Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Vital Protection......The Shield of Faith

Continuing with our focus on the Armour of God, it is interesting to note that when asking true believers to ‘take up the shield of faith’ the Apostle Paul prefaces his instruction with the words “above all”. In doing so he is emphasising the importance of this piece of armour to believers living out their faith in a hostile environment.

The Roman army used different shields at different times for different tasks. Cavalry carried a light oblong shield while legionaries carried the small, round buckler or ‘parma’ whose design incorporated iron and was about 36 inches in diameter.
The Apostle is however alluding to the ‘scutum’ a much larger and more effective weapon which eventually became the standard shield in the Roman army.

Measuring 4' x 2 ' and curved to the shape of the body, these shields were made of wood and were covered on the outside with thick leather. This design minimised the impact of any rough missile and also protected the legionary from the fire-tipped darts used in the artillery of Roman times.

Roman legionaries used their shields expertly in different formations the most famous of which is the ‘testudo’.  In this formation, legionaries formed a packed square for either attack or defence which was protected on all sides and overhead by their scutums.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, quotes the Roman historian Cassius Dio’s description of the formation from Mark Antony’s campaign of 36 BC: "This testudo and the way in which it is formed are as follows…..The heavy-armed troops who use the oblong, curved, and cylindrical shields are drawn up around the outside, making a rectangular figure, and, facing outward and holding their arms at the ready, they enclose the rest. The others, who have flat shields, form a compact body in the centre and raise their shields over the heads of all the others, so that nothing but shields can be seen in every part of the phalanx alike and all the men by the density of the formation are under shelter from missiles."

The Apostle Paul is very specific about the function of this shield. It is to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

The Apostle was no fool. He recognised the reality of Satan and the fact that he would constantly be on the lookout for chinks in the believer’s armour to attack with his main weapon which is doubt. Satan’s strategy is to cause believers to doubt every aspect of their faith in Christ, their salvation, the presence of the Holy Spirit and even the reliability of God’s word.

The great 19th century evangelist Charles Hadden Spurgeon in a sermon delivered in 1861 called upon believers to take up the shield of faith and become offensive as well as defensive warriors in the spiritual battle:

 “Like the Spartans, every Christian is born a warrior. It is his destiny to be assaulted; it is his duty to attack. Part of his life will be occupied with defensive warfare. He will have to defend earnestly the faith once delivered to the saints; he will have to resist the devil; he will have to stand against all his wiles; and having done all, still to stand! He will, however, be but a sorry Christian if he acts only on the defensive. He must be one who goes against his foes, as well as stand still to receive their advance. He must be able to say with David, 'I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied.' He must wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. He must have weapons for his warfare—not carnal—but “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”

Knowing God’s word inside out both individually and corporately as church fellowships, and putting it into practice, are vital aspects of the shield of faith. Where 21st century Scottish evangelicals are genuinely prepared to take up the shield of faith, they can truly begin to push back the powers of darkness in the land.

Monday, 27 March 2017

The Shoes of Peace

Today we come to the third item in the ‘Armour of God’ as described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Ephesus…. “Stand firm then……………….with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

As a historian with a keen interest in military history, I am well aware of the prowess of the Roman army and its great leaders whose strategies, tactics and exploits are still taught to 21st century officers in military academies across the world.

Well trained, disciplined and led, the sheer professionalism of its legions enabled Rome to conquer and hold most of the known world 2,000 years ago.

Roman soldiers were well armed and equipped from head to toe. While most Roman civilians wore thin sandals, soldiers had special footwear which time after time proved to be a decisive factor on the battlefield. Indeed some historians credit the military successes of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to their soldiers’ feet being well enough shod to enable them to undertake long marches over seemingly difficult terrain at speed.

The soldier wore the caliga, a thick-soled, hob-nailed, half-boot with leather straps tightly tied round the ankle. Studding with metal nails gave him stability in all forms of terrain. Good footwear ensured a firm footing when charging forward in battle and helped him to hold his ground and make quick moves without slipping, sliding and falling.

What then does the Apostle Paul mean when he says that believers should “Stand firm then……………….with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

The author John Piper writing on his website at www.desiringgod.org sheds some light on the ‘gospel of peace’: “Sometimes commentators point out how strange it is that Paul should mention a gospel of peace right in the middle of a passage dealing with spiritual warfare and conflict and armour. But it isn't strange is it? The aim of our warfare is that people would accept the terms of peace that God holds out, namely, faith in Jesus. And the only reason there is any conflict at all is because the power of sin and the powers of Satan are dead set against making peace with God.”

The Apostle Paul’s analogy here is one of having our feet shod so that we can resist Satan and stand firm when we are attacked. In ‘military-speak’ believers are to stand firm, hold their position and not run away. In order to do that their feet need to be both protected and equipped to keep from slipping.

In his Epistle to the Romans the Apostle gives this wonderful assurance to believers under pressure: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Standing firm with, ‘feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace’, true believers in 21st century Scotland are more than conquerors.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Breastplate of Righteousness

Continuing our series of posts on the ‘Believer’s Armour’ we come to the second of the Apostle Paul’s list of defensive items…..the ‘breastplate of righteousness’.

In the Apostle Paul’s day, this piece of armour was designed to protect the heart and lungs or ‘vital organs’ of the Roman soldier. Initially made of leather and strengthened with pieces of horn sewn in, the breastplate was improved over time. Later more sophisticated versions were manufactured from metals such as copper and were highly polished with elaborate designs on the visible frontal segment.

What then does the Apostle Paul mean when he talks about believers protecting themselves with the ‘breastplate of righteousness’?

The answer to this question lies in the holy nature of the Living God, a characteristic which some believers find hard to understand.

Blogger Tim Challies has recently attempted to clarify the issue: “Holiness is a difficult term to define. Most Christians know that a dimension of holiness is God’s set-apartness, his being essentially different from everyone and everything else, but there is far more to it than that……  If holiness is very near the heart of what it means for God to be God, it would make sense that it will be difficult for finite minds to understand and to distil to just a few words.

What does it mean that God is holy? Entire books would not come close to exhausting it. It means that God is different from everything else that exists in the universe. God is unique and set apart. Everything God is, everything God has, everything God does is saturated with holiness and flows out of his holiness. He is pure and good and perfect in all his works and all his ways. God’s goodness is good because he is holy; God’s justice is just because he is holy. Whatever God is, his holiness is right at the very heart.”
The great theologian Charles Ryrie wrote, “…holiness in the Bible means separation from all that is common or unclean.  In respect to God, holiness means not only that He is separate from all that is unclean and evil but also that He is positively pure and thus distinct from all others”.

This fact alone, abundantly clear in the Bible, places all human beings in a quandary: we are separated from God, the very source of life by something which we cannot fix by our own efforts…our sinfulness.

Today many people continue to put their faith in their own righteous deeds. Jesus however was very clear that self-righteousness cut no ice with His Father:
 
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

As every born again believer knows, God sacrificed His Son on a cross for their sin, and because of this every true believer is righteous in the sight of God. They stand justified and free of condemnation. This is God’s great gift to all who believe.
Blogger Dele Oke explains two key aspects of righteousness: “Firstly, it is imputed to us: this means something we are given free of charge without effort. This gives us the right to stand before God and speak to him as if we were sinless. Secondly righteousness is imparted into us: this means something that Christ works in us and with our cooperation. This grants us the inner strength to live and conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to God.”
Despite the challenging spiritual environment of 21st century Scotland, God still wants His people to live holy lives, not walking in sin or compromising their faith.

This means being properly equipped inside and out with the power of Christ by wearing the breastplate of righteousness 24/7.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Truth....The Absolute Gold Standard

There are new levels of hostility to born again Christians in 21st century Scotland.

Enmity and opposition to the Gospel is increasing daily in society at large. Even within what can be loosely described as the church, orthodox Bible believing evangelicals are increasingly assailed on the one hand by liberals who deny the foundations of the faith.

On the other hand, they are faced with the covert infiltration of the church by a new breed of self-appointed church and ministry leaders who promote their own pronouncements over the veracity of scripture.

Orthodox true believers have two options in such a situation……curl up and withdraw from life, or do what the Bible says: recognise they are in a spiritual battle taking their stand for Christ while wearing the armour of God for protection.

The Apostle Paul describes this armour in terms of 6 items that a Roman soldier of his day would have worn: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Interestingly, the Apostle begins with the ‘belt of truth’.
The belt was a very important item of the Roman Soldier's armour. Worn round the waist the belt was very wide to give it the strength to hold a variety of items….at least one sword, a rations sack, a rope and other specialist pieces of equipment. The belt was tied in several places so that it would stay in place no matter how the soldier moved about.

It’s no coincidence that the belt the Apostle Paul talks about is the ‘belt of truth’.
In an article entitled, ‘The Battle for Truth’, the late Dave Hunt wrote:
“There is a battle raging for man's soul and for control of the universe. It is a very real war between the "God of truth" and Satan, "the father of lies" in whom there "is no truth". One either believes God's truth or Satan's lie. There is no neutral ground. The cosmic battle of the ages is the battle for truth. But what is truth?

An editorial entitled "Truth" in the Los Angeles Times noted that:
"in a contemporary eight-volume encyclopaedia of philosophy, 'Truth' has only three lines……. Yet in the King James Bible the word "truth" occurs 235 times in 222 verses. …….It is to God's Word, then, that we must turn to learn of truth.”

A Christian's survival in the world requires a firm grounding in the absolute truth of the Bible.  The power of truth is that it sets us free by breaking the power of Satan’s lies.
In the Genesis account of Eve in the Garden of Eden, Satan downplays the consequences of sin and promotes its pleasures.  When true believers are firmly rooted in the truth, they are best equipped to recognise lies, stand up to Satan and do God's will.

In modern warfare, Intelligence data and its interpretation plays a vital role in the outcome of conflict.  The Bible as God's word reveals the truth which enables believers to recognise and decisively defeat Satan’s lies.  The writer to the Hebrews sums up the role that the Bible should play in the life of a true believer:
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” 

When we put on the ‘belt of truth’ every day, we arm ourselves with the power and truth of God’s word.
Absolutely trustworthy and applicable to every situation…it’s ‘gold standard’ protection.       

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Standing Strong in the Storm

Given the moral, social and political upheaval of recent years, born again Christians in Scotland could be forgiven for feeling that their faith and way of life is under attack.

Assailed on all sides by a wide variety of aggressive, unholy forces, 21st century Scotland has become a hostile environment for true believers.
 
On the one hand there is a seemingly unstoppable rising tide of humanism, secularism and militant atheism. These ‘politically savvy’ progressive forces are supported by a mass media with an agenda that is determined to ridicule, satirise and relegate Bible-believing Christians to the margins of society.

On the other hand Christians, particularly evangelicals, have done themselves no favours. Decades of inept, self-promoting, self-absorbed leadership simply ignored the far reaching changes taking place in society. Recent frantic activity by those who have wakened up to what was happening was ‘too little too late’ to prevent same-sex marriage becoming enshrined in law.
The failure of Christians to prevent this measure reaching the statute book has simply opened the way to future discrimination against those who take a stand for Christ in the workplace and in other settings.  Already branded as irrational, bigoted, practisers of a faith that is out of date and out of step with contemporary Scotland, mature true believers are now under no illusion of the magnitude and intensity of the spiritual battle that they are now in.

Tragically many of those who are part of Scotland’s varied evangelical community have no idea that they are even in a spiritual battle. Weak and selective Bible teaching designed to appeal to the ‘felt needs’ of the unbeliever has undermined the authority of the scriptures.
In some of our more ‘hipster happy-clappy’ evangelical churches, the realities of sin, confession, repentance and holiness have been consigned to the back burner. In this environment, the faithful rarely read their Bibles, preferring the books of ‘pseudo-Christian’ psychologists and dream interpreters which on close examination are ‘more Harry Potter’ than Holy Spirit. 

The Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about standing for Christ in a hostile environment, ultimately laying down his life. In his letter to the believers in the city of Ephesus he said:
“Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

If the world was perfect, we wouldn’t need any armour, but Paul wrote about being a Christian in a hostile, non-Christian world. Like it or not, we can’t live our whole lives surrounded by Christians.

In the coming days, we will consider in detail how true believers can take practical steps to arm themselves for the battle. In the meantime we can take heart from the Apostle’s uplifting and motivating words to these early believers:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Weird is not the 'New Normal'.

I came across a blog called The Internet Monk, written by Michael Spencer. Although Michael succumbed to cancer in 2010, his work has been carried on by others.

Today I’m simply going to leave it to Michael to sum up what I feel today by quoting from one of his blogs entitled ‘Signs’.

“So they said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?" John 6:30

So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." John 2:18-19

And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation." Mark 8:12

I am tired of hearing people I work with say that God is talking to them like He talked to Moses at the burning bush or like He talked to Abraham. I'm weary of people saying God speaks directly to them about mundane matters of reasonable human choice, so that their choices of toothpaste and wallpaper are actually God's choices, and therefore I need to just shut up and keep all my opinions to myself until I can appreciate spiritual things. I'm tired of people acting as if the normal Christian life is hearing a voice in your head telling you things other people can't possible know, thus allowing you a decided advantage.

I mean, if all this were really happening, wouldn't these people be picking better stocks?...................

I'm worn out on people doing weird things that aren't in the Bible and saying it's the "leading of the Spirit." Falling over.  Acting drunk.  Jumping around like a wasp went down your dress. I'm tired of turning on the TV or the radio and hearing Christians making more noise than a riot at a mental hospital. I'm out of patience with Christian spirituality equalling some form of clown college graduation. 

I'm seriously fatigued from constantly hearing reality explained as spiritual warfare between angels, Christians, demons, and various conspiracies. The drama of blaming everything from illness to bad credit to all your bad choices on the devil is getting old. I'm tired of people being delivered from demons when their problem is their own rebellion, stupidity, meanness, and determination to get their own way.......................................

Isn't the Christian life the "Victorious" life? The "Purpose Driven" life? The "Spirit Filled" life? The life with Christ living in you and through you? It's not a normal life, and it's not ordinary. Right? Do I get an "amen?"

Or maybe you are like me. You are an ordinary Christian living an ordinary life. You don't hear voices, see visions, or believe you are under constant attack by demonic forces. You may have some experiences that you call supernatural or miraculous, but they are the exception, not the rule. When you pray for people, things usually don't change; you change. You have no authoritative insight into what is going to happen in the future. You suspect that if you were filled with the Spirit, you would love God and people more, and do the right thing more often. You'd be more like Jesus. You wouldn't be running around in circles pointing out angels on the roof. The fruit of the Spirit would make you a person others would want to be around, not someone who would frighten animals and small children.

My point is not to trash anyone who believes in any of these things. Not at all . My point is that "normal" Christian experience is increasingly seen as "bad" or "abnormal," while weirdness is increasingly seen as "normal" and proof that a person is really "spiritual." This shift has enormous implications for Christianity in its essence, its witness, and its experience in the lives of believers.

The principle that I would like to put forward is this: The supernatural character of Christian truth and experience does not remove the basic, normal, human experience of Christians. If "normal" humanity is eclipsed, Christianity ceases to be Biblical, truthful or helpful...................................

"Normal" Christians are living without these "signs." They are living by faith in what the Bible says, and not looking to their experience to be a daily demonstration of God's still being around and in the miracle business. In comparison to those who live with daily miracles and prophecies, these normal Christians may have experiences that seem dull or even absent. It is no wonder that many "normal" Christians struggle with feelings of resentment, envy, or anger toward those Christians who claim constant miracles and manifestations of God's power. Part of my own weariness is from years of feeling second-class and left out of "real" Christian experience. Then I was angry at myself for faking it in an attempt to fit in. Now I'm tired of playing this game, and disturbed by what I see as the misrepresentation of the Gospel, and an insensitivity to the effects of weirdness on those in and out of the church.....................................................................................

Discernment is what we most owe to our weirder brothers and sisters. Not condemnation or rejection, but discernment and simple truth. We need to know our Bibles, and be able to point out the truth of the Gospel. Our lives need to be shaped by Christ, and display evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification and renewing our minds and characters. Even those who have given themselves over fully to every kind of weirdness are usually well aware of their own need of what is real. Many solid Reformed Christians spent a sojourn in this camp, and starved to death while everyone pretended there was a feast.

Bishop Ryle put it plainly: "Feelings in religion are worse than worthless, unless they are accompanied by practice." Many of our sincerely deluded brothers and sisters know this, and are afraid of what this must mean. It will do them good to see in us genuine experience and a true, substantial working out of what Christ has done for and in us.”

I’ll be raising a glass to Michael Spencer tonight. He was a true, courageous, honest and normal Christian. Speaking out on these issues while inviting the ire of some is essential.

You can read more of the late Michael Spencer’s brilliant insightful and courageous observations at: www.internetmonk.com

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Hour of Deliverance

May 4 was always a date of special significance for my father. This was the day in 1945 that he, along with many of his comrades tasted freedom after five years of captivity as a World War 2 POW. It is almost impossible to imagine the joy and relief that he must have felt at having survived.   

By the age of 26 he had witnessed and experienced more than most people see in an entire lifetime. He was a now a very different person from the idealistic 20 year old who rushed to volunteer for ‘King and Country’, prior to the outbreak of war in 1939.

Preserved by the Living God, my father returned home with an unshakeable faith in Christ, forged during five years of adversity, privation and danger. This faith was built on the many occasions in which he experienced the miraculous intervention of the righteous right hand of the Lord.

In this final extract from his book, ‘We’ve Been a Long Time Coming Boys’ my father describes his day of liberation and the subsequent return journey to his home in rural Scotland.    

“I think it was May 4th, 1945 that the long-awaited event took place. That evening our guards were on patrol round the camp and we had decided to have an early night. When daybreak came, there was no morning call. Slowly, it dawned on us that the guards had gone, like shadows in the night. As usually happens in such circumstances, some bright spark produced a two-way radio. Soon we were tuned into the advancing Allied Forces. An American patrol was quite near. Instructions were received to stay where we were. The hour of deliverance had come. That was May 5th and we waited all day, hardly daring to breathe. Then, just before midnight, a tall American soldier appeared, armed to the teeth, staggering along, obviously jolly drunk. Who cared! We rushed forward to greet him like a long-lost friend. I will never forget the guy's very first words in a deep Southern drawl. "We’ve been a long time in coming boys” he said, "but we've sure made it now".

No-one slept that night. Celebrations continued until dawn. When daybreak came at last, the scenes that followed were to be seen to be believed. On a piece of open ground outside our brickworks camp, an impromptu circus quite spontaneously began. Vehicles abandoned by the Germans appeared on every side. Lorries, vans, staff cars, combination motor-cycles, pedal bikes, even a horse ridden by a jubilant prisoner-of-war, formed up in a circle and went round and round like follow my leader, hour after hour.

How can I describe our emotions on that never-to-be-­forgotten day — excitement, tension, elation, triumph — all these and more, but always tempered with caution at the dangers all around.

Later that week, transport from the 15th Scottish regiment arrived and we were ferried away, first to Lubeck, then on to Luneberg. From there we were to wait for the Lancaster bombers to fly us home to dear old Blighty again. In a German barracks, we had the luxury of a shower, a shave, a de-louse and a set of new clothes. What an outward transformation and an inward elation was experienced that day.

Although we were assured there would be food in abundance, some men lit fires on the parade ground, and began to cook food plundered from houses in Rastow, where we had been released. Even now, they could not grasp the fact that we would have food enough and to spare from the British Army Catering Corps…………

Next morning we were on the tarmac, waiting for our four­-engined taxis to arrive. There were 400 flights from Luneberg to England that day and all free. When our turn came to get aboard, I carefully eyed our Lancaster machine. I'd never been close to one before, and it seemed a pretty patched-up job. On its side were painted ninety-eight little bombs plus four pictures of parcels of food. That was the number of its sorties over enemy territory, but none of us cared. Our only thought was the fact that we were on our way home.

It took nearly three hours before we touched down at Stafford in England. The plane seemed to wag its tail all the way, and being at that end, I was very sick, but also very care­free. When at last we climbed out on British soil, some men got down on their knees and kissed the ground. A reception party of W.A.A.F. girls was awaiting our arrival. The first thing I said to my rather attractive escort was, “Do you realise I haven't spoken to an English girl for more than five years?” I doubt if she grasped the significance of what I said, but for me, they were my “famous first words”.

That afternoon, we were transferred south to a camp in Surrey, and then put on a train for home. Never was there such joy as on that journey. Every village and town we passed through seemed to know who we were. Women waved their dish-towels from their kitchen windows. Men took off their caps and threw them into the air. It was a magnificent Welcome Home.

I think the highlight of that day for me was passing slowly through York Station. On the platform stood a Salvation Army Band, and what were they playing? I could hardly believe my ears. It was the theme tune of my very first sermon in our prisoner-of-war camp, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. . . . Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life...” I must admit it brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes.

When we crossed the Border, my heart missed a beat. We were in Scotland at last. Five-and-a-half years had come and gone since we had left our native heath. Looking back now, we seemed to have been mere boys then, with little or no experience of life, especially in time of war.

As our train rumbled on, my mind recalled those long weary years; memories of excitement, of heartbreak, of tensions, of terror — you name it, we had felt it all. The salt taste in one's mouth when confronted with death. Here was a sure sign of real fear. Nights without sleep, days without peace, with neither food nor drink nor rest; these were the things we all had to endure, and now we who had come back were no longer mere boys but grown men.

At last, we arrived at Waverley Station in Edinburgh, and those going on north had to change trains. Aberdeen, Banff, Keith, Dufftown, Aberlour — names such as these and many more were being whispered in the night air.

Cautiously, even fearfully, we got down from our train. What a shock! The scene that met our eyes there, I can never forget — the platform mobbed with spectators (they somehow knew we were here), the blue dimness of the black­out, the electric eerie silence, the shuffling of our feet. No one spoke. Everyone just looked. People were pressing towards us, peering into our faces. As we trailed slowly along, single file, I was terrified. Perhaps someone would know me — maybe Uncle Bert. Suddenly, right behind me, a woman screamed “Wullie!” That was all. No “Hullos” or “How are you?”, just one word — “Wullie”.

No words of mine-could add to that. Reunions, loved ones, friends, the joy of freedom, the thoughts of being home, I could not describe these things to anyone, but she did — in one word — His name, Wullie! That said it all.

I have little memory of our night ride northwards from Edinburgh. Some of us changed at Aberdeen Joint Station, waving our comrades goodbye, and continuing further on. At Craigellachie I was the only person to get off the train. The time was around 8 a.m. Now only two miles from Aberlour, my own home village, I was quite uncertain what to do. I hadn't even been in contact with my parents to say I was on my way home. How stupid I had become after all these years as a prisoner-of-war! After all, a quick phone call home would have brought my father with all speed to pick me up in his motor-car.

As I stood on the little railway platform, wondering how to go about things now, a postman, loading mail on to his G.P.O. van, asked where I was going. When I told him, he offered to take me to his destination — Aberlour Post Office. There I left him and set off up the High Street, heading for ‘Benview House’, my home.

What do you do at such a time when you reach your own house door? Ring the bell or knock? I just turned the handle, walked straight in and called “Anyone there?” What a greeting after all those years. A frail old lady rushed towards me — my Mother! I hardly knew her. Then, down the stairs, face covered with shaving soap — my Dad. What a reunion that was!”

 
The greatest and most well known Psalm in the Bible is Psalm 23. My father often quoted verses from it in his preaching.  For him it described his personal experience of the ‘Good Shepherd’ during the war years and beyond.  

 

The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

 

He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

My cup runs over.

 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Forever.

 

We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’ by Charles Morrison, Published by Albyn Press ISBN 0284 98840 5

Available on Amazon and Ebay.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

No Escape

Today, many who claim to be Christians say that real answers to prayer rarely happen in contemporary life yet accept by faith the fact of answered prayer in the Bible. From where I stand, there is no question that the Living God answers the prayers of His people, often in the most surprising and dramatic ways. My own father proved this many times during his years of captivity as a POW, and I have personally experienced many wonderful answers to prayer in my own life.

Indeed my father always attributed his deliverance to the Living God facilitated by the faithful prayers of his own father. His dad met with the Revd Harry Stoddart, the Aberlour Free Church Minister to pray for his safe return. These men ‘prayed without ceasing’ meeting every morning at 7am between 1940 and 1945.

This penultimate extract from his wartime retrospective, ‘We’ve Been a Long Time Coming Boys’ amply illustrates the power of prayer to preserve and deliver the believer from danger.      

“I HAVE OFTEN BEEN ASKED about attempts to escape, and have always had to admit that I never had a go. To my mind, it seemed a pointless and highly dangerous operation, and was not for me. However, there was one occasion when I made my escape, in more ways than one.

As always, our day began with the short march from our temporary billet to Rastow village, and from there on to work on Ludwigslust railway station. This day, however, our normal routine was to be changed. Allied aircraft had bombed the main Berlin/Hamburg line some miles out of town, and urgent repairs were required. At once a party of prisoners was organised to go out and fill in the freshly-made holes. For some reason, I decided to join this special task-force, and so, we set off with an engine, two wagons of sand and a covered-in truck full of shovels and men. Before we reached the place where work was to begin, our train suddenly stopped.

Wondering what was going on, I looked out the right-hand sliding door of our coach. Overhead I could see a squadron of our own fighter-bombers circling slowly around in the morning sun. Quite clearly they were having a good look at us and I hoped that an attack was not on. All at once, they went into a line-ahead formation and I knew that the worst had come. Down they dived on us, guns blazing, and bombs screaming from the sky. I saw a civilian jump from our train and throw himself flat on the ground. Instinctively I copied him. That man, unconsciously, saved my life. Had I run, as I was tempted to do, I most certainly would have been killed. A split-second later, a bomb exploded beside us, throwing its deadly shrapnel into the air. A colleague who leapt from the left-hand door, caught the full blast of a second bomb, and was instantly killed.

From the sound of their engines, I knew that the aircraft were climbing up again to come in for a second attack. In panic, I got up, determined to run this time, and went head-over-­heels into the bomb crater. I can still see the bomb nose-cap sticking out of the ground and the smoke from the explosion all around. Picking myself up, I took off again like a hare, intent on getting as far away as I could, for quite clearly we were going to be for it again. Those R.A.F. “fools” up there. Could they not see they were actually bombing their own men! Wheeling into the sun as they always did, they dived on us once more. After several more such attacks, they seem to have decided they had given us enough, re-grouped and set off for home.

Now, our work-party was scattered all over the fields, quite some distance from our train. Several of our men said they had no intentions of returning to work that day. I heartily agreed and a few of us got together and set off to where, we did not know. Gradually however, as often happens, first one then another changed their minds and decided to go back to the guards until, in the end, I found myself alone.

Stumbling aimlessly along across the open field, at length, I came on a branch railway-line, heading away from town. I decided to follow it — it mattered not where. And so, I had escaped, setting off with a spring in my step. Now I was free —free as the wind. As I kept walking on like the old song about “Felix the Cat”, which my older readers will know, I passed a civilian concentration camp close to my railway-track. Little did I imagine that we would find 600 unburied dead in that camp when we were liberated some six weeks later.

As I debated in my fuddled mind what to do next, I suddenly realised that, along the line on which I was walking, three armed German soldiers were coming my way. I could see that the railway ran absolutely straight for about a mile ahead. Moreover, there was no cover whatsoever in which to hide. What to do? I just kept walking towards them and, as I walked, boy did I pray! As the distance narrowed between us, I could see they had started a discussion. Perhaps they were wondering what their tactics would be. As for me I just kept on walking. When about five yards apart, the three soldiers paused, and their leader spoke: “Bonjour, Monsieur”. I did not let him say any more, but quickly replied, “Bonjour Messieurs”, smiled faintly and walked right through their ranks. They seemed to hesitate for a moment, then let me pass. I presume they must have decided I was a Frenchman, perhaps a prisoner on parole. I could not for the life of me imagine where they thought I was either coming from or going. As for me, I just said, “Thank you” to God that my French had been good enough to carry me through.

For most of the day, I walked along the track, neither knowing nor caring where it would lead me. Finally, to my surprise, I recognised our old barn and the familiar village of Rastow. All unknown I had been walking the line we travelled each morning to work. Any other branch line could have led me to goodness knows where. I have often heard of someone attempting to break out of prison but this was ridiculous. I had decided to break in. I could see the perimeter fence was still patrolled by our guards. Waiting my chance, I made a dash for it, got inside unnoticed and lay down on the ground with a group of sick men. What else could I have done? Walk all the way home? Later in the evening, our working party arrived from Ludwigslust to report, “one man killed and one man missing”. The missing man? Yes, I was he.”

My father entered World War 2 as a nominal Christian. Through his five years of captivity in the ‘furnace of affliction’ he came to lean wholly on the Lord Jesus. In doing so, he came have complete confidence in his Heavenly Father who was his protector and deliverer.

In his Epistle, the Apostle John emphasizes the confidence and comfort of prayer which is available to anyone who puts their trust in the Living God:    


‘And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.’ 1 John 5:14-15

 

We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’ by Charles Morrison, Published by Albyn Press ISBN 0284 98840 5

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Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Miracle

Reports of miracles are often greeted with cynicism and disdain these days, particularly when reported in the media. A prime cause of this state of affairs has been the fake healings through the fake ministries of the pseudo apostles and prophets now blighting the church worldwide. Sadly this has served to obscure the fact that the Living God still heals and acts miraculously today.

When he was a POW during World War 2, my late father proved many times that the Living God was his comforter, protector, defender and healer. On numerous occasions, although weak in faith, my father called on the Lord through prayer, and was always answered, sometimes in the most unusual and miraculous ways.

He survived the infamous ‘death march’ of late winter 1945 to tell the tale, preserved by the grace and the strong miraculous hand of the living God. Many years later, he recalled these experiences in his retrospective of World War 2: ‘We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’.    

“SIX DAYS before the end of our 700 kilometre hike, my own faith was to be put to the test. Apart from hunger, thirst, cold and exhaustion, I had till now had a comfortable ride compared to some. Whether the day that I carried Joe's luggage as well as my own had any effect on me, I cannot say. Certainly I would not blame him for what was to happen to me.

With over 600 kilometres behind us, I suddenly had problems with my left leg. Every step of the way, it was getting more painful until a point came when I could go no further. I stopped and sat down at the side of the road. Bob arrived and we had a “council of war” about my problem. We knew that Dr Rose, an Army doctor, was with us now, but, this day, he had gone on ahead. However, there was usually a horse and wagon at the end of the column and I told Bob and Joe to go on. I would see them when we bedded down at night. So, they two set off again, and I was left alone.

As I sat there, the endless stream of humanity kept passing me by. Nobody really cared. At last, the sick wagon appeared and my spirits rose. Alas, it was jam-packed with other men who had hitched a lift. Now I felt really alone. Eventually, the road became completely empty, except for a German guard, stupidly waving about his automatic Tommy-gun. The equiva­lent of the school attendance officer, he made himself quite clear, shouting “Get up and go!” After we had exchanged a few angry words and he had done his own version of a war dance, Tommy-gun and all, he decided he would leave me in the ditch to die. No Good Samaritan act with him, I'm afraid. He just turned on his heel and hurried away. What was I to do now? I had nearly forgotten. I could do nothing — that is, except pray. For maybe ten minutes, I went through the ritual, perhaps a waste of time to some folks, but I just prayed and prayed. Then, it dawned on me that I should expect an answer. After all, you don't pick up the phone at home and speak to yourself. You expect “Someone” at the other end to reply —and reply, He certainly did. In simple faith, I got up from that ditch and put my foot to the ground. The pain was gone! I picked up my kit-bag and set off, like a scalded cat. Soon, I saw the sick wagon. I overtook that, ignored it, caught the end of the column, thumbed my nose at my Tommy-gun school attendance officer, caught up with Joe and Bob, who stared open-mouthed at me and, at nightfall, was at the front of the column. Later, when my friends eventually trailed home, I had selected a place in the Dutch barn and was waiting for them at the door. Do you believe in miracles? I certainly do.

It will never cease to amaze me how feeble my faith was. Next morning, I gingerly put my foot to the ground. “Oh ye of little faith”. There was no pain. But then, doubts began to flood my mind. You see, as a boy, I had trouble with my left instep. This could have been the cause of my problem, or so I now thought. Perhaps, it would trouble me again and I would be stranded and next time, no help would come.

During the next few days, I had no problems with my leg, I must admit, but always some niggling little doubts kept passing through my mind. Eventually, however, unknown to us at the time, we reached the end of our long march at a village called Rastow. Next day, we were despatched by train to work at the neighbouring town of Ludwigslust on the main Berlin-Hamburg railway line. At once, we could see that the station had taken a good old hammering from the Allied bombers. Soon, I was on the prowl amongst the wreckage looking for food. Wandering into the remains of the station-master's house, guess what I found! I found an arch-support for a left foot, exactly the size I needed for that foot I feared might trouble me again. Yes! I do believe in miracles, to be sure. That day on which I sat in the ditch, unable to walk, I felt like a boxer down on the floor, nearly out but “saved by the bell”. In answer to my prayer for help at that time, I was saved by the bell all right — the telephone bell up there in Heaven.”

I recall that when my father prayed, he did so in a simple manner, using language which was clear, direct and to the point. I am sure that in many crisis situations during his captivity these prayers would have similar to those which are recorded in the Psalms:

“Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer” Psalm 4:1

“Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy”. Psalm 64:1

The great evangelist, C.H. Spurgeon said: ‘A true prayer is an inventory of needs, a catalog of necessities, an exposure of secret wounds, a revelation of hidden poverty’.

Feeble though they often were, my father’s prayers during the years of his captivity were truly ‘a revelation of hidden poverty’ which the living God always answered in abundance.

 
We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’ by Charles Morrison, Published by                                   Albyn Press ISBN 0284 98840 5

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Right Choice!

The winter of 1944-45 was one of the coldest and most severe on record for eastern Europe. Yet it was on 16th February 1945 that my late father and his fellow prisoners were ordered to begin what became known as the ‘death march’. Forced onwards by their German captors, the inmates of the POW camp at Quadendorff joined the endless mass of humanity heading west to escape the clutches of the advancing Red Army.
 My father lived to tell the tale, preserved by the grace of the living God, he went on to write about his experiences in his retrospective of World War 2: ‘We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’.  

 
“ONE THING I was soon to learn during our 700 kilometre march from Danzig in Poland to Rastow in West Germany was that there is a world of difference between muscular strength and physical stamina. Big Joe had far greater strength than I had, but he was a bit short in stamina. For some reason the Lord endowed me with a lot of stamina and I was able to keep going when Joe was on his knees. In fact, later on, he was really ill and only the skill and good judgment of Bob McCallum, our R.A.M.C. pal, saved him. It was then I was able to carry Joe's kit-bag as well as my own for the most part of a day, while Bob encouraged Joe along. I felt Joe never quite recovered from that faint and while we were all struggling at times, he seemed to suffer more from fatigue and cold than some of us. I realised he was already in bad shape and, at times, I had to pray hard for us both. I knew he had learned to put a call up to Heaven as well, and he did, when things got rough.

The next entry on the fly-leaf of my old Bible says it all. It reads like this “Karthaus to Dubrowa — 30 kilometres”, and then only one word — icy. It always surprises me that certain incidents continually stick in the memory, while other events disappear and may only flash back when circumstances bring them from your less sensitive memory-store. That this day was yet another nightmare, I am absolutely sure. To be aroused from a faint in the morning, as Joe did and then walk that distance, would have been a pretty heroic effort in ordinary conditions. But these were no ordinary times. To cross the road on ice these days is a hazard, but imagine thirty kilometres of slipping and falling, dragging one another to our feet again, leg muscles taut, as they always are in such conditions, and you will get some idea what happened to us all that day. The schedule was to start at first light. Thankfully, for Joe and me it began with hot tea and was to end sixteen hours later, with again, no break for food, rest or drink. At the last climb up a steep hill, I can remember Joe saying as he began to lag behind, “I don't know where you are getting your strength from, Johnny”. (He called me Souter Johnny, thanks to Bob McCallum, a Rabbie Burns fan from Ayr). I said in all serious­ness, “Joe, I'm getting my strength from the Lord and that's for sure.”

Reflecting on that long march, I feel that there was another source of inspiration in the minds of most of us now. We were marching West after five long years and were, we knew, heading for home. That was the thought that kept some of us going. Otherwise, we might have packed in, as some tragically did on those first days of really tough going through the snow. In fact, out of our party of Quadendorf lads, we did lose one out of the sixteen. Sadly, we learned some time later that Ronald Gearing, affectionately known to us as the Doctor, after Dr Joseph Goebbels, did not make it, but died on the road before we reached home.

But here I am straying into side pastures again, when I should perhaps be ploughing straight on with my tale. How Joe and I and Bob McCallum, who joined us, got through that day, I will never know. We just kept coaxing one another on, either by threats or by jokes, the latter becoming less frequent while the former increased in power. I think Bob and I had the advantage over Joe because we were both thin as rakes and Joe, although thin, was by nature heavily built. I sometimes wondered if his body needed more fuel than ours.

Around supper time, about seven pm in the evening, there was a jam-up of traffic and we had to stop. There is always a smart guy in a motley crowd of men as we were, and as we paused in our slippery journey, the wise fellow in our ranks noticed a little house with a garden on our left. In the garden, there stood an ancient water-pump, the hand-driven type. Here was a source of something to drink at least, if it was not frozen up. At once our entrepreneur unlatched the garden gate and had a look at the old pump. He tried the handle and it moved. Then, as he pushed it up and down with all his might, some precious water gushed out of the spout. Clearly, however, it was not a one-man job, because you could not work the handle and reach the water at the same time. Consequently, there was a rush of volunteers to help, mainly to catch the water, not to work the pump. Leaving Joe and Bob with the crowd, I made a dive in the direction of the water supply, but, of course, no-one wanted to give me any help. All at once, from the jostling crowd in the dark, a familiar voice rose above the clamour of noise, “You ca' the hannel, Charlie, and I'll ha'd yer jug”. I turned aghast and there was the grinning face of my old friend Percy McDonald, Captain Muirhead's batman, from Dufftown. Without further ado, we worked the oracle together. I pumped and Percy filled both our supply jugs, and we took up our positions again on the road. What a fuss about a drink of water on a freezing cold night, you may think. Believe me, to us, that spring water was as precious as gold.

Percy joined our trio for the next few miles and we tried to catch up with five years of news. Undoubtedly, this helped us on our way quite a bit. He amazed me by disclosing that he had been forced to walk more than twenty-four hours the previous day to catch up with the main body of marching men. I had known Percy from my teenage days when we had faced one another on the football pitch. We had both been midfield men. He played for Dufftown and I represented our Aberlour team. Many a fast, sometimes hot-tempered battle was fought between us in those days, with always a handshake when the final whistle was blown at the end. Percy got home with us at the last and was married, but died in his middle years. No doubt, those long years and the rigours of that winter march took its toll on him, as it did on many of the rest of us later on.

Hours and miles further on that night, we stopped in a village and were told to turn left at the cross-roads ahead. On the hill above us, there were farms with the usual Dutch barns and shelter could be found there for the night. I got the impression now, and rightly so, that the guards had taken as much of the cold as they could endure. Like us, they were fed up to the teeth. Indeed, it had now become every man for himself. I seem to have lost Joe going up the hillside in search of those inviting Dutch barns, because I was now struggling on with no-one except Bob McCallum. At the first farm we reached, we were bluntly told by our fellow prisoners to get lost. The place was full to overflowing already. A German guard at the door encouraged us to press on for another mile or so. The road would level out at the summit of the hill and we would come to the next house of refuge — i.e. another barn.

Bob and I put our heads down and set off again into the teeth of the now drifting snow. Eventually, we reached the top of the hill. It was devoid of shelter of any kind. There were no fences to mark the roadway, if roadway there was. By now, it was well into the night and terribly dark. I always remember the howls of a dog as we continued to struggle along. Perhaps that poor old hound was feeling as miserable as we were. Here and there, we could see bodies lying in the ditches, some trying to get shelter, some a little rest. We both knew that this was a fatal thing to do, so we kept pressing on. I remember seeing a German officer stretched out at the side of the road. Like the Priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan story, we had a look at him and then, "passed by on the other side ", much to our shame. Further on, we spotted other two figures, seemingly ditched for the night. They were our cook Percy Pyke and my good friend with the wounded leg, Fred Goodchild. This was different. They were our friends. We did the Good Samaritan act this time and persuaded them to get up and struggle on. This they did. However, neither of them made the whole journey in the end, but they did both survive. Months later, we met them in England and had our legs pulled about the whole affair. While we had soldiered on all the way, they gave up at one point. Overtaken by the advancing Russian army — a dicey experience — they were quickly transferred to the seaport of Odessa on the Black Sea coast and shipped from there, through the Mediterranean and back home.

To continue, however, Bob and I set off again and by now, we were both at the end of our tether. It was at this point that a strange thing happened. Bob was slightly ahead of me. Suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks. “Johnny” he said, “there's something big and black ahead.” I wondered if he was now hallucinating, but decided to join him. Sure enough, there the thing stood, apparently barring our way. Gingerly, we approached it and realised we had come to a fork in the road. There, before us, looming out of the dark, was a huge statue like a cross. Bob stared at it and said in seeming awe, “Johnny, we've come to Calvary.” Indeed, we had. I looked both right and left to the two roads ahead and asked the stupid question, “Which way will we go now, Bob?” His reply was swift and clear.  “Johnny, you told us many a time on a Sunday to do what is right. We are going to do it now. Turn right.” We did, and within a short time, were in the shelter of another Dutch barn.

You know, I will never forget the decision Bob made on that road. It could have meant life or death for us that night. (Many a time since, I have told of that vital choice, and applied it to one's journey through life. Any preacher can lead you to Calvary; to the Cross where Christ died for our sins but, from there on, the great decision must be yours. To choose Christ is to choose life, to reject Him is to be lost.) Later that night, to our relief, we were joined by Big Joe, driven to his limit, but he made it. I salute the guy. He started that day on the floor in a dead faint, but had the drive and the will to grit his teeth and carry on to the finish.”

The cross of Calvary, and the need to put your trust in Christ were regular features of my father’s preaching throughout his life. As a result, many people came to know Christ as their Lord and Savior when they came to understand these simple truths.

My father’s philosophy, which he repeated often to me as a young man was, ‘never turn down an opportunity to preach the Gospel’. He was true to his word, for in his lifetime he preached the Gospel in churches, Mission Halls, schools and the open air

Conviction, repentance and salvation through the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross of Calvary are the core elements of the Gospel. We should earnestly pray that Scotland’s evangelicals will return to the ‘Old, Old Story’ of the Gospel.

  

We’ve Been A Long Time Coming Boys’ by Charles Morrison, Published by Albyn Press ISBN 0284 98840 5