Saturday, December 31, 2011

Facts and figures

Christians are by far the largest religious group on the planet, with nearly 2.2 billion followers, making up about a third of the world's population.

So says a study of global Christianity, based on data from 232 countries and territories, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (The study does not mention practice or belief; it simply counts as Christian anyone who says they are.)

The percentage of the world's population claiming to be Christian is about the same as a century ago.

While approximately two-thirds of Christians lived in Europe a hundred years ago, Europe has only 26 per cent of the world's Christians today. More than a third of all Christians today are in the Americas.

The United States has the world's largest Christian population, with more than 247 million, followed by Brazil and Mexico. China is among the top 10, with an estimated 67 million.

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen the biggest growth in Christian population, from about nine million in 1910 to about 516 million today. That's nearly a quarter of the world's Christians. Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia are among the top 10.

According to the study, half the world's Christians are Catholic, 37 per cent Protestant and 12 per cent Orthodox.

Islam is the world's second largest religion, with about 1.6 billion followers - just under a quarter of an estimated world population of 6.9 billion.

The number of people in England and Wales calling themselves Christian dropped from 77 per cent to 70 per cent between 2005 and 2010, according to the Government's latest Citizenship Survey. It showed Christians were less than half as likely to attend a place of worship as followers of other religions.

The number of people saying they have no religion went up from 15 per cent to 21 per cent between 2005 and 2010.

The Citizenship Survey was introduced by the Labour Government in 2001. This one will be the last. The current Government considered the £4 million cost of each survey could not be justified.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hugs, kisses and tears

Not everyone had a good Christmas. There were shells and bullets in Syria, bombs in Nigeria and bombs in Iraq.

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani mother of several children I wrote about a few weeks ago, spent her third Christmas behind bars. More than two years ago, Asia, who is a Christian, went out to work in the fields with some other women, who were Muslims. There was a discussion about the relative merits of Christianity and Islam.

The Muslim women claim Asia made a disparaging remark about the prophet Mohammed. Asia was hauled before a Muslim court charged with blasphemy, and sentenced to death by hanging. Sentence has not yet been carried out.

Earlier this month she had a visit by her husband and children, organised by the Christian couple who run the school attended by Asia's daughters. Asia is able to see her children only twice a year. Physical contact is not permitted, but the school director pleaded with the prison authorities until the family were allowed to meet in another room.

There were lots of hugs and kisses until it was time for the family to leave, when the kisses turned to tears.

Asia's husband Ashiq Masih is in hiding and unable to work: relatives of people accused of blasphemy are often targeted by Islamic extremists. Her daughters Sidra (18), Esha (13) and Eisham (12), who is disabled, have not yet given up hope that the family will be united.

The family is receiving support from the Christian community, but is still in great need.

Barnabas Fund
is helping with provisions.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Look, there's your Dad

I was bemused by people spending vast amounts of money on Christmas illuminations without any real appreciation of what it was they were celebrating.

I was bemused by people saying you musn't call Christmas Christmas in case it offended someone. Whatever in the world could they be thinking about?

I was blessed by the words of the angel to Mary (in Luke 1:31 - 33):

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

I was blessed by the Christmas carol O Holy Night (beautifully sung here on You Tube):

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth. . .
Christ is the Lord!. . . .

I was blessed by the Christmas song This Little Child. Fellow blogger Denny Hartford points out that you can not only hear it here but also download it free of charge.

I was blessed by the story of airman Matthew Lancaster, who travelled from Kenya, where he was training for service in Afghanistan, and arrived to see his son's school nativity performance with just a minute to spare, with his wife and women in the audience in tears.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's OK to rejoice. It's Christmas

Some people say Christians shouldn't observe Christmas because December 25 probably wasn't the date of Christ's birth and the festival on that date has pagan origins.

I disagree. There's nothing wrong with having a couple of days' holiday. There's nothing wrong with giving presents to people we love. There's nothing wrong with remembering the birth of the most wonderful person ever to visit the planet. And people have an openness to spiritual matters at this season. What a glorious opportunity to share the story of God's love.

As someone put it, "When God wanted to save the world, He didn't send a committee. He didn't write a book. He didn't send a substitute. He sent the best He had - His only Son.

"The Infinite became finite. The Immortal became mortal. The Creator became the created. The Almighty became a helpless baby. The Deity was wrapped in rags. The King of the Universe was born in a stable."

For unto us a child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon his shoulder.
And his name will be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
(Isa 9:6).

God created a beautiful world. We messed it up. God sent His Son. We stuck Him in a dirty stable. He did wonderful things. We crucified Him. And to cap it all, He rose from the dead. Only God could do that.

It's a personal thing. He didn't just come for the world. He came for me. He died for me, to pay the price for my sins. He rose for me, to prove that it was done.

We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that he, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9).

This Christmas there will be people in church who normally don't go to church. Many of them who go to cheer on their children as they act out the story of the Nativity. There's nothing wrong with singing a few carols and remembering the birth of a baby in Bethlehem a long time ago.

But will they know He grew up to be Saviour and Lord? Do they know He's King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Do they know that one day He will rule the nations? Will they realise that one day everyone will meet Him face to face?

My most memorable Christmas, without a doubt, was the Christmas before I was converted to Christ. God was already speaking to my heart. I had always gone to Christmas parties and sung a few carols; I thought it was the thing to do at Christmas. But I had begun to realise that God was interested in me. There was something about this that was real.

I didn't enter into the benefits until some weeks later. Christ is God's gift to the world. Like any other gift He has to be received.

As many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God (John 1: 12).

There were two things I needed to do.

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.

For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on him will not be put to shame"
(Rom 10:9 -11).

I believed. I confessed. Christmas (and the rest of the year) has never been the same since.

May you have a wonderful, real, God-blessed, old-fashioned Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Marriage is best

Peter Saunders highlights a recent report by a group of 18 family scholars summarising new findings from the social sciences on the state of marriage and family life.

The report, Why marriage matters, published by the Institute of American Values, lists 30 conclusions about the positive benefits associated with marriage.

In the latter half of the 20th century, divorce was the greatest threat to child wellbeing and the institution of marriage in the US. Children, it says, are now more likely to be exposed to a cohabiting union than a parental divorce. But the intact, biological, married family remains the gold standard for family life. Children are most likely to thrive economically, socially and psychologically in this sort of family.

Peter Saunders says there were similar findings in the Centre for Social Justice report Breakdown Britain in 2006, which found the breakdown of marriage and the family was the key driver of Britain's collapse. (The percentage of children born outside marriage rose from eight per cent in 1970 to 46 per cent in 2009.)

"Many of the mental and physical problems that daily fill our GP surgeries, hospital wards and outpatient departments are symptoms of this. The main drivers, the five 'pathways to poverty,' are all correlated with the collapse of marriage: family breakdown, educational failure, economic dependence, indebtedness and addiction. . .

"Children from a broken home are twice as likely to have behavioural problems, perform worse at school, become sexually active at a younger age, suffer depression, and turn to drugs, smoking and heavy drinking. A parent who has a serious drug problem or is addicted to alcohol can exhibit destructive behaviour patterns which can destroy the quality of life for the other parent and for children, leading in turn to family breakdown. . .

"The church has at this time an amazing opportunity to model marriage and family to a society where alternative models have failed.

"Marriage is a virtually universal human institution because it was originally God's idea. . .

"Let's celebrate, demonstrate, promote and protect marriage as the vehicle of blessing that it is for husbands, wives, children, parents, extended family, community and ultimately the world."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

When doctors disagree

The medical profession seems to have shot itself in the foot. Part of it, at least.

There has long been argument about damage caused to women by abortion. The abortion industry refused to accept there was such a thing as post-abortion syndrome. A few women might get a little upset at first after abortion; most were relieved to be free from an unwanted pregnancy. If there were mental health problems after abortion, they would be problems that were there beforehand.

That was not the experience of counsellors who worked sometimes for months with women with lives torn apart by problems after abortion, usually caused by feelings of anger, guilt and remorse.

Research into abortion and mental health problems by academic Priscilla Coleman was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in September. It was based on an analysis of 22 separate projects which analysed the experience of 877,000 women, 163,831 of whom had had an abortion.

It showed that women who had had an abortion had an 81 per cent increased risk of mental health problems, a 34 per cent increased risk of anxiety disorders, 37 per cent higher risk of depression, 110 per cent higher risk of alcohol abuse, 220 per cent higher risk of cannabis use and a 155 per cent increased risk of trying to commit suicide.

Nearly 10 per cent of mental health problems could be directly attributed to abortion.

Which brings us up to recent events.

Now research undertaken by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, commissioned by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and funded by the Department of Health, says that an unwanted pregnancy does involve up to three times higher risk of mental health problems, but that the risk is no different whether the woman with the unwanted pregnancy has an abortion or gives birth.

According to the law, abortion is still illegal, but a person will not be guilty of an offence under the law if abortion is carried out on certain grounds. One of the grounds is that two doctors are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the pregnancy has not exceeded its 24th week and that continuing the pregnancy would involve greater risk of injury to physical or mental health than if the pregnancy were terminated. Ninety-eight per cent of abortions are carried out on this ground.

Dr Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, points out that if there is no greater risk to health caused by continuing the pregnancy than by aborting the child, then 98 per cent of abortions carried out in Britain are illegal and doctors signing forms permitting them are likely to be committing an offence.

So will 98 per cent of abortions in Britain be no longer allowed to take place? I think not.

Doctors signing forms will still be allowed to claim, despite all the evidence, that there will be greater risk of damage to health by allowing the pregnancy to continue than by abortion, and doctors supporting the research will still be able to claim there is no greater danger to health caused by continuing pregnancy, and both will probably convince their respective audiences.

So long as they don't try to bring the two arguments together.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The amazing life of Alice Herz-Sommer

Alice Herz-Sommer was one of five children born to a Jewish family in Prague.

She started playing piano at something like five years old. By the time she was in her teens, she was recognised as an immensely talented pianist.

In 1931, she met her husband, also a musician. They married two weeks later. In her 30s, she was known as a concert pianist throughout Europe.

In 1939, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, and life for Jews became a nightmare. In 1943 she, her husband and son were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp, a "show camp" where artists, writers and musicians among the inmates were forced to perform for Red Cross inspections.

They lived on a little black coffee and a little watery soup. Mrs Herz-Sommer gave more than a hundred concerts for ill and starving inmates. "Music kept us alive," she says. "This was their food."

Her husband was sent to Auschwitz, then Dachau, where he died of typhus. Mrs Herz-Sommer and her son survived the war. Of 15,000 children sent to Theresienstadt, her son was one of only 130 who lived.

In 1949 she went to Israel and taught music. "It was a beautiful life in Israel," she says. "Inspiring. Musicians, scientists, writers - they all came and lectured. I was very happy."

Some 25 years ago, she and her son moved to London. "English people are so polite," she says. "They are cheerful and helpful and I admire their humour. Admirable people. I love them." Her son died in 2001, aged 65.

She attributes her long life to her optimism. "That is the reason I am still alive. I look at the good. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive." And despite her suffering, she has never hated. "Never."

"Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful," she says. "When you are old, you appreciate it more. When you are older, you think, you remember. You care and you appreciate, you are thankful for everything. For everything."

Mrs Herz-Sommer still practises piano for several hours each day.

She recently celebrated her 108th birthday. She is the oldest known Holocaust survivor. We wish her well.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Dangerous days

It's been an open secret that Iran has been working to obtain nuclear weapons for long enough - but the International Atomic Energy Authority's report last month about its "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme" had added to the pressure.

The problem is that Iran's leadership is driven not just by political ambition but by Shia Islamic "end times" theology. Iran's Supreme Religious Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are followers of the Mahdi, or Twelfth Imam. Khamenei claims to have had a personal meeting with the Mahdi and to be his personal representative on earth.

Muhammed ibn Hasan ibn Ali, the Twelfth Imam, disappeared while a young boy hundreds of years ago. Shia Muslims like Khamenei and Ahmadinejad believe he will
reappear in the last days, and all the world will then become Muslims. A way to hasten his return will be to destroy Israel and the United States.

Iran was expected to have nuclear weapons before now. Complex viruses planted on their computers, the assassination of nuclear scientists and sabotage at nuclear installations in Iran have delayed, but not ended their efforts. A recent forecast is that Iran could have five nuclear bombs by April, 2012 - four months away.

Respected commentator Joel C. Rosenberg points out that Iran calls Israel "the Little Satan" and the United States "the Great Satan." As long ago as 2005 Ahmadinejad forecast that there would soon be a world without the United States and Zionism.

Israel takes the threat to its security seriously. In recent days the Israelis have been moving weaponry around Israel - presumably in preparation for either a pre-emptive strike against Iran or for defence against a strike by Iran or its proxies. Israeli newspapers have been full of headlines about the threat of war.

The United States is taking the threat to its security not so seriously.

Scientists say the electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear device exploded 100 miles above the United States could disable the US infrastructure, leaving the whole of the US without power, transport, computers, heating, water supply or sanitation. A nuclear missile fired from a ship up to 200 miles off its coastline could affect 70 per cent of the US population.

The Christian will rejoice because he believes he knows who holds the world in His hand. We live, nevertheless, in dangerous days.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Euthanasia by the back door?

A few years ago the UK's Department of Health approved the Liverpool Care Pathway - so called because it was developed at the Royal Liverpool Hospital - for use in NHS hospitals.

Patients can be placed on the pathway "in the last hours or days of life," enabling food and water and drugs treating their condition to be withdrawn "to avoid unnecessary and burdensome intervention," and if necessary the patient sedated.

Doctors say the pathway has prevented suffering for dying patients. Predicting the time of death is difficult, however, and some patients taken off the pathway have recovered and lived for a considerable period.

Critics say patients are sometimes placed on the pathway too early, and sedation can mask their subsequent condition. The pathway, they say, can be reduced to a "tick box" ritual, and there could be a refusal to take the patient off the pathway once placed on it. With food and fluids removed and the patient sedated, death would then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Department of Health says doctors must always discuss with relatives whether to place patients on the pathway.

A report of an audit this year by the Marie Curie Palliative Care Institute, in collaboration with the Royal College of Physicians, just published - it says care of the dying overall was of high quality, but concerns remain regarding education and training - shows two things: the number of patients with terminal illnesses on the Liverpool Care Pathway has almost doubled in the past two years, and in one NHS trust where patients have been placed on the Liverpool Care Pathway, fewer than half their families have been informed.

Overall, where data has been supplied by hospitals, doctors discussed plans with relatives in 94 per cent of cases, but this still leaves thousands of families who were not advised what doctors were doing.

Why are families not told? Because it's easier not to? Because families might object? Because doctors think they know best? Or is this euthanasia by the back door?

We should be told.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Remembering to say thank you

I remember a good many years ago the church I attended at that time often used to sing an old hymn with a chorus that went like this:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

After we had sung the chorus for the last time, the senior pastor would add a second chorus of his own:

Count your blessings, name them two by two,
Count your blessings, see what God can do;
Count your blessings, name them four by four,
And it will surprise you there are millions more.

In my mind's eye, I can see him still.

Broadly, there are two classes of people: those who see the negative in every situation, and complain; and those who see the positive in every situation, and are thankful. I know which group of people is the happier.

Gratitude needs to be expressed. "In everything give thanks," says Paul (1 Thess 5:18). Somebody said the saddest thing for an atheist is when he feels thankful and he has nobody to thank. I don't know about that, but I do know the rest of us aren't in that situation.

"Enter into his gates with thanksgiving," says the Bible, "and into his courts with praise" (Psa 100:4). So don't dash straight into God's presence with a shopping list. Thanks first.

The other day I was looking at the number of instructions there are in the Bible to give thanks. If you were to count up the number of exhortations to thanksgiving in the book of Psalms, I'm sure you'd soon lose count.

I have decided I want to recognise the things I have to be thankful for more readily and to express my gratitude more often.

How about the following?

There is no greater difference between men than between grateful and ungrateful people. - R. H. Blyth.

When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs? - G. K. Chesterton.

And this:

If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. - Rabbi Harold Kushner.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Gog and Magog War (2)

We were talking about the Gog and Magog War, a battle described in Ezekiel 38 and 39 which will take place, the Bible says, "in the latter days" (38:16).

A great army from a confederacy of nations will invade Israel "to take great plunder" (38:9 - 13). Plainly Israel will have something at that time other nations want. Chemicals? Oil? Natural gas?

The invasion will take place when Israel is dwelling in apparent safety (38:11), a condition which does not apply just now.

Hebrew words translated horses and bows and arrows could be used to describe tanks and present-day missiles. There will be such slaughter on the mountains of Israel that it will take Israel seven months to bury the dead. Does Ezek 38:20 refer to a natural disaster or a nuclear disaster? Ezek 39:12 - 16 possibly hints at nuclear warfare.

The result of the war will be that "the house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day forward," and "the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel" (38:16, 23; 39:6, 7, 21, 22, 28).

American Bible teacher Chuck Missler makes an interesting point. The nations mentioned in Ezekiel 38 will travel considerable distances to invade Israel: there is no mention of Israel's near neighbours. What will have happened to them?

In Psalm 83 the Bible prophesies another battle involving Israel in which Israel's close neighbours are mentioned. Many Bible commentators believe this battle will take place before the Gog and Magog War. Can it be that Israel's immediate neighbours will have been dealt with in that earlier war? It's impossible to say with certainty, but it's an interesting suggestion.

One thing is certain. When everything is finished and done, Israel will still be there. The truth of God's word demands it.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Gog and Magog War (1)

The Bible is a book of history. It is also a book of prophecy. It tells what happened, how it happened and why. It also tells of things that are yet to happen. The Bible is more up to date than today's newspaper. It is more up to date than tomorrow's newspaper, if you can imagine that.

Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 tell in graphic detail of a battle that is yet to happen; a battle that has come to be known by Bible students as the Gog and Magog War (38:2).

Magog, Persia, Cush, Put, Libya, Gomer, Togarmah, Meshech and Tubal, it says, together will invade Israel. The names of peoples and places change over time. These names describe what is now Russia, Iran, Ethiopia, Libya, Germany and Turkey.

The invaders will be a great army; so many that they will cover the land of Israel like a cloud (38:9, 16). There will be a great earthquake (38:19). God Himself will fight against the invaders with great rain, great hailstones, fire and brimstone (38:22).

The slaughter will be such that it will take seven months to bury the dead (39:12).

When will this war take place? What will be the cause of the war? Will nuclear weapons be involved?

Friday, November 25, 2011

'Hang on. I just shot someone'

General Richard Dannatt, until his retirement Britain's Chief of the General Staff, is a committed Christian.

Writing in the Guardian, he says the military needs to have not only good leadership and sound morals, but a spiritual dimension to sustain the soldiers. He quotes a British private who had just shot his first enemy fighter in Afghanistan:

"Afterwards, I sat there and I thought 'Hang on. I just shot someone.' I had a brew and that. I didn't get to sleep that night. I just lay there all night thinking, 'I shot someone.' It's something strange. A really strange feeling. You feel like, you know, a bit happy with yourself - I've done me job, it's what I've come here for, know what I mean? He's Taliban and I've got one of them. You feel quite chuffed about it.

"Then you're feeling like, you know, well you know, sad. You're thinking. . . well, you know. . . you know, the, the geezer's another human being at the end of the day, like. Then you get the feeling, well, you know, it's either him or me. And then you're thinking. . .

"I think people get, like, you know, religious then as well. You're thinking, well, in the bigger picture, if there is a Geezer up there and a Geezer downstairs, what does that mean to me now I've just shot someone? Is that me done for? Am I going to hell or what? And all of that went through me mind that night, for hour after hour after hour."

Young soldiers may not understand the politics that led to war or the ethical considerations involved in their doing what they're doing. They may not have a Christian background, but they still have, it seems, an awareness of the value of human life.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The tragedy of Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi lives in Pakistan. She is a wife and the mother of five children. She is also a Christian.

One day she went out to work in the fields with some other women, who were Muslims. She is said to have drawn water for them, which they refused to drink because they said it was contaminated by having been handled by a Christian. They tried to convert her to Islam, but she stood up for her faith in Christ. The women said she made a disparaging remark about the prophet Mohammed; this she denies.

Asia was taken to court, charged with blasphemy against the prophet, and sentenced to death by hanging.

The Muslim cleric in Asia's home town has promised if Pakistan does not execute her, he will kill her himself. Another cleric has promised a $6,000 reward to anyone who murders her. Asia is kept in solitary confinement in case she is attacked in prison. Her family is in hiding.

A government minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, who spoke up for Asia, was shot dead by Muslim extremists. Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who called for a pardon for Asia, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards. The judge at the trial of the bodyguard had threats on his life and was forced to leave the country.

It is a year since Asia was condemned. She has appealed against the conviction, but it may be years before her appeal is heard. Her case became known abroad, and many outside Pakistan have complained to the Pakistani authorities. If her sentence is commuted, there will be uproar in Pakistan. If she is executed, there will be indignation abroad.

Meanwhile, Asia Bibi languishes in a tiny cell, still under sentence of death, a victim of Islam and religious hatred.

Friday, November 18, 2011

PVS patients are misdiagnosed

Patients in so-called persistent vegetative state are awake, but according to doctors, unaware. (I dislike using the expression vegetative state. No human being is ever a vegetable. Vegetables are things you can throw away.)

According to a study published in the medical journal the Lancet, new research at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, and University Hospital in Liege, Belgium, shows that despite rigorous assessment, many patients said to be in PVS are misdiagnosed.

Previous studies have shown that fMRI scans can uncover awareness in apparently vegetative patients, but such scans are not always available and can produce confusing results. The new research used "a considerably cheaper and more portable technique" - an EEG machine, which records brainwaves - on 16 patients diagnosed as being in PVS.

Although they were unable to move their limbs physically, the patients were told to imagine moving their right hand and toes. Three patients produced repeated and reliable brainwave patterns which showed they were aware of the commands and responding to them.

Judges in UK courts have given permission for food and water to be withdrawn from more than 40 PVS patients, causing their lives to be ended.

Here is the question: how many patients dehydrated to death have been aware but unable to respond?

And here is another question: will the knowledge that some patients are awake and aware prevent this happening in the future?

American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith agrees with me about the expression persistent vegetative state, which he says should be changed to "persistent unconscious state." The v-word, he argues, "demeans, diminishes, dehumanises and degrades the moral value of the patient."

And don't think, he says, that learning a patient is conscious will lead many to advocate against their dehydration. Although permission to dehydrate a minimally conscious patient was recently refused in a case in the UK, many have argued that someone being minimally conscious is even more reason to pull the plug because they will be suffering from the potential knowledge of their limitations.

"We really need to change our values," he says, "so that all of us are embraced and accepted as moral equals regardless of our cognitive states."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Words of wisdom?

We've all seen signs outside churches bearing messages varying from "WHAT'S MISSING IN THIS CH__CH?" to "SEVEN PRAYERLESS DAYS MAKE ONE WEAK." (I would have thought it would have taken considerably fewer than that.)

Are such signs effective?

The Gadsden Times reports on one church that thinks so. The church is situated at the side of a busy road, and 32,680 vehicles pass by each day.

People to whom the church is mentioned say "Oh, I know your church. I read your sign every day." One man recounted with tears in his eyes how when he was getting a good old telling-off from his wife, he remembered reading on the sign "MEEKNESS IS NOT WEAKNESS" and managed not to lose his temper. A woman on her way to commit suicide read a message on the sign which said simply "HANG IN THERE!" and abandoned her suicide attempt.

If you wanted to have such a sign, where would you get all the sayings to put on it? Apparently if you google "church sign sayings," you'll get hundreds. One site here has more than a thousand. Enough to keep you going for ages.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

If the wind isn't too strong

Here's a story to encourage you. Or put you off your breakfast, depending how you're feeling this morning. To encourage you, I hope.

Everett Penrod is an American. He was ordained to the ministry in 1942, became a US Army chaplain, served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, the Korean war and the war in Vietnam.

He has written 13 Bible-based novels. He teaches a Bible class at a local church. He's a trained pilot. Flying, he says, is one of his favourite hobbies.

For 35 years he competed in athletics. He had to give that up while he had hip and knee replacements and recovered from a brain injury - a subdural haematoma - sustained in a car crash. He got back on the athletics track last year.

Last month he joined 10,000 others in the World Senior Games in St George, Utah, where he won four gold medals and set two new world records for his age group in the 50 and 100 metres.

By the way, he's 96 years old.

"Usually when a competitor sets a record, the judges will test you for steroid use," he says. "When I finished the race and set a record, the judges didn't test me." He asked them why. "They said at my age I needed steroids."

Everett intends to continue running, he says, "if the wind isn't too strong."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A poor choice, Mr C

That doughty defender of marriage and the family, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, insists it is important that people understand the difference between living together and marriage.

He says a live-in relationship is more likely to break down than a marriage relationship. He blames broken homes for funnelling children into the gangs that ran rampant during the summer riots, and says failure to support marriage will lead to further social breakdown.

Research by the Jubilee Centre based on published data covering 14,103 households and 22,265 adults supports his view. That research showed couples who lived together before marriage were 15 per cent more likely to divorce, and those who had previously lived with a different partner were around 45 per cent more likely to divorce.

Although the average length of unmarried relationships rose from two-and-a-half years to three-and-a-half years between the 1980s and the 2000s, fewer than one in four unmarried couples lived together for more than six-and-a-half years. Couples living together at the birth of their first child were six times more likely than married couples to split up by the time the child was five and four times more likely by the time the child was 16.

Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, says when a couple marry, they make a lifelong commitment to each other in the presence of witnesses. A "trial lifelong commitment," he says, is a contradiction in terms.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports a change in the law to allow homosexuals to marry. ComRes, commissioned by Premier Christian Media, asked churchgoers at the end of October if they support or oppose the Government's proposal to legalise same-sex marriage.

The results show that of 544 interviewed, 11 per cent supported the proposal and 83 per cent opposed. Six per cent didn't know. Fifty-seven per cent indicated that as a result, they would be less likely to vote Conservative in future.

Commentators are pointing out that one per cent of the UK population identifies itself as homosexual, and some five million people are regular churchgoers. If David Cameron is risking alienating 57 per cent of them, they say, that's a pretty poor political decision.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Time for churches to wake up

UK equalities minister Lynne Featherstone has announced that by the end of the year there will be a system in place to allow same-sex civil partnership ceremonies to be conducted on religious premises. There will be no delay, it seems, for the implementation of an item on the homosexual agenda.

The Church of England says it will not bless same-sex couples. The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to the move. Evidently a tiny minority of churches is to be used to set an example to the others.

Miss Featherstone says no churches will be compelled to perform same-sex services; to do so will be voluntary. There will be an "opt-in" system for churches wanting to take part.

No doubt when the system is in place homosexual activists will sue churches not willing to take part on grounds of discrimination and courts will be keen to uphold anti-discrimination laws.

Andrea Williams, of Christian Concern, puts it well: "We have no doubt about what will happen. Churches will inevitably be coerced into performing these ceremonies, and those who don't will be vilified and sued. Nobody will seriously believe the Government's assurances to the contrary, given the way in which previous assurances on civil partnerships have been shattered."

The day may not be too far off when ministers not willing to perform same-sex partnership ceremonies in church will have to resign - or face the full weight of the law.

Churches, wake up.

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on the possible introduction of same-sex marriage and the possibility of allowing religious ceremonies for civil partnerships. It says that while no decisions have been taken, "The Government's initial view is that marriage should be open to both same sex couples and opposite sex couples. . . It is clear that some same sex couples would prefer marriage to a civil partnership, as the appropriate way to declare and formalise their commitment to each other."

The consultation closes on December 9.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Sexualising children in school?

One of my daughters obtained contraception from the school nurse when she was only 14 after being heavily pressured by her then boyfriend, Jo Simpson writes in the Family Education Trust's Bulletin.

I knew nothing about this for over three years until she told me about it a few months ago. We have had numerous conversations this year, and my daughter (now 18) is convinced that making contraception available to pupils on school premises puts pressure on them to have sex.

If contraception had not been available at school, she feels there is no way she would have gone to the doctors or to the chemist to get contraception and therefore would not have given into the pressure she was under. She subsequently ended the relationship with her boyfriend and has carried the regret of not waiting ever since.

I am deeply concerned that people who are strangers to our children are able to give them contraception without the consent of their parents and without our children being able to fully understand the possible consequences of what they are doing. Sex is a life-changing and a life bringing act. There is no condom on earth that will protect a child from a bad reputation or a broken heart, or prevent regret. . .

Sex education in schools needs to be looked at in conjunction with the sexualisation of children. It amazes me how the government makes decisions that are only serving to fragment the family further and further, and destroying society's foundations.

Although the Government has said that it has no plans to change the law on sex education, it is under pressure from both MPs and peers to make sex education compulsory from the beginning of primary school and to remove or limit the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education lessons.

People have just until the end of the month to take part in the Department of Education's consultation on PSHE (personal, social, health and economic) education, including sex and relationships education. They can point out, if they wish, that sex education should not be compulsory in primary schools and all schools should be free to decide how sex education is provided in consultation with parents.

Details of the consultation can be found here. A briefing paper can be found here. Responses must be received by November 30.

Friday, November 04, 2011

'Instability and uncertainty' in the Middle East

New rumours of an imminent Israeli strike against nuclear installations in Iran were flying everywhere this week, fuelled by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's speaking to the Israeli Government about the threat from Iran, a rush of activity by Israel's military forces and the US publicly seeking to dissuade Israel from making the first strike.

Then it was said that the US was organising an attempt by the US, Britain and Israel to persuade Iran that an attack could become a reality if Iran does not give up its drive for a nuclear weapon. It is reported that soon Iran will have all its nuclear facilities deep underground where they will be invulnerable to attack.

Finally, it was suggested that Israel is preparing to defend itself against the fallout from a possible US-backed NATO attack on Syria aimed at deposing Syria's President Assad. Assad has threatened that if Syria is attacked he will attack Israel, creating a wider conflict that would make it more difficult to topple his regime. Syria has tens of thousands of missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon similarly has tens of thousands of rockets ready for use against Israel; Hamas terrorists, sworn to Israel's destruction, are armed to the teeth in Gaza.

"If I had to summarise what will happen in our region, I would use two terms: instability and uncertainty," Prime Minister Netanyahu told his parliamentary colleagues on Monday.

Palestinians in Gaza fired a barrage of rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel in the past week, with 35 missiles falling in one day. They were using a Grad multiple rocket launcher believed brought from Libya. They are reported to have obtained others from the same place.

From the time the alarm sounds, Israelis have just 15 seconds to find shelter. Young children are particularly liable to emotional damage from the constant threat of incoming missiles.

There have been some remarkable escapes from death and injury in rocket attacks. One school has been turned into a makeshift synagogue for Sabbath services every Saturday for 40 years. Last Saturday the man whose job it was to open up was in hospital, so there was no service. When it would normally have been busy, the empty school was hit.

"It was a miracle," said one congregant. "People should come to see what a great miracle it was."

Others were not so fortunate. One man was killed and others injured.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It will be worth it all

Catalyst, a magazine published by CARE, the Christian charity, tells how Robin Mark, the Christian worship leader and songwriter, had a tough-looking character with a skinhead haircut march up to him at a Belfast conference.

Robin began to wonder if his number was up. "I honestly thought this was going to be an aggressive encounter," he said.

The skinhead demanded to know if he had written the song Not By Might. Robin admitted that he had. "I want to thank you," said the man. His wife had died and he had felt suicidal. The song had pulled him back from the brink.

"That song," he said, his eyes filled with tears, "has saved my life." Then he turned and walked off.

God wants to use every one who belongs to Him. Sometimes He lets us know when it's happened. Often He doesn't. That's a good thing; otherwise we would begin to think it was us, and it isn't. It's just God's grace working through us.

It's not easy being a Christian. There are a lot of hard things to go through. But one day, when we see it all and understand, we'll say "It was worth it. Oh yes, it was worth it."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

It's a man's issue too

The day my girlfriend told me she was three months pregnant I was absolutely devastated. She had already told her parents, now I had to tell mine. I made sure Dad wasn't around when I told Mum, hoping that she would understand. When Dad arrived home Mum told him my girlfriend was pregnant. By the time I got home they had already been to see my girlfriend's parents to discuss the situation my girlfriend and I had got ourselves into. Together our parents decided that an abortion would be the best for all concerned.

My girlfriend and I were both 17 years old and didn't have a clue what to do about the problem we had. My Mum assured me that it wasn't a baby but just a piece of lifeless tissue, shaped like a kidney. I now know that at three months the baby was fully formed in every detail, completely individual to any other human being, never again to be duplicated.

I spent the next few days convincing myself that my life would have been ruined if I had had a baby to support. Besides, I wanted a bigger and better motor bike than I already had. I had my whole life ahead of me. I wasn't going to let a baby spoil everything for me.

I don't think my girlfriend really wanted to have the abortion, but I talked her round to everybody else's point of view. Our parents made arrangements for the abortion at the Hazel Grove clinic.

The day my girlfriend went for the abortion I was at work. I was feeling all kinds of emotions. I was feeling guilty, but at the same time relieved. To make matters worse, when my girlfriend got back from the clinic she went hysterical at me. She was feeling guilty and sick at what we had done. For months after she would break down with bouts of uncontrollable sobbing.

I had no answers for her; I felt as guilty as she did. She used to count the weeks and months up to the time when the baby would have been born. The week the child should have been born was the worst. We were sitting in my bedroom talking and she began to sob again, mourning the loss of our child.

I have a poem she wrote that night. Unknown to her I kept it and it haunted me for years.


I love my little baby,
But he's not here at the moment!
Because he's been dumped in a dustbin,
Poor little thing,
He would have been born in about a week,
I wish I'd kept him.

There's nothing more I can say about abortion that the poem doesn't say; except that abortion is not just a woman's issue because it also affects men. It is only because of Christ's great love and mercy that I know I have now been forgiven and set free from the guilt I had suppressed for so many years.

Next Thursday, October 27, is the National Day of Prayer about abortion. Seven million babies have been aborted in the UK since abortion was decriminalised. Ninety-eight per cent of abortions are for social reasons. One per cent are because of suspected disability.

The day of prayer is organised by Image, a Christian pro-life organisation. While I was thinking about the day, I came across the testimony above in an Image publication.

People are asked to arrange some prayer on the day. Would you be able to do that?

Details of the day, free prayer guides and a PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

'They won't communicate with me any more'

Abby Johnson started work at an abortion clinic in America's lone star state because she cared about women in crisis and wanted to do the right thing.

She believed the purpose of Planned Parenthood, whose clinic it was, was to prevent unwanted pregnancies, thus reducing the number of abortions, and that the organisation saved the lives of women who otherwise might resort to some back-alley abortionist.

She worked there for eight years, eventually as clinic director. Then one day, because of a staff shortage, she was asked to assist in an abortion. Unusually, it was an abortion guided by ultrasound.

On the ultrasound screen she saw a 13-week-old baby - head, arms, legs, even tiny fingers and toes. The baby started kicking, as though trying to move away from the probe, struggling to turn and twist away. Then it crumpled. Finally, it was gone.

"Then it hit me. . . It wasn't just tissue, just cells. It was a human baby. And it was fighting for its life. . . What I have told people for years, what I've believed and taught and defended, is a lie. . .

"This thought came from deep within me: Never again."

Abby resigned from the clinic. Planned Parenthood went to court for a gagging order preventing her from speaking about her work at the clinic. The judge threw out the application. Abby is now a pro-life activist.

This month is the second anniversary of her leaving the abortion industry. She writes:

"I am a better mother, a better wife, a better friend, and a new creation in Christ. These two years have been the best of my life. . . My marriage is better than it has ever been.

"I never realized how the evil of my job had crept into my life at home. Now we are free of that. I value my daughter more than I ever have. I never really saw motherhood as a gift; now I am able to see that it is the greatest gift we are given as women.

"So many of my friends are still there, in those clinics. People that won't communicate with me anymore. Good people who are misdirected. I am now the enemy. . . I feel broken for all of those that are still caught in the justification of the abortion industry."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Militant Islam - and apathetic Christians?

British Government ministers appear willingly blind to the threat from militant Islam.

A radical group, Muslims Against the Crusades, has launched a campaign to turn areas of Britain - Birmingham, Bradford, Derby, Dewsbury, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, Sheffield and Waltham Forest and Tower Hamlets in London - into Muslim enclaves ruled by sharia law and outside British jurisprudence.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, intelligence chiefs have warned Government ministers that 2,000 extremists based in Britain are actively planning terrorist activity of some kind, and 200, at a conservative estimate, are planning suicide bombings in Britain.

While the threat from militant Islam grows, non-Christians seem unable to understand why Christians in the West provide so little support for persecuted Christians elsewhere. In countries under Islamic rule, countless Christians have been massacred or caused to flee while Western churches have stood by apparently unconcerned.

It was announced a few days ago that the British Government is cutting overseas aid to countries where homosexuals are persecuted. Persecuted Christians, apparently, don't count.

Respected Israeli commentator Caroline Glick points out that a decade ago there were 800,000 Christians in Iraq. Today there are 150,000.

When the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, Christians made up 80 per cent of Bethlehem's population. Today they are less than 20 per cent. Since Hamas "liberated" Gaza in 2007, Christian churches, convents, book stores and libraries in Gaza have been burned and Christians killed and assaulted. No one has been arrested for anti-Christian violence.

In 1946 the majority of Lebanese were Christian. Today, less than 30 per cent are Christian. In Turkey, the Christian population has dwindled from two million at the end of World War I to less than 100,000 today.

In Syria, Christians once made up nearly half the population. Today four per cent of Syrians are Christian. In Jordan half a century ago 18 per cent of the population was Christian; today, two per cent.

"Sadly for the Christians of the Islamic world," she says, "their cause is not being championed either by Western governments or Western Christians. . . Aside from Evangelical Protestants, most Western churches are. . . uninterested in defending the rights of their co-religionists in the Islamic world. . .

"Instead, over the past decade these churches and their related international bodies have made repeated efforts to attack the only country in the Middle East in which the Christian population has increased in the past 60 years - Israel. . .

"It is unclear what either Western governments or Western churches think they are achieving by turning a blind eye to the persecution and decimation of Christian communities in the Muslim world. As Sunday's events in Egypt and other daily anti-Christian attacks by Muslims against Christians throughout the region show, their behaviour is not appeasing anyone. What is clear enough is that they shall reap what they sow."

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Muslim spring, and a Christian winter

Last Sunday more than a thousand Coptic Christians dared to stage what was supposed to be a peaceful protest in Cairo. They were protesting violent state-supported attacks on Christians by Muslim groups and the recent burning of churches.

It was not long before they were attacked by angry Muslims and by the army. They were beaten, shot and dragged through the streets. Two armoured vehicles belonging to the army drove into the crowds of unarmed demonstrators, going backwards and forwards, mowing people under their wheels. What some eye-witnesses saw was so horrific that I would not want to repeat it here.

Between 20 and 40 Copts were killed and hundreds wounded. Some were dragged into dark alleys to be dealt with. One had his throat cut.

Egyptian authorities put out a report that soldiers were being killed by Copts. The report was later discredited. It was said that no soldiers had died.

The US President issued a statement expressing concern for "the tragic loss of life among demonstrators and security forces" and appealing to "all parties" to refrain from violence.

Said one commentator: "Perhaps I ought to join the president in his concern and call for restraint. I call upon the security forces to refrain from killing Christians, and upon Christians to refrain from dying."

As another pointed out, the Muslim spring in the Middle East is a Christian winter.

How could such a thing happen as happened in Cairo on Sunday? Mark Durie explains that Islam demands that a state be ruled by sharia law, which demands that non-Muslims live under dhimmi status.

"The 'crime' of the Copts in Aswan province was simply that they wished to repair their church. This is opposed by the (theological) logic of the dhimma pact, which states that non-Muslims are not allowed to repair places of worship, on pain of being treated as 'people of defiance and rebellion,' from whom 'safety and protection' have been withdrawn. In other words, such a person can be killed and their belongings plundered (because they are entitled to no protection under Islamic law).

"For some pious Muslims in Egypt today, the act of repairing a church is a flagrant provocation, a breach of the peace, which amounts to a deliberate revocation of one's rights to exist in the land. This becomes a legitimate topic for sermons in the mosque, as the faithful are urged to use their hands to defend the honor of Islam. It is seen as no injustice, and even a duty, to destroy the church and even the lives of Christians who have the temerity to repair their churches. Likewise those who go to the streets to protest church destruction are also rebels who have forfeited their rights to 'safety and protection.'"

Melanie Phillips wonders if Messrs Obama and Cameron realise what they have helped unleash by promoting the removal from office of Egypt's President Mubarak. It is hard to know, she says, which is the more terrifying - the malevolence displayed by the West towards Israel, or its sheer craven stupidity.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

'Putting the fear of God' into atheists

William Lane Craig is research professor of philosophy at Talbot Theological College in California. He is also a renowned Christian apologist who has debated some of the world's best known atheists. He comes to England this month to lecture on the rational grounds for the truth of Christianity and to debate the existence of God with leading atheists.

He will speak between October 17 and 26 in public meetings in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cambridge, Oxford and Southampton. You can find details of his meetings at

Atheist Sam Harris describes Craig as "the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into my fellow atheists." Professor Richard Dawkins, arguably Britain's best known atheist, has declined to debate with him, and offered a variety of weak excuses for doing so.

(Newspaper columnist and president of the British Humanist Association Polly Toynbee agreed, to many people's surprise, to debate him in London, but later withdrew, saying "I hadn't realised the nature of Mr Lane Craig's debating style, and having now looked at his previous performances, this is not my kind of forum.")

The invitation to Richard Dawkins to a public debate in Oxford remains open. If he fails to turn up on the night, the meeting will go ahead, but an empty chair will be placed on the platform and allowed to remain there through the meeting.

You may remember that two years ago increasingly aggressive British atheists paid for posters on the sides of buses saying "THERE'S PROBABLY NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE."

The organisers of the meeting in Oxford have now put posters on the sides of Oxford buses saying "THERE'S PROBABLY NO DAWKINS. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY OCT 25TH AT THE SHELDONIAN THEATRE."

I like it.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The king's song (2)

Prayer is not just asking for things. Whatever else prayer is, prayer is also spending time with your closest, dearest Friend.

The Song of Solomon says (in the King James Version of the Bible): "O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely."

The Song of Solomon is a love story between the king and a Shulamite maiden. The king and the maiden have secret places on the stairs where they can meet to be together. He longs to see her and to hear her voice.

The Song of Solomon is also an allegory of the spiritual relationship between the Christian believer and her Lord. Imagine the Shulamite maiden is the believer and the king is the Lord Jesus.

If you are a believer, you have a secret place where you can meet with Him. The secret place is on the stairs. There may be steps to climb to reach it.

You may have family responsibilities which make it difficult. When you try to get there, the telephone rings, the baby cries and there's a knock at the door. Suddenly, you're desperately tired and your mind is filled with all manner of things.

You want to be there, because you want to be with Him. But did you know that He is longing to see you, longing to hear your voice? "Let me hear your voice," He says, "for your voice is sweet, and your countenance is lovely."

Here's the wonderful thing. He's the Creator of the universe. All things were made by Him, the Bible says; without Him was not anything made that was made. And you're just you.

But every time you go to meet Him in the secret place, He's there, waiting.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Choosing life or death

A recently published study of the parents of Down's syndrome children revealed that:

* 99 per cent said they loved their Down's syndrome son or daughter

* 97 per cent said they were proud of their Down's child

* 79 per cent felt their outlook on life was more positive because of him or her

* 95 per cent felt their other children had a good relationship with him or her

* 84 per cent felt their other children were more caring and sensitive to others because of him or her

* Five per cent were embarrassed by their Down's child and four per cent regretted having a child with Down's.

One parent said: "I've learned the good lessons of patience and that its rewards are a smile - and that is always enough." Another said: "Our son is the greatest joy and motivation of our lives." Said a third: "What at first appears to be the worst possible thing that could be happening can turn into the best possible thing."

Of brothers and sisters (12 years old or older) of Down's syndrome children, 96 per cent said they liked their Down's sibling; 94 per cent said they were proud of him or her; and 88 per cent said they were a better person because of him or her.

But now note the following facts:

More than 90 per cent of unborn babies with Down's syndrome are aborted. To put it another way, three babies are aborted every day in England and Wales because of Down's syndrome. Tests now being perfected which will enable Down's to be identified in the early weeks of pregnancy simply by examining a blood sample from the mother are expected to increase the number of abortions of Down's babies still further.

There were 2,044 responses in the survey mentioned above. The study's authors, Dr Brian Skotko of the Children's Hospital in Boston, USA, and colleagues, concluded that the parents' decision to abort the Down's syndrome baby or to continue with the pregnancy can depend on the information provided by their health care providers. And mothers reported that the information they received was oftentimes inaccurate, inadequate, and in the worst cases, offensive.

Will somebody please take some notice?

Saturday, October 01, 2011

A sensible answer required, please

You may be aware that the BBC's religious and ethics department (whose head is a Muslim) has suggested broadcasters replace the terms BC and AD (Before Christ and Anno Domini), when referring to dates, with the terms CE and BCE (Common Era and Before Common Era) because it is necessary to avoid offending non-Christians.

You may also be aware that following a complaint by a customer at a Blackpool cafe, police threatened to arrest the Christian owner for displaying the words of the Bible, projected on a nice pictorial background, on a DVD screen on the inside wall of his cafe. It is suspected that the person who complained is a homosexual.

The majority of people in the UK are at least nominally Christian. When is someone going to be threatened with arrest for offending one of them?

Could someone please provide a sensible answer to the above question?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Judge stands up for right to life

Since the Tony Bland case in 1993, UK courts have granted permission for food and water to be withdrawn from more than 40 patients in so-called persistent vegetative state, thus causing their deaths.

This year came an application for permission to withdraw food and water from a patient not in persistent vegetative state, but said to be "minimally conscious." The 52-year-old woman, referred to in court as "M" - it is not possible to identify her for legal reasons - was brain damaged by a viral disease in 2003. She is unable to breathe unaided or feed herself.

The application came from her family. Her sister told the Court of Protection "She can't move, she can't speak, she's fed through a tube, she can't even enjoy a cup of tea. She's got no pleasure in life. It's not a life, it's an existence, and I know she wouldn't want it."

Care home staff said M sometimes spoke, smiled and cried tears of emotion.

After a 10-day hearing, Mr Justice Baker this week refused the application. He said the preservation of life remained a fundamental principle of the law.

M did experience pain and discomfort, and her disability severely restricted what she could do, but she did have some positive experiences and there was a reasonable prospect those experiences could be extended. He urged the family to work together with doctors and carers on a revised care plan.

The judge's decision is the right one. Apart from the ethical problems involved in taking a human life, allowing the application would have been another step - and a big step - down the slippery slope towards random euthanasia.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The king's song (1)

There is a little book in the Old Testament called The Song of Solomon. 1 Ki 4:32 says Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and his songs were 1,005. Of all the songs that Solomon wrote, this is apparently the song.

In the whole book the name of God is nowhere mentioned, and some people wonder what it's doing in the Bible at all. Examine it, and it's one of the most spiritual books in the Bible.

It appears to be a love story between the king and a Shulamite maiden. Consider it an allegory of the spiritual relationship between the Christian believer and her Lord. As you read it, imagine, if you will, that the Shulamite maiden is the believer, the king is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the daughters of Jerusalem are other believers.

In the first chapter, the believer is newly come to faith, aware of her love for the Lord but not even aware of where to go for fellowship with Him ("Tell me, O you whom I love, Where you feed your flock, Where you make it rest at noon").

By the second chapter, she is aware of her risen Lord, wonderfully victorious out there in the world ("Behold, he comes Leaping upon the mountains, Skipping upon the hills") but content to wait in her own home until He comes to her.

She has some difficult experiences, sometimes at the hands of those she would least expect ("The watchmen who went about the city found me. They struck me, they wounded me; The keepers of the walls Took my veil away from me").

Through the book, you can see how her faith grows. In the second chapter, it's "My beloved is mine, and I am his." In the sixth chapter, it's "I am my beloved's, And my beloved is mine" - more concerned now that He should have all of her than that she should have all of Him. And in the seventh chapter, it becomes just "I am my beloved's, And his desire is towards me."

He invites her "Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, With me from Lebanon. Look from the top of Amana, From the top of Senir and Hermon, From the lions' dens, From the mountains of the leopards" - to the spiritual heights, where together they can look out at all the Promised Land below.

Until eventually she can say "Come, my beloved, Let us go forth to the field; Let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; Let us see if the vine has budded, Whether the grape blossoms are open, And the pomegranates are in bloom."

God wants us to come to the place where we are concerned not just with ourselves, our own family, our own church, our own town (though certainly that), but where He is able to share His heart with us regarding all He is doing, everywhere.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

More violent times to come

Well, it happened. For a day or two it didn't seem certain what he would do. Then yesterday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made an official application to the United Nations for a place for an independent Palestinian state as a full member of the UN.

The UN General Council - with one or two exceptions - gave him standing ovations as he made his case.

The trouble is that the Palestinians have refused to recognise Israel, whose territory they want to acquire, and have refused to negotiate with Israel. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the General Council that the Palestinians wanted a state without peace. They should first make peace with Israel and then get their state.

The General Council ignored him and voted for the Palestinians. The decision will need to be ratified by the Security Council. I understand they will discuss it on Monday. Full ratification is unlikely to be forthcoming. Either way, Abbas is now a hero among his supporters.

The decision is both a victory and a disaster. It achieves nothing on the ground and will surely lead to further violence. An appeal for peaceful demonstrations in Israel yesterday led to stone-throwing at Israeli soldiers. More violence is said to be planned.

Rockets from Palestinians in Gaza are continuing to fall on civilian populations in southern Israel. Esti Lehman, of Moshav Shuva, a mother of three children from five months to four years old, wrote in the Israeli media of having only seconds to find shelter after the alarm sounds and having to make, with three small children and only two hands, the terrible decision of who to grab first.

"They're shooting at me, at my children," she wrote. "This is war."

Will there be peace between the Israeli Jews and their Arab neighbours? I think not.

The Bible speaks of a time to come of terrible suffering for the Jews, but a time when many will come to faith.

It also speaks of a day when the curse will be taken from the earth, the lion will lie down (literally) with the lamb, and there will be no wars. But alas, not yet.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

We live in momentous days

Next week the United Nations will be asked to make a decision which is likely to have momentous consequences. The Palestinians will apply for recognition as a United Nations member state.

Israel has said it is willing to negotiate with the Palestinians, with no preconditions. The Palestinians are refusing to negotiate with Israel, or recognise Israel's right to exist. Instead, they will go direct to the United Nations.

Next Wednesday, September 21, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will deliver a major address to the UN General Assembly, putting Israel's case (and challenging the nations to deal with Iran in Iran's bid for nuclear weapons).

Next Friday, September 23, the Palestinian Authority will formally apply for full membership of the United Nations. To succeed, it will need two-thirds of the votes of the General Assembly's 193 nations, which it is expected to get. For full membership, it needs the votes of five members of the UN Security Council. Of the five, Russia has agreed to support the Palestinians' bid. If France, China and the UK vote in favour, the United States will - reluctantly - veto the decision. This would leave the PA not a full member of the UN, but recognised as a nonmember state.

A decision at the UN would effectively tear up agreements previously made between Israel and the Palestinians, and could lead to violent conflict in Israel, even war.

Israel is a legally constituted nation, with its own sovereign territory. The Palestinians have been offered a state on more than one occasion, but have hitherto refused the offer. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, they do not want a state as much as they want to see Israel wiped off the map.

Most people either laugh at or choose to ignore biblical prophecy, which is perhaps strange in view of the fact that all biblical prophecy of events to date (including those which took place in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago) has been exactly fulfilled.

The Bible says that God gave the land of Israel, which He calls His land, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants for an everlasting possession. It says that eventually all nations will be gathered against Israel to battle. It says, what's more, that God Himself will bring all nations against Israel to battle, so that He can deal with them.

He will judge the nations, He says,
"On account of my people, my heritage Israel,
Whom they have scattered among the nations;
They have also divided up my land" (Joel 3:3).

If you would like to read of those days, start with Joel 3 and Zechariah 14. "The day of the Lord's vengeance" will not be a pretty sight.

No wonder the Bible instructs us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The right idea - a little bit late?

Basildon Academy in Essex, opened last year with almost 1,600 pupils at a cost of £45 million, was not doing well, according to this morning's newspaper.

Parents said graffiti covered the walls, there was little homework set, none of it was marked, and pupils would get up in the middle of class to go for a cigarette. Truancy, fighting, bullying and teachers unable to cope were commonplace.

Then a new headteacher took over.

On his first day he sent 109 pupils home for wearing wrong items of uniform. In three days he sent home 151 pupils. Scores were given detention and dozens put in an isolation centre.

Within 48 hours teachers reported they no longer had to practise "crowd control" and they had twice the amount of time for teaching.

Said the headteacher: "The change is just remarkable. The morale of the teachers is high, there is no bullying and the pupils are happy. And we are instilling good habits that will make them good citizens and employees."

Is it permissible to ask why someone didn't do this before?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Antisemitism on the increase

Antisemitism is on the increase in the UK. To the extent, writes Melanie Phillips in the Jewish Chronicle, that an increasing number of Jewish people are saying there is no future for Jews in Britain.

"Week in and week out, Israelis are blamed for defending themselves against mass murder. . . While atrocities by tyrannies and rogue states provoke almost total indifference, Israel is treated as a class apart: apparently the very worst country in the entire world, a kind of global blight which has to be expunged altogether from civilised society if not from the face of the earth. . .

"Few government ministers grasp the nature and scale of what is happening. Most don't think there is a problem, and many of those who do think it is Israel's own fault. . . While many Tory backbenchers support Israel, the government, with some very honourable exceptions, is hostile. . .

"The callow and opportunistic Cameroons are blank slates upon which can be written the fashionable bigotry and historical illiteracy of our times.

"The Cameron government did not create the madness now raging against Israel. It could, however, control it by standing up for truth and justice against lies and prejudice. Typically, it is choosing to fan the flames of ignorance and hatred instead."

One story that was not overburdened by media coverage in the UK: Thousands of demonstrators armed with sledgehammers broke into the Israeli embassy in Cairo last week and sacked and set fire to the building, dumping the Israeli flag and hundreds of documents - some of them classified - through the windows as police looked on.

Israeli officials were unable to contact Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, head of the Supreme Military Council, currently the ruling power in Egypt, because no one knew where he was. Or so they said. It was only hours later, after the US intervened, that Egyptian security forces rescued a few Israelis who had locked themselves in a secure part of the building, evidently fearing for their lives.

It is suggested the field marshal delayed in order to demonstrate that a future administration would need the military to keep order. Instead, he appears to have demonstrated that it will be Islamic militants, not the military, who will control Egypt.

The Israeli ambassador and 80 staff and families were taken from their homes and lifted out of Egypt on two Israeli military planes. The Israeli Prime Minister said despite the attack, Israel would keep its peace treaty with Cairo.

Meanwhile, Israel has not forgotten how to defend herself. You will find an interesting insight into the work of some of the most important people in Israel's Defence Forces by clicking here.