Joel

Joel

A prophecy of forthcoming judgements in Israel, including the final conflict in which God will dramatically intervene. The Locust Plague (chapter 1) From the start God had warned Israel that if they turned from His word, great disasters would follow (Deuteronomy 28). Literal plagues of locusts were sent to remind God’s people of what He had said. When He appealed to the Jews through the prophet Joel, around 800bc, God likened the forthcoming invasions of human armies to the cutting, swarming, hopping, destroying locusts, which they may already have experienced (1:4). Invading Armies (chapter 2) Assyrian and Babylonian invasions of the land of Israel, foretold in this chapter, were followed centuries later by Greek, Roman and Arab incursions. These left the Holy Land desolate until 1917ad, when the Jews were allowed to return. Promise of Blessing (2:18–32) The troubles which were to come on God’s people had as their object

Reflections At a Graveside

Reflections At a Graveside

THE SUN WAS breaking through the clouds, and it was mild for a British January day. My friend had chosen to have a ‘natural burial’: he was to be buried in a wicker basket in an open field at the edge of a wood.  I stood with his family and other friends under the eaves of the wood, overlooking the beautiful countryside of Herefordshire and Worcestershire with its rolling hills and green quilted farmland. What were our thoughts as we laid him to rest? The grave seems so final. There is no opportunity to say anything we perhaps should have said before; even just to tell him how much he was loved, that we wished we could have spent more time together. In these situations there is a sense of emptiness, frustration, loss and finality. Jesus at the Graveside It is interesting to think of the Lord Jesus at the

Sin

Sin

Q:           What do you mean by ‘sin’? A:           MANY PEOPLE take the view that we as humans are basically good. Given the right conditions we’ll live good lives, and when we’ve learnt enough we’ll be able to sort out all our problems and live together in a world of prosperity and harmony. This is an appealing idea. But look around you at the world, look back at history, and if you’re really honest look hard at yourself. There is something fundamentally wrong with us. Humanity never has and, left to itself, never will live in harmony. What is the problem? Modern philosophy finds it difficult to understand, but the Bible describes it perfectly—it calls it sin. The Apostle Paul puts it like this: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform

Life after Death

Life after Death

TAKE A LOOK at the front cover picture. It’s a still life painting by a 19th Century artist called Henri Fantin-Latour. The flowers are so vibrant, you can almost smell them. A few days after they were painted those flowers will have faded, wilted and died, and eventually there would be nothing left of them but dust. A few years afterwards, the same thing happened to their painter. That’s how life is. The transience of our lives is not something we tend to like to think about. Some prefer to ignore it. Others take the attitude that as they don’t have long, they need to do everything they can to enjoy the time they have—“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (Isaiah 22:13). Others turn to religion for comfort. The central appeal of most of the world’s religions is the promise that death is not the end—that there

The Virus and the Bible

The Virus and the Bible

THE CORONAVIRUS has caused havoc throughout the world. There has not been such a crisis or such global fear since World War Two. Leaders instruct us how to protect ourselves, whilst giving optimistic messages. But in this unprecedented situation it is difficult to see the long-term solution. Some people are asking the question: “Why?” Some religious leaders claim that this dreadful disease and its consequences were predicted in the Bible book of Revelation. Others have declared it to be judgement from God for our wickedness, and a sign of the ‘end of the world’. Are these statements right? There were occasions in the Bible when God did send plagues to punish people. For instance when the Israelites were journeying through the wilderness towards the Promised Land: … the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague (Numbers 11:33).

We’ll Never Walk Alone

We’ll Never Walk Alone

IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL Mediterranean evening, and my wife and I offered to take our twin 18-month old grandsons on a stroll along the sea front in order to give their parents a bit of time to themselves. We strolled hand in hand along the wide promenade, Nan and I and our two boisterous toddlers. It was quiet at this time of the evening, as most of the tourists were eating indoors. One of the boys wanted to go in one direction, the other wanted to go the other way. Eventually, after a vigorous waltz with one of them in my arms, I managed to disconnect his sense of direction and we all headed happily towards the marina. Independent as ever, the boys wanted to walk on their own. They were steady on their feet but needed to balance themselves with elbows out, so it was a case of ‘look

Christ is Risen

Christ is Risen

A man trudges wearily homewards. The strain of hard experience shows in his face. Last year his farm was flooded and all his livestock died. Thankfully his family survived, but they were left with nothing, and they were facing the very real prospect of starvation. He’d sowed his last few grains of rice with a fearful heart. But now there is some light in his eyes, because he is bringing home the first gathered crops—the firstfruits. In these fruits is centred all the hope, joy and thankfulness of those who have been saved from perishing. In this man’s rural community the firstfruits can be critically important. This is how agricultural life has worked for most of history. This life was well known in Bible times, and the Bible uses the picture of the firstfruits to illustrate the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ: But now Christ is risen from

Humility

Humility

THIS IS A prayer to God, written by a king: I am poor and needy; make haste to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay (Psalm 70:5). Notice the humility here of a man whom ordinarily you wouldn’t expect to show it. He had after all been anointed the King of God’s people. Yet God rewards humility. Jesus demonstrated this when he said: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:3–5). The importance of humility is emphasised in the book of Micah, where it is listed as one of three qualities God requires in those who come to Him: He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of

The King of Israel

The King of Israel

THE DESTINY OF Jesus Christ was made clear to his mother Mary before he was born. The angel Gabriel appeared to her with a startling message: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:30–33). King David was Mary’s ancestor, who reigned over Israel a thousand years previously. God had made promises to David which are recorded in 1 Chronicles 17 and 2 Samuel 7, and centred on a special descendant: “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your

Religion Causes Wars!

Religion Causes Wars!

“Christianity preaches ‘Love your enemies’—but what about the crusades, inquisitions, persecutions and wars that have been conducted in its name? When you think of all the violence that religion is responsible for, is it any wonder that people turn away from it?” WHAT CAUSES war and conflict? There are many factors, including economic, ethnic, territorial, political, sociological and religious. To simply blame religion and leave it at that is far too simplistic and crude; it is not real analysis and it is not a real answer. To illustrate this, let’s consider two alternatives. Wars sometimes result from differences of political opinion—so should we say ‘politics causes wars’? Does that mean human beings should therefore abandon politics because politics is ‘bad’? Again, wars often result from economics—they are fought over resources such as land, oil, water and so on. So should we say ‘economics causes wars’?  If no one would make