Friday, April 26, 2013

Archbishop gets a soaking

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, remained calmly seated with eyes closed in prayer as four topless women attacked him with shouts and curses and doused him with water from bottles formed in the image of the Virgin Mary.

The incident took place at the ULB University in Brussels, where the archbishop was participating in a debate on blasphemy laws.

The four women, representing the pro-abortion and homosexual group FEMEN, took to the stage where they disrobed to reveal black-painted slogans on their chests and backs, such as "my body my rules," and "anus dei is coming." They also held signs reading "stop homophobia."

Le Soir reports that one of the women said of the archbishop: “He was very calm and maintained a position of prayer. I have to believe he was praying for us.”

Hundreds of thousands protested as a law permitting same-sex marriage and homosexual adoption was passed in France. At least 150,000 (40,000, say official police figures; 270,000, say anti same-sex marriage demonstrators) took to the streets for a fourth major rally in Paris. Previous events attracted 300,000, a million and a million and a half.

Some 60 young people who had conducted a nightly sit-in to protest were arrested and held for 17 hours in dirty cells with little water and no food till lunch. Many astonished police by singing grace before their lunch. Streets giving access to the presidential palace, the Elysée, and to the prime minister’s office are heavily barricaded.

Surrogate motherhood is illegal in France, but the justice minister, Christiane Taubira, has said children of French nationals obtained through surrogacy
abroad will be given French status and allowed into the country. A Connecticut surrogacy and egg-donor business, CT Fertility, anticipated demand with a presentation in Paris. One woman was told it would cost $100,000.

In Britain, the same-sex marriage bill will have its third reading in the House of Commons around May 20 and will be debated in the House of Lords iin June. Many people wrongly assume that there is nothing now to stop the bill becoming law. This is a false assumption. There is still a long way to go, and the bill could be defeated.

Critics say the bill's approval would mean a sexual free-for-all and a virtual destruction of marriage. Adultery would be abandoned as a ground for divorce, they say, and there would come demands for marriage of more than two people. They urge protests to politicians and a careful eye on local elections on May 2.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Flourishing in old age

"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day," writes John the apostle in the first chapter of Revelation.

He had been exiled to the isle of Patmos "for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." He is believed to have been an old  man, and hard labour was probably part of his exile. But the Lord Jesus was about to reveal to him the extraordinary revelation which forms the book "to show his servants things which must shortly take place."

The circumstances might appear to have been against John. The Lord's Day wouldn't  be observed on Patmos. But nothing could come between John and his Lord.


The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They  shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing.
To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.  Psa 92:12 - 15. 

And again:

We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,

nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Rom 8:37 - 39. 

Nothing - neither authorities nor powers, old age, illness nor infirmity, accident, geographic position nor any other thing - can separate us from God's love. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Equality quango's 'frivolous nonsense'

Three months ago judges at the European Court of Human Rights decided British Airways check-in clerk Nadia Eweida had suffered discrimination at work because she was told she could not wear a cross.

Following the decision, the Fquality and Human Rights Commission now says druids, vegans and green activists should also be given special treatment at work.

In written guidance to employers, it says employers should consider excusing ecologists from duties that increase CO2 emissions, and consider giving time off to druids wishing to go on pilgrimages, such as to Stonehenge for the summer solstice.

A vegetarian kitchen worker's sincere request to be excused from cleaning out the fridge if it contains meat should be granted, providing other staff can carry out the task.

It insists Christian rights in the workplace are strictly limited. A magistrate asking to be excused from handling cases involving the upbringing of children by homosexual couples should be refused, as the right of homosexual couples trump her beliefs.

MP Brian Binley said the economy could not afford such "frivolous nonsense." Dominic Raab MP, a former international lawyer, said "This is a recipe for every crank and crazy to take their boss for a ride. The EHRC has become an expensive taxpayer-funded laughing stock."

An EHRC spokesman said "The Commission does not make the law on what is or isn't a legitimate religion or belief. This is set by Parliament. The Commission's role is to provide free, expert advice to employers helping them understand and deal with what can be complex iasues, and helping them avoid potentially costly legal action."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Israel joins gas producers

Natural gas has started pumping from Israel's offshore Tamar gas field to Israel's refineries and the international status of previously energy-poor Israel suddenly changed. The Tamar field has an estimated 10 trillion cubic feet of gas - sufficient to meet Israel's energy needs for decades and allowing surplus for export.

Israel's larger Leviathan field, as yet undeveloped, has an estimated 16 trillion cubic feet of gas. Lebanon, still technically at war with Israel, claims some of the Leviathan field is in its waters.

Other countries, including Russia, the largest gas supplier in Eastern Europe, are interested.

Weeks after he won the Israeli election, Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu managed to form a coalition government, retaining control over foreign affairs and national defence.

His problems are many. The nuclear threat from Iran continues, with no evidence of a serious effort to end it. Six or seven months ago, an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites seemed likely. The killing of Iranian nuclear scientists and sabotage attacks at nuclear sites, culminating in a reported major explosion at the giant underground Fordo plant in January, have bought time.

Israeli strategic affairs minister Yuval Steinitz called for world powers to set a deadline of weeks for military action to persuade Iran to halt its enrichment programme after talks with Iran ended without progress.

Continuing disintegration in Syria is a constant headache. Syria has large stocks of chemical weapons. There are constant fears that these could fall into the hands of people who would use them against Israel - and for international terrorism.

There have been continued rocket attacks from Gaza, riots on the West Bank that could lead to a third intifada, and some attacks from the Syrian side of the Golan. Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza remained armed with tens of thousands of rockets. The Israel-Egypt peace treaty is in the doldrums.

Some 3,000 years ago, King David appealed for people to "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psa 122:6). The exhortation is as needful as ever it was.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Prison, beatings and unspeakable joy. . .

A further letter has been received from Saeed Abedini, born in Iran and now a naturalised American citizen, serving an eight-year sentence in Iran. I wrote about him here and here. Saeed, who is 32, is in the notorious Evin Prison.

His letter is written in the margins of scraps of newspaper. It says, in part:

Maybe you ask, what is the secret of being so happy in such a hard situation?

Forgiveness and a change in attitude. When we forgive, we become free and we become messengers of peace and reconciliation and goodness.

I forgave the prison doctor who did not listen to me and did not give me the medication that I needed. I forgave the interrogator who beat me. Every day when I would see the interrogator and for the last time when I saw him I forgave him. I smiled at him and with respect shook his hand and I said my goodbye. The minute I forgave them and loved them, that second I was filled with an unspeakable joy. I saw in the eyes of the interrogator that he had come to respect me and as he was leaving, he could not look behind him. Love is as strong as death. . .

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

You can read the full letter here.

In the same prison is Farshid Farhi, a 33-year-old pastor serving a six-year sentence for "actions against national security," "being in contact with enemy foreign countries" and "disseminating religious propaganda."

A letter to his father says:

Dear Dad,

Probably I cannot be with you for a few years. However your word and exhortations are in the ear of my soul. I hope that at the end I will be able to see you. But if the Father calls me to the eternal abode, please protect and support my family more than before, especially my children who are the dearest of my heart.. . . 

In our land the fig tree does not blossom, the produce of olive has failed. The flock is cut off from the fold. Yet we rejoice in the Lord and take joy in the God of our salvation. Because neither the walls nor the barbed wires, nor the prison, nor suffering, nor loneliness, not enemies, nor pain, nor even death separates us from the Lord and each other.

With love and greetings in Christ.

You are asked to pray for them. If you do pray for them, do not pray for them only, but for all who are suffering from the clampdown on Christianity in Iran. God bless you.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Waiting 50 years for a Bible

I was at a conference in Belgium 30 years ago. A young Chinese girl living in the West had returned from China, where she had visited believers in underground churches. She had photographs, one of which is burned in my memory.

"How many of you have Bibles?" she had asked. "Hold up your Bibles." They had held up their Bibles. Their faces were radiant. Their Bibles were two pages torn from an exercise book with several Bible verses written on them in pencil.

In recent years the authorities have permitted Bibles to be printed in China. Times have changed somewhat. But it's reckoned that about half of China's estimated 100 million believers still don't have a Bible. The appropriately named American organisation Bibles for China has just returned, having given out 20,000 copies of the Bible in Mandarin to rural Christians.

Some of the recipients had been following Christ for 40 years without access to the Scriptures. One of the recipients was 91. He had waited 50 years for his first Bible, and was overwhelmed that someone should have travelled so far to give it to him.

You can see a video of Chinese Christians receiving their first Bibles here. The origin of the video is unknown.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Bad behaviour by schoolchildren increases

A survey of teachers suggests a rise in the number of schoolchildren with emotional, behavioural and mental health issues. So says an article in Christian Today.

Almost 80 per cent of the 844 teachers surveyed,  by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, believed the rise in bad behaviour was due to a lack of boundaries set by parents in the home.

Sixty-two per cent said behaviour was worse now than two years ago. Seventy-seven per cent reported verbal aggression, and 57 per cent physical aggression. Some 23 per cent reported students breaking or ruining the belongings of others. Teachers reported being spat at, kicked, punched and scratched by pupils.

The History Channel's 10-part series on the Bible has been a surprise hit in the United States, with viewing figures that have confounded critics.

Not like the situation in Europe, says Cristina Odone, where secularist authorities have created total ignorance of the basics of Christian religion among two generations.

"Schoolchildren today know that they should take off their shoes when they enter a mosque and what the Diwali Festival is about, but couldn't recite more than two of the Ten Commandments or name the Four Gospels. This ignorance is not confined to schools but blankets university campuses, factories, City trading floors and even BBC newsrooms. . . 

"Maybe the Coalition should make the History Channel's compulsive series compulsory viewing in schools. . . and at the Beeb."

Are the two subjects connected? They certainly are.

Former Cabinet minister Ann Widdecombe says she was asked to take part in a scene for the BBC's family show for Comic Relief that was "so grossly offensive that it should have been unthinkable to approach an elderly practising Catholic, but they don't think, believing naively that their humour is universal and that everyone seeks fun in filth.

"BBC bosses believe that raising money for charity justifies anything."

And Peter Hitchens at MailOnline deplored "the embarrassingly bad lines, full of coarseness and crudity," mouthed by Rowan Atkinson  on Comic Relief.

"Even ten years ago, these events would have caused an enormous row, not the mild media tremor they actually brought about. We have been shocked so much that we are numb. What worries me is this: if this could happen in 2013, what will be considered normal in 2023?"

Good question.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

For God so loved the world

When man sinned, God had a problem. God is not only love, God is also just. He has to punish sin. We are all sinners. We have all done things we shouldn't have done, and not done things we should have done.

God's infinite justice demands that He punish our sin. God's infinite love wants to find a way to avoid punishing us. The only way round the impasse would be to find someone who was without sin who would take our punishment for us. Someone who voluntarily chose to do that.

That someone was Jesus, who came down from heaven, lived a life that was without sin, then allowed His life to be taken in your place and mine.

 The greatest fallacy that man believes is that he is good enough to be forgiven - good enough to get to heaven. That if he does enough good deeds, the bad deeds will be overlooked, and he will somehow be allowed in. It isn't true. If man has sinned against an eternal God, he deserves eternal punishment. Heaven is perfect. Heaven is where God is.

 Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). That's because it's true.

If it were possible to get to heaven by any way other than by trusting Jesus, then God had Him die for nothing.

But here's the thing. God loves us so much that He won't force us to accept Christ. Despite all that it cost, He holds out the offer, but gives us the right to refuse.

The choice is yours - and mine.