Saturday, May 30, 2009

Time to take a stand?

A time of anti-Christian persecution is at hand, says the Church of England Newspaper. "The Government had better start building more prison space - for Christians and moral conservatives generally," it said in a recent editorial.

People were used to hearing of Christians sacked for daring to air any view which disapproved of homosexual sex. But the new Equality Bill and a Government bid to delete a free speech protection from a "homophobic hatred" law would lead to more intolerance of Christian views, it said.

The Equality Bill placed a duty on public bodies, like schools and police, to promote homosexual rights and gave Parliament the opportunity to strip away religious liberty protections from various discrimination laws, it said.

Christians, and Muslims and others who disagreed with the homosexual line, the paper said, were being told "to shut up and get into their closet - the gays are not tolerant of dissent and have got the state to crack down."

Which brings me to the case of Anand Rao. Although it may have nothing to do with homosexuality, it certainly seems to have to do with Christian persecution.

Mr Rao is 71 years old and a committed Christian. He has been a nurse for 40 years, in recent years in hospitals run by the University of Leicester NHS Trust. He decided to go on a training course organised by the Leicestershire and Rutland Organisation for the Relief of Suffering, and found his own funds to pay for the course.

During the course, in a role play situation to do with palliative care, Mr Rao was placed with a couple playing the part of man and wife. He was told the wife had a serious heart condition, a doctor had told her she would not live long and this had caused her stress. How would he advise them? He suggested to the couple - in a role play situation on a training course, notice - that going to church might ease her stress.

The course directors were dissatisfied with this and the course organiser reported him to his employer. He was suspended and later sacked - apparently for breaching the Nursing and Midwifery Council's code of conduct respecting a person's dignity.

Mr Rao, who is considering taking legal action against his former employer for religious discrimination, said he is staggered that someone who has given four decades to caring for people can be treated in the way he has.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, of the Christian Legal Centre, said "How is it possible that a nurse who has served the public for 40 years should find himself dismissed because in a training session he advised someone to go to church? To seek to censor and suppress this kind of language and belief is the first fruits of a closed society."

Time to kick up a fuss?

Household salvation (1)

A well known Bible verse says "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). At least, that's how it's usually quoted. But that's not what it says. Or to be more accurate, that's not all that it says. It says in fact "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."

I suppose I used to think it was a sort of a spare promise in the Bible. But the day came when I realised that that promise, with its "you and your household," contains a divine principle that you can see throughout the word of God.

Consider. The Bible tells how mankind became so desperately wicked that God decided to put an end to it. But Noah found grace in His sight. God told him to build an ark. When it was time to enter the ark, God said to Noah (Gen 7:1): "Come into the ark, you and all your household." The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man. It doesn't say anything about his family being righteous - but because of Noah, eight people were saved.

Abraham was God's friend. God made a covenant to bless him. The sign of the covenant was circumcision. Circumcision was not just for Abraham, but for his sons - not just for Isaac, but for Ishmael - and not just for his sons, but for his servants (Genesis 17). In short, for Abraham and all his household.

When it was time for the last of the 10 plagues in Egypt, the Israelites were instructed to slay a lamb and put its blood on the lintel and doorposts of their homes. That night, the firstborn in every household in Egypt would die, but the firstborn in each house covered with the blood would be saved. They were instructed to slay a lamb not for each individual, but for each household (Ex 12:3. 7, 13).

Jericho was under condemnation. Everything in Jericho was to be destroyed. But Rahab sought the Lord. She was told that she and everyone with her in her house would be saved. It doesn't say anything about her household having sought the Lord. But because of Rahab, Rahab and all her household were preserved. You can see the promise in Josh 2:18, 19 and its fulfilment in Josh 6:17, 22, 23, 25.

Ah, you say, but all that was in the Old Testament. Come with me to the New Testament. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, and a money-grabber. When Jesus went to his house, something happened. "I give half of my goods to the poor," said Zacchaeus, "and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold."

"Today," replied Jesus, "salvation has come to this house" (Luke 19:9). What a strange thing to say. He didn't say that salvation had come to the man, but to the house.

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, saw a vision of an angel. "Send men to Joppa," said the angel, "and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved" (Acts 11:13, 14).

When Paul and his colleagues preached to Lydia in Philippi, Lydia and her household were baptised (Acts 16:14, 15). When the jailor in the jail at Philippi asked "What must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas told him: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31 - 34). And so it happened.

There are other examples of households being converted, like the household of Crispus (Acts 18:8) and the household of Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16).

When Joshua was an old man, he called all Israel together and reminded them of all that God had done for them. It was time for them to choose whether they would serve the God of Israel or whether they would serve other foreign gods. "But as for me and my house," said Joshua, "we will serve the Lord" (Josh 24:15).

More soon.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why are atheists so aggressive?

Why are atheists so aggressive these days, what with books by Richard Dawkins, posters on the sides of buses and the formation of the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies to support atheist students?

I have some ideas on the matter, but not being totally convinced of the reason, I'd like to leave the question open. Somebody supposed it was because atheists, while content to pooh-pooh the idea of a God, were irked because they were finding it increasingly difficult to counter the claims of intelligent design. Proponents of intelligent design don't speak of a God, but do suggest that the physical and biological systems we see around us are best explained as having an intelligent cause.

Francis Crick and James Watson, the scientists who discovered the structure of DNA, were, I understand, both atheists. They had a desire to show that the mysterious phenomena of life could be explained in terms of physics and chemistry. In discovering the structure of DNA, which I understand is found in every cell in the body, they discovered something incredibly complex. So complex, in fact, that it must have had an intelligence behind it.

DNA contains information. Someone has said that in just a pinpoint of DNA you can find as much information as in four complete 30-volume sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Information, from where I'm sitting, can't come from evolution, but only from an intelligence.

So when they discovered something so amazingly complex, did Crick and Watson cease to be atheists? Evidently not.

I have a theory about atheists. I suggest that an atheist is not an atheist because he can't believe, but because he won't believe. I suppose that atheists are not atheists because of evidence or the lack of it, but because of hardness of heart.

Christianity and science are not necessarily opposed. Some Christians are scientists, and some scientists are Christians.

But beware. Some Christians believe in evolution. How can you be a Christian and believe in evolution? Only by disbelieving the account of creation in Genesis. Here's the problem: if you believe the account of creation in Genesis is untrue, how do you know the rest of the Bible is true?

Here's something to bear in mind as you think about these things. Mark 10 tells how the Pharisees were disputing with Jesus about the question of divorce. In verses 6 - 8, Jesus says: "From the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh, so then they are no longer two, but one flesh." He was quoting from the first two chapters of Genesis.

Jesus believed in the Genesis account.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

How about this for a church?

John the apostle says in his first epistle "By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16). This is usually interpreted to mean that we ought to give our lives for the brethren if we are required to do so.

But it does not say that we ought to give our lives for the brethren if we are required to do so. It says we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. So here's the question: have you laid down your life for the brethren?

Selwyn Hughes writes that in Pusan, Korea, he came across the only church in all his travels where a commitment was made by every member to place the interests of the other members before their own.[1] The atmosphere in that church, he said, was the most wonderful he had ever experienced in over 40 years of ministry.

The minister there told him that whenever someone joined that church, either through conversion or moving into the community from elsewhere, all the other members gathered round the new member and together recited these words:

We covenant to love you with the love of the Lord Jesus Christ - the love that puts your interests as a priority. Nothing you do will stop us loving you. If your actions dishonour Christ, we will tell you so, but in a spirit of love. We will pray for you daily by name. Anything we have is at your disposal. We will honestly tell you how we feel about the level of your spiritual maturity from time to time. If this means pain for each of us, we will trust our relationship enough to take that risk, realising that in "speaking the truth in love we grow up in every way into Christ who is the head." We are committed to you because of what God has designed us to be in His loving creation.

Isn't that beautiful?

[1] Selwyn Hughes. Every Day with Jesus, January/February 2009. Farnham, Surrey: CWR, 2008.

Such amazing grace

When Jesus was arrested, Peter was afraid. So much so, that he denied that he even knew Him.

When Peter realised what he had done, he wept bitterly (Matt 26:75). He had meant to do so much for Jesus. Now he'd made a mess of it all. He wouldn't be able to do much for Jesus now.

When the women went to the tomb on the first day of the week after the Crucifixion, they saw an angel. "He is risen!" the angel said. "He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples - and Peter - that he is going before you into Galilee; there you will see him, as he said to you" (Mark 16:6, 7).

And Peter. So Peter wasn't discounted, cast away, forgotten. (Soon, at Pentecost, after his restoration, Peter would preach and see 3,000 converted. But Peter didn't know that yet.)

When the risen Jesus appeared to a group of the disciples on the shore of Lake Galilee, they ate with Him. When they had eaten, Jesus said to Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?"

"Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."

"Feed my lambs.

"Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?"

"Yes, Lord; you know that I love you."

"Tend my sheep.

"Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?"

"Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

"Feed my sheep" (John 21:15 - 17).

Why did Jesus ask him three times? Peter understood. He was asking him three times because he had denied Him three times. Peter had failed, and that failure had to be dealt with. But not a word of condemnation. Not a word of reproof.

Our failures have to be dealt with too. Sometimes it hurts. But not a word of condemnation. What grace.