Saturday, April 30, 2011

Words to remember

The royal wedding is over. Prince William and Catherine Middleton, now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are man and wife. The rain stayed away. The dress was beautiful. Everything went well.

On reflection, one of the day's most evocative moments was the Bishop of London's advice to the couple, in the words of Catherine of Siena:

"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."

Could there be better advice to the newly-married pair than that?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Your part in the story

A dear Christian lady named Ruth Wood writes a blog called Comfort Cafe.

In one blog post she remembers hearing Billy Graham say that history is really His story - and she recalls how God writes people into that story.

She considers one or two Bible characters - seemingly ordinary people whose influence did not become altogether apparent until after they were gone. And then one or two more modern examples. . .

"Oswald Chambers travelled and lectured, never famous during his lifetime. After his death, his wife spent the rest of her life publishing her husband's spoken words which she had recorded verbatim in shorthand. My Utmost for His Highest was published ten years after her husband died. During his lifetime, Chambers remained unaware that he had authored a classic that God would use in countless lives.

"Ever heard of Christian Wolfkes? This godly Rumanian cherished a fervent love for Jews and prayed for years that he might win one for Christ even though there were none in his village and he was too ill to travel. Around 1937 a young Jewish man and his wife arrived. The old carpenter prayed many hours for their salvation, gave them a New Testament and eventually won Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand to Christ.

"This couple later stood up to the communist government, and after suffering many years in prison for their faith, Richard wrote the well-known book, Tortured for Christ, and founded Voice of the Martyrs.

"Christian Wolfkes only saw himself as a carpenter who wanted to win a Jew to Christ. He never learned the impact his investment in the Wurmbrands had around the world."

Leaving God to decide where He fits us into the divine narrative, she suggests, gives us freedom from the stress of trying to be spiritually productive. And if we're stressed about how our life is turning out, it might be an idea to wait for the last page of the book.

So. Would you want to live a selfish life, taking every decision with an eye to your own benefit? Or would you prefer to yield your life to the Master Storyteller, allowing Him to fit you into the divine narrative in a way that will bring blessing to others and glory to Him?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It's the Biased Broadcasting Corporation

As a publicly-funded public service broadcaster, the BBC is supposed to be impartial. The BBC claims it is impartial. How it manages to do that in view of the fact that its bias is so obvious is a little difficult to understand.

The corporation is notorious for its bias against Israel. It commissioned a study on its coverage of the Middle East conflict which resulted in the Balen Report. After chiefs read the report, the BBC refused to make its contents public, and is reported to have spent £200,000 in legal costs so far defying an order to make its contents public under the Freedom of Information Act. It is hard to imagine why it would do that unless it were that its contents condemn the corporation for its bias.

On another front the BBC has recently been accused of acting as cheerleader in the campaign to legalise assisted suicide.

On his website, Dr Peter Saunders, of Care Not Killing, gives the background to the charge. The BBC has recently filmed a man killing himself at the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland for a documentary to be screened this summer. The programme will be presented by author Terry Pratchett, a patron of Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) and a campaigner for legalised assisted suicide.

The programme will be the fifth produced by the BBC in three years, says Dr Saunders, presented by a pro-euthanasia campaigner or sympathiser and specifically designed to portray taking one's own life in a positive light.

A BBC Panorama documentary fronted by Margo MacDonald MSP in the lead-up to tabling her euthanasia bill in the Scottish Parliament was screened four times. A 90-minute docudrama starring Julie Walters, telling the story of the death of Bath GP Anne Turner at Dignitas was screened seven times.

The 34th Richard Dimbleby Lecture featured Terry Pratchett making the case for assisted suicide for patients, like himself, with Alzheimer's disease. A hand-picked audience in the Royal College of Physicians signalled their approval as he described himself ending his life by nonchalantly sipping poisoned champagne in his back garden.

BBC East Midlands featured a confession by producer Ray Gosling to smothering a homosexual lover with AIDS. The story turned out to be pure fantasy - "but not until after the BBC machinery had blown it up into a massive international news story just prior to the Director of Public Prosecutions reporting on his assisted suicide prosecution criteria.

"I am also aware of a sixth 'documentary' currently being put together, again presented by a keen advocate of legalising assisted suicide, news of which has not yet entered the public domain.

"During this three year period there has not been one BBC programme presenting the opposite point of view. This is in spite of the fact that all three parliamentary bills attempting to legalise the practice in the last five years have been heavily defeated and despite the continuing robust opposition to legalisation from disability rights groups, medical professionals and faith groups. . .

"What is somewhat ironic about this whole process is the fact that there are strict codes about media coverage of suicide, not only from bodies like the World Health Organisation, but also from the BBC itself (on covering both suicide and criminal acts), which are constantly and repeatedly flouted . . .

"Concerns about the well-documented phenomenon of suicide contagion, especially following suicides carried out by celebrities. . . are simply not part of the narrative when the BBC covers these issues. Instead it has adopted almost a campaigning stance.

"No one is denying that the debate about assisted suicide is crucially important. This is a free democratic society and those who wish to see a change in the law are fully entitled to express their views in the public square. Furthermore it is to be expected that private media outlets will want to pursue a specific editorial line.

"But with an issue as important as this one, campaigners should not have the added advantage of being able to spread their propaganda by using the publicly funded national broadcasting corporation effectively as a private public relations company and press office."

The BBC spends an almost incredible amount of money. In these days of economic difficulty, perhaps something needs to be done about that too.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Just one word made the difference

When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on the morning of Christ's resurrection and found it empty, she was distraught. Rough hands had taken Him and killed Him; now someone had even taken His body.

Mary stood in the garden, weeping. Through her tears, she saw a man she supposed was the gardener. "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." The man spoke just one word: "Mary." That one word changed everything.

First, Christ's resurrection is not just a fairy tale. It's one of the best attested facts in history. The Jewish leaders would have loved to have disproved His resurrection. All they had to do to disprove it was to produce His body. They didn't, because they couldn't.

Jesus appeared to His disciples numerous times after his resurrection. On one occasion He appeared to more than 500 people at once. His disciples travelled the world preaching His resurrection, and lost their lives because of their preaching. You don't give your lives for something you know isn't true.

Second, Jesus isn't alive in a general sense. He's alive personally. He knows you by name. If you don't know Him - personally - make His acquaintance. Invite Him into your life.

You may have a problem. Grief, disappointment, rejection. Perhaps more than one. Just remember. One word from Him can make all the difference.

His death and subsequent resurrection is the ultimate proof that God cares.

"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" (Rom 10:9, 10).

"As many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name" (John 1:12).

"Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A question of days

Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. It's interesting that every one of the four Gospels makes the point that it was early on the first day of the week that the women came to the tomb and found it empty. The first day of the week, of course, is Sunday.

Jesus had to rise from the dead on a Sunday. He couldn't have risen on a Monday, or a Tuesday. In the beginning, God created the universe in seven days. He worked six days in creation, and rested on the seventh. Jesus rose from the dead on the eighth day: the first day of a new creation.

It is pretty certain though that Jesus was not crucified on a Friday. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that He was crucified on a Friday. People assume that it was Friday. The Bible says it was the day before the sabbath: His body had to be taken from the cross and buried hurriedly because the sabbath was approaching. But there were two sabbaths that week. It was Passover.

Passover always began on the even of the 14th of the Jewish month Nisan, irrespective of what day of the week that date fell. The following day was always a sabbath, in which work was forbidden (Ex 12:16; Lev 23:5 - 8; Num 28:16 - 18). John 19:31 makes it clear that the day following Christ's crucifixion was a high sabbath: the sabbath in connection with Passover.

We could perhaps work out on what day the 14th of Nisan fell in that year - but we don't know for sure in which year Jesus died.

The Old Testament contains many prophecies about the death of the Messiah. They were all fulfilled in exact detail. Jesus Himself prophesied of His death. He told the scribes and Pharisees: "As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt 12:40). If you count the first day and the last day, you can call Friday to Sunday three days. But there is no way you can fit three nights in between Friday and Sunday.

Some Bible scholars believe Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday. The women rested on the Passover sabbath on Thursday, bought spices and ointments to anoint Christ's body on Friday (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56), rested on the weekly sabbath on Saturday, and went to the tomb early on Sunday.

Others prefer to believe that Jesus was crucified on Thursday, with the Passover sabbath on Friday and the weekly sabbath on Saturday. That way, Christ's body would be in the tomb for three days - from Thursday to Sunday - and three nights - Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday night.

Although the Passover lamb was not killed until the 14th of Nisan, it had to be chosen on the 10th of Nisan and examined to see that it was without blemish (Ex 12:3 - 6). Jesus, our Passover lamb, was presented to the people as He rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. After examination by the Jews, Herod and Pilate, he was crucified four days later.

So what day of the week did Jesus die? I don't know. The Bible doesn't say. It isn't important. If it were important, the Bible would say. What is important is the fact that He died.

We were all sinners. We had all fallen short of God's standard. We were separated from God. God needed someone who would live a life without sin and give that life in our place, that God's righteousness and God's justice might be satisfied as well as His love. That need was met in Jesus.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

"Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:7, 8).

There's love for you. When I didn't know Him and didn't want Him, He died in my place.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Giving in to tyranny

Last year a Florida pastor named Terry Jones planned to hold a burn-a-Koran day on the anniversary of 9/11. After leaders the world over condemned the idea, he agreed he would not burn copies of the Koran, then or later.

Not so long ago, however, he supervised the burning of a Koran by another pastor, one Wayne Sapp. Afghan president Hamid Karzai denounced the incident and called for the pastor to be brought to justice. Following Karzai's announcement, riots erupted all over Afghanistan.

In Mazar-i-Sharif, a mob of 3,000 protestors overran the United Nations compound, killing Gurkha guards and shooting dead and slitting the throats of UN staff. As a result, the Florida pastor faced widespread condemnation.

I do not agree with burning copies of the Koran. Before joining in the condemnation, however, there are a couple of things to be borne in mind. First of all, the people murdered were not only innocent of burning a Koran, they were not even Americans. "For radical Islamists," said the New York Daily News, "anyone will do. The randomness of the crime underscores the utter irrationality of those who committed it, not to mention the masses that tacitly lend them support. . .

"It is one thing to say that Jones' Koran-burning was a stupid and offensive thing to do. . . It is another thing entirely, however, to move to the accusation that Jones is culpable for the murderous acts of people half way around the world. People who riot and murder at the burning of a book do not need a pretext to act like savages. That's exactly what they already are."

Enraged over the burning of a Koran in Florida, wrote Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, Muslims have murdered about 20 people in Afghanistan and five in Pakistan - none of whom ever burned a Koran or had any acquaintance with the men who did.

These killers are monstrous. They have assassinated innocent people for something they couldn't conceivably have had anything to do with. And yet instead of calling them monstrous and demanding that Islamic leaders stop inciting and approving of such behavior, Western government and media elites are blaming not the murderers and rioters, but the man behind the Koran-burning. . .

Thus Guardian editor Matt Seaton explained that Jones was to blame because his Koran-burning was "done knowingly involving reckless endangerment, and quite possibly wishing for this kind of bad result." This assumed that the Muslims who were rioting and killing over the burning of a book half a world away had no control over their reactions, and thus could not be held accountable for them. . .

Barack Obama reacted the same way when Jones threatened to burn a Koran last year. He said "this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform. Look, this is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda. You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan". . .

Obama could have said "While I disapprove of this Koran-burning, in America we believe that freedom of expression is a fundamental bulwark against tyranny and the hallmark of a truly free society, and it requires us to put up with things we don't like without responding with violence". . .

He could, in short, have used Jones' barbecued Koran as a teaching tool to demonstrate why free societies are preferable to sharia states. But instead, Obama and the media are effectively reinforcing the principle that violent intimidation works. . .

Those who censor themselves today to keep from offending Muslims may wish in the not-too-distant future that they had stood up more robustly for the freedom of speech when it was threatened. But by then, there might be no chance to get that word out.

Giving in to tyrants never was a good idea.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

So will the NHS survive?

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley wants a revolution in the way the National Health Service is run - and he is meeting opposition. Left unreformed, one newspaper says this morning, it is impossible to see how the NHS could survive. But would a change in the way it is run alter the disasters routinely occurring throughout the service?

According to the Nursing and Midwifery Council, serious complaints about nurses have doubled in two years. The eighth annual staff survey of some 165,000 employees showed widespread concern about standards of care.

A Daily Mail review of a book shortly to be published - How We Treat the Sick, by Michael Mandelstam, said to be an expert on the NHS - provides a litany of neglect and abuse in hospitals.

A 17-year-old with meningitis was moved to two different wards by bed managers until the doctors treating her couldn't find her. She died. One woman died after being treated for six days with drugs meant for another patient. Twelve doctors failed to pick up the error.

Once upon a time patients didn't have bedsores. Now they are endemic. Between four and 10 per cent of patients develop at least one; with elderly patients with mobility problems, the figure can be as high as 70 per cent. An 86-year-old ex-serviceman was left screaming in agony in a Leeds hospital with multiple bedsores, one the size of a fist. His hip bone was exposed.

At least 400, possibly 1,200 patients at the mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust died through lack of care.

Matrons have been abolished; ward sisters, whose word once was law, have lost their authority. The problem, suggests the reviewer - himself a doctor - is not doctors and nurses, but chief executives carrying out Department of Health orders about finance.

Would someone please come along and save our NHS?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Better dead than old?

Nan Maitland travelled from Britain to Switzerland, it transpired this week, to avail herself of the services of a suicide clinic. She was 84. She was not terminally ill. She suffered from arthritis, but was active. She decided to kill herself to escape the "horrors" of old age.

She was one of the founding members of an organisation called the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide.

Accompanying her to the abortion clinic was Dr Michael Irwin, another founder of the society. He was struck off the medical register six years ago for attempting to help someone commit suicide. He is said to have helped nine people kill themselves, and appears to have done everything he can to push the limits of current legislation.

Campaigners would have us believe they want assisted suicide to be legalised in Britain to help people with terminal illness who are in intractable pain. Not so. They want assisted suicide for whoever wants it, whenever they want it.

It's not too long since America's Washington state legalised assisted suicide. BioEdge reports the results of the first year under the state's Death with Dignity Act - and some concerns that the law is not operating with the safety and true voluntary choice that were promised.

Of those who died in the first 12 months, serious pain did not seem to be a great concern. Ninety per cent were concerned about lack of autonomy, 64 per cent about lack of dignity and 87 per cent about losing the ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable.

No doubt the number of people taking advantage of the law and the reasons they are permitted to do so will both increase, because that's what happens.

Which is why - as well as the fact that vulnerable old and sick people would feel pressured to opt for their lives to be ended - that the legalisation of assisted suicide must not happen here.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Death of a lovely lady

In my last post I mentioned a Scottish evangelical Christian who was killed by a terrorist bomb last week in Jerusalem. Let me tell you a little more about her.

Mary Jean Gardner, born in Kenya, moved to Scotland in her teens. She studied at St Andrews University and the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow.

A quiet, gentle woman, she had worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators for 20 years in Togo, translating the New Testament into a local language. She arrived in Israel in January to take a Hebrew course at the Hebrew University before returning to Togo to translate the Old Testament.

One day last week was a day off. Mary travelled by bus into Jerusalem to meet a friend who was visiting Israel. Late at night, she had not returned to the place where she was staying.

Halvor Ronning, director of the Home for Bible Translators, telephoned the hospitals to see if her name was on the list of people wounded in the bomb blast. It was not. Police took him to identify the dead woman. It was Mary.

"Her face was untouched and natural," he said. "She had absorbed much of the impact and protected the others who were hurt but not killed.

"All major newspapers in Israel carried Mary's story, also on their websites. Israeli radio and television mentioned Mary as well. Suddenly Bible translation was world news.

"It has been amazing what an impact Mary's death is having here in Israel on the Hebrew University students and personnel, the media, even the usually cynical reporters as they consider Mary's dedication to the translation of the Bible.

"Several of the teachers came to be with the students for a number of hours. One of them came for the scheduled Hebrew class but only to read psalms together with them in Mary's memory.

"One of the lecturers said 'I have never sensed a stronger witness to the power of the Scriptures to influence lives than by Mary Gardner's attitude to the Bible and her commitment to the translation work.'"

Wycliffe executive director Eddie Arthur, who described Mary as "a lovely lady," said "I cannot tell you how highly regarded she was. She was an extremely gutsy person, highly intelligent, with huge drive and the ability to stick with the project for 20 years in far from comfortable conditions."

Mary, who was in her fifties, was unmarried. Her parents Tony, aged 82, and Jean, aged 81, still living in Scotland, said they were devastated by the loss of their daughter in such a tragic and unexpected way.

"Mary was a very special person and we thought the world of her. She was devoted to her work and was well liked wherever she went. We are proud of her and all that she has achieved in her life and feel truly blessed to have had her in our lives."

Friday, April 01, 2011

Terrorism on the increase

A terrorist bomb exploded at a bus stop in one of the busiest parts of Jerusalem last week. It was detonated as children were on their way home from school. A Scottish evangelical Christian was killed in the blast. More than 30 people were injured, some seriously, including some children.

During the past two weeks there has been an increase in the number of rockets and mortar bombs fired from Gaza at towns and cities in southern Israel, with 50 mortar shells fired in a period of about 15 minutes one morning.

Israeli ministers warned that Israel must retaliate soon.

Why do Palestinians fire rockets from Gaza at civilian centres in Israel knowing that Israel will retaliate? Because it's good publicity for the Palestinians. When Palestinians fire rockets into Israel, the Western media don't report it. When Israel retaliates, the story is all over the Western media and Israel appears to be the aggressor.

Which brings to my mind an interview with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu broadcast by the BBC two years ago, the last time Israel responded to thousands of rockets fired into Israel with a major military incursion into Gaza.

The interview went as follows.

Interviewer: How come so many more Palestinians have been killed in the conflict than Israelis?

Netanyahu: Are you sure that you want to start asking in that direction?

Interviewer: Why not?

Netanyahu: Because in World War II more Germans were killed than British and Americans combined, but there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the war was caused by Germany's aggression. And in response to the German blitz on London, the British wiped out the entire city of Dresden, burning to death more German civilians than the number of people killed in Hiroshima. Moreover, I could remind you that in 1944, when the RAF tried to bomb the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen, some of the bombs missed their target and fell on a Danish children's hospital, killing 83 little children. Perhaps you have another question?