Thursday, December 23, 2010

Following the star

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying 'Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him'" (Matt 2:1, 2).

First, the Bible doesn't say they were kings. Neither does it say there were three of them. There were three kinds of gifts, but there could have been any number of wise men.

The Bible calls them magi. The magi were a class of Persian wise men, soothsayers and interpreters of signs, particularly in astrology. They became powerful and influential; not so much kings as kingmakers.

They came from the part of the world where Daniel had lived years before. Daniel had introduced many to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Perhaps he had spoken of the One who was to come.

The star was no ordinary star. It seems to have appeared and disappeared. It moved before them, and finally stood still over where the young child was. When they first saw it, somehow they understood it spoke of the birth of a king of the Jews. And somehow they understood He was no ordinary king, for they came to worship Him.

God used a star to lead them to Christ because stars were what they were into.

It would have been no use using a star to lead me to Christ; I wouldn't have noticed. God used my job to lead me to Christ, because that was what I was into.

Whatever God uses to bring you to Christ, be sure to come. He is the most important person ever to have lived on the planet. He is alive today. God wants you to make his acquaintance. To have a personal relationship with Him is the most important thing that can happen to you, ever.

May you have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed, purposeful and fruitful New Year. And as Tiny Tim used to say, "God bless us, every one!"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bully for the BBC

The BBC has been heavily criticised for extravagance, for anti-Israel bias, for left-wing bias, for slashing religious programming and for bias against Christianity. Not without cause.

But credit where credit's due.

This coming year is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised Version of the Bible, also known as the King James Version. It was in 1611 that the 54 scholars brought together at the instigation of King James I to produce a new English translation completed "the noblest monument of English prose." The King James Version has not only provided inspiration and spiritual instruction for four centuries, but has left its mark on the English language like no other book.

The BBC is to devote Radio 4 on Sunday, January 9, to readings from the King James Bible, between 6am and midnight. Space will be found for the most popular Radio 4 programmes, like the Archers and Gardeners' Question Time, but in between will be a total of seven hours' Bible reading in 28 portions of 15 minutes.

Introductions will be by people as diverse as Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Simon Schama and Will Self; the readings by actors like Samuel West, Hugh Bonneville, Emilia Fox and Niamh Cusack.

There is a suspicion that the BBC is looking not so much to the King James' spiritual content as to its influence on the literary life of the nation, but the BBC's decision will please the church.

The secular humanists, as you may imagine, are somewhat peeved.

Like Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society. "It is fair enough," he said, "to have a programme devoted to it, but the coverage is so excessive it beggars belief. The BBC is supposed to be for everybody, not just Christians, so to devote a whole day to a minority, which is what Christians now are, is unfair to other listeners who may want something different."

(There are, of course, other BBC radio channels.)

Said the BBC: "The King James Version of the Bible remains one of the most widely published texts in the English language and it has been recognised for centuries as both a religious and literary classic.

"It is also generally accepted to have had a significant impact on our language, the arts and music and the wider cultural impact of the King James Bible cannot be overestimated."

Good for the BBC.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dangerous times

Others will have seen, as I did, a video on the TV news which showed a man in a school board meeting in Florida paint a "V" (for vendetta) on the wall, then pull out a gun and begin shooting at members of the board.

A security guard came in, the two exchanged fire and the gunman went down. The gunman then used his gun to take his own life. No one was hurt but the gunman.

What British TV didn't show was a subsequent interview with school superintendent Bill Husfelt, the first man to be shot at.

"Right before he pulled that trigger, I knew he was going to pull the trigger," he said.

"There was a miracle that I wasn't shot. He literally had the gun pointed right at me. I was very confident that I was going to get shot. I was ready if that was going to happen. I knew where I would go. . .

"God was standing in front of me. I believe that with all my heart."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The cost of being a Christian

Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in his message for World Peace Day on January 1, released at the Vatican on Thursday, that Christians suffer more from persecution on account of their faith than any other religious group.

He referred to the persecution of Christian communities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and made special mention of violence against Christians in Iraq.

In Western countries, he said, there were more sophisticated forms of hostility to religion, often expressed by a denial of its Christian roots and the rejection of religious symbols which reflected the identity and culture of the majority of its citizens.

He urged world leaders to act promptly to end every injustice against Christians in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, pleaded with Western countries to end their hostility and prejudice against Christians, and urged Europe to become reconciled with its Christian roots, which were indispensable for promoting justice and peace.

Civil society, he said, must acknowledge and make room for the right of believers to have their voice heard in the public realm.

Monsignor Anthony Frontiero, of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that of all people discriminated against, hurt, killed or persecuted for religious reasons, 75 per cent worldwide were Christian.

A conservative estimate of the number of Christians killed for their faith each year was around 150,000. Between 200 million and 230 million faced daily threats of murder, beating, imprisonment and torture, and a further 350 to 400 million encountered discrimination in areas such as jobs and housing.

Nigel Evans, MP for Ribble Valley and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, is "coming out" as a homosexual this weekend. He is to host the launch of a new taxpayer-funded support group for lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgendered people in Parliament (how many lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgendered people are there in Parliament?) at the Speaker's official residence on Monday.

Blogger Archbishop Cranmer, who wants to know if the Speaker will be hosting a reception for Parliament's "support network" for Christians, says it is more difficult to be "out" as a Christian in Parliament than it is to be lesbian, homosexual, bisexual or transgendered.

A devout and committed Christian that is, "who might wish to support the institution of marriage as a union between one man and one woman; who might define certain behaviour as 'sin'; who might wish to abolish abortion or at least mitigate the abuse by a reduction in the upper limit; who might wish to retain bishops in the House of Lords; who might wish to retain prayers to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob before each session of Parliament; who vigorously supports church schools and educational autonomy; who might defend the Establishment of the Church of England, and retain the XXXIX Articles of Religion and the Act of Settlement."

What are we coming to?

Think about it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Where Christians live in fear

An organisation calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq, responsible for the deaths of 60 people attending a church service in Baghdad recently, later warned that "all Christian centres, organisations and institutions, leaders and followers" were legitimate targets, however they could be reached.

Barnabas Fund this week published on its website a message from a senior church official responsible for helping Christian refugees from Iraq in Syria. It tells about conditions for Christians in Iraq:

Their conditions are no longer bearable. The people are living behind locked doors, they are compelled to take long leaves of absence from work, in Mosul and other cities, as a result of the dangers they face at work.

The universities are almost empty of Christian students, as are the schools. In some of the cities even the streets are almost empty of Christians.

It is as if they are in prison: without work, without study, without Church meetings. Fear rules over all situations and in all places.

Threats and insults are daily occurrences, and offensive graffiti is daubed on the walls of the homes of these innocent people.

There is no getting around this problem nor is there a solution to it. The people are deprived of everything that could bring security to their lives: all they can do is depend on God's mercy or leave for the north. However, travelling to the north requires great financial means for paying the very high rent of homes there, and meeting the cost of living.

If a Christian wishes to rent out his house and leave, the terrorists will force the person renting the house to pay the rent to them, because according to them this house is theirs by right. And, if he dared to sell it they would threaten the person who bought it, so in the end all the money would go to the terrorists.

Here are some examples of people's stories:

A family in the north received a knock at their door at night, and the head of the household went to the door, and found a bird, slain, nailed to the door. The message was clear: you will be slain like this bird.

Saad and Raad, two young men working in the industrial area in Mosul as blacksmiths, used to pay 300,000 Iraqi Dinars a month to the terrorists in order to be spared their lives. This however, in the end, did not prevent them from being killed in their workshop, leaving eleven people unsupported.

A 26-year-old man, who was working in a Mini Market, had his shop entered by terrorists demanding some items. He was fired upon and killed, without warning. This took place in broad daylight in Mosul, at the beginning of this month (December 2010).

Many are thinking of leaving these tragic circumstances, but without any means of doing so. . .

There are many other horrific stories of tragedy, which could fill pages and pages. They tell of terrorism, fear, unbearable living conditions and children being threatened, having their very lives coloured with deep blackness.

Pray with us for them.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of Barnabas Aid, called for immediate international intervention to help Iraq's Christians, and for prayer on their behalf:

"This Christmas the Christians in Iraq face an unfolding tragedy. The past seven years of war have seen their community devastated. Now they face a wave of attacks that has reduced many of them not just to abject poverty, but also to terrible fear.

"A senior Iraqi Christian leader recently asked if the time has now come to evacuate the entire Christian community from Iraq. Others have suggested that its only future lies in an independent homeland.

"What is crystal clear is that the international community cannot wash its hands of this beleaguered minority. Intervention must happen urgently. Intervention should be now."

The Bible says that if a man repents of his sin and accepts Christ as his Lord and Saviour, he becomes a new creature. He enters a new kingdom; becomes part of a new family. To be a Christian and to be concerned only about our own natural family and members of our local church will not do. Those who like us have found God's forgiveness are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Action, please.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Does God answer prayer?

Have you ever prayed and felt like God didn't answer prayer any more? Bill Courtemanche was like that.

He had had a faith as a youngster, but had had a problem with alcohol, and had drifted away. One day a gun went off near his ear. He became completely deaf in one ear and lost 40 per cent of his hearing in the other. He learned to lip read, but still had problems.

He rededicated his life to Christ, and felt his faith had grown strong over the years since. But then there were problems in his local church. A 36-year-old mother died of cancer. Things continued to go wrong.

Bill knelt at the front of the church, pouring out his heart to God. "Lord, what is going on? Why do we have all this suffering? Do you even hear our prayers?" Suddenly he felt a terrible burning in his ears.

"I felt like my head was on fire, like it was about to explode," he said. He went home and slept for a while. When he woke up, the burning and nausea were gone. Then he noticed. After 17 years, he could hear with both ears.

He went to an audiologist, who told him there was nothing wrong with his ears.

You can read the full story here.

Later, Bill's mother was found dead in her bathroom. Paramedics worked on her and took her to hospital, where her heart stopped a second time. She was placed on life support.

Bill sat by her bed, praying for her, reading to her and "doing the things you do when you don't know what to do."

He explained his dilemma to a chaplain. His mother was technically brain dead. He did not want to say yes to removing her life support and let her die, but she was only alive because she was hooked up to machines.

The chaplain said life support machines were man-made and only God could terminate a life. If she was meant to go home she would die, and if she wasn't, she wouldn't.

They fixed Saturday to remove her life support. On Saturday, they told Bill to kiss her goodbye. When he did, she woke up. The doctor said it was a miracle.

It turned out that although she was supposed to be brain dead, she had still managed to hear.

She told Bill "You know the most annoying thing? You know how hard it is to sleep when someone sits there all night reading to you?"

God loves to answer prayer. Don't limit Him.

When is independent not independent?

People who want to see assisted suicide permitted in the UK seem determined to get there, one way or the other.

Attempts in the House of Lords to have assisted suicide legalised have been a failure.

Some people saw the Director of Public Prosecution's being forced to state under what circumstances he would prosecute and under what circumstances he would not as an attempt to have assisted suicide allowed under some circumstances; the threat being, as they saw it, not that the law would be changed but that people would know that under some circumstances the law would not be enforced.

A commission on assisted dying has now been set up under the chairmanship of Lord Falconer. It is to trawl through evidence from people on all sides of the debate, and travel to Oregon, the Netherlands and Switzerland to see what happens where assisted suicide is permitted.

It will apparently "consider what system, if any, should exist to allow people to be assisted to die, and whether any changes in the law should be introduced." It will make an "objective analysis of the issues." It will "evaluate all the evidence on a fair basis." It will produce a report next October.

The Observer published a report about the establishment of the commission under the heading "Assisted suicide law to be reviewed by Lords," which seemed to imply that it was to be reviewed by the House of Lords. Not so. It is simply that several members of the Lords are on the commission.

It was said that the commission "will act entirely independently." Unfortunately, it was not clear independently of what, or of whom.

It turns out that the commission is the idea of the organisation Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which helped set it up. It is financed by businessman Bernard Lewis and novelist Terry Pratchett, who is an outspoken advocate of legalised assisted suicide.

Lord Falconer unsuccessfully tried to amend the Coroners and Justice Bill in 2009 to decriminalise taking folks to Switzerland to commit suicide. The 12 members of the commission have effectively been chosen by Lord Falconer himself. Nine of them are known to support legalised assisted suicide. The position of the remaining three is not known, but they have not been known to oppose it.

Because of its evident bias, Telegraph blogger George Pitcher calls the commission "entirely bogus" and "a sham."

He says "more eminent members" of the House of Lords have written to Lord Falconer to point out that he is debasing the parliamentary principles of independent inquiry.

While anyone is free to set up a committee to consider an issue and present its views to Parliament, it seems unlikely that this commission will recommend that a change in the law is not needed.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Israel: difficult days ahead

According to Bible prophecy, the day is coming when all nations will turn on the nation of Israel. (Take Zech 14:2 as an example.)

You can see it coming to pass. Day by day, newspaper reports show the day approaching.

Palestinian leaders have been saying recently they will make a unilateral declaration of independence in the middle of 2011, irrespective of Israeli agreement, then seek recognition as a state through the United Nations.

Last Friday, Brazil formally recognised a Palestinian state along 1967 lines. Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva offered recognition of the Palestinian state in a letter to Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, received by Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki.

Yasir Abd-Rabbuh, secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, said the Argentinian president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, had stated that her country intended to follow Brazil's example. He said he considered that Brazil and Argentine's action would encourage other countries to do the same.

The 1967 lines are militarily indefensible for Israel, and a declaration of independence on such lines would surely lead to more action.

Britain could further withdraw British support for Israel following a new economic alliance in the Abu Dhabi Declaration, signed in the presence of HM the Queen just days ago.

Whitehall officials said Foreign Secretary William Hague's decision to reach out to Gulf States to secure better trade ties had to take on board Arab foreign policy goals. Said a diplomat: "We have to respond to what Gulf States want. If we want a long-term partnership on foreign policy, then changes in our stance have to be part of it."

The Israelis have offered land for a Palestinian state on numerous occasions, and have been turned down outright by the Palestinians on each occasion. The Palestinians have withdrawn from peace talks for specious reasons, and each time Israel has been given the blame.

Why is Israel always to blame?

TV news channels reported yesterday that the body of a 70-year-old German woman killed by a shark was retrieved from the sea at the Egyptian holiday resort of Sharm el-Sheik on Sunday.

According to a Reuters report, the Jews might have been responsible for that too.

"What is being said about the Mossad throwing the deadly shark [into the sea] to hit tourism in Egypt is not out of the question, but it needs time to confirm," said South Sinai governor Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousa.

It would be laughable if it weren't so serious.

People able to consider the situation in the Middle East with a modicum of objectivity might well be interested in the speech of Dutch politician Geert Wilders in Tel Aviv on Sunday. You can read it here or here.

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee" (Psa 122:6).

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Scotland says 'no' to euthanasia

Margo MacDonald's much publicised bill in the Scottish Parliament, which, if passed, would have legalised assisted suicide and euthanasia in Scotland, has died the death.

In March, a committee appointed to consider the bill and report to the Scottish Parliament called for a public consultation. Of 601 organisations and individuals who provided written submissions, only 39 were in favour of the bill.

Two weeks ago, having considered both written and oral evidence, the committee recommended that the bill's proposals should not be accepted.

It said an argument for a person's right to exercise autonomy should be considered in the light of the interests of society as a whole;

that while an argument could be made for assisted suicide affording dignity in dying, an equally compelling argument was that preserving dignity lay in the quality of care available and respect afforded to the dying;

that the bill could have a negative effect for disabled people;

and that vague wording in the bill could lead to unintended consequences.

On Wednesday, at the first stage debate, the Scottish Parliament rejected the bill by 85 votes to 16.

Peter Saunders, campaign director of the Care Not Killing alliance, said specialists in palliative care who see thousands of dying patients in a lifetime say you can count on the fingers of one hand the number who make persistent, ongoing requests to have their lives ended.

"The question has to be: Do we change the law for a very small number of determined and persistent people? Our answer has always been 'No, you don't,' because if you do you will remove legal protection from a large number of vulnerable or potentially vulnerable people who are depressed, elderly or sick. It's too great a risk to public safety."

The battle for legalised killing will go on. It's important there is a continued stand against it - for the sake of the vulnerable majority.

The halal meat scandal (2)

I wrote here how supermarkets were selling halal chicken and lamb - chicken and lamb killed in accordance with Islamic ritual - without its being marked as halal and without customers being told. Halal chicken was being used in fast food chains, and halal food was being served in hospitals, schools, pubs and sporting venues across the UK, again without customers' knowledge.

MPs have since complained that halal food has been served at facilities at the House of Commons without their being aware.

Barnabas Aid says halal meats now make up 11 per cent of all meats sold in the UK.

"Muslims are working actively to integrate halal meat into the mainstream market and to extend it to non-Muslims. . . The spread of halal is part of a Muslim commitment to Islamic mission and the islamisation of non-Muslim societies. The imposition of sharia [Islamic] law on non-Muslims may be interpreted as an assertion of Islamic supremacy. . . Halal is being used as an underhanded way of furthering the islamisation of the country."

A portion of money spent on halal food, say Barnabas, goes to Islamic agencies, and Christians may unwittingly be funding Islamic activities.

"Many Christians are uneasy about buying halal food. . . They see such purchases as advancing the cause of global Islam, and of Islamist radicalism in particular, and as putting them implicitly under the authority of Islamic sharia.

"For this reason, while in no way objecting to the provision of halal products for Muslim consumers, they argue that these should not be forced on the non-Muslim community or sold without appropriate labelling. In addition, Christian farmers do not want to be responsible for sacrificial slaughter of animals to Allah."

A petition has been organised supporting the freedom of religious groups to access products that meet the requirements of their faith, but expressing concern about the massive growth of sharia-compliant products for everyone whatever their faith, often without consumers, parents of schoolchildren and others being informed or consulted.

It calls upon Government agencies and the food industry to label halal products clearly, expresses concern about the lack of informed choice for consumers in supermarkets and restaurants, and calls on the food industry to ensure that halal does not become the general default option in non-Muslim countries.

You can read further details and sign the petition by clicking here. A further petition can be signed by clicking here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A much better way

Andrea Minichiello Williams is chief executive officer of Christian Concern, an organisation which supports Christian standards in society. On her blog two days ago she posted the following, which merits careful consideration:

Yesterday the Government published the 'Schools White Paper.'

At 4.29 it states:

Children need high-quality sex and relationships education so they can make wise and informed choices. We will work with teachers, parents, faith groups and campaign groups, such as Stonewall to make sure sex and relationships education encompasses an understanding of the ways in which humans love each other and stresses the importance of respecting individual autonomy.

Not content with pushing for and achieving equality laws that promote a homosexual agenda, Stonewall wants to get its message to children directly. . . currently the actor Sir Ian McKellan is touring schools across Britain on behalf of Stonewall. He is giving assemblies, talking to children in classrooms and promoting a homosexual campaign "to tackle homophobic bullying". . . Stonewall's solution to bullying is to promote and legitimise the practice of homosexuality to children. That is not right. . .

When asked how teachers should explain the Christian stance on homosexuality, Sir Ian said that they should abandon the teachings of the church. They may not need to if Prime Minister David Cameron gets his way - in February he told pro-homosexual magazine 'Attitude' that the Church of England should change its policies on homosexuality.

The Prime Minister is serious about the homosexual agenda. Last week a Conservative councillor from Bristol, Chris Windows, was actually
suspended after he expressed concern over Sir Ian's visit to schools in his ward. The more that incidents like this happen, and the less the Prime Minister defends freedom of speech, the more it is eroded and the more society is harmed. . . What happened to the concept of "I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it"? . . .

The White Paper also stated:

4.30: Children can benefit enormously from high-quality Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education. Good PSHE supports individual young people to make safe and informed choices. . . We will conduct an internal review to determine how we can support schools to improve the quality of all PSHE teaching, including giving teachers the flexibility to use their judgement about how best to deliver PSHE education.

This is a strong endorsement of PSHE ahead of a likely attempt to make PSHE compulsory in future legislation. PSHE, in its current form, is often taught as a politically correct programme which encourages the "promotion of equality" in sex education. In practice this means the promotion of the practice of homosexuality; legitimising same sex relationships as normal and desirable, as well as treating heterosexual cohabitation as equal to marriage.

The promotion of practising homosexual relationships as normal will not benefit children, only confuse them. It's contrary to the ethos of many parents and schools, whether Christian or not, and it may cause a range of difficulties for Christian teachers. . .

I will be doing all that I can to resist any attempt to make PSHE in its current format compulsory in schools. Please join me in resisting Stonewall's determined and aggressive campaign for the hearts and minds of our children. Their agenda must not go unchallenged.

In a country full of unplanned pregnancies, abortions, STDs and family breakdown, Christians have a strong argument that there is a better way. The 'sexual liberation' experiment has failed and has produced bad fruit.

We can offer values and an education based on our Christian faith. We can teach children about the importance of marriage and the family. We can teach them about purity and how to respect who they are. . . We can teach them that abstinence before marriage is the best way. We can give them positive life lessons and help them to avoid some of the consequences of sexual promiscuity.

The message is one of hope and promise and yet one that is excluded from the debate. It is time to re-enter the debate.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The courage of Lillian Beard

The newspapers are full of bad news. National debt. Lawlessness. Violence. Immorality. So here's some good news.

Mark and Vesta Sauter were missionaries to the Czech Republic, with a particular desire to reach the country's deaf people with the gospel. After three years' service, they hadn't led a single deaf person to Christ.

Lillian Beard, a long-time supporter, decided she was no longer content just to pray for them. She wanted to go to help.

Vesta wasn't at all sure about that. The problem was that Lillian was 90 years old and in a wheelchair. And although she was fluent in sign language, she didn't know the Czech sign language.

Lillian's friends didn't want her to go. They thought she was crazy. "Listen," said Lillian. "I can die there just as easily as I can here. They can put me in a box and send me home. Serving Him is all I want to do." So she went.

The Sauters arranged for her to speak at a luncheon at a deaf club in Prague. On the day, the club was packed because people were curious to find what a 90-year-old woman who had travelled so far to speak to them would have to say. They demanded to see her passport as proof of her age, and passed it round the room for all to see.

Anna Smolkova, a deaf Czech woman, was there. She was the matriarch of a family of 60 deaf people. She was an alcoholic, an atheist, and hostile to the gospel. "I want to make it very clear to you that I don't want anyone in my family to know about Jesus or God," she had said.

As Lillian began to speak, something happened. "I didn't believe this woman was 90," said Anna. "I was amazed at how beautiful she was, how she radiated. Something touched me inside. . . Something began knocking at my heart. . . and wouldn't release me."

When Lillian had finished, Anna asked her "Why are you so beautiful? Why do you radiate?" Lillian said "It's the love of Jesus."

Kneeling in front of Lillian's wheelchair so they could see one another eye to eye, Anna peppered Lillian with questions. When she'd finished asking questions, she accepted Christ.

Anna arranged to be baptised with all her family present. She helped lead her three daughters to the Lord, then her sons-in-law. She baptised one of them herself in the bath. There wasn't much room, so she baptised half of him, then baptised the other half.

She led many of her 14 grandchildren to Christ. She helped plant churches. She started a Christian youth camp.

Lillian, who spoke at the club that day, is now with the Lord. She died this year, aged 101. But the work among the deaf continues to flourish - in large part, because of a lady of 90 in a wheelchair.

You can read the full story by clicking here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A tale of Evan Roberts

We were invited to a wedding in South Wales. The friends who invited us kindly arranged two nights' accommodation for us so that we could travel down one day, spend the following day at the wedding, and drive home the day after that.

All we were told about the church building where the wedding was to take place was that it had been borrowed for the occasion and that it was within walking distance of the place where we were staying.

On the morning of the wedding, we walked to the church. When we arrived I discovered, to my delight, that it was the very place where the Welsh revival began. It was the chapel where Evan Roberts, the young man so wonderfully used in the revival, used to worship.

Some time later, friends offered us their house in South Wales for a week's holiday. We weren't able to go at the time originally suggested, so it was some weeks later we took up the offer. On our journey down, it came time for a break, and we couldn't find a motorway services open. It was uncanny. Until eventually we came to a motorway services near Cardiff that we wouldn't have visited otherwise.

On the car park were a number of cars with fish emblems on the back, and we got chatting to the occupants. It turned out they were all going to a week's convention in a large tent in the grounds of Swansea University. "You must come," they said. We were staying quite near Swansea, so we spent four or five evenings at the convention and enjoyed some great meetings.

Providence, as some people used to call Him, had so wonderfully arranged the details of our holiday that not only that: on the Wednesday afternoon of our week's holiday there was a meeting at the chapel where Evan Roberts used to worship to mark the 100th anniversary of the Welsh revival. We went along.

There were people there from all over the place. There was no one there who actually remembered the revival 100 years before - although there was a 100-year-old man in the meeting - but there were people whose parents had been involved in the revival.

It was at that meeting that I heard a story about Evan Roberts I had not heard before.

An old retired minister told how his mother had been one of the young women who went round the churches with Evan Roberts, taking the revival with them. One day, when the old minister was four years old, a knock came to the door of the farmhouse where they lived. The four-year-old boy ran to open the door. A man was standing there.

"The man smiled at me," he said. "I will remember that smile as long as I live. He said to me - in Welsh - 'Is your mother in?' I didn't reply. I turned and ran into the farmhouse to my mother and said 'Mother, Jesus Christ has come.'"

The man of course was Evan Roberts. The boy didn't know who it was. He had no idea. But the man had such a presence about him that the little lad thought it was Jesus.

What a story.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Love beyond telling

So many people don't understand what a Christian is. A Christian is not just someone who was christened, or someone who goes to church, or someone who tries to live by a set of rules.

A Christian is someone who has repented of his (or her) sins. Someone who knows that his (or her) sins are forgiven. Someone who has invited Jesus Christ to be Lord of his (or her) life. Someone who has entered into a personal relationship with a living Saviour.

Jesus said "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27).

Jesus has never ever spoken to me in an audible voice. But He speaks to me often. Through the pages of Scripture. Through other people. Through circumstances. Through a still, small voice speaking silently to my heart. Most often as I spend time communing with Him.

God wants you to be His. He has a purpose for your life. He can only lead you to it as you yield to Him.

He loves you. He gave His Son to die in your place. He needs you to open your heart to His love.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee:
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

God's love is beyond compare.

Don't miss it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

'Redefining' marriage

The Times, named as Publication of the Year by the homosexual organisation Stonewall for its coverage of homosexual issues, says it looks forward to the time when the need to fete any media organisation for intelligent, open-minded, even-handed coverage of homosexuals and homosexual issues will be redundant.

It says it hopes, with the very best of wills, that Stonewall will soon also be irrelevant, because its work will have been done.

Meanwhile, homosexual activists in the UK are planning to use the law courts to impose their views about homosexual marriage.

In a campaign evidently organised by homosexual activist Peter Tatchell, four homosexual couples are to apply for civil marriage licences, and four heterosexual couples are to apply to register civil partnerships. When they are refused, they expect to go to the courts, claiming the register offices' refusal is a breach of their human rights.

In Mexico City, a 50-year-old woman has given birth to her own grandchild. Her son, who is a homosexual, wanted to have a baby, so she offered the use of her womb. An egg was donated, fertilised by sperm from the son and implanted in his mother. After the birth, the woman said she felt "strange" because she didn't feel either like a mother or a grandmother.

In the UK, a man placed an advertisement in a homosexual magazine saying he wanted to be a father. A lesbian - part of a lesbian couple - replied, and two children were born by artificial insemination. All three adults are now at the Court of Appeal in a battle over custody.

The Bible says God inaugurated marriage between a man and a woman, and records His purpose for doing so - because He sought godly offspring (Mal 2:15). Unfortunately for homosexuals, homosexual marriage doesn't bring forth offspring.

In attempting to redefine marriage, homosexuals have ignored what the Bible says on the matter. But there's one fact they can't escape.

God has a right to say what's what about marriage. First, because He's God; and second, because He invented it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The tale of a dog named Djaingo

Steven Boyd had been 12 years in the army. A series of accidents left him with multiple traumatic brain injuries, followed by a paralysis of the gastrointestinal tract. He could vomit 10 to 15 times an hour for days on end. He sometimes broke ribs in the process.

Steven felt he was dying.

One day he wandered into an animal shelter and offered to walk some of their dogs. While he was there, his eyes met the eyes of an Australian cattle dog.

In that moment, he said, he knew they were meant to be together. He offered to buy the dog. The shelter workers said the dog was due to be put down the following morning. The dog was too aggressive and could not be trained. Steven insisted.

He got his way.

Steven called the dog Djaingo. He put him through his own course of training. Within six months, Djaingo was affectionate and obedient. "He saved my life as much as I saved his," says Steven.

Four years ago, however, several days of vomiting left Steven feeling it was all too much. He took the cap off a bottle of bleach and prepared to commit suicide by drinking it.

Then he heard a voice, as clearly as he has heard anyone's voice. "Don't do this," it said. "It was my Father God," says Steven, "and I broke down. I get teary-eyed now talking about it."

Steven says his sickness has changed him. It has softened his heart in so many ways; made him realise that things people take for granted are sometimes the most important things in life.

Last year he taught Djaingo to say grace, and made a video of Djaingo saying grace as a gift for his mother. Steven knows the dog is not really praying, just being obedient so he can get his dinner - but, he says, "it's an affirmation of my faith."

Steven put a copy of the video on his Facebook page to amuse a few friends. Someone put it on YouTube. It was shown on TV. It's been seen by thousands, if not millions of people. (You can see it by clicking here.)

Steven has received 5,000 messages from people around the world, many of them saying how they have been blessed and encouraged by the video.

"Who would have thought," says Steven, "God would use my fat dog to spread His glory?"

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Solving the welfare problem

Iain Duncan Smith is a man for whom I have a great regard. When he lost his job as leader of the Conservatives in the House of Commons, he didn't go missing from the Commons, but continued his work as an MP.

He did a brilliant job of standing up for what was right with regard to the Mental Capacity Bill. To the best of my knowledge, he has always stood up for marriage and the family.

He has worked hard to solve social welfare problems, and he hasn't just pontificated from on high, but gone out and about to meet people in need so he can understand their problems.

As Work and Pensions Secretary, he now proposes social welfare reforms.

I think most people would disagree with giving people with large families £1 million and £2 million houses to live in. Most sensible people would agree there is something wrong when people can collect more in benefits by not working than they can earn by going to work.

Iain Duncan Smith proposes to guarantee that people who choose to work rather than live on benefits will be in pocket by doing so.

What really seems to have got people spitting mad, however, is the suggestion that people on long-term benefits who are able to work - the idea is to target layabouts who choose to live on welfare rather than go out to work, and get people back into a work habit - should do some unpaid work or risk losing their welfare payments.

The left-leaning Archbishop of Canterbury complains that this will send benefit claimants into a "downward spiral of despair."

The apostle Paul was careful to remember the poor (Gal 2:10). He said those in the church who were really in need should be cared for (1 Tim 5:3 - 14), but he said those who would not work, being able to do so, shouldn't eat either (2 Thess 3:10 - 12).

Sounds reasonable to me.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Tell her then

Talking (as we were) about moves towards the perfect marriage, I remember a little poem, author unknown, given to me by a dear Christian lady years ago.

TELL HER SO

Amid the cares of married life,
In spite of toil and business strife,
If you value your sweet wife,
Tell her so!

There was a time you thought it bliss
To get the favour of a kiss;
A dozen now won't come amiss -
Tell her so!

Don't act as if she's past her prime,
As though to please her were a crime -
If e'er you loved her, now's the time;
Tell her so!

Well, it can't do any harm, can it?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Why the 'chattering classes' have got it wrong

Euthanasia supporters among the "chattering classes" are playing on fears of death and dying to call for the legalisation of assisted suicide in the UK - but it will be not they, but the elderly, the frail and the not-so-well connected whose lives will be at risk.

So says Cristina Odone, journalist, novelist and broadcaster, in a report for the Centre for Policy Studies. She is a research fellow at the centre.

If assisted suicide were legalised, a new category of less-than-perfect citizens would be created, she says. Hard-pressed hospitals and hard-up institutions would see the elderly and frail as a burden to be disposed of, not people to be cared for.

"The elderly, people with severe disabilities, the mentally unstable, and those with terminal illnesses will be presented with self-inflicted death as a natural, normal and expected final solution.

"They may feel that, once over a certain age, or grown too dependent on others, or too fed up with life, or too ill, they should opt for death rather than life. Worse, many may be coerced, actively or subtly, by cost-conscious hospitals, or by intended heirs with an eye to a legacy, or by exhausted carers."

The report warns that assisted suicide, once legalised, could slip quietly, almost unnoticed, into full-blown euthanasia.

Then there was news that Maryannick Pavageau, a Frenchwoman who was in "locked-in syndrome" for years - conscious but paralysed after a stroke - has been awarded the Legion d'Honneur for her efforts in the fight against euthanasia.

Some of her comments are interesting. "Public statements," she said, "produce unexpected collateral damage amongst people suffering from serious illness such as locked-in syndrome.

"We are constant consumers of TV and radio programmes. In response to our deep discouragement - and who is free from that - we are only offered this final right, hypocritically baptised as a sign of love.

"A recent study in the quality of life of locked-in syndrome patients found, to the astonishment of the medical profession, that when asked 'If you had a heart attack, would you want to be resuscitated?' the great majority of us answered: 'Yes.'

"All life is worth living. It can be beautiful, regardless of the state we are in. And change is always possible. . . All those who ask to die are mostly looking for love."

Friday, November 05, 2010

Terrible suffering, great blessing - and it will come

Pope Benedict recently summoned Middle Eastern bishops to Rome to discuss the plight of Christians in the Middle East. After two weeks of talks, the bishops issued a statement at a press conference at the Vatican.

The statement was presented by Monsignor Cyril Salim Bustros, Lebanese-born Greek Melkite Archbishop of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Boston, Massachusetts, who, it is said, is going to become Archbishop of Beirut. He said on behalf of the bishops that

* Christians cannot speak of the Promised Land as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people.

* This promise was nullified by Christ.

* There is no longer a chosen people - all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.

* The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel.

* The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands.

* Israel should end its occupation of Arab lands.

This is pure, downright wrong.

There is doubt in some quarters about who is a Jew, so let's begin there. The biblical definition of a Jew is clear: a Jew is someone who is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A Gentile is someone who is not a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God knows who is a Jew.

God said to Abraham "Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are - northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants for ever" (Gen 13:14 - 17). What does "for ever" mean?

God made a covenant with Abraham, which was confirmed through Isaac (Gen 17:18 - 21) and Jacob and his descendants (Gen 28:10 - 14). The Bible says the covenant was an everlasting covenant (Gen 17:7), and that the land was given them for an everlasting possession (Gen 17:8). What does "everlasting" mean?

God promised that He would scatter the Jews from their land because of their disobedience, but that He would also return them to their land, and they would never again be scattered from it (Amos 9:14, 15).

God has not forgotten His promises to His Jewish people (Jer 31:35 - 37; 33:23 - 26; Isa 49:14 - 16).

Paul wrote in the New Testament after Christ's death and resurrection: "Has God cast away his people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away his people whom he foreknew" (Rom 11:1, 2). He points out in Romans 11 that the majority of the Jews are in unbelief, but that when the fulness of the Gentiles has come to faith, God will turn again to His Jewish people (Rom 11:25).

The suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust is almost impossible to imagine. But there is a time of persecution for the Jewish people still to come that will be worse than the Holocaust. Jeremiah calls it "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer 30:7). Daniel calls it "a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation" (Dan 12:1). Zephaniah calls it "a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness" (Zeph 1:15, 16). Jesus said it will be "great tribulation, such as has not been seen since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matt 24:21).

During the Holocaust, a third of world Jewry was killed. But Zechariah says that during this time still to come, two-thirds of the people in the land will be killed (Zech 13:8). But all the Jews who remain will come to faith (Zech 13:9; 12:10; Jer 31:31 - 34). Israel will become a completely believing nation. Paul's prophecy will be fulfilled. "And so," he wrote, "all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:26).

"Israel" there means Israel. The word Israel occurs in the New Testament more than 70 times, and each time it means Israel; never the church.

The suffering of Israel will be equalled only by their subsequent blessing. They will have praise among all the people of the earth (Zeph 3:20); Gentiles will serve them (Isa 49:22, 23); the shechinah glory will again be seen in Jerusalem (Isa 4:5, 6); and all the nations of the earth will go up to Jerusalem to worship (Zech 14:16; Micah 4:2).

Jesus was killed because He claimed to be King of the Jews (Luke 23:2, 3). His title hung over His head in three languages as He was crucified (Luke 23:38). He has never reigned, has He? He is going to. When He returns to earth, He will return not only as King of the Jews, but as King of kings, and Lord of lords.

Bible prophecy will be fulfilled.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Recipe for a perfect marriage (2)

The best way to a successful marriage is to follow the Maker's instructions. You can't beat that.

We said there were two things a husband needs to do: to love his wife as he loves himself, and to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.

So what does a wife need to do? Ephesians 5 has the answer there too. She needs to submit to her own husband, as to the Lord.

Does that mean that he's superior to her, and she's inferior to him and he can take all the decisions without reference to her? No. Husband and wife are equal. But in any situation, someone has to take responsibility for the final decision. He holds that responsibility.

Does it mean that the wife is not allowed to have an opinion, and that she's never allowed to explain how she feels? No. Indeed, she should express her feelings and her concerns, quietly and kindly. But then she should commit the matter to God and trust Him to work it out in His way and in His time.

That's the trouble, says some husband. My wife is not submissive, so what can I do? Love her as you love yourself, and as Christ loved the church. Don't lay the law down. Don't preach. Don't kick up a storm.

That's the trouble, says some wife. My husband doesn't love me like that. So what should I do? Submit to your husband, as unto the Lord. Don't nag. Don't moan.

Don't focus on your spouse's failings. Concentrate on getting your attitude right.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it better: "Live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don't insist on your rights, don't blame each other, don't judge or condemn each other, don't find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts."

Try it. See if it doesn't work.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recipe for a perfect marriage (1)

Marriage is a wonderful thing. "The estate of marriage," said Martin Luther, "is God's good will and work. He who recognises the estate of marriage will find therein delight, love, and joy without end, for it is pleasing to God and precious in His sight."

When you read Ephesians 5, you realise that marriage is intended to be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His church.

Marriage breakdown is a disaster. Not only for the couple involved: children, family, friends and society as a whole are diminished by it. How especially sad it is when Christians fail to extend Christian living to their marriages, so that even Christians' marriages become subject to breakdown and divorce.

Does it not seem sensible in marriage to follow the Maker's instructions? There is a recipe for successful marriage in that same portion of Scripture in Ephesians 5.


According to the recipe, there are two things a husband needs to do.

First, he needs to love his wife as he loves himself. When he takes a wife, he and she become one. She is an extension of himself. An extra part for him to care for. No healthy person hates himself. He needs to be as concerned for her welfare as he is for his own.

Second, he needs to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. Christ put the church's needs, the church's wellbeing before His. The husband needs to have the same sort of thought for his wife.

Love is not just a feeling. Love is a choice. You can't say you love God and not love your wife. Loving your wife is an expression of your love for God.

And what, you might say, is the wife doing all this time? Is she to do what she likes and live how she pleases? Of course not.

More soon.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The cost of abortion

Since the Abortion Act was passed, seven million unborn babies have been killed by abortion in the UK. That's one tenth of the present total population.

The number of unborn babies killed by abortion in England, Wales and Scotland since 1967 equals the total populations of Birmingham, Glasgow, Bradford, Edinburgh, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Wakefield, Cardiff, Coventry, Nottingham, Cambridge, Blackpool, Oxford, Barnsley, Bury and Doncaster put together.

The number of babies killed each day equals two Lockerbie disasters. The number aborted each year equals twice the losses on the Somme. The number aborted each week is more than the number of people killed in the twin towers disaster at New York's World Trade Centre on 9/11.

More than 200,000 babies are aborted in the UK each year. That's 17,000 each month; 4,000 each week; 600 each day. Each one is a human life.

Many women are suffering from what has come to be known as post-abortion syndrome. Symptoms are sleeplessness, anxiety, grief, anger, depression, drugs and alcohol abuse, self-destructive behaviour, difficulties with relationships and terrible feelings of guilt.

Said one, "I cried and cried. I crept into my babies' room and stared at their tiny bodies. How badly I wanted my first child to be there too. I lost my child forever." Said another, "I cry for my aborted baby all the time. I've lost interest in everything. I hurt and I feel sick with guilt and self-hatred. Baby, I love you."

Because of God's mercy and grace, there is forgiveness. But for some women, it's a long road.

Next Wednesday, October 27 - the anniversary of the passing of the Abortion Act - is the National Day of Prayer about abortion. Some people may be praying outside abortion clinics. Some churches may be meeting together to pray. Some people will be praying with their church, their ladies' group, their prayer group or their youth group. Some will pray at home. Will you arrange to pray?

You will find details, suggested prayer topics and a PowerPoint presentation you can download at www.imagenet.org.uk.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The halal meat scandal

According to the Office for National Statistics Household Survey published last month, 71.4% of people in the UK say they are Christian, with smaller percentages acknowledging other faiths; 4.2%, for instance, say they are Muslim. Many of those claiming to be Christian will be nominal Christians who may not darken a church doorway from one year's end to the next; but nevertheless, 71.4%.

(The same survey showed that one per cent said they were homosexual and 0.5% bisexual, compared with the 10 per cent the homosexual lobby has tried to have us believe are homosexual, but that's another subject.)

The Mail on Sunday has revealed that Tesco, and apparently Asda, have been selling halal chicken and lamb - that is to say chicken and lamb slaughtered according to Islamic ritual - without its being labelled as halal meat and without customers being told. Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's, Somerfield and the Co-op have been selling halal lamb without its being labelled as halal meat and without telling customers.

Fast food chains like Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway and McDonald's have been using halal chicken without customers being aware.

Halal food has been served in hospitals, schools, pubs and sporting venues across the UK without customers' knowledge.

Islamic law requires animals to be slaughtered by a Muslim slitting the animal's throat while reciting in Arabic "Bismillah Allah-hu-Akbar," which can be translated "In the name of Allah, who is the greatest."

The Bible says (in 1 Corinthians 10) that I am to eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience's sake (for "The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness"); and if any of those who do not believe invite me to dinner and I desire to go, I am to eat whatever is set before me, asking no question for conscience's sake; but if anyone says to me "This was offered unto idols," I am not to eat it for the sake of the one who told me, and for conscience's sake.

Some people argue about whether animals killed according to Islamic ritual are killed humanely. I do not propose to go into that here.

But is it not reasonable to expect that if I want to buy meat I should be made aware when meat has been ritually blessed and dedicated to Allah, so that I am able to choose whether I buy halal meat or not?

What I do object to is that the needs of four per cent of the people appear to have been pandered to while the possible concerns of 71 per cent of the people have been completely ignored.

Does nobody care?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Giving God the glory for the Chilean miners' rescue

Thirty-three trapped Chilean miners were rescued from the bowels of the earth this week as the world looked on: a triumph over what seemed like very perilous circumstances.

In an interview on BBC Radio Five Live, Rev Alfredo Cooper, a chaplain to the Chilean president, told what happened from the time news of the trapped miners broke:

I am a chaplain in the presidential palace, and so we had to quickly put together an emergency prayer meeting. And it was with all our hearts, because to imagine these 33 men a kilometre under the earth, not knowing whether they were alive or what was going through their minds.

Seventeen days we prayed, and then the miracle came, when the boring machine glanced off a rock and hit them - hit the cavern they were in - and of course we just erupted in praise. The second service the president asked for: a praise meeting. So we had a thanksgiving service, and of course we've had constant prayer.

And this has been one of the interesting factors for folk like us to notice. Many of the miners went down as atheists, or unbelievers, or semi-believers, and they have come up to a man testifying that there were not 33 but that there were 34 down there - that Jesus was there with them, that they had a constant sense of His presence and guidance.

The interviewer suggested that if God was responsible for getting them out, then God must have been responsible for their being down there in the first place. But the chaplain was having none of it:

Well, the thing is that in this fallen world this is exactly what does occur. Man is subject to accident and all sorts of problems, thanks often to wilful negligence, as was the case in this mine. There are consequences when you don't care enough for people.

And of course in those situations we might compare Jonah in the whale - you know people tend to cry out to God, and this is what's happened. And God has answered.

So the men, said the interviewer, were rescued by divine intervention really?

Well, we of course see the hands of all these magnificent experts all around; the goodwill of so many people internationally; the brilliant coverage of the press; and we would suggest that all this works together for good; that certainly as we prayed God has guided in remarkable ways.

Even the scientists. I was with the NASA people who came the other day. And to my surprise - to a man they were believing scientists in their case - and they all said "This is a miracle. There is no other word for what happened here."

So, I mean, scientists, politicians, presidents, we seem to have all come together in one happy moment saying "Goodness! God is there, and He answers prayer." That's how we feel. And certainly the miners are testifying to the world of this. Not just about that, but certainly it seems to be a central factor.

You can hear the interview by clicking here. I am grateful to Peter Saunders' blog for pointing out the interview.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Atheists top in religious knowledge

The United States has an organisation known as the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, which comes up with some interesting statistics from time to time.

It recently surveyed a sample of 3,412 Americans on their religious knowledge. It found that atheists/agnostics, Jews and Mormons were better at religious knowledge than evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Catholics.

When it came to questions on the Bible, Mormons did better than white evangelicals, with both of them ahead of black Protestants and atheists/agnostics.

Commentators bemoaned the fact that 37 per cent of Americans didn't know that Genesis was the first book in the Bible - but 63 per cent did.

More than half of the people who identified themselves as Protestants didn't know that Martin Luther was the man who inspired the Protestant Reformation; 45 per cent of Catholics didn't know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used during mass do not merely symbolise but actually become the body and blood of Christ; and only 19 per cent of Protestants and 28 per cent of white evangelicals knew that Protestants teach that salvation is through faith alone.

But 37 per cent of Americans read the Scriptures at least once a week, not counting worship services.

One wonders if people in the UK, with their greatly inferior numbers of church membership and church attendance, would do nearly so well.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

An act by any other name. . .

Agony aunt Virginia Ironside said on a BBC TV discussion programme: "Abortion can often be seen as something wicked and irresponsible, but in fact it can be a moral and unselfish act. . . If a baby's going to be born severely disabled or totally unwanted, surely an abortion is the act of a loving mother."

On the subject of infanticide, she said: "If I were the mother of a suffering child - I mean a deeply suffering child - I would be the first to want to put a pillow over its face. . . if it was a child I really loved, who was in agony, I think any good mother would."

In an article in the Guardian headed "Was Virginia Ironside Right?" Zoe Williams wrote: "There is a furious lobby that attaches a eugenicist tag to anybody who is pro-choice or euthanasia, but it silences its opponents in an underhand way by accusing them of hostility towards the disabled.

"Of course, Ironside is not waging a war against the disabled: she simply said 'life isn't a gift per se.' There are plenty of circumstances that make it more burdensome than joyful. The fact that Ironside ruffled any feathers at all illustrates how important it is not to take this as tacit, but to say it out loud."

(You see the argument: "We're not saying that the lives of the disabled are less valuable than the lives of the able. We're just trying to help them.")

Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith writes on his blog: "Many eugenicists of old advocated killing disabled babies and other unfit as if they were 'weeds.' This is no different. The neo-eugenicists have simply learned not to express direct hostility for those they would prefer eliminated. Rather, the killing agenda is couched in gooey euphemisms and words of oozing compassion. But the key point to remember is that the act advocated is the same. The underlying evil is no less loathsome merely because it is wearing prettier clothes."

Friday, October 08, 2010

Not so fast, you secularists

Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, has been criticised for making infelicitous remarks on Twitter. On one occasion she was complaining about the presence of bishops in the House of Lords. "Kick out religion from politics," she said.

Archbishop Cranmer has a different idea. (Yes, I know. He did die, quite some time ago, but somehow or other he still manages to write a blog.) Interviewed by Annabelle Williams at www.totalpolitics.com, Cranmer says:

The United Kingdom owes its laws, law-making, customs, traditions and values to the Christian faith. To pretend that this rich heritage can be systematically eradicated in favour of "multiculturalism" and "secularism" is a fallacy. There is a myth that politics should be secular and that secularism is somehow neutral. It is not. It has its own dogma, a distinct orthodoxy and an intolerance of dissent every bit as intransigent as those religions it frequently misrepresents and seeks to neuter. Instead of constantly demanding that religion should be removed from politics, perhaps the time has come for there to be a strict separation of secularism and state.

Now there's something to think about!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Lexi, the sandwich-bag baby

Here's another heartwarming story. Lexi, born 14 weeks early and the most premature baby to survive at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, weighed just 14 ounces. She was so tiny they put her in a plastic sandwich bag from the hospital canteen to keep her warm.

Doctors said she had a 10 per cent chance of survival.

There were times when she wasn't expected to last the night, but last she did. In September she was allowed home. She is now 12 weeks old and at the last news weighed 5lb 6oz.

Her mother Chelsea Rowberry, who was allowed home shortly after the birth, said people were afraid to ask her how the baby was, for fear that the baby had not survived. Now people who see the baby can't believe how premature she was.

And they are still legally aborting babies in the UK up to 40 weeks of pregnancy?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It's time for parents to wake up

Britain remains at the top of the league table of Western nations when it comes to teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

The UK Government has spent £280 million on sex education and contraception. The result is dismal failure.

The fact that the Government is still insisting that more sex education and more free contraception are the answer and politicians are still wanting compulsory sex education for children from five years old would be amazing if it were not for the fact that people don't seem to realise what is going on here.

The United Nations organisation UNESCO has prepared international guidelines on education in sexuality which it sees as a "need and entitlement" of all children from the age of five, with an explicit approach which it admits will horrify many politicians, policymakers and parents.

Simon Blake, director of Brook and a member of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group that advises the Government, said "We need a grown-up conversation with young people. We need to make sure they are having sex when they are ready and for the right reasons, are able to enjoy it and take responsibility for it."

Gill Francis, chairperson of the same TPIAG, said "Discussions on sexual pleasure help children realise sex should be enjoyed, allowing them to take responsibility for decisions and recognise issues around coercive sex."

The idea is that if Britain's children were better educated in sexual matters and could be taught to use contraception responsibly then all would be well. It is not true. A report by UNICEF shows widespread use of contraception. Dr Trevor Stammers, an authority on teenage sexuality, says 80 per cent of teenagers who become pregnant are using some form of contraception.

Brenda Almond, professor of social and moral philosophy at Hull University, writes in the Daily Mail: "Traditional moral values have all but evaporated in modern Britain. As a result, there is no ethical basis to any of the advice given to young people about sex. In Britain, sex education is, quite literally, just words.

"Indeed, so powerful is this collapse of a stable moral code in Britain that youth counsellors, campaigners, teachers and ministers are now terrified about making any judgments whatsoever about an individual's behaviour.

"Do whatever you want, with whoever you want, whenever you want, as long as you wear a condom or take the morning-after pill. That is the thrust of most sex education for teenagers in Britain today.

"Indeed, far from promoting restraint or commitment, the entire emphasis of this politically correct system is on the 'sexual rights' of young people. . .

"The only stigma in modern Britain, it seems, is directed at those who warn against infidelity, adultery or parental neglect of children. In this brave new world, personal rights reign supreme."

What can be done to deal with this state of affairs? Certainly in the short term, first responsibility lies with the parents. Many parents are blissfully unaware of what happens or is likely to happen to their children in the name of sex education.

The Family Education Trust emphasises that schools should be encouraged to ensure that parents are fully involved in developing a school's policy, sex education is taught within a clear moral context, the consequences of sexual activity are honestly faced, and the positive benefits of saving sexual intimacy for marriage are clearly presented.

Parents need to find out what's happening to their children in school and out of school and be determined to have a responsible say in it. Bringing up their children is their responsibility - not the responsibility of the state.

Coming home

I was reading a chapter in the Bible and getting nothing from it because half my mind was somewhere else. Then I came to the last verse in the chapter: Ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Pet 2:25).

That's me all right. When I was a young man I was well astray. Now the thing about a sheep is that if it goes astray it will never find the shepherd. The shepherd has to find it. People talk about finding Christ. Strictly speaking, it isn't true. You don't find Him; He finds you.

I well remember the divinely appointed circumstances that caused me to hear the gospel, possibly for the first time. For several months, I was aware somehow that God was working in my life. I remember one day sitting alone on the top deck of a bus (a young man well away from the Good Shepherd) trying to sing Jesus wants me for a sunbeam. (I only knew the words of the first line.) Can you imagine?

One night a while later I got down on my knees by the side of my bed and gave my life to Christ. I'm so glad that He's organising the details of my life. I'm so glad my sins are forgiven. I'm so glad that I have a home in heaven, that my future is secure.

The same book of the Bible that says He's the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul says When the chief Shepherd shall appear. . . He's the chief Shepherd. He's coming back, and it may be soon. I want to be ready for that day.

When you can say "The Lord is my Shepherd," you can also say "I shall not want." Is your life secure in His hand, or are you still running your own life, making your own decisions, and making a mess of it?

When you decide to hand your life over to Him, you'll find Him waiting. When you've done it, you'll find a wonderful peace. And you'll wonder what took you so long.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Pope, religion and society

Pope Benedict XVI told UK politicians gathered in Westminster Hall that religion needs to have a central place in public life.

Religion was not a problem for legislators to solve, but "a vital contribution to the national conversation."

"I cannot but voice my concern," he said, "at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance.

"There are those who argue - paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination - that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience.

"These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square."

He invited his audience to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life.

It was, said one newspaper, the first time in many a year that religion and its role in modern society had been raised so forcibly in the UK.

Isn't it a pity that someone had to come all the way from Rome in order to say it? It is sincerely to be hoped that politicians will take notice.

On a papal visit in times past, the focus would probably have been the difference between Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths. The focus on this visit seemed to be Christian unity in the face of militant secularism.

Shortly before the Pope's arrival in the UK, the Guardian published a letter signed by 50 people, many of them left wing atheists, protesting at his visit. Some of the people who signed the letter have said some pretty awful things about the Pope.

Atheist Richard Dawkins called him "A leering old villain in a frock. . . whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless Aids victims in Africa." Vice president of the British Humanist Association Claire Rayner called him "this creature."

Why are atheists so vituperative? I came across a quote by Christian apologist Dinesh D'Sousa that I found interesting.

He says: "One reason I think is that they are God-haters. Atheists often like to portray themselves as 'unbelievers,' but this is not strictly accurate. If they were mere unbelievers they would simply live their lives as if God did not exist.

"I don't believe in unicorns, but then I haven't written any books called The End of Unicorns, Unicorns are not Great, or The Unicorn Delusion.

"Clearly the atheists go beyond disbelief; they are on the warpath against God. And you can hear their bitterness not only in their book titles but also in their mean-spirited invective."

Do you think this might be the reason atheists speak the way they do?

A new day for faith in society?

Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi promised this week that religious faith will be restored to the heart of British politics.

She was speaking to Church of England bishops in Oxford.

The previous Labour Government had got things "profoundly wrong" on faith, she said. It had viewed religion as "essentially a rather quaint relic of our pre-industrial history." It had acted as if faith was confined to "oddities, foreigners and minorities."

It was "too suspicious of faith's potential for contributing to society." Behind every faith-based charity, it "sensed the whiff of conversion and exclusivity." Because of these prejudices, it had not created policies to unleash the positive power of faith in society.

The environment had encouraged the "rise of a new kind of intellectual, who dines out on free-flowing media and sustains a vocabulary of secularist intolerance."

Lady Warsi, herself a Muslim, said a Government was needed that understood faith, that was comfortable with faith, and that when necessary was prepared to speak out about issues of faith. Faith groups played a key role in David Cameron's vision of a Big Society, she said, and would have more opportunity to set up schools and carry out public services.

"When you think about it, it's incredible that many people of faith give up their evenings to work as street pastors, making sure that young men are less at risk of knife crime and young women less likely to run into trouble after a night out.

"Under our plans, you will have more power, more responsibility, and more choice over how to get involved in your communities and how to apply your skills.

"I want to tell you that for me you are at the heart of society already and the key to its future, and that this Government will be on your side."

Lady Warsi's view of the previous Government is about right. Thirteen years of Labour rule created a political correctness where Christian faith was acceptable only if it was not mentioned in public.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has also made encouraging noises recently about using faith groups in society. "The days of the state trying to suppress Christianity and other faiths are over," he is reported to have said.

But Prime Minister David Cameron has not shown himself keen to listen to Christian views. He has pursued the homosexual vote with considerable diligence, but seemingly had little concern for the Christian vote. Some have even suggested that his failure to regard Christian mores was the reason for his failing to win an overall majority of seats at the General Election.

If Christians are to be free to be used in society, will there come with that freedom a respect for what they stand for? Or is it only other religions - forgive the thought - that are to be at the heart of British politics?

We shall see.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Not such a good idea

After appeals from General Petraeus, Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, the US President and I don't know who else, Florida pastor Terry Jones announced that his church would not after all burn copies of the Koran, "not now, not ever."

So a crisis passed, for the present time - but not before rioting in Afghanistan and threatening noises from various other Islamist quarters.

In New York, thousands demonstrated both for and against the building of a mosque near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack at Ground Zero. Allegations of a "media frenzy" about Islam seemed scarcely substantiated - but Americans are certainly more concerned now about the threat from Islam than they were shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks nine years ago.

Most Christians deplored Terry Jones' proposed book burning but stood up for his right to stage such a protest in a free society. Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch wrote that by coming down on Terry Jones rather than pointing out that freedom of expression in a free society involves putting up with things we don't like without responding with violence, Messrs Obama and Petraeus were effectively reinforcing the principle that violent intimidation works.

Burning copies of the Koran, nevertheless, is not such a good idea. We are Christians. We are in a spiritual battle. We have spiritual weapons. (The weapons of our warfare, wrote Paul in 2 Corinthians, are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.) We should be using spiritual weapons, like prayer, intercession and the preaching of the word.

Burning books is the non-Christians' way of doing things.