God still has his men in place. Whether Gad was one of the prophets under the tutelage of Samuel at Ramah is conjecture. However, what we do know is that as Samuel is taken, so Gad emerges as the man prepared to do a work for God.

Is there a challenge for believers today? Men of God are being taken from us. Are we prepared to rise to the challenge of doing a work for God that now needs to be done? While we may not be able to ‘fill the shoes’ of those who are taken we can seek to exercise the gift that God has given us for his glory.

A time of hardship

‘Abide not in the hold; depart’ (1 Sam. 22:5).

Gad did not arrive on the scene at the most propitious of moments in David’s experience. David was being pursued with vigour and venom by King Saul. Later in the chapter we discover that there were spies who were prepared to betray David to Saul, for status and position in Saul’s kingdom. In the following chapter the betrayers are numerous; fearing the king and his potential for retribution, many are prepared to deliver up David.

At such a time it was a serious risk to be found as a spiritual guide to David in a land that was in fear of Saul. Yet Gad was not to be intimidated by Saul, or any of his people. He was God’s messenger with God’s message to which he would be faithful.

It is not a popular thing to be seen as a Christian today. However, are we prepared to be God’s messenger with God’s message, desiring to be faithful to him? In some countries that may entail a cost far higher than many of us will ever be asked to pay!

His message

Again, his message seemed to be twofold.

A message of instruction

‘Abide not in the hold; depart’ (1 Sam. 22:5).

From the first verse in 1 Samuel 22 we see Gad’s concern for the safety and welfare of David. Here was a man who had a heart for what was right and yet a tender heart that would be protective of those who were the chosen of God. In this, Gad demonstrates that balance of grace and truth that is so necessary amongst the people of God.

But then we read, ‘Go up, rear an altar unto the Lord in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite’ (2 Sam. 24:18).

In this chapter of great difficulty, when David was responsible for an act of folly in numbering the people, Gad has a word of instruction. It is one thing to point out what is wrong. In that sense, the task is easy. We are all deeply conscious of our short-comings and failures. The hard thing is to teach what is right. Again, we need to demonstrate the balance between the negative and the positive so that saints might learn and develop spiritually. This was the work in which Gad was faithful.

We might remember the words of the apostle Paul as he spoke to the Ephesian elders, ‘I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27). But, alongside that, he could also say, with feeling, ‘by the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears’ (v. 31). The two aspects of Paul’s ministry went together.

A message of rebuke

‘The word of the Lord came unto the prophet Gad’ (2 Sam. 24:11).

We should not underestimate the seriousness of the task. Gad had to deliver a message to the king detailing the choices that God was to give him – painful and costly choices of judgement as a result of David’s sin. Yet we read, ‘So Gad came to David, and told him’ (2 Sam. 24:13). He did not shun his responsibilities. He did not seek to ‘water down’ or compromise the message, but delivered it as God had instructed him.

There may be times when the message is not popular, and the consequences potentially difficult, but we have to stick to the word of God and carry out what his word would teach. Here is the mark of a faithful man.

His faithfulness

‘And he set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets’ (2 Chr. 29:25).

This reference in 2 Chronicles chapter 29 is to the reforms instituted by King Hezekiah. The far-reaching nature of those reforms is indicated by the reference to David, Gad, and Nathan. No previous king had brought about such a revival as this one.

But our focus is not upon Hezekiah but upon Gad. This reference tells us the nature of Gad’s work. It stood the test of time and judgement in respect of its faithfulness to the word of God. The benchmark of truth in the lives of the kings of Judah was that established by David, Gad, and Nathan. That’s quite a testimony and quite a challenge to all our hearts! What will we leave for future generations?

But then we should also notice Gad as a writer: ‘Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer’ (1 Chr. 29:29).

Gad left more than a verbal legacy of his work for the Lord. He put the truth on record. Clearly, not everyone is a writer. Neither would we suggest that it is everyone’s gift. However, it is sad to think that as many brethren have left us for glory, we have so little of their ministry in written form. While we revelled in their oral ministry when they were with us, there is nothing of that gift of exhortation or exposition from which a rising generation can benefit. Perhaps there is something here to exercise all our hearts.

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The theology of healing

by Andrew Wilson

(taken from Idea - Jan/Feb 2016)

Our recent survey into health and wellbeing shows 98 per cent of evangelicals believe in miraculous healing. Andrew Wilson, elder at Kings Church Eastbourne and Christianity Today columnist, explores the theology.

Sooner or later, every Christian is going to have to figure out what they think about physical healing. In my case, the question is especially pressing. I’m a pastor in a large, charismatic church that sees dozens of people physically healed each year, I speak at charismatic conferences regularly, and I’ve argued frequently that the gift of healing continues today, both in print and on air. Yet I also have two children with regressive autism. For me, the doctrine of healing is not theoretical.

The extreme positions are easy to see. In the red corner, we have loony, big-haired ranting preachers with their shallow messages of permanent health and wealth for everyone who follows Jesus. In the blue corner, we have the starchy conservative cynics who think everyone who claims to have experienced divine healing is either lying or delusional. Even when people agree that God heals sometimes but not always, there can still be confusion. Does God always heal us if we have enough certainty that he will? Should we assume sicknesses are a mysterious gift from God, designed to teach us things? Why doesn’t God always heal? How can we see more healing?

Much confusion stems from a failure to recognise what healing is. As I’ve studied these themes, and worked through them in my family life, my church life and my prayer life, I’ve noticed that although we often talk as if there is only one type of divine healing, there are actually four.

First type: a virus enters my body, and my white blood cells are launched into action like a rabid dog, hunting down the perpetrator to kill it. Every second, as my heart beats, tiny bits of mineral and organic material are sent to parts of the body that need it, performing ongoing repairs that will never finish, like painting the Forth Bridge, hour after hour, year after year. My body is being healed all the time, and it’s a result of the grace of the God who created me, searches me, knows me and loves me that he has designed a body that functions that way.

Second type: a Jewish prophet lays his hands on blind eyes and deaf ears, and causes them instantly to see and hear. A young man attending a training event with me, who was born deaf, is immediately healed when someone prays for him in Jesus’ name, and promptly calls his fiancée with his – until now deaf – ear to the phone, and has a very excitable conversation with her. A woman who has been wheelchair-bound for years is prayed for in Jesus’ name, is immediately healed and gets out of her wheelchair, and later phones the benefits office to stop her disability benefits.

Third type: I cycle into the middle of a main road aged 11. My tibia and fibula are smashed between my bike and a VW beetle, and a windscreen wiper makes a four inch deep stab wound in my side, between my liver and my spleen. An ambulance appears within minutes, and a splint is put on my leg. A surgeon removes the glass from inside my torso and then repairs it. My leg is reset under general anaesthetic, which kicks in within seconds of being injected into my arm, and after 16 weeks I’m running around again like a normal 11-year-old. The hospital, the ambulance, the paramedics, the skill of the surgeon, the discoveries that make operating theatres and anaesthesia possible – all gracious gifts of a loving God, whose mercy enables healings to take place across the world that would, in any other generation, be considered quite miraculous.

Fourth type: the trumpet sounds, and the dead are raised in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, never to perish again. Physical bodies become incorruptible; no sickness or affliction will ever befall them again. Cholera and cancer are consigned to the cosmic skip for all eternity. Operating theatres, doctors, ambulances and health secretaries become a thing of the past. Nobody cries, except with joy. Nobody grieves. The sterile smell of the A&E corridor is no more. The octogenarians who sit, walnut-faced, under blankets in wheelchairs in hospital reception areas are given a new life and a new youth that will never again be stolen by the long march of time. Every deaf ear is unblocked, every damaged limb is made whole, every blind eye sees. Autism and Down’s syndrome and schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s are swallowed up in victory. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Recognising those four types can help us with the questions we so often ask. Why doesn’t God always heal? He does, eventually. Does God always heal us if we’re certain that he will? Not necessarily. Why not? Because death hasn’t been destroyed yet. Should we assume sicknesses are gifts from God? No – unless you’re also prepared to stop taking medicine or visiting doctors. How can we see more healing? Pray, fast, believe, persevere. How should we pray? May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Ultimately, you see, God never says ‘no’ to a request for healing. It’s either ‘yes’ - as it was for another two people in my church while I was writing this article, or it’s ‘not yet’ – as it has been, so far, for my children. One day, death will be swallowed up in victory. I can’t wait.

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