Saturday, August 29, 2009

Living with Big Brother

The United Kingdom is becoming more of a Big Brother state by the day. The Government has brought 3,500 new offences into law in the past 12 years.

Town hall officials, I'm told, now have a legal right to enter your home to see what you're up to. A request is made every minute to snoop on someone's phone records or e-mail accounts; laws designed to combat terrorism are being used by local councils to spy on people suspected of things like fly tipping; and CCTV cameras are everywhere.

Once upon a time, the local council removed your rubbish as a service to the public. Now householders appear to be here to serve the local council. We have four differently coloured wheelie bins at our home, and town hall despots have been issuing fines to old people for putting the wrong piece of rubbish in the wrong bin.

These are serious matters: something needs to be done. But it's important we don't become paranoid about it. So I was still able to enjoy the joke at Vital Signs' blog.

An old farmer named Bud was overseeing his herd in a remote mountainous pasture in West Texas when suddenly a brand new BMW advanced toward him out of a cloud of dust.

The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, RayBan sunglasses and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the cowboy, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me one of them?"

Bud looks at the man quizzically, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and smiles. "Sure, why not?"

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3 cell phone and surfs to a NASA page on the internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany.

Within seconds, he receives an e-mail on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses an MS-SQL database through an ODBC-connected Excel spreadsheet with e-mail on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.

Finally, he prints out a full-colour, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturised HP LaserJet printer, turns to the cowboy and says, "You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves."

"Well, that's exactly how many animals I've got," answered Bud. "So I guess you can take one of 'em if you want."

He watches the young man select the animal closest to him and looks on with some genuine consternation as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then Bud says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back that animal?"

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?"

"You're a bureaucrat working for a government agency," says Bud.

"Wow! That's correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required," answered Bud. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You used millions of dollars worth of equipment trying to show me how much smarter than me you are; but you don't really know a thing about how working people make a living. You certainly don't know nothin' about cows, that's for dang sure."

"How can you say that?" said the exasperated politician.

"Well, you see, feller," answered Bud, "this here is a herd of sheep.

"Now, will you give me back my dog?"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A matter of definition

What is a Christian? A Christian is someone who goes to church. No, that can't be right. A Christian might well go to church, but going to church doesn't make someone a Christian.

Well a Christian is someone who lives a good life and tries to help others. No, that can't be right either. A Muslim could do that. Or a Buddhist. Or an atheist.

Then a Christian is someone who believes in God and believes the doctrine of the church. Well, not necessarily. Some people have been brought up in the doctrine of the church and they've not been Christians. They've been scoundrels.

Then what is a Christian? Here is a definition I like. A Christian is someone who knows Jesus, who loves Jesus and who serves Jesus.

Christianity isn't just a religion, it's a relationship. Before the Fall, Adam had fellowship with God in the garden. Then Adam sinned, and sin broke the connection. Jesus lived a perfect life and died to pay the price of sin, to make a way through Christ for man to come back into a personal relationship with God.

A Christian is someone who has realised that Jesus is alive. (Remember, the early Christians had trouble convincing people that Jesus was alive.) A Christian has had a meeting with Jesus in which he has given his life to Christ and Christ has changed his life, and continues to change it.

A Christian is someone who has realised he was a sinner without a Saviour, a sheep without a shepherd. A sheep who has chosen to come through the Door back into the sheepfold. A sinner who has come home.

The good news is that whosoever will may come.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hoping for heaven?

I hear that some people around here are saying that it is impossible to know that you are going to heaven.

That's not true.

You can know that you are going to heaven without a shadow of a doubt. Not because of what you are or what you've done. Those things won't get you to heaven. But because of what Jesus did for you by dying in your place on an old rugged cross two thousand years ago; because you have believed it and received it and because you are trusting in His unshakeable promises. Look at the Scriptures, like John 3:36; 5:24; 10:27, 28; 14:1-3; Rom 10:9; 2 Tim 1:12; 1 John 2:3 - 5, and be encouraged.

I have a growing conviction that there two things that we ought to be doing in these days. The first is fulfilling the Great Commission: going into all the world and preaching the good news of the gospel.

The second is living in the light of eternity. It seems to me that there are a lot of Christians who know that their sins are forgiven, know that they are going to heaven, know that their future is secure, but who are living entirely for this life, with little or no thought of where they are going to be or what they are going to be doing in eternity. This life is short; eternity is a long time. This life is preparation for what's to come.

My friend Denny Hartford is an American, a Christian and a pro-life activist. He writes a regular blog. He gets more done in a day than I do in quite a bit longer than that (but then he's a few years younger than I am). Among other things, he helps out as a teaching pastor at a church in the city where he lives.

On Sundays, the church normally meets just once, as I understand. But recently he invited the congregation to join him on Sunday evenings in a series of studies based on a remarkable book called Heaven by an excellent Christian author named Randy Alcorn. What a wonderful idea for a church!

If there isn't anything like that at your church, why not start a similar study at home with your own family? I don't know if they will have the book at your local Christian bookstore, but I notice they have it at Amazon.

Some Christians believe that when they die, they are going to heaven for ever. Other Christians point out that there's going to be a new earth, and suggest, on the basis of Rev 21:1 - 3, that God's ultimate purpose is not to get people to heaven, but to get them to the point where He can come down to earth and dwell in the midst of His people. And where, they might ask, are you going to be when Jesus comes to earth a second time, as He promised (1 Thess 4:17; Jude 14)?

But if we talk about those things, it's going to have to be another time. . .

Saturday, August 08, 2009

How you can prove the existence of God

When Frederick the Great asked for proof of the existence of God, someone said to him "Sir, the Jews." So the story goes.

The Old Testament tells how God made the Jews His own chosen nation. One thing He required of them was obedience. If they were not obedient, He said, He would scatter them through the nations of the earth. They were not obedient, and God kept His promise.

No other people have ever lost their nationhood and their land and retained their national identity. Within two generations, all the people who have lost their land have been assimilated into the nations around them. But after two thousand years of exile, the Jews are still Jews.

The same God who promised that He would scatter the Jews also promised in the Old Testament - not once, but multiple times - that He would bring them from the east, the west, the north and the south back to their own land.

The Jews are the only people in world history who, having lost their land and their statehood, have gone back to their own land and become a nation again, rebuilding the old cities, calling them by their old names, even speaking their own language. Israel became a nation again in 1948.

"Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once?" Isaiah asks in Isa 66:8. If it's Israel it can.

And how about this, in Amos 9:14, 15:

"I will bring back the captives of my people Israel;
They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them;
They shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.
I will plant them in their land,
And no longer shall they be pulled up
From the land I have given them,"
Says the Lord your God.

The surrounding Arab nations have made war against Israel in 1948, in 1956, in 1967, in 1973. Each time Israel has been completely, hopelessly, utterly outnumbered. Each time Israel has fought back and won.

You can't explain the Jews without God.

Now God Himself challenges you to prove Him. See Isa 44:6 - 8:

"Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
'I am the First and I am the Last:
Besides me there is no God.
And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for me,
Since I appointed the ancient people.
And the things that are coming and shall come,
Let them show these to them.
Do not fear, nor be afraid;
Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?
You are my witnesses,
Is there a God besides me?
Indeed there is no other Rock;
I know not one.'"

Notice "Who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order. . ." In other words, who can tell not only what has happened, but what is going to happen in the future, and be right every time? Only the One who can see the end from the beginning.

When He writes down centuries ahead of time what's going to happen and it happens just like He says, that's proof that God exists.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Another step towards assisted dying?

The battle to see assisted suicide legalised in the UK - a next step in the fight for the legalisation of euthanasia - rolls relentlessly on.

More than 100 Britons have travelled to Switzerland to end their lives at the Dignitas suicide facility. While suicide, or attempted suicide, is no longer an offence in the UK, assisting someone to commit suicide is. Any one of the people who accompanied their relative or friend to the Swiss suicide clinic could have been prosecuted in the UK for assisting suicide. No one was, because the Director of Public Prosecutions chose not to prosecute.

That was not enough for Debbie Purdy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. She wanted to know for certain that if she went to Switzerland to commit suicide her husband would not be prosecuted if he went with her. Supported by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, now known as Dignity in Dying, she went to court seeking such an assurance.

Unsurprisingly, the High Court and the Appeal Court both refused to give her one. Rather surprisingly, the law lords, the highest court in the land, this week overturned the decisions of the lower courts and ordered the Director of Public Prosecutions to state specifically under what circumstances the state will act if someone helps a friend or relative take their own life abroad.

Ms Purdy's lawyers hailed it as a significant step towards legalisation of assisted suicide in certain circumstances.

Critics said the ruling "drove a coach and horses" through the Suicide Act 1961, as a decision that people could not be prosecuted under certain circumstances would effectively change primary legislation without reference to Parliament.

Christian Concern for Our Nation pointed out that the law lords had ruled that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which covers the right to respect for private life, also covers a person's choice to end their life. They had ruled that a woman's right to decide when to end her life was protected in law.

Said CCFON: "The European Convention on Human Rights was originally drafted to enshrine the rights to live and be protected from abuse and harm by others. It has now been interpreted to protect the right to die - the very antithesis of the founders' intentions. . . Suicide was decriminalised in 1961, but that was very different from recognising a right to commit suicide as the House of Lords has done.

"It is the state's duty to protect God's creation and not to facilitate its destruction."

John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said on his blog that the judgment was dangerous because "It sacrifices the value of human life in the name of choice; it fails to balance sympathy for the relatives of a suicidal person with the need to affirm the worth of people with disability; and it discriminates against certain categories of vulnerable people."

He adds: "Assisting suicide is dangerous, unethical and unnecessary. It's dangerous because it sends out a signal to disabled people that they have less value than others. It's unethical because it is always wrong intentionally to kill an innocent human being. And it's unnecessary because medical treatment, good palliative care and/or personal support can overcome suicidal tendencies."

Labour MP David Winnick now says he hopes to introduce a bill to legalise assisted dying in the House of Commons.

Meanwhile, assisting suicide remains illegal in the UK - for now.