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.