Thursday, October 23, 2014

'British values' - or religious freedom?

Someone suggested that attempting to prevent Islamic extremism being taught in British schools would have repercussions for Christianity. Well, it has.

A successful Christian school in the Home Counties is said to have been downgraded from "good" to "adequate" and could even face closure because it failed to invite a leader from another religion, such as an imam, to lead assemblies.

The school is said to have been in breach of new rules to promote "British values" such as liberty and tolerance, following the Trojan Horse scandal involving Muslim schools in Birmingham.

Orthodox Jewish schools have complained about recent inspections in which girls from strict traditional backgrounds are alleged to have been asked if they were being taught enough about lesbianism, if they had boyfriends and if they knew where babies came from. The girls were said to have been left "traumatised."

The Telegraph, which reported the case, suggests the new rules were pushed through during the school holidays.

The Christian Institute, which is providing legal backing for the Christian school and is preparing a judicial review of the new regulations, says they are "invasive and unjustified." Simon Calvert, the institute's deputy director, says the regulations are invading the rights of children, parents, teachers and schools to hold and practise their religious beliefs.

Home schooling, anyone?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dealing with the pain

Next Monday, October 27, is the National Day of Prayer about abortion. Statistics say that one in three women in England, Scotland and Wales will have had an abortion by the time they are 45. Eight million unborn babies have been killed since abortion was first allowed - equivalent to almost an eighth of the present population.

Yet there are many churches where the word abortion is never mentioned, leaving people who have had a connection with abortion afraid to confess it and unable to find forgiveness and healing.

Says author Jonathan Jeffes: "Christians can be reluctant to engage with the issue because they do not want to appear judgmental or bigoted; thus a powerful silence has grown up around the subject in the church. Two generations of Christians have grown up with little or no understanding of church tradition or theology in this area."

Many Christians are burdened to see a practical and compassionate response to deal with these issues in a church setting.

"Our churches have many women (and men) who feel trapped by the silence and unable to talk about their past personal experience," says Jeffes. "The place they can find themselves is one of real darkness and pain.

"This is where the church could begin to make a real impact. Not by campaigning or protesting but by connecting with a theology of compassion and understanding and humility. If we can start to change the culture of our churches so that women and men who have been through abortion feel welcomed and able to unburden themselves, then perhaps we can start to influence and change the worldview of the surrounding culture."

On the day, will you pray for the silent taboo to be broken so that people can be set free from the pain that binds them?

Details of the day here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

One Christian killed 'every five minutes'

The latest issue of Dabiq, the propaganda magazine of ISIS - or ISIL, or the Islamic State, call them what you will - contains a declaration of war against Christians. The front cover shows a picture of St Peter's in Rome flying the black ISIS flag.

"We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women," they say. "If we do not reach that time, our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market."

Meanwhile. a letter has been sent to the heads of state of 95 countries calling for urgent, determined action to halt the brutal persecution of Christians in the Middle East. The letter was signed by International Christian Embassy Jerusalem executive director Dr Jurgen Buhler, World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder, and Dr William M. Wilson, chairman of the Empowered21 Global Council.

Dr Buhler said the participation of the head of the main umbrella organisation representing world Jewry, together with leading evangelical ministries, made the event "historic." "Western churches have to do more to bring the suffering of our fellow believers to the forefront worldwide. To have a prominent global Jewish leader lend his voice to this moral call for protecting the region's persecuted Christians is unprecedented in modern times."

Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest in Israel, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September that some 120,000 Christians have been killed each year in the Middle East for the last 10 years. That meant that every five minutes a Christian was killed because of his faith.

"Those who can escape persecution at the hands of Muslim extremists have fled. Those who remain exist as second if not third class citizens to their Muslim rulers."

Israel was the only place where Christians in the Middle East were safe. He appealed to the council's 47 member nations to "end your witch hunt of the only free country in the region." 

Some 4,500 Christians from 80 countries have been in Jerusalem this week to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. A  prayer vigil, organised by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, was held at the southern wall of the Temple Mount, adjacent to the Hulda Gate, on Wednesday. The Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem issued a ban on Jewish participation.

The embassy said the prayer event was "for pilgrims only" and was "not in any way an interfaith event." 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Christians 'should speak out for their faith'

John Lennox was born in Northern Ireland. He is professor of mathematics at Oxford University. He is a Christian, and speaks five languages.

He travels the world speaking on a variety of subjects, and has debated his Christian faith with a number of the world's best known atheists.

One day he met bioethicist Peter Singer. "Were your parents Christians?" Singer asked. Lennox said they were. Singer said this was one of his problems with religious belief: children tended to adopt the faith of their parents. Lennox asked "Were your parents atheists?" Singer said that they were."So you adopted your parents' faith." "No," said Singer, "because atheism is not a faith. It denies faith." "Really?" said Lennox. "I thought you believed it."

People think Christians talk about faith in Christ because there is no evidence, but Christianity is an evidence-based faith, Lennox says. "The Gospels were written to provide evidence, as the beginning of Luke attests. The end of John's Gospel says 'These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.'"

You don't have to choose between science and God. "Statements by scientists are not always statements of science. Stephen Hawking said 'Religion is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.' I said 'Atheism is a fairy story for people afraid of the light.'

"For an atheist, they might be missing the point, or evading the real issue." He advises Christians to ask the most important question: Suppose I could give evidence for God, would you be prepared right now to repent and trust Christ?

People often have an attitude that it is fine for you to be a Christian so long as you keep it to yourself. Lennox appeals to Christians to speak out. He points out that the verse - 1 Peter 3:15 - which says always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, is preceded by a verse which says "do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled."

Many atheists, he says, do not support the ideas of militant atheists like Dawkins. "I have many atheist friends who thank me for taking Dawkins on."

The new atheist onslaught, says Lennox, is beginning to wane - "but Dawkins et al are still wreaking havoc in the minds of young people."

He is speaking in Northern Ireland this week, before travelling to the Faroe Islands and Eastern Europe. Wish him well.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The surprise attack that didn't come

Terrorists arrested and interrogated during Israel's war with Hamas revealed that Hamas, the terrorist organisation that has taken control in Gaza, had planned a surprise for Israel on Rosh Hashanah -  the Jewish New Year - which fell this year on September 25.

The plan was that on this day, when many of Israel's soldiers would be home on leave, 200 terrorists in bogus Israeli Army uniforms would emerge simultaneously from a number of underground tunnels and invade six kibbutzim and a number of towns in southern Israel to kidnap, kill and destroy. The initial force of 200 would be followed by a wave of several thousand additional terrorists. They had been working towards the attack for years.

Needless to say, the attack didn't take place  In the Yom Kippur war, Israel ceded to US pressure not to make a pre-emptive strike, and suffered considerable casualties when Egypt and Syria attacked on Yom Kippur, the most serious day in the Jewish calendar, when everything closes down for a day of worship. This time, Israel ignored US pressure not to attack and invaded Gaza.

The war with Hamas, however, is not over. When Hamas accepted a ceasefire after 50 days of fighting, they made it clear that they would redouble their efforts to rearm for the next stage of the conflict.

Israel is currently preparing for "a very violent war" with the terrorist group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has an estimated 100,000 rockets - 10 times as many as were in Hamas's arsenal. In addition, it has 5,000 long-range missiles with precision guidance systems covering all of Israel, capable of carrying warheads of one ton or more.

Israel's Iron Dome system would not be able to cope with the challenge, and Israel's forces would have to "manoeuvre fast" and act "more decisively, more dramatically," according to one Israeli commander.

As with Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah is believed to have been tunnelling under Israel's northern border. Dozens of residents in the border area have reported the sounds of tunnelling underneath their homes.

The most dangerous threat to Israel's security comes from Iran, which is believed to be preparing to have a nuclear arsenal. Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a speech at the United Nations last week: 

"Don't be fooled by Iran's manipulative charm offensive. It's designed for one purpose, and for one purpose only: to lift the sanctions and remove the obstacles to Iran's path to the bomb. The Islamic Republic is now trying to bamboozle its way to an agreement that will remove the sanctions it still faces, and leave it with the capacity of thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium. This would effectively cement Iran's place as a threshold military nuclear power.

"In the future, at a time of its choosing, Iran, the world's most dangerous state in the world's most dangerous region, would obtain the world's most dangerous weapons. Allowing that to happen would pose the gravest threat to us all. It's one thing to confront militant Islamists on pick-up trucks, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, It's another thing to confront militant Islamists armed with weapons of mass destruction."

Meanwhile, God is preparing for the day when His Son will reign in Jerusalem. Christians have a responsibility to pray for that nation.

 For Zion's sake I will not hold my peace,
   And for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, 
Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
  And her salvation as a lamp that burns.

I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem, 
  Who shall never hold their peace day or night. 
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent,

And give him no rest till he establishes 
  And till he makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth   
                                                                  Isa 62:1, 6, 7.

Monday, October 06, 2014

So what other explanation do you have?

Terez is a schoolteacher in her forties living in Israel. When she went to the Rabin Medical Centre in Tel Aviv she had a cancerous tumour on her leg the size of an orange.

The biopsy showed it was a sarcoma. "This is one of the most aggressive and terrifying of all cancerous tumours," said Professor Yaacov Bickles, head of the orthopaedic oncology department at the hospital. "With a tumour developed to this degree, the only treatment we could offer was to amputate her leg."

Terez sent the laboratory test results and x-rays to the USA to check the prognosis. The reply said the same thing: the leg must be amputated to save her life. Terez began to prepare herself for life with one leg.

On the day the amputation was to take place, Terez was told the operation had to be rescheduled because of "technical difficulties." On the day of the rescheduled operation, she was about to be wheeled into the operating theatre when she was told the amputation would again have to be postponed. There were no surgical units available because of the number of emergency cases. Then her mother fell ill, and Terez had to postpone the surgery to take care of her mother.

"Three times this surgery was delayed," says Terez. "This was a clear sign to me from heaven that I should not have the surgery." She reported her decision to the hospital. "When she told me she had decided not to have the leg amputated, it was clear to me she would soon die," said the doctor. "I was sorry about her decision."

What happened after that left medical staff - and the nation - speechless. "If someone had told me the story of what happened to Terez, I would have said they are crazy and sent them to a mental hospital," said Professor Bickles. "But I was there. I saw it with my own eyes."

Terez walked into Professor Bickles' office three months later with a big smile on her face. "What happened?" he said. "I prayed," she told him

They gave her an MRI scan. The results were undeniable. "This just does not happen," said the professor. "A growth of this kind cannot recede like this." They sent for another biopsy. 

There was no cancer. "We kept checking her records over and over. We just could not accept that the cancer had gone without any treatment."

News media began to report on the incident. Hospital staff and newshounds travelled to Terez's home to look for an explanation. They tasted the food she eats and checked the water she drinks.

They were left with no explanation other than the one they were given: Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, heals today.

David Lazarus tells the story on his blog here.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Marriage 'till death us do part'?

A recent article by demographers said that the current divorce rate is much higher than previously thought, especially among those 35 and over.

"This news," says Patrick Lee, a professor of bioethics, "suggests that two generations of no-fault divorce (among other things) have altered the general concept of marriage and have severely eroded our society's confidence that marriage can be counted on.

"Indeed, the high divorce rate has ceased to shock or even concern many people. Divorce has become an acceptable, normal fact of life. The predominant view is that many marriages break down through no fault on the part of either spouse: they simply "grow apart." And so - the thinking goes - one cannot expect married men and women to remain devoted to each other until death parts them. If marriage is a love relationship, and the love has died, is it not pointless to continue with the charade of 'marriage'?

"But this conventional wisdom is based on a redefinition of what marriage is. In the traditional understanding, the term 'marriage' is reserved for the comprehensive union of a man and a woman - bodily, emotional and spiritual. . . In the alternative view, marriage is seen as an essentially emotional and sexual relationship that, by implication, can be dissolved when the relationship is no longer emotionally fulfilling.

"This false view has caused marriage to be fragile and has led to immeasurable tragedy for children, wives, and husbands."

Marriage, says Professor Lee, requires a lifelong commitment. But what of those couples who simply "grow apart"?

Read the rest of the article. (You can see it here.) What the author says needs to be heard.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

ISIS at the gates of Baghdad

Islamic State fighters are on the verge of entering Baghdad. 

Canon Andrew White, known as the vicar of Baghdad, reported on Monday that IS militants were only a mile from the city, and had killed more than 1,000 troops during the weekend.

"All the military air strikes are doing nothing," he said. "If ever we needed your prayer it is now.

"People are very fearful. The nation looks as if it has collapsed. The usual hectic and crazy streets were this morning almost empty. The news from our friends in areas surrounding Baghdad is equally worrying. . .

"We do not really know what is happening; all we know is people are very afraid. We know that civilians have been killed in air strikes; we know that there are huge battles with ISIS; and we know that our army is not very efficient.

"This morning I was with one of my soldiers who is assigned by the government to protect me. I asked him what he would do if he saw ISIS coming. He told me he would take off his uniform and run. So I asked if he took seriously his role as a soldier to fight and protect his people; he assured me he did not. He told me he just did it because he needed the money.

"Yesterday at church I spoke on the subject of why we must love Israel. . . Quite an interesting title for a sermon in Iraq. The sermon was based on Romans Chapter 11: 'Do not boast over the root, for the root supports you.'

"The sermon was well received. . . Because Abraham is so important to us here the issue of the Yehudi and us is taken very seriously. Despite being in Iraq I love the Jews and Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians and Iraqis and God loves them all too.

"I received a barrage of postings from people, whether they hated Israel and saw them as anti-Palestinian or they were totally for Israel. What people failed to understand was that loving Israel was far more than love for a state. It was love for a people. . . 

 "Though we can see that we are called to love Jews and Arabs alike, but that loving Israel is not an option for those of us who love Yeshua. We must not forget the history. We as Christians have got to accept that our theology was responsible for the development of antisemitism.

"I spent hours yesterday just answering questions on the subject. I am not going to answer any more."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Women 'deserve to hear the truth'

Two stories have surfaced of problems experienced after abortion.

Lora Bishop, who is 34 and comes from Eastbourne, says when she left the abortion clinic, attached to her medical notes, face down, was a picture taken during a scan she had had five weeks earlier.

"Seeing my baby for the first time, it finally became real to me that a life had been brutally stopped. As a mother, I had committed the most unimaginable betrayal. I hated myself so much at that moment, I could hardly breathe."

A couple of days before her baby's due date, she took an overdose of pills and was hospitalised for several days.

She writes: "I don't doubt that if I'd continued with the pregnancy our lives would have been challenging, but surely that would have been preferable for my child to having no life at all?

"The destruction of that baby is something I will live with for ever. It never goes away and maybe that is the way it should be. Not quite an "eye for an eye," but it is naive to assume we can end a precious, beautiful life and simply forget about it afterwards.

"I would advise any woman planning a termination to think very carefully. Otherwise she could, like me, end up regretting it for the rest of her life."

Adele Best, who has suffered abortion twice, says "!Women deserve to hear the truth about the horrific after effects of abortion. Nobody ever warns them, nobody ever tells them - the media doesn't, the abortion providers don't. Women deserve the truth. and they're just not hearing it.

"I would say now that I really think abortion is never right in any circumstances because of the damage it does to a woman.

"Abortion is never, ever, the answer. It's just going to give you a lot more problems and those problems are for a lifetime."

Adele later became pregnant for a third time, and now has a five-year-old daughter. She says the amount of joy her daughter brings her every day is "priceless."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Not a slippery slope, but 'an avalanche'

Frank Van Den Bleeken, who is serving a life sentence for rape and murder, has become the first prisoner to be given permission by a Belgian court to undergo euthanasia.

He is 50 years old and is not terminally ill, but claims he is suffering "unbearable psychological anguish." "What's the point in sitting here until the end of time and rotting away?" he says.

Some 15 other prisoners have now reportedly made inquiries about euthanasia.

Since euthanasia was legalised in Belgium some 12 years ago, qualifications have been steadily expanded. Says Paul Moynan, of CARE for Europe: "With euthanasia being packaged as palliative care, our care homes are not safe. With its extension this year for all ages, our children are not safe. And now the mentally ill are not safe. This is not a slippery slope, but a rapid avalanche."

This is the danger of making so-called mercy killing legal. Wherever it has been permitted, it has become increasingly easy to obtain.

Since 2006, British parliaments have been asked to legalise euthanasia or assisted suicide three times. Each effort has been unsuccessful. But the House of Lords is now believed to be more favourably inclined to a change in the law. And in a recent appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the law, dismissing the appeal, but hinted that if Parliament does not make a satisfactory change it would consider allowing individuals wishing assisted suicide to have their cases heard by a High Court judge.

 Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill, which has already passed its second reading, has been criticised for its lack of adequate safeguards. It would allow doctors to dispense lethal drugs to adults who were mentally competent, judged to have six months or less to live, and to have a "settled wish" to end their lives. These conditions are difficult to assess. Apparently it would only be necessary for a doctor to say it was his "genuine view" that these conditions applied for lethal drugs to be given.

All major disability rights groups in the UK oppose the bill. It would allow assisted suicide for a few - but place pressure on a far greater number of vulnerable people - old, sick, disabled, depressed - to end their lives for fear of being a burden to others.

Monday, September 22, 2014

'15 minutes of pure love'

Phil and Bonnie Walker had four children. After Bonnie became pregnant for a fifth time, she went to hospital for a routine scan.

"The doctor said there was a problem with the pregnancy," said Bonnie. "It wasn't a viable pregnancy and she could offer a termination within the week. It was that blunt."

Baby Grace had anencephaly. If she was born, her life would be short.

"I just cried," said Phil. But they were adamant the baby should be born. "We saw it as a gift from God. That wasn't for us to take away."

When Grace was born, they showed her to the family. All the family held her. "We had no idea how long she was going to survive, but she was alive."

Grace lived for 15 minutes. Said Phil: "It was 15 minutes of pure love."

"There was such a peace. I can't describe it," said Bonnie. "We got to see her face. She was so beautiful. Why would anyone want to take that away?

"There's a reason for every life, no matter how short."

You can see Phil and Bonnie tell their story on video here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

'I was scared' - escaped child bride

Narin is a 14-year-old Yazidi girl given as a gift to an ISIS commander.

"As the sun rose over my dusty village, relatives called with terrifying news: jihadists from ISIS were coming for us. . . We scrambled out of town on foot, taking only our clothes and some valuables.

"Our plan was to take refuge on Mount Sinjar, along with thousands of other Yazidis who were fleeing there," Narin told the Washington Post. "Suddenly several vehicles drew up and we found ourselves surrounded by militants wearing Islamic State uniforms. Several people screamed; we were scared for our lives. I've never felt so helpless in my 14 years. They had blocked our path to safety, and there was nothing we could do."

They were divided into groups by gender and age, "One for young and capable men, another for girls and young women, and a third for older men and women. The jihadists stole cash and jewellery from this last group, and left them. They placed the women and girls in trucks. As they drove us away, we heard gunshots. Later we learned they were killing the young men, including my 19-year-old brother, who had married just six months ago.

"They took us to an empty school. Islamic State fighters entered. One recited: 'I testify that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammed is his prophet.' If we repeated them, we would become Muslims. We refused. They were furious.

"We were taken to a large hall full of Yazidi girls and women. We slept on the floor and ate only once per day. Every now and then, an Islamic State man would come in and tell us to convert, but each time we refused. As faithful Yazidis, we would not abandon our religion. We wept a lot.

"My childhood friend Shayma and I were given as a gift to two Islamic State members. They wanted to make us their wives or concubines. Shayma was awarded to Abu Hussein, a cleric. I was given to an overweight, dark-bearded man about 50 years old. He went by the nickname Abu Ahmed. They drove us to their home in Fallujah.

"Abu Ahmed kept telling me to convert, which I ignored. He tried to rape me several times, but I did not allow him to touch me in any sexual way. He cursed me and beat me every day, punching and kicking me. Shayma and I began to discuss killing ourselves.

"On our sixth day in Fallujah, Abu Ahmed left for business. Shayma's captor went to the mosque for prayers, leaving us alone in the house. Shayma and I used kitchen knives and meat cleavers to break the locks of two doors to get out."

Wearing traditional black abayas they found in the house, they walked through the town to the house of an acquaintance, who recruited a cab driver to take them to Baghdad, dressed in niqabs, with only their eyes visible, and carrying fake student IDs. With more fake ID cards, family friends enabled them to board a flight to Irbil."Hugging my dad again was the best moment of my life." 

When Narin met her mother, "we hugged and kept crying until then I fainted. My month-long ordeal was over, and I felt reborn.

"I can never set foot again in our little village, because the memory of my brother who died would haunt me too much. I still have nightmares and swoon several times a day when I remember what I saw or imagine what would have happened if Shayma and I hadn't escaped.

"I want to leave this country altogether. This country has no place for me any more. I want to go to a place where I might be able to start over, if that is even possible."

Narin is not her real name. She was fortunate to escape. She has at least one female relative who has not been so fortunate.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Antisemitism: A fivefold increase

Antisemitic incidents during Israel's 50-day war with Hamas drew heavily on references to Hitler and the Holocaust, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League.

Protests from 14 countries from Argentine to the UK included such slogans as "Jews to the gas," "Gaza. Open-air museum of the Palestinian Holocaust" and "Death to the Jews." Jews were portrayed in the media as snakes, Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu was portrayed as Hitler, and the Star of David was juxtaposed with swastikas.

Michael Gove, Conservative Chief Whip and MP for Surrey Heath, told a gathering of the Holocaust Education Trust: "In France, in July of this year, more than 100 Jewish citizens had to be rescued from one synagogue and another was firebombed. The leader of an antisemitic party - the Front National - is France's most popular politician. . .

"In Germany, Molotov cocktails were lobbed at one synagogue. In Belgium a cafe displays a sign saying "Dogs are allowed but Jews are not," while a doctor refuses to treat Jewish patients. And in May of this year four people visiting the Jewish Museum in Brussels were killed by a jihadist terrorist.

"We must all remember where this leads. Now more than ever.

"And we must not think that Britain - gentle, tolerant, civilised Britain - is immune. CST, the Community Security Trust, monitors instances of antisemitism throughout the UK. . . In July this year, CST recorded 302 antisemitic incidents, a fivefold increase from July, 2013. . . On our streets our citizens have marched with swastikas superimposed on the Israeli flag."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Love is not soft

The love of God is greater far
  Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
  And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
  God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
  And pardoned from his sin.

 Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
  How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure -
  The saints' and angels' song.

 You might find the words above a blessing. Or they might be just words. But one thing is sure: the love of God is a marvellous thing.

You may remember the Prodigal Son. He persuaded his father to give him his inheritance. although his father wasn't dead yet. Then he went off and blew it in. Destitute, starving and repentant, he came home, intending to ask for a servant's job. But his father saw him coming, ran to meet him, embraced him, ordered the fatted calf to be killed and proclaimed a party.

That's my Heavenly Father - unconditional forgiveness for the repentant sinner. But we sometimes have a strange idea about His love. It doesn't mean that He turns a blind eye to everything about us, or that He will ignore the foolish things we do.

My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
  Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by him,
For whom the Lord loves he chastens. 
                                                                   Heb 12:5

He chastens us because He wants us to grow up straight. When we're chastened by the Lord, it hurts. But remember two things. First, if we're chastened by the Lord, it's evidence that we're His sons. Second, He does it because He loves us.

He's our Father, and there's no better father than He.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The two faces of Islam

For weeks the headlines have been of beheadings, crucifixions and executions taking place in Iraq. Even people to whom Iraq seems a million miles away have been concerned, and rightly so, that Islamic State terror might be exported to the streets of London and New York.


Listen to Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of Barnabas Fund and an expert on Islam:

"Last month I was in Damascus. I had the great privilege of meeting Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria. He is a man of peace who pleads repeatedly for equal and harmonious relations between Muslims, Christians and followers of all religions as members of one human family. Because of this stance, he has endured great abuse and criticism from some of his fellow Muslims and was targeted for assassination by the Saudis. Knowing that he would have good security and protection, the group of Islamist hit-men were instructed that, if they could not kill the Grand Mufti himself, they should kill one of his sons instead. In due course they murdered his teenage son. After some months, two of the perpetrators were caught and imprisoned. The Grand Mufti asked to see them and they were brought to him blindfolded. He instructed their blindfolds to be removed, and the two young men, discovering themselves face to face with the head of Sunni Islam in Syria and the father of their victim, shook with fear. But, to their astonishment, the Grand Mufti gently reached out his hands to them and told them not to be afraid. He said that he did not want their mothers to weep as his own bereaved wife had wept for her son, and therefore he forgave them. 


"Last week I was in northern Iraq and came face to face with the stark reality of another face of Islam, that of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, now calling itself simply the Islamic State). The sheer brutality of this face of Islam cannot be comprehended. It kills men, women and children, the elderly, the poor and the weak. It cuts in half little children and commits acts of ethnic cleansing that border on genocide. This behaviour is pure barbarism reminiscent of the early Assyrians and later Babylonians who once inhabited this region and were known for their immense cruelty, , , 

"This face of Islam, based as it is on Islamic sources including the Quran and hadith [tradition recording the words and actions of Mohammed], is as authentic as the peaceful tradition of the Grand Mufti of Syria. Both have existed throughout Islamic history. The Grand Mufti of Damascus has not only been ridiculed and vilified by his co-religionists but also told that he is not a true Muslim. When he visited the UK some ten years ago, and he preached at Regent's Park mosque in London and at other mosques, he afterwards had to be protected from Muslim leaders who disagreed with his theology. . .
. . 
"The question therefore is: what is true Islam? The reality is that there are now many 'Islams' depending on one’s interpretation of the texts and of the history. All can validly claim to be theologically based on the same Islamic source texts."

Dr Sookhdeo adds a word of hope. And a word of warning.

You can read his complete article here.

Monday, September 08, 2014

'Outspoken' pastor faces 10 years in jail

Christianity has enjoyed phenomenal growth in China. The Pew Forum on Religion and Ethics has estimated Protestants there at 58 million and Catholics at nine million: others say there are more than 100 million Christians in China. The Chinese Communist Party has only 86 million members.

In May, a national report listed religion as one of four "severe challenges" to national security in China. (The others were the import of democratic ideals, the influence of Western culture and uncensored access to the world-wide web.)

A few weeks later, the New York Post reported, a Chinese government document said religion had grown too fast, there were too many religious sites and there were too many religious activities. Once again, the Chinese authorities are tightening the screw, especially in the coastal Zhejiang province, where Christians are particularly numerous.

Communist officials have toppled the crosses of at least 229 churches, torn down some churches entirely, and issued demolition notices to over 100 more. They have even attacked state-controlled churches, where the state has the say about membership, the appointment of pastors and the content of sermons.

Church members, some of them elderly, attempting to protect Wenzhou Salvation Church, were beaten with electric batons. A number were hospitalised with a fractured skull, broken bones and internal injuries.

One of the pastors, Huang Yizi, has been openly critical of the demolition programme, calling it "severe persecution" and an "insult" to China's Christians. "I will not be silenced," he said. "I know I will be put in jail one day." 

He was detained on August 2 for "gathering a crowd to assault a state agency" and has not been released.

He is 40 years old, and has a wife and two young children. He is said to be facing a 10-year jail term.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Israel: More trouble ahead

The war between Israel and Hamas is not over. It cannot be over. Hamas is sworn to destroy Israel.

Caroline Glick, senior contributing editor at the Jerusalem Post, says: "Hamas exists to obliterate Israel. The goal of each round of fighting is to soften Israel up for the next round. Hamas will only stop fighting when it is defeated. And Israel did not defeat Hamas."

She says that according to Amos Harel, Ha'aretz' defence analyst, senior Israeli military commanders want Israel to bow to Hamas’s demands for open borders with Israel and for the steady transfer of funds to Hamas’s treasury. If Israel doesn’t give in to Hamas’s demands for open borders, Hamas will renew its attacks at the end of September.

"Hamas went to war with Israel because its back was up against the wall. Due to Egypt’s decision a year ago to seal its borders with Gaza, Hamas lost the ability to expand its arsenal, fuel Gaza’s smuggling-based economy and pay its terrorists their salaries.
"US President Barack Obama adopted Hamas’s demand for open borders as the official position of the US government almost at the outset of the conflict. . . Under Obama the Federal Aviation Administration instituted a discriminatory and unwarranted flight ban on Israel. The repercussions of that move continue to harm Israel’s economy. . .

"Today, the US and the EU are working together at the UN Security Council to draft a resolution that would see the deployment of international military forces to Gaza. The defined role of the force would be to oversee Gaza’s demilitarization, seemingly in line with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand.

"But the notion that UN forces would take any steps to disarm Hamas is absurd. The minute such forces arrive in Gaza they will become human shields preventing Israel from defending itself against Hamas aggression. If they are deployed to Gaza, then in the next round of Hamas’s war against the Jews, IDF troops will have to constrain their offensive operations still further to avoid killing Western forces.

"In other words, the deployment of such a force in Gaza will make it all but impossible for Israel to fight Hamas in the future. . . Hamas now knows that all they have to do to survive, thrive and expand their war on Israel, is shake the tree. Something will fall out that will reward their aggression.

"If they pay any price at all, it will involve nothing more than the death of the civilians of Gaza. And Hamas leaders couldn’t care less. For them, the death of civilians is yet another means of attacking Israel. . .

"Residents of the south are livid at the government for opting for a ceasefire rather than mounting a full invasion of Gaza and dismantling Hamas piece by piece, terrorist by terrorist. As they see it, Operation Protective Edge failed to bring them the security they deserve and require to lead normal lives."

A man living in Israel writes in a letter: "This is a spiritual war. This is a real battle of right versus wrong; light versus darkness; truth versus lies; life versus death; the truth of the Bible versus the lies of the Koran."

Western television media have not filmed Hamas rockets falling on Israel, but they have filmed Israel air strikes on Gaza. There is no doubt that people have been influenced by the unbalanced propaganda war. In the interests of balance, they should watch this video here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Antisemitic attacks up 436 per cent

Thousands gathered outside London's Royal Courts of Justice this week at a rally to protest increased antisemitism in Britain.

Speakers included Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, who is a Muslim.

Douglas Murray, associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, said "We have to stop the lies." He said it had become  "acceptable discourse for people to say that Israel is committing a 'genocide' instead of the most targeted military campaign against a terrorist group in history."

Thousands of people have taken part in anti-Israel protests in recent weeks accompanied by antisemitic violence. Pro-Palestinian rioters vandalised a Tesco store in Birmingham over a refusal to boycott Israeli products. Demonstrators rioted outside a Kedem store in Manchester. Dozens of death threats were made to the store's owners.

Hate crimes against Jews have risen 383 per cent worldwide since 2013, and 436 per cent in Europe. According to a Jewish newspaper, nearly two-thirds of the UK's Jewish population have questioned their future in the UK.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Eighty years of 'wonderful' marriage

Do you like good news? Here's some good news.

Maurice and Helen Kaye are celebrating their 80th wedding anniversary. He's 102, and she's 101. They live independently in their flat in Bournemouth.

They met in 1929, when he was 17 and she was 16. Helen worked in her father's women's wear shop in London. Maurice was a travelling salesman. On the day they met, Maurice stayed in the shop for three hours. Eventually, Helen's mother asked her "Who's going to throw him out, you or me?"

They courted for four years before they married, because Helen's mother wanted Helen's older sister to be married first. Her mother didn't think Helen's marriage would last.

"I suppose what I fell in love with was the fact that he had a car," says Helen. "Not many young men did in those days." Maurice was persuaded by his children to give up driving when he was 100, and he's not sure if he's quite forgiven them. 

He says the secret of a happy marriage is always agreeing with his wife. "You mustn't be hard on each other," she says. "If you have to give in a little bit, you give in a little bit.

"It's been a wonderful marriage. It works because we have the same sense of humour. We laugh at the same things."

They have two children and a host of grandchildren and great grandchildren. You can see a video of the happy couple here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some good news from refugee chaos

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes in fear for their lives, many with only the clothes they were wearing. Many families are living in the open air, exposed to soaring heat, often without food and drink.

An estimated 1.2 million have been displaced this year. For many, it was not the first time.

Fortunately, the Kurdistan region of Iraq has not closed its borders to refugees. Officials say at least 45,000 Iraqis have fled there to escape Islamic State fighters. Iraqi Kurdistan is already home to more than 300,000 displaced Iraqis, along with 220,000 Syrian refugees. 

A local worker described one church hall where 200 families were lined wall to wall. Two babies were said to have been born there. A church in Irbil was helping 260 families, 216 of them staying in the church courtyard.

Many local Christians spend most of their days distributing aid and sharing Christ with the residents of refugee camps. “In a crisis like this, we are experiencing a time of revival and awakening everywhere,” reported a ministry leader. “God is not just moving people geographically; He is moving in their hearts as well.”

Norya is a Syrian refugee who lost her husband and five children when a rocket fired by Syrian government forces toward the terrorists landed on her house. She found Christ in a refugee camp. "She now sings hymns with us at our church group meetings.”

In the Kurdish town of Akra, some of the displaced are living in a former prison. Each bathroom is shared by approximately 10 families.

It was in a tented refugee camp in that town that workers came across Abu Mustafa, a 50-year-old man whose wife had been killed. He has three girls with cerebral atrophy. He blamed God for his tragic situation, but allowed the workers to read the Bible to him and pray for him.

“This is the first time I feel relief,” he told the workers. “For three years, I couldn’t smile or feel safe, but now I feel differently. I have peace in my heart. Please pray for my girls. I believe Jesus can heal them and heal me from the inside.” He calls the workers daily to ask when they will visit him again.

The Red Cross is appealing for funds to buy tents, blankets and food. Open Doors is appealing for funds to provide relief.

Remember those in need.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Plenty of blame, but who has the answer?

So proud are the Islamic State’s leaders of their acts of barbarism that they broadcast them for the world to see on Twitter and YouTube. "In one propaganda video, they show hundreds of victims being trucked to an execution site, where they are filmed pleading for their lives before being marched toward open pits and shot one by one. Islamic State militants recently tweeted a photo of a decapitated head with this message: 'This is our ball. It is made of skin #WorldCup.'"
The Islamic State "runs camps where it indoctrinates children to believe that all non-Muslims are sub-human, 'apostates' and 'infidels' who should be exterminated. Vice News recently interviewed children undergoing such indoctrination by the Islamic State. One young boy looks into the camera and says 'In the name of God my name is Daoud and I am 14 years old. I’d like to join the Islamic State and to kill with them, because they fight infidels and apostates.' Another declares: 'We promise you car bombs and explosives. . . I swear to God, we will divide America in two.'
 "Some would like to believe that the Islamic State’s offensive in Syria and Iraq is nothing more than 'a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing,' in the words of Neville Chamberlain. In fact, the Islamic State’s leaders have a messianic vision of building a totalitarian Islamic empire encompassing all current and former Muslim lands, stretching from Europe to North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. They may never see that vision realized, but they can wreak an awful lot of death and destruction trying.

 "Their 'caliph,' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, recently warned: 'Our last message is to the Americans: Soon we will be in direct confrontation, and the sons of Islam have prepared for such a day. So watch, for we are with you, watching.' They are rapidly accumulating the recruits and resources to follow through on this threat. The Islamic State is actively establishing cells outside Iraq and Syria, including in Europe. And according to scholars at the Rand Corporation, it 'currently brings in more than $1 million a day in revenue and is now the richest terrorist group on the planet. . . A conservative calculation suggests that [the Islamic State] may generate a surplus of $100 million to $200 million this year.'

"To put this in perspective, al-Qaeda spent about $500,000 to carry out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"The worst part is that all of this could have been prevented. Just a few years ago, the Islamic State (then al-Qaeda in Iraq) was a spent force, defeated both militarily and ideologically thanks to the 2007 US surge, and the Sunni masses who rose up to join the United States in driving them out. Then President Obama’s complete withdrawal of US forces in 2011 took the boot off of the terrorists’ necks. And, as Hillary Clinton recently pointed out, Obama’s 'failure' to act in Syria 'left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.'

"Now, after standing by and allowing the Islamic State to establish control in an area the size of Belgium, Obama has finally launched limited strikes - but only to prevent the Islamic State from overrunning US diplomatic facilities in northern Iraq (for fear of another Benghazi), massacring Yazidis and controlling the Mosul Dam. Obama insists that 'there’s no American military solution' to the rise of the Islamic State and that 'it’s time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.'

 "Obama may be tired of war, as were Hitler’s enemies. But the Islamic State is not tired of war. It has been explicit about its intentions. The lessons of history are clear. The free world ignores such barbarity at its peril."

Thiessen doesn't offer a solution. Obama's air strikes are limited. David Cameron doesn't appear to have a coherent strategy.

So what is to be done with militant Islam?

Monday, August 25, 2014

From shadow of death to freedom

In the most desolate circumstances, God works.

Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh were born into Muslim families in Iran. Both had a desire to know God. Both were converted to Christ in their teens, one after a vision of Jesus; the other by reading a copy of Luke's Gospel. 

They met while studying in Turkey. Studies over, they decided to return to Iran. Their people needed to hear of the love of Jesus.

Together they handed out - illegally - 20,000 New Testaments and started two house churches. They saw miracles as God protected them. Then one day they were arrested.

After days of interrogation, they were moved to the notorious Evin Prison in Teheran. They were charged with apostasy, blasphemy and anti-government activity. They were promised they would be executed by hanging - but they were told if they converted to Islam they would be released immediately. They refused.

The authorities' promise was not carried out. Eventually, they were released. How that came about is a remarkable story.

You can hear their testimonies on video here. They have written a book. Captive in Iran, about their experiences. You can read the first chapter here.

Take advantage of the opportunity. Your faith will be strengthened as you hear the stories of these brave young women.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Religious freedom and a secular Britain

The picture is of the flag of the new Islamist State. I don't know what its designers had in mind, but it's not black by accident. There are reports coming out of Iraq of rapes, beheadings and crucifixions. There are reports of joint suicides after women being raped. There are reports of women and children being buried alive.

Both Barack Obama and David Cameron did little when 200,000 Christians were displaced by IS (Islamist State, formerly ISIS) fighters. It was as though Christians didn't really matter. It was only when some 40,000 Yezidis were trapped on a mountain that they began to take action.

David Cameron said the Government will redouble its efforts to prevent Britons from travelling to join the 500 Britons said to be already with the world's best armed and fastest growing terrorist group. He said Islamist militants could bring terror to the streets of Britain unless urgent action were taken.

He said the terrorists have "murderous intent" and Britain must use its "military prowess" to stop them coming here. Britain had "no choice but to rise to the challenge," but he ruled out a war in Iraq. Britain is not going to get involved in another Iraq war.

Tim Montgomerie highlighted the problem in the Times yesterday.

"June’s mass persecution of Iraqi Christians in Mosul hardly moved any head of government. Barack Obama only acted when the ancient Yazidi sect was threatened with extinction. That, however, may have been only a pretext. The real trigger for action may have been US strategic interests in Arbil. Yet at least America acted. At least Germany and France are offering asylum to Iraqi Christians. Britain, with its proud heritage of providing refuge for those fleeing for their lives, has been almost comatose. . . 

"We’ve learnt in recent days that government inaction has brought some of the Church of England’s most senior clerics to the edge of despair. . . 

"I sent a round of texts to government contacts yesterday, asking whether the intervention of church leaders would spur action. Some replies left me profoundly depressed: “We can’t get bogged down in a another conflict in Iraq so close to an election.” “The public oppose granting large numbers of Iraqis asylum.” “Intervention could be a huge distraction from domestic concerns.” I did get one or two replies of high principle but most were soaked in the language of electoral calculation. I hope the Church of England has begun to realise that religious freedom is not a priority for this government or, for that matter, the opposition. . .

"Britain is becoming one of the most secular countries on earth. Growing hostility to faith schools is of a different order to what we see in the Middle East, but common to the secular mindset is a blindness to the importance of religious faith to people. It begins by wanting to push religion to the corners of the public square and then beyond it. . . 

"I hope the Baines letter [a letter to the Government from the Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds] might be the moment when Church realises that, for all their worthy rhetoric at Christmas and Easter, British politicians will not fight for religious freedom. I hope its underlying mood was not, as one newspaper suggested, bitterness but resolve. Resolve to ensure the Christian voice is heard again in politics. Because religious freedom is a foundational freedom of conscience. If the political class isn’t willing to defend it, other freedoms are at risk in the years ahead."

What should we do in light of what's happening in Syria and Iraq? Pray, act and give, to help people in desperate need. Excuses might be found for election-minded politicians not to be interested, but there is no excuse for Christians to be unconcerned.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Suddenly, the wind blew. . .

One of the most remarkable things about Israel's war with Hamas has been the low number of casualties from the thousands of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza.

Many have exploded in unpopulated areas. Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system - developed in Israel and said to have been one of the most effective missile defence systems the world has seen -  has dealt with up to 90 per cent of the rest. Even so. . .

The commander of an Iron Dome battery protecting Tel Aviv tells a remarkable story.

The battery calculated the trajectory of an incoming missile from Gaza. (It is possible to tell where a missile will land to within 200 metres.) It was going to hit the Arieli Towers, the Kirya (Israel's equivalent of the Pentagon) or a central Tel Aviv railway station. Hundreds could have died.

The Iron Dome fired its first interceptor. It missed. It fired a second. It missed. "This is very rare. I was in shock. At this point we had just four seconds until the missile lands. We had already notified emergency services to converge on the target location and warned of a mass-casualty incident.

"Suddenly, Iron Dome (which calculates wind speeds, among other things) shows a major wind coming from the east, a strong wind that. . . sends the missile into the sea. We were all stunned. I stood up and shouted 'There is a God!'

"I witnessed this miracle with my own eyes. It was not told or reported to me. I saw the hand of God send this missile into the sea."

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
  He who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel
  Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
                                         Psa 121:3, 4