Saturday, March 28, 2009

A brave new world?

Leaders of the G20 nations meet in London next week to draw up a blueprint for a new global economy. Russia is calling for a new world currency. China is proposing replacing the US dollar with a new global system. Iran, Libya and Kazakhstan have called in recent weeks for a new single currency.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is calling for "the biggest fiscal stimulus the world has ever seen," and the Bank of England is telling Gordon Brown that the UK cannot afford a new stimulus plan.

It is interesting that Bible prophecy speaks of a time when there will be one world economy (Rev 13:15 - 17). There will also be one world government (Dan 2:40 - 44; Dan 7:7, 8, 19 - 25; Rev 13:1 - 10) and a one-world religion (Rev 13:11 - 17). This will be a time when followers of Jesus will be martyred (Rev 17:5, 6), a time when the Jews will suffer as they have never suffered before, including the time of the Holocaust. The Bible calls it "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer 30:7).

All these things are not going to happen next week. Nevertheless, it is quite remarkable how quickly things are happening in these days. We are living in tremendous times. Times when Christians need to be living close to their Lord; times when they need to be busy in the Lord's service.

During a recent visit to several university campuses in the US, I discovered that there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah.

Listening to some students and professors on these campuses, for a moment I thought I was sitting opposite a Hamas spokesman or a would-be suicide bomber.

I was told, for instance, that Israel has no right to exist, that Israel’s “apartheid system” is worse than the one that existed in South Africa and that Operation Cast Lead was launched only because Hamas was beginning to show signs that it was interested in making peace and not because of the rockets that the Islamic movement was launching at Israeli communities. . .

Furthermore, I was told that all the talk about financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority was “Zionist propaganda”. . . these groups of hard-line activists/thugs are trying to intimidate anyone who dares to say something that they don’t like to hear.

When the self-designated “pro-Palestinian” lobbyists are unable to challenge the facts presented by a speaker, they resort to verbal abuse.

On one campus, for example, I was condemned as an “idiot” because I said that a majority of Palestinians voted for Hamas in the January 2006 election because they were fed up with financial corruption in the Palestinian Authority.

On another campus, I was dubbed as a “mouthpiece for the Zionists” because I said that Israel has a free media. . . And then there was the campus (in Chicago) where I was “greeted” with swastikas that were painted over posters promoting my talk. . .

What struck me more than anything else was the fact that many of the people I met on the campuses supported Hamas and believed that it had the right to “resist the occupation” even if that meant blowing up children and women on a bus in downtown Jerusalem. . .

The so-called pro-Palestinian “junta” on the campuses has nothing to offer other than hatred and de-legitimisation of Israel. . . What is happening on the US campuses is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state. It is not really about ending the “occupation” as much as it is about ending the existence of Israel. . .

What is happening on these campuses is not in the frame of freedom of speech. Instead, it is the freedom to disseminate hatred and violence.

I have mentioned before that the Bible speaks of a day when all the nations will gather together to attack Israel. That day may not be too far away.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Christians, atheists and the Government

A Christian-run shelter for the homeless was threatened with the loss of £150,000 of funding unless it stopped saying grace at mealtimes and putting Bibles out for use by guests.

Teen Challenge UK, a Christian organisation working among drug addicts, is said to have lost £700,000 of funding rather than give up its Christian ethos.

Within days of her announcement that the Government was to fund a council of Muslim theologians to make rulings on controversial elements of Islamic doctrine in an effort to tackle Muslim extremism, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears announced a new white paper designed to encourage people, including faith groups, to work in the community.

But, she told the House of Commons, "I am concerned to ensure that if faith groups become involved, they do so on a proper footing - not by evangelising or proselytising, but by providing services in a non-discriminatory way to the whole community." She said she intended to work on a charter, similar to the one by the Christian organisation Faithworks.

I wrote to her, as follows:

Dear Mrs Blears,

I have been reading your white paper, Communities in control: real people, real power, in which you speak of making use of services from faith-based groups.

In the House of Commons, you said you were concerned to ensure that if faith groups became involved, they did so on a proper footing, not by evangelising or proselytising, but by providing services in a non-discriminatory way.

You spoke of drafting a charter along the lines of the one provided by Faithworks.

Principle 3 of the Faithworks charter speaks of "Never imposing our Christian faith or belief on others." This sounds reasonable. But principle 2 of the charter
says "Acknowledging the freedom of people of all faiths or none both to hold and to express their beliefs and convictions respectfully and freely, within the limits of the UK law."

Does this mean that while people being served by Christian groups would have the freedom to express their beliefs and convictions, Christian groups providing services would not have freedom to express their Christian beliefs and convictions to the people they were serving?

I would be grateful if you would please let me have an answer on this specific point.

Yours sincerely,

I received no reply. I wrote again:

Dear Mrs Blears,

I wrote to you some time ago, but have not had a reply. I attach a copy of my letter.

I should be grateful if you would please let me have a reply to my letter, in particular to the point in the penultimate paragraph.

Thank you.


This time I got a reply from her department. The letter is too long to reproduce here, but the relevant paragraph says

With regard to the specific question you have asked, it is important to make a distinction between the freedom of individuals and organisations to collectively express Christian beliefs and convictions. . . and the imposition of these same beliefs upon others dependent upon the services being provided.

The big question, of course, is what the Government defines as imposition.

MPs complained in a debate in the Commons last week that although Christians have made a vital contribution to British society, they are being marginalised by public bodies.

Andrew Selous MP called the debate following a spate of cases where Christians have been sidelined for expressing their faith. One Christian charity working in London to help single mothers, he said, was told by the local authority that its application for funding was refused because its assistance for single parents included "extending Christian comfort and offering prayer."

"If the faith institutions and churches disappeared from my constituency tomorrow," said Conservative MP Paul Goodman, "much of the tapestry of civil society would simply unweave."

This morning, the Daily Mail says £25,000 of taxpayers' money intended for faith groups, to be used to build "faith communities," has been given by Hazel Blears' Department for Local Government to the British Humanist Association to run local campaigns promoting atheism. Caroline Spelman MP, Conservative local government spokesman, called this "scandalous."

Meanwhile, the Government continues to say that it is preparing a charter for faith groups to sign up to before they are awarded public funding. We wait with interest to see what it says.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Oh that will be glory for me

Someone sent me the testimony of a man who claimed to have been in hell. It was not, he said, a dream or a vision, but an out-of-the-body experience, because he saw his body lying on the floor as he came back from the place where he had been.

His wife found him lying in the living room, holding his head and screaming. She said it took her 10 to 20 minutes to quieten him. He said it took him a year to get over the experience.

In his testimony, he described the things he had experienced in that place: the physical agony, the incredible heat, the smell, the darkness, the flames, the screams. He quoted Scripture after Scripture after Scripture to confirm the things he saw. He was a committed Christian, but he said that all knowledge of God's salvation was taken from him during the time that he was there. He believed there was no way out, and that he was there for ever.

After a time, he said, Jesus came to bring him out of that place. "Lord, why did You send me to this place?" he said. "Because people do not believe that this place exists. Even some of My own people do not believe this place is real. Go and tell them," Jesus said.

I was interested that the man said he had seen the Lord. But all he was able to see, he said, was the outline of a man, filled with brilliant light.

A short while later, a friend lent me a book called Journal of the Unknown Prophet.[1] It was prophecy, from start to finish. The part that particularly interested me was a vision at the back of the book described by the woman who had put the book together, a vision that has yet to be fulfilled.

In the vision there were millions of people from every tribe and nation, all of them dressed in white. In the distance was the Father, clothed in flaming light.

Then Jesus came. He greeted each one there, and called him "good and faithful servant." With some He wept; with some He laughed. Some He would take in His arms. With others He would hold their hands. With each one He would look deep into their eyes. You could imagine a face filled with indescribable love. Although there were millions there, the author said, it was as though it was just Him and you.

I long to see the Lord. It may not be in this life, but that doesn't matter. My deepest longing is to see His face.

There is a chorus we used to sing years ago:

It will be worth it all
When we see Jesus;
Life's trials will seem so small
When we see Christ.
One glimpse of His dear face
All sorrow will erase;
It will be worth it all
When we see Christ.

For the Christian, the one who has experienced forgiveness in Christ, death holds no terrors. When my time comes, I will be going home. It will be home not just because of the place it is, but because He lives there.

[1] Journal of the Unknown Prophet. Copyright Wendy Alec. Chichester: New Wine Press, 2002.

Sad news indeed

In 1999 the British Government pledged to cut teenage pregnancies by half by 2010. It has spent almost £300 million promoting sex education and handing out free contraceptives and morning-after pills. The result? Teenage pregnancies have increased.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that pregnancies in 2007 in girls under 18 were up. Pregnancies in under-16s were up six per cent. And the number of pregnant girls under 18 who chose abortion reached 50 per cent for the first time.

The Government's response? To announce the provision of a further £20 million to promote contraception. Every time more sex education, more free contraceptives and easier access to morning-after pills have failed to stem the tide, the Government has announced its remedy: more sex education, more free contraceptives and easier access to morning-after pills. You would have thought, wouldn't you, that by now it would have occurred to someone that something wasn't working. Alas, no. What we're dealing with here is not reason, but ideology.

The same week these figures were announced, the Government issued new guidance to parents. Parents should not teach their teenage children that it is wrong to have sex, the Government said, lest that discourage children from being "open." Instead parents should encourage children from the age of 13 - three years under the legal age of consent, mark you - to obtain contraception. Why not, says a new leaflet, offer to go with your daughter to visit a local clinic or GP so that she can make a choice that is right for her?

How dare they? How dare they tell parents how to bring up their children when their own teenage pregnancy strategy is such an abject failure?

If I am a parent - above all a father - it is my responsibility to bring up my children to be moral, God-fearing citizens who respect marriage and shun illicit sex.

When it comes to morality, the British Government has lost its way. Yet it still insists on telling parents how to bring up their children. How very, very sad.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Perseverance, that's the thing

How is it that sometimes prayers are answered immediately and other times we have to pray for years before we see the thing for which we are praying?

I don't know if I know the answer to that. Perhaps God wants to teach us patience. Or perhaps He needs to work changes in the lives of others before He can give us the thing we're asking for. One thing I do know is that sometimes it is necessary to persevere in prayer.

George Muller will be remembered for his life of faith and for the orphanages he built around Bristol. He was a man of prayer. He saw thousands of prayers answered. Many of the answers came on the same day he prayed - but not all of them so quickly.

"All the children of God," said Muller, "when once satisfied that anything which they bring before God in prayer is according to His will, ought to continue in believing, expecting, persevering prayer until the blessing is granted. . . When once I am persuaded that a thing is right, I go on praying for it until the end comes. I never give up.

"The great point is never to give up until the answer comes. . . The great fault of the children of God is they do not continue in prayer; they do not go on praying; they do not persevere. If they desire anything for God's glory, they should pray until they get it."

He practised what he preached. "I have been praying for 63 years and eight months for one man's conversion," he said. "He is not saved yet, but he will be. How can it be otherwise? . . I am praying."

Muller never saw the man converted. He died first. After Muller's death, the man came to Christ.

Difficult days

Two important things happened last month - things that passed largely unnoticed in some quarters.

First, the United Nations said that Iran now has sufficient material to build a nuclear bomb. Second, Iran launched its first domestically made satellite into orbit. This means that Iran can now reach Israel, the European Union or the United States with a nuclear weapon.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is, of course, a Muslim. He is also a follower of the Mahdi. The Mahdi, a descendant of the prophet Mohammed and the 12th Imam, vanished in the middle of the ninth century with a promise that he would return. Mahdists believe that when he returns, all the world will convert to Islam. President Ahmadinejad is said to believe that he was appointed president by the Mahdi, and that his calling is to prepare the way for the Mahdi's return.

He is said to want to see the destruction of liberal democratic states and Western capitalism and an end to the United States as a superpower. In particular, he wants to see the elimination of Israel. He has promised publicly that Israel will be wiped off the face of the map, and he has said publicly that Israel's days are numbered.

The Bible says of Israel (in Jer 31:35 - 37):

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for a light by day,
And the ordinances of the moon and
the stars for a light by night,
Who disturbs the sea,
And its waves roar
(The Lord of hosts is his name):

"If those ordinances depart
From before me," says the Lord,
"Then the seed of Israel shall also cease
From being a nation before me for ever."

Thus says the Lord:
"If heaven above can be measured,
And the foundations of the earth
searched out beneath,
I will also cast off all the seed of Israel
For all that they have done,"
says the Lord.

So could President Ahmadinejad destroy Israel?

Yes, he could. The only thing is that he would have to destroy the sun and the moon first. Perhaps he doesn't know that, which is a pity. Knowing that could save him an awful lot of trouble. Having said that, there is no doubt that a nuclear attack against Israel could do incredible damage.

Mahdists believe that the Mahdi's return will be at a time of chaos, with wars, earthquakes, famines and floods, and that the creation of favourable conditions can hasten his coming.

Israel does not want war, but neither is Israel likely to sit and do nothing while Iran launches nuclear weapons. You will remember that when Saddam Hussein was preparing nuclear weapons in Iraq in the early 1980s, Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin sent aircraft to bomb his nuclear facilities. (That caused international outrage. When they told Prime Minister Begin about the protests, he said "Just tell them 'Never again.'" He referred, of course, to the Holocaust.)

A nuclear attack against Israel would cause chaos indeed. On the other hand, Iran has said that a pre-emptive strike against Iran would be the beginning of World War III.

A problem indeed for incoming Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.