Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If at first. . .

I came across two remarkable news items this week.

British TV has a programme called Britain's Got Talent. Wherever the idea for the programme originated, the idea has been exported, even to China. China now has a TV show called China's Got Talent.

Liu Wei is a young Chinese living in Beijing. When he was 10 years old, while playing hide and seek, he was electrocuted. As a result, he lost both arms. That done, he decided he had two options: abandon all his dreams, leading to a quick, hopeless death, or struggle without arms, as he puts it, "to live life splendidly."

He learned to play the piano, and plays the piano on China's Got Talent - with his feet.

"It's my hobby, my passion," he told the programme's judges. "Whatever I want to do, I have to do it to the end." (You can see a video of his performance on the show by clicking here.)

And the second news item?

New research published in the Academy of Management Journal, led by Vinit Desai, assistant professor of management at the United States' University of Colorado Denver Business School, shows that failure is a better teacher than success. In other words, when we succeed at something, we tend not to pay too much attention to the mechanics of our success. When we fail, we learn lessons, and the knowledge that comes as a result stays with us much longer.

The professor cites the spaceflights Atlantis and Columbia. During the Atlantis flight, a piece of insulation broke off, but did not impede the flight. The flight was considered a success and there was little investigation.

During the Columbia flight, a piece of insulation broke off, and the shuttle and its crew were destroyed. The flight was a failure. Flights were suspended and a major investigation recommended 29 changes to prevent a repetition.

Have you ever failed at something? Maybe you felt God wanted you to do something, and when it came to it, you blew it.

When you fail, it's easy to decide you can't do it and you're never going to make it. Don't give in to despair. The one who loses out is not the one who fails, but the one who stops trying. When you fail, don't quit. Consider your failure a step on the way to success.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Living on the edge

Israel has evidently decided not to attack Iran's nuclear installations, at least at the present time.

Iran is rushing to produce a nuclear weapon. Its leadership insists its aim is to produce fuel for peaceful purposes only, but no one outside Iran believes that. Iran has a fundamentalist Islamic leadership which is considered unstable. It has promised to wipe Israel off the map.

A good number of countries would be unhappy to see Iran with nuclear capabilities. The US, which has the power to do something about it, has failed to do anything effective. Many people have expected Israel to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. In an attempt to ensure its survival, Israel has bombed nuclear facilities in two other countries, Iraq and Syria, in time past.

Iran has said that an attack on Iran will start World War III. Israel has said if Iran attacks Israel it will get a response it will regret.

It was announced a couple of weeks ago that Russia would begin loading nuclear fuel at Iran's Bushehr plant last Saturday, August 21. For Israel to have attacked after that announcement would have risked killing Russian technicians and Russian dignitaries in Iran for Bushehr's opening ceremony. To strike after fuel rods were loaded into the nuclear reactor would release radiation into the air, not to mention the waters of the Persian Gulf.

It's interesting that Ezekiel's prophecy of the Gog and Magog War, which I mentioned in my last blog post, names one of the countries accompanying Russia on its invasion of Israel as Persia (Iran was known as Persia until 1935). Evidently Iran is not going to go up in smoke before then. And we know from Bible prophecy that Israel will continue.

Two terrorist organisations, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, both of which have Iran pulling the strings, have stockpiled tens of thousands of rockets which they claim can reach anywhere in Israel.

Israel was almost plunged into a major war when two Israeli officers were shot by Lebanese Army troops on the Lebanese border in early August.

It's difficult to know what the next move will be. One thing is certain: Bible prophecy will be fulfilled.

Israel finds black gold

Israel has struck oil. An estimated 1.5 billion barrels of oil has been discovered near Rosh Ha'Ayin. The actual amount that is able to be recovered will not be known until there are additional drillings.

Golda Meir, a former Israeii prime minister, is reputed to have said "When I get to heaven, I'm going to see that Moses and ask him why, when he left Egypt, he turned left instead of right and led us to the only place in the Middle East where there's no oil." People might not be able to say things like that for much longer.

Joel Rosenberg reported on his blog that according to a report by the US Department of the Interior Israel has reserves of 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, as well as a further 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil, lying just offshore under the Mediterranean.

People have been prospecting for oil in Israel for some years, some of them claiming that Bible verses like Deut 33:24 ("Asher is most blessed of sons; Let him be favoured by his brothers, And let him dip his foot in oil") are an indication that oil is to be found there. Others say such verses are too vague to be taken as a reliable indication that oil exists.

Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 are a remarkably detailed prophecy of a war, which has come to be known as the Gog and Magog War, in which Russia, together with a number of other countries, will invade Israel and will fall on the mountains of Israel. This prophecy has yet to be fulfilled.

Ezekiel says Russia's purpose in invading will be "to take plunder and to take booty" (38:12). People have speculated about what sort of plunder might tempt Russia to invade. Some have suggested that oil will be the attraction.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Voices in the wilderness

Proponents of assisted suicide appear determined to have their way, law or no law.

The Dutch group NVVL are exploring the possibility of opening an assisted suicide facility for clients with psychiatric issues, Alzheimer's or dementia. "There's nothing in the law of the Netherlands to stop them from doing this," says Alex Schadenberg, of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. "The whole thing is sick from the beginning."

One of NVVL's leaders, Eugene Sutorius, is one of a group of academics who have been demanding the legalisation of euthanasia for people who are simply "tired of life." "Once a society decides that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering," says bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, "that which is deemed 'suffering' will continue to expand until just about any category of suicidal person will eventually qualify."

Switzerland became so concerned about its reputation as a destination for suicide tourism that it planned a tightening of the law. But now Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf wants the law extended to include chronically ill as well as terminally ill. Once the door to killing is opened, its scope may be increased, but is never likely to be decreased.

In the UK, Dr Michael Irwin, who admits having helped several people end their lives and has been dubbed "Dr Death" by a number of newspapers, is co-ordinating a new organisation advocating the legalisation of assisted suicide for people who are not terminally ill, but merely tired of life.

And Dr Libby Wilson, an 84-year-old retired Scottish doctor facing prosecution in an assisted sucide case, has had charges against her dropped. She is said to have given advice to an English academic who committed suicide. A Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman said there was no evidence that the advice Dr Wilson gave contributed significantly to the outcome. "What jury would have convicted me?" said Dr Wilson. "I would not hesitate to provide information again if someone asked me."

Fortunately, there are still some voices crying in the wilderness. Like that of Baroness Campbell, who fights bravely for her fellow disabled. "Disabled and terminally ill people need help and support to live, not to die. We cannot allow others to speak for us; especially those who seek to offer us the choice of a premature death. It is not a choice - it is to abandon us."

And Alison Davis, of No Less Human, herself disabled: "Sometimes what desperate people, disabled or not, need is to be given hope. What they definitely don't need is to be told they are right to feel so unhappy and that they would be better off dead. This is simply the moral equivalent of the practical example of seeing a person about to jump off a high bridge and giving them a push."

Then you can thank God with me for the stand of Nikki Kenward, a British activist who once spent five months in intensive care and now uses a wheelchair: "So we lurch towards a world where getting rid of imperfection is seen as an 'act of love.' Where, to want to be alive, despite 'differences,' invites a comment of 'not keeping an animal in that state.' Where those who are just plain terrified of pain or even old age, seek 'mercy killing' for those who remind them of the arbitrary nature of being alive. Where loving and valuing someone like me. . . is described as some form of 'religious mania,' or just plain 'sick.'

"So I reject your sympathy, your human rhetoric, your selfish ideal of a 'brave death' and I choose life, with all its imperfections, loneliness, loss and pain. I choose to be alive, despite you, and for you. Because I know that one day in the depths of your pain, your despair, your overwhelming fear, you might still want to be alive, to live in some way, to be allowed to go on."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Shot for their faith

Christians in Egypt make up eight per cent or more of the total population - but they don't have equality before the law.

Converts to Christianity from Islam are threatened with death. Christians are unable to build, extend or repair churches without government permission, which is almost always refused, while mosques are built frequently, aided by government subsidies.

Christians are hounded by security forces and marginalised in society. They are in constant fear of attacks by Muslims: numbers of them have been shot dead.

Ephraim Shehata is an Egyptian Christian. He worked as a lab technician. In his spare time he ran a community centre in a rented apartment, providing job training, free medical services and free food for the elderly and infirm. He went door-to-door among Christians, seeking to encourage them in whatever way he could. His aim, he said, was to help Christians be strong in the faith.

One day he and his young wife Rasha were riding a motor cycle on a lonely road when a man forced them to stop. He told Ephraim he was going to teach him a lesson, beat him to the ground, took out a handgun and shot him in the back. Rasha screamed. The man shot her.

Three other men came to join the assault. Rasha threw herself on top of her husband's body, pleading for their lives. The men kept shooting.

Rasha heard her husband reciting Bible verses beneath her. Then he fell silent. She decided to play dead. One of the men said "Let's go. They're dead."

The village the attackers came from, according to Compass Direct News, erupted in celebration when they heard the pair were dead.

When the couple reached hospital, Rasha was found to have been shot in the arm, but Ephraim was not expected to survive. He had lost a tremendous amount of blood, a bullet had split a kidney in two, another bullet was lodged in his neck and his body was riddled with bullet fragments.

During 10 weeks in hospital, Ephraim had operation after operation to repair his wounds and remove infected tissue. He is now back home - with a bill for thousands of pounds for medical treatment - but essentially bedridden. He cannot walk or pull on underclothing without help. He faces further surgery.

Rasha thanks God for their deliverance. "There were lots of bullets being shot, but they didn't hit us, only three or four. Where are the others?" she said. "There is a great work the Lord is doing in our lives. We may not know what the reason is now, but maybe some day we will."

The couple's attackers were arrested by police and are in jail against the day when Ephraim is well enough to attend court.

The court case could be an embarrassment for the government. Ephraim has offered to allow charges to be dropped and offered not to testify against his attackers if the government will allow him to build a church building.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Something not quite right here?

Duke Amachree is a Christian. He was a homelessness prevention officer with Wandsworth Council with an 18 years' unblemished record.

A client he was helping with her housing situation had been told by several doctors that she had an incurable medical condition. Out of compassion for her, he commented that sometimes doctors don't have all the answers and encouraged her to consider putting her faith in God. For this, he was investigated and sacked for gross misconduct.

Duke appealed to an employment tribunal. The tribunal has decided that the council had not discriminated against him on the basis of his religion and was right to sack him.

A few months ago a 21-year-old Muslim was in court for defacing a war memorial with graffiti proclaiming "Islam will dominate the world," "Osama is on his way" and "Kill Gordon Brown." The court was told his action had nothing to do with religious belief and he was given a conditional discharge.

It's a strange old world, isn't it?

Time for change

The number of 11 and 12-year-olds on the contraceptive pill has increased fivefold in the UK in the last 10 years, the Sunday Times reports.

More than 1,000 girls aged 11 and 12 have been prescribed the pill by GPs, most without the knowledge of their parents. Although the age of consent is 16, doctors may prescribe for an under-age girl if they think she is mature enough to have sex. They are bound by a duty of confidentiality to the girl unless they believe she is being abused.

A further 200 girls between 11 and 13 have long-term contraceptive devices. At least 58,000 15-year-olds were on the pill last year, compared with 23,000 in 1999.

The figures come from a general practice research database, which collects information from 500 doctors' practices covering a representative sample of four million people.

"These figures illustrate the fact that the UK is facilitating the sexualisation of young people at an ever-younger age," said Dr Trevor Stammers, an expert on teenage sexuality.

The aim, says the Sunday Times in an editorial, has to be to change children's attitudes. "Smoking cigarettes used to be a rite of passage but that is slowly being educated out of youngsters. The same can happen with sex and the right kind of sex education. And so it should."

The powers-that-be in the UK have been educating children to have sex for long enough. A complete change in education on sexual matters would not be before time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Abiding in the Vine

Jesus told His disciples "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5).

If you are one of His disciples, you don't have to strive to be a branch. You are already a branch. You don't have to strive to be in the vine; you are already in the vine.

The same life-giving sap that flows through Him flows through you. If He were to die, you would die too. But so long as He lives, you will live also. All you have to do is abide in Him.

You can draw everything you need from Him. If the sun of temptation shines hot, you can draw from Him all the liquid refreshment you need. If the sun of temptation shines twice as hot, you can draw twice as much refreshment, and your leaf will stay fresh and green.

Jesus said "He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit" (v5). The vine doesn't bear the fruit, it produces it. Its purpose is to draw the exact liquid refreshment from the soil to produce beautiful fruit. The branch's purpose is to bear the fruit. The branch doesn't produce the fruit; it bears it. If the branch abides in the vine, fruit-bearing is automatic.

What does it mean to abide in Christ? It means to live, to dwell, to remain, to stay, to continue. It means to stay within the boundaries that His love has drawn for you.

The branch will need to be pruned. If it isn't pruned, it will grow all over the place and have nothing but leaves. Pruned by the vinedresser (v1), it will bear fruit.

Jesus said "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you" (v16).

I used to wonder what the connection was between bearing fruit and answered prayer.

The answer, of course, is abiding in Christ.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Life is for living

I had tears in my eyes as I read the story of Kerry Pink. She was living with her adoring husband and two beautiful children in Cranleigh, Surrey, when she began to have splitting headaches. Then she was suddenly violently sick. After that, she had a fit. Doctors diagnosed water on the brain.

After several operations, she slipped into a deep coma. Doctors asked her husband if he wanted them to pull the plug. Much later, she came out of the coma, and for 18 months was in what has come to be known as locked-in syndrome - aware of everything going on around her, but unable to move or communicate.

Her family told her they loved her. She was unable to respond. Her children told her of their problems. She was unable to throw her arms around them and comfort them. Her husband read the newspapers to her each day. She was unable to tell him she would like to hear something other than the sports section.

She heard the doctors say she wasn't going to make it. "How dare they," she thought. She was determined she was going to go back home - and she wasn't worried about what might happen in the meantime. She knew her husband would never permit the doct
ors to allow her to die.

One day her sister offered her a biscuit. She put out her tongue to taste it.
It caused a small sensation. Then one day her sister asked her if she would like a taste of wine. "Red or white?" her sister asked. "Red or white?" "White," she said. Another sensation. "She's spoken! She's spoken!"

Today, after extensive physiotherapy and speech therapy, Kerry is back home. She is still in a wheelchair, but she has recovered all her speech. She's happy being home with her family. Her life, she says, is rich with love and laughter.

You can read the full story by clicking here.

When Kerry read the story of Richard Rudd (I wrote about Richard here), she sent him a message of hope. If I had Kerry's address, I would write to her to encourage her too.

Life is inestimably precious, and it's here to be lived. The world needs more people like Kerry, who are willing to battle to enjoy it. And like her husband, who will fight the your-right-to-die-when-you-like characters so that she is able to.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

A very different story

You may recall the shocking case of Caroline Petrie, the nurse who was suspended from work not for praying for a patient, as some have said, but for offering to pray for a patient.

Peter and Catriona Waitt describe a very different experience in the summer edition of Triple Helix, a magazine of the Christian Medical Fellowship.

They were out of doors with their nine-week-old daughter Eva Grace, who had previously been healthy, when the baby's heart stopped. She was resuscitated and taken to hospital, where she was appropriately cared for, but her condition deteriorated and sadly, she died six weeks later.

The first night in hospital the resident doctor stayed with them through the night and prayed with them, which they said was a tremendous comfort. On several occasions members of the nursing staff comforted them with Bible passages and personal examples of God's faithfulness. When they had a neurological consultation with a professor at a teaching hospital, he encouraged them to see their daughter as God created her to be. We are body, soul and spirit, he said, and although Eva's body was broken, she was still the same child God had made her to be. This helped immensely.

All this happened in Malawi, where the Waitts were working, and later in Johannesburg. If they had been in the UK, they said, it would have been a different story.

They also said that through Eva's life and especially during her illness, many people came to hear about the goodness of God.