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Reflection – Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

May 23, 2014 1 comment

I am not long back from a tour of Israel. I last went in 1988. The country has developed massively in that time but the politics remain complex. With a population of 8 million, contradictions and conundrums appear at every turn. Instinctively, as a Christian, I want to love Israel but they themselves make this far from easy. The national character is likened to the ‘sabre’, or prickly pear. The visit left me saddened, and with a deep disquiet of whether the present situation can ever truly be resolved. How can such divided peoples live side-by-side, even if a two state solution were to prove possible?

Jerusalem from Mount Scopus

Whilst there I read through Psalms 120-134, ‘The Songs of Ascent’; songs sung by the Jews travelling up to Jerusalem. Psalm 122:6 exhorts us to ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’. Peace is never more needed than it is today. Hostilities and injustice abound across Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Even the Christian denominations add to the sense of tension. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a travesty of all that the gospels teach. Discord and disharmony lie at the centre of one of the most important Christian sites on earth!

A visit to the Holy Land is far from straightforward. It throws up thorny issues of land ownership, disputed borders and national security; concepts which in the UK we are rarely forced to consider. We Brits have our own issues to face as our history from the Mandate period has left bitter memories in Israel. I fully support Israel’s right to exist, but how does its antagonistic policies toward the Palestinians sit with the scriptural injunction to take care of the stranger and neighbour?

There are no simple answers. The situation would appear intractable. What we can and must do, however, is to continue to ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’; an anguished city over which Jesus himself wept.

This reflection was published in Together Magazine (May to June 2014).

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Reflection – on the life of Daniel

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The Old Testament account of Daniel’s life is remarkable and instructive. Dig deeper and you quickly realise that here was a man – a godly man – who served four ruthless and despotic rulers for around 60 years at the highest level in government of the two major empires of the day. Yet apparently he did so without either moral compromise or personal failure, remaining true to God throughout. How was this possible?

Ruling approx. 600 years before Christ, Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar (the Babylonian empire) and Darius and Cyrus (the Medo-Persian empire) were today’s equivalent of Saddam Hussein, Colonel Gaddafi or President Assad. They all did some pretty wicked things to maintain power. So how did Daniel cope and indeed, thrive in such a violent culture?

One reason for his survival was almost certainly that he demonstrated the gift of true prophecy which made him seemingly untouchable and in some strange way, revered by those he served. This clear prophetic gift was centred in Daniel’s unwavering devotional life.

The more you think about his rise to power, the more extraordinary it seems. Did Daniel ever succumb to the insidious pressures of his position? It would seem not.  Daniel exemplifies the clear validity of a calling to high political office. Our liberal, secular culture finds it hard, if not impossible, to believe that anyone can live at such towering levels of integrity. Surely he had to have skeletons in the cupboard somewhere? Well, with Daniel it would seem not. In fact, we are clearly told in Daniel chapter 9 that he was ‘highly esteemed’ by God or as other Bible versions put it ‘greatly loved’.

Daniel reminds us of the ongoing tension that always exists between God’s word and the reality of current events – which are we to believe? Ultimately God is sovereign over human affairs and the teaching here is that He uses ungodly, despotic empires to fulfill his promises. Daniel stood against the godless arrogance of these human empires. He demonstrated the importance of a personal devotional life – and of combining the word of God with prayer. Above all, Daniel teaches us that no ultimate harm can come to us when we are living in God’s plan – why fear death when God is clearly for us?

Daniel assists us in an understanding of how to practise faith in a secular, pluralistic society – in his case it was a pagan and hostile world. John’s Gospel requires Christians to be ‘in the world, but not of it’. What does this mean in reality when absolutist claims of Christianity are no longer tolerated by our own supposedly tolerant society?

My own take on what sustained Daniel throughout his life is the importance and significance of the Word of God. It informed all he did. Daniel was gripped by the written promises of God – and he believed them. Chapter 9:2 – 3 ‘I Daniel, understood from the Scriptures … I pleaded with God in prayer’. His reading of the parchments led to his prayer and in verse 23, Gabriel appears to him (the same angel as later came to speak to Mary!) and said ‘As soon as you began to pray an answer was given … for you are highly esteemed’. 

Daniel received the endorsement of God, the highest possible authority! In my book, nothing else much matters in life. No doubt, he had faced criticism and accusations about his motives for being in high office but here was God endorsing all that Daniel stood for by answering his prayer in quite a dramatic fashion. A lesson here for us. When we are misunderstood or criticised, what really matters is are we following the voice and direction of God because if so, that’s all that really counts. The accolade of Almighty God should be enough for anyone.

Daniel 9: 18f: ‘We do not make requests of you because we are righteous but because of your great mercy.  Lord, listen. Lord, forgive, Lord, hear and act. For your sake my God, do not delay’.

Review – Operation World; 7th Edition (2010)

November 7, 2010 3 comments

This is a BIG book in more ways than one; big in size and huge in vision. For many Christians, myself included, this latest and seventh revision of Operation World – THE definitive Christian prayer and reference guide – represents a major publishing event; one which should be applauded by all those committed to Christian mission and the advancement of the Gospel.

Such a project is either extremely foolhardy or a publishing triumph depending on your point of view, given the demise of reference material across world publishing at present! The Publisher’s blurb describes this book as a ‘must for every Christian’s library’. I think they are right in this assessment as its stated purpose is ‘to inform for prayer and to mobilise for ministry’. 

The genesis of this book lies firmly within the Protestant missionary movement. Work commenced in 1974 through the auspices of the Dorothea Mission, then from 1976 its cause was championed (and still is) by George Verwer of Operation Mobilisation; and throughout it has had strong WEC International involvement. Patrick Johnstone will be forever linked with the project and without him I doubt it would have come to fruition.

I too can personally look back with a sense of privilege in my own small involvement with the distribution of the 1993 and 2001 editions whilst working with Send the Light Ltd. No-one who has been involved with Operation World can fail to have been impressed by the sheer magnitude of the task of producing this book. However, as with all reference works, it is inevitably out-of-date as soon as it is printed!

The endorsements at the front of the completely revised 7th edition read like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the global Evangelical community.

George Verwer says OW is ‘one of the most important missionary tools in the entire history of missions’. Quite a claim but I guess he should know!

Operation World was born out of the Evangelical view of the strategic importance of prayer in the conversion of nations in order to ‘Hasten the coming of the Day of the Lord’ – a missiological urgency which may not be quite so prevalent in the UK today. This view is described on the very last page of the book, where this important theological perspective – the return of Christ – is noted.

For me, what the book does is to throw into sharp focus the mystery of all such intercessory prayer. If God is all-knowing, why on earth (literally) do we need to rehearse to Him in our prayers all the points from this book concerning the 190+ countries which make up His world? One answer from the book is that every prayer we pray is described as ‘a tiny piece of a great cosmic puzzle’. We are not merely to pray ‘about’ such facts but to pray ‘towards’ something; ‘the ultimate fulfilment of the Father’s purpose’.

I suggest that you keep Operation World next to your Bible. Along with daily devotional materials, these are the primary aids for building our spiritual lives. I’m fully committed to all types of Christian literature but I regard the Bible, Operation World and a Daily Bible Reading Guide as being the irreducible minimum for our spiritual formation.

The design of the overall package is very attractive; the statistics, charts, maps and data-points are all clear and compelling. Young people will also find it practical (if you can prise them away from checking with Google!) and it presents far more realistic information for holiday and business travel than the average travel guide can provide. The sections on ‘Global Hot-spots’ and ‘Global Trends’ are extremely up-to-the-minute and read as well as anything out of The Economist.

This is truly an astonishing book and it deserves to succeed. Buy the hardback (preferably) for yourself – and as a gift for others this Christmas – from your local Christian bookshop. If that’s not possible go online to order it – but try not to use Amazon if you can possibly help it! Why? Because a project of this size, which comes around only periodically, means a great deal in terms of income generation for the struggling Christian retail trade.

‘Maranatha;, even so come Lord Jesus’

For more details, click here for the Operation World website.

Biblica Publishing : 2010 : 978pp

Hardback ISBN 978-1-85078-861-4

Paperback ISBN 978-1-85078-862-1

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