Saturday, December 27, 2014

A new job for grandmother, 95

Mrs Connie Vitolo, who is 95, lived in New Jersey in the United States. Until she had a nasty fall, and moved to live with her daughter Anne in Virginia.

Having lost her own home, depression set in. One day she prayed to die.

Anne knew this wasn't right, and prayed that God would give her mother a purpose for living.

He did. Mrs Vitolo began to crochet blankets for an orphanage in India. "She really has a lot of Joy just doing this," says Anne. "She can do it all day and she doesn't get tired."

Before starting a blanket, Mrs Vitolo prays. Having started a blanket, she prays "Jesus, don't let me die before I finish my blanket."

Ranjit Abraham lives in India. His father, a pastor, founded 17 orphanages. On a trip to the US, Ranjit visited Mrs Vitolo to say thank you. He gave her a big hug, and she showed him a pile of multicoloured blankets ready to go. 

"What that lady is doing is amazing," said Ranjit. "It's something that is giving her life and is breathing in life and nurture to a child in another country."

"Jesus has a purpose for us all," said Mrs Vitolo. "But I never thought He had a purpose like this for me. I'm very happy, and honoured and humble. Jesus, I love You. I thank You and praise You all my days. Until the day I come home."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

One of the greatest stories ever told

Bible literacy is diminishing. The Bible Society arranged a survey on the story of the Nativity. People 55 and over gave the most correct answers.

Ninety per cent said there were three wise men who visited Jesus. The Bible doesn't say how many there were. Only three per cent got the right answer.

Eighty-four per cent said Mary travelled to Bethlehem on a donkey. The Bible doesn't say how Mary travelled.

Thirty-five per cent said Mary and Joseph were married when Mary found she was pregnant. They weren't. They were betrothed. Only 30 per cent got the answer right.

Forty-two per cent believed Jesus was born on December 25. The Bible doesn't give a date. The date of a pagan festival was chosen to celebrate His birth.

Interesting? Listen to James Catford, Bible Society group chief executive: "The Bible could be lost to future generations unless we all take action. That's why in the week  leading up to Christmas and beyond, we are encouraging parents to leave a little time in their annual celebrations to help pass on one of the greatest stories ever told."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Good questions. Do we have some good answers?

Christianity is the most widely persecuted faith in the world, and four-fifths of this persecution is at the hands of Muslim jihadists, Chris Sugden, executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream and director of academic affairs at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, says in the latest issue of Evangelicals Now.

He asks some pertinent questions:

Should persecuted Christians move from the Middle East? Should they suffer in silence, resist or retaliate? What is the difference between being prepared for martyrdom or for genocide? How chould the church respond to the violence that intends to uproot whole Christian communities from their homelands?

He adds some interesting facts:

The plight of persecuted Christians is often misrepresented by western media. Archbishop Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria, writes: "It is wrong to claim that insurgency in the north of Nigeria is fuelled more by poverty than by Islamic extremism. Poverty does not explain the killing of 40 schoolchildren - Muslim children - in Potiksum. Boko Haram and its kind delight in massacres, slaughters, rape and murders. This is not the face of poverty, but of radical Islamist jihad."

The Minister of State for International Development. Desmond Swayne, said in the House of Commons that Christians who argue that the jihadist's violence stems directly from Islam were talking manifest nonsense. He refused to recognise any claim of vulnerable religious minorities for help beyond generalised humanitarian help. This notion collapses under its own contradictions.

Bishop Nick Baines of West Yorkshire and the Dales said we must continue to pray, continue to give, to lobby politicians and to engage with the media. Were we content to live in a country that refuses to address the question of asylum for people who have lost everything and have nowhere to go back to?

We must make clear to churches, says Canon Sugden, which organisations are definitely supporting persecuted Christians. Government-supported agencies refuse to discriminate, and Christians get left out. Christian organisations that attempt to fill the gap left by political intrigue include Barnabas Fund, Open Doors, Aid to the Church in Need, World Vision and Andrew White's FRRME. Organisations such as Christian Aid and Tear Fund are constrained bv the Department for International Development's strings, often resulting in non-Christians getting help from all over and Christians getting little or nothing.

Finally, says Canon Sugden, an important expression of our compassion would be to welcome those who needed asylum into our homes and churches - and press the Government to give them entrance visas. One family per church would meet a major need. When he suggested it in a sermon in his church, he had three offers at the end of the service.

So - what are we going to do to help?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nazi SS officer's son who loves the Jews

Werner Oder was brought up in Austria. His father was an SS officer, whose job was to train einsatzgruppen, army units whose job it was to murder Jews.

"The Bible," Werner says, "says very clearly that those who curse the Jews will be cursed by God. That curse manifested itself in our life in the most terrible way. We encountered chaos in our home; anger, violence, hatred. Antisemitic language was normal.

"My life was going down the same road. I became angry, violent, very aggressive. People who just slightly offended me I calculated coolly at home how to kill them.

"A person said to me one day 'Werner, the way you're going, you have got two choices. You're either going to prison for life or you're going to hell for ever, so what are you going to do about it?'

"One night I had this terrific demonic manifestation in my life. I thought I was going to die. I cried out to God - the God who didn't exist, the God I didn't know about. I said 'God, I don't want to die. I want to live.'

"God answered. He sent me an evangelist. He told me Jesus is the Son of God, who loved me and died for me on the cross, and if I put my trust in Him He would forgive my sin and set me free from all evil. From that day on I put my trust in Jesus. I was changed."

Werner started to attend a Roman Catholic church. One Sunday morning as he sat in church, he had a revelation: Jesus is Jewish.

"I thought who is God? Do we know His name? I suddenly realised it is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. God is the God of Israel.

"I realised that Jesus Christ was never His name. That's a Greek translation.

"His mother Mary was never called Mary because she was never a Catholic. She was a Jewish woman from Nazareth, who had a revelation from the angel Gabriel. who told her she had a son named Yeshua, who was to be the Saviour of the world. This was the beginning of my love for the Jewish people.

"I couldn't do anything about the people who were murdered, but I had this horror when I discovered what took place. I felt someone ought to come from the Nazi world to at least apologise. This is a very benign term - how  can you apologise? - but at least I wanted to be a friend to the Jewish people. . . "

You can see the whole of a remarkable interview here

Monday, December 08, 2014

Schooldays, witchcraft - and George Fox

Twenty-five miles from here as the crow flies is a hill that can be seen for miles around, when it isn't raining. (A local saying has it that if you can see Pendle it's about to rain, and if you can't see it, it's raining already. A scurrilous statement, that.) I went to school within a mile or two of the hill's Big End, and on Saturdays I climbed its slopes and tramped its length.

It's probably best known for its connection with the Pendle Witches (or the Lancashire Witches, as author Harrison Ainsworth called them). Four hundred years ago, Pendle was considered a wild and lawless region, "fabled for its theft, violence and sexual laxity, where the church was honoured without much understanding of its doctrines by the common people."

Roger Nowell of Read Hall, JP for Pendle, was investigating people failing to attend  the Church of England when he received a complaint that John Law, a pedlar, had been injured by witchcraft. Law appears to have suffered a stroke shortly after an argument with one Alizon Device. Alizon Device, being investigated, made claims about a rival family.

The magistrate's inquiries led to some 11 people being sent to Lancaster Assizes and one to York Assizes in 1612 to answer charges of causing harm by witchcraft, Ten were sentenced to death by hanging. They were apparently poor uneducated people who earned a living by begging, home cures, threats and extortion. Except for one, Alice Nutter, the widow of a prosperous farmer, who is believed to have been a Catholic and it is said may have declined to give evidence in her defence for fear of incriminating other Catholics.

The trial became the best known of all British witchcraft trials, largely because of an account of the trial, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, published by the clerk of the court, Thomas Potts.

Fortunately the hill has some more godly associations. George Fox. founder of the Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, realised that it took more than going to Oxford or Cambridge to make a minister, and he had scant respect for "steeple-houses," for the church, he said, was the people, and their head was Christ. Born the son of a godly Leicestershire weaver, he was constantly on the move, exhorting people to repentance and "turning people from darkness to light." 

He arrived in Pendle around 1651, when he was about 26 years old. He had already served two periods in prison because of his outspokenness. He writes in his Journal:

"As we travelled we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering on Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered. As I went down, I found a spring of water in the side of the hill, with which I refreshed myself, having eaten or drunk but little for several days before."

Jesus said "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).

George Fox was a good example, would you think?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

When politicians act like kings

Laura Perrins has a good memory. She remembers younger days, when she used to play "If I were king." It's a game where you get to do lots of stuff and impose your will on the world - without the consent of the people.

Why are British voters so disenchanted with politicians - of whatever stripe? Why are the ruling elite, both Conservative and Labour, scratching their heads wondering why the hoi polloi are so fed up with their ruling? In a perceptive piece at Conservative Woman, Ms Perrins attempts an answer.

"In a democracy," she says, "we have the illusion of the elite representing our views, but in vast policy areas, this is not reality. The political parties campaign on major policy areas, but once in power they seem fixated on discrete but important changes, especially in social policy.

"What the voters are really saying, I believe, is that something is not right. They are saying 'This is not what I signed up for'. . . These voters believe they are living in another country.

"One of Cameron's seminal comments was 'If I were king I would spend an inordinate amount of parliamentary time redefining marriage. When I finish I will eat lots of pizza and ice cream at a gay wedding and fly the rainbow flag from government buildings. I can do this - because I am king!'

"Now, it may be the case that lots of people have no problem with this, but I am pretty sure that they do have a problem with gay marriage being used as a way to hammer home the progressive liberal agenda on any dissenters. So Christian bakers who refuse to bake gay cake must be run out of town - or at least forced to pay compensation for holding fast to their view that marriage is between one man and one woman. It is pizza, ice cream and gay cake for all - or else!

"This is followed by the unbelievably patronising mantra that schoolchildren must be 'prepared for life in modern Britain.' We all know 'modern Britain' means whatever the ruling elite want it to be. . . The test, now administered by Ofsted, is meaningless but very dangerous dross - a power grab by those who get to be king every day. . .

"This is what the British voters have been subject to by those who like to play at being kings. No wonder many believe it is time for the guillotine."

Incidentally, it has been discovered that only a third of schools now stage a traditional nativity play. The rest favour modernised versions with fairies, aliens, lobsters, spacemen - and Elvis. Small wonder a recent poll showed that 36 per cent of children didn't know whose birthday they were supposed to be celebrating at Christmas.

What are tea towel manufacturers going to do if children stop wearing tea towels for headdresses in the annual Christmas extravaganza?

Monday, December 01, 2014

Nicky Morgan takes on faith schools

Education secretary Nicky Morgan is taking on Britain's faith schools by ordering them to teach children to be tolerant of other religions and respect lesbian, homosexual and transgender relationships.

Schools have been warned that those that fail to follow new rules on "British values" would be judged inadequate and would face closure.

Trinity Christian School in Reading, which had an excellent report in 2013, has been told representatives of other faiths should be asked to lead assemblies and lessons, and staff should be prevented from teaching that certain lifestyles are wrong.

At an Orthodox Jewish primary school, a girl aged nine was asked if she understood how babies were made and whether she knew any homosexual people. A Jewish high school has been placed in special measures and rebuked by Ofsted for failing to promote "British values."

A consultation on school regulations during the summer was criticised for being too short and falling largely in school holidays. The new regulations, requiring all schools to actively promote "fundamental British values," were issued in September.

In a letter to Nicky Morgan last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, said of 35 maintained schools and academies inspected without notice since the beginning of September, 11 were not preparing pupils for life in Britain. They included schools that were not teaching respect for and understanding of the various faiths found in Britain, and schools that were not developing pupils' awareness and tolerance of communities different to their own. He said he intends to meet with education leaders from the different faith communities over the next few weeks to discuss Ofsted's inspection frameworks and guidance.

Christians are up in arms. They recognise there are many non-Christian religions in modern-day Britain, but they have different truth claims and cannot be all lumped together in a multi-faith mishmash.

Colin Hurt, director of the Christian Institute, says "The new rules are being used to compel religious believers to actively promote beliefs and lifestyles with which they profoundly disagree. There is vast scope for school inspectors to hassle individual schools, including any state or private school with a Christian ethos.

"The Government claims the changes are in response to the 'Trojan Horse' allegations in Birmingham. But it has now become clear that these school standards were in the pipeline in 2013 - long before the situation in Birmingham was uncovered in 2014.

"The new rules are divisive and are a powerful tool to promote secularism. . . They are promoting intolerance and disrespect for people with traditional religious beliefs."

Friday, November 28, 2014

The woman who came back to life

A remarkable story from the United States.

Forty-year-old Ruby Graupera-Cassimiro had been delivered of a healthy baby in a routine caesarean section when there was an unexpected complication. An amniotic fluid embolism in her bloodstream stopped her heart. Doctors say the condition is almost always fatal.

A team of more than a dozen doctors and nurses fought for 45 minutes to save her. They took turns to give CPR and gave repeated electric shocks. Nothing worked. Eventually the doctors stopped all lifesaving procedures. They told relatives there was nothing more they could do. Ruby's husband, mother and sister said their goodbyes and left the room.

They were about to record the time of death when Ruby's heart started beating again. Her family were praying in a room nearby when a nurse came in. "Keep praying," she said. "Her heart just started." 

When Ruby came round, despite being without heartbeat for 45 minutes, there was no trace of brain damage. There were no burns from the repeated shocks and there was no bruising from the CPR.

Then Ruby remembered what she thought was a dream she had had while she was unconscious. She met her late father, who told her it was not time for her to die.

"It was a complete miracle," said nurse Julie Ewing. "It was answered prayer. We were all there. We all witnessed it."

According to the doctors, there was no explanation for her heart starting beating again. Said Dr Amthony Dardano, president of the hospital's medical staff: "There's very few things in medicine that I've seen, working in the trauma centre myself and doing all the things that I do, that really were either unexplainable or miraculous. When I heard this story, that was the first thing that came to my mind."

Later, Ruby went back to the hospital with her baby for a tearful reunion with the doctors and nurses. "All I know is that I'm grateful to be here," she said. " I don't know why I was given this opportunity, but I'm very grateful for it."

You can read the full story here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The best is yet to come

My father had a James autocycle. He rode it to Blackpool one day to find some accommodation for our annual holiday. For some reason, he didn't find any. On the way back, he got lost. He wound up in a little village, where he saw a sign in a front room window: Apartments. He went in and booked.

The village had two buses a week: one on Tuesday afternoon, and one on Thursday afternoon. If you missed the one on Tuesday, you had to wait until Thursday. On our holiday, my parents were bored to death. I thought it was marvellous. I revelled in the fields, the farms with their young calves and the stream running through the village with fish in it.

In those days, it was customary to have one week's holiday away each year. Almost no one had transport. You walked through the streets to the railway station and pushed your way on to a packed train, suitcases in hand. Most people went to Blackpool. The adventurous might decide to go to Morecambe. If you thought yourself a cut above the rest, you would go to Southport. Only company directors and Woolworths managers, it seemed, went to North Wales.

All that changed for me when I was 15 years old. I went on a coach tour to North Wales. The coach went along the A5 across North Wales. I sat by the window, captivated by the countryside. I thought I had never seen anything so beautiful.

I have had quite a lot of holidays since then. I have often thought I would like to see Israel again before I die. It doesn't look like I am going to manage it now. It doesn't much matter; I will see Israel again. When the Lord Jesus Christ returns and brings us with Him, He will reign in Jerusalem. We will reign with Him.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except himself.

He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God.

 And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed him on white horses.

Now out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should strike the nations. And he himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

And he has on his robe and on his thigh a name written:
                                                                                                                   Rev 19:11 - 16.

Blessed and holy is he who has a part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
                                                                                                                   Rev 20:6.

There's something to look forward to.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How a Muslim found peace

"I grew up in a Muslim family. I became a very, very strict Muslim, because of the thirst and hunger I had for the Creator. I used to think that His name was Allah. In my wildest imagination, I couldn't imagine that that's not true."

This is the remarkable testimony of a young Muslim.

"I always had a love for God. I really wanted to get to know Him. They told me if you read Koran over and over and over again, you get extra credit. If you wake up early in the morning and read Koran over and over, that really will give you extra credit. That never made me closer to God. I was always so hungry and thirsty and desperate to know God.

"For 12 years I was pursuing God, but I couldn't have a close relationship with Him. I gave up. I was so angry.

"I went to this hotel in Cyprus. I saw a Bible. I said 'Can I read it?' He said 'You can have it.' I began to read the Bible. Jesus was popping out of the Bible. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. I think it was the third night I was reading the Bible. I read that Jesus was the Son of God. That made me so angry. I threw the book at the wall. 

"I didn't touch the Bible for three years.

"I went to this school and my teacher started to talk to me about Jesus. I couldn't believe that God is love because I never received love from God. I was a slave of God.

"I felt that I need to pray to Jesus. I asked a friend of the teacher's how can I pray. She said 'I receive you as Lord of my life. I accept your forgiveness. I accept you as the Son of God.'

"I said 'Jesus, I don't believe that you are the Son of God. I really don't. But if you are the Son of God I want you to come to my life. I don't believe your blood has any power to forgive my sin at all, but if your blood has any power to forgive my sin, I accept it.'

"I went to church. I went to church as a Muslim, but as a Muslim who was so disappointed. The pastor was preaching. I couldn't understand his preaching because I didn't have any knowledge of Bible.

"I saw a man standing behind pastor. I asked myself 'Who is this?' A voice inside of me said 'Jesus.' He walked inside me physically. Fire came all over me. My whole body was on fire. This hand came and touched my heart.

"She said 'Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?' I said 'No, I don't. Now I believe that Jesus lives and He came to me personally. But Son of God? You need to convince me.' And I saw Jesus in heaven and He was standing on the right hand of the throne.

"He started to pour His Spirit all over me. He convinced me without saying anything. My heart knew He was the Son of God. I ran to the hotel and got to my knees. It was the most wonderful, the most beautiful moment of my life. I never had peace before. It was like I was swimming inside peace.

"If you don't have peace, if you have never received love from God, try Jesus. He will give you love. He will give you joy. He will give you peace.

"If I die today I know He is waiting there for me. I am going to jump into His arms. I am going to dance with Him. He is my closest friend. If you don't have peace, let Jesus come and turn your world upside down, and introduce Himself to you - as Love."

You can see the full testimony on video here.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Happy birthday then

Today I am 80 years old. I don't really know how I got here, to be honest. The last 20 years seem to have snuck by when I wasn't looking.

Admitted, there have been signs. Young women have started to offer me their seat on buses, and I have become a depository for old age jokes. Like The older I get, the more time I spend thinking about the hereafter. I walk into a room, and stand there wondering what I'm here after.

You know the sort of thing. 

Looking back over the years, I marvel at God's grace.

Recently I heard a wonderful testimony from a dear woman busy in God's service. When she was younger, she didn't need God. She was all right. She went to church twice a year, and besides, she had a GCE in religious studies.

The first time she went into an evangelical church, she couldn't wait to get out. But she was back the week after. And the week after that. Until she found God and was wonderfully filled with the joy of the Lord.

I was like that. I didn't want God. I wasn't hurting anybody. All I wanted was to be left alone to get on with my life. God spoke to me for months before I let Him into my life. And all He wanted to do was to make me His and bless me beyond anything I'd known.

We're all of us rebels, you see. Adam started it, by deciding he wanted to be able to make his own decisions. without God. And we kept it up. We're all sinners, you see, if only because we haven't given God His rightful place in our lives.

Even after I invited God into my life, I made mistakes. But that was all right too. He's a Father of the perfect kind. 

He's made changes in my life. For the better. He's made me more like the person He intended me to be.

If there's anything commendable in my life, it's not me. It's Him.

Friday, November 14, 2014

So how did we get in this state?

Where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old. . . But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities come from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different. This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.

In light of recent events. . . terrorists attack, school shootings etc. . . I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. . . The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbour as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about, and we said OK.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with "We reap what we sow."

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send jokes through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit.

If not, then just discard it. . . no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

The above was written and recited by Steven Levy on America's CBS Sunday Morning Commentary. It could apply equally to the UK.

Just thought you might like to think about it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mother pleads for child to die

A 12-year-old girl has died in hospital after having food and drink withheld - with court permission. It is the first time a child not on life support and not suffering from a terminal illness has legally been caused to die.

Nancy Fitzmaurice was born with hydrocephalus, meningitis and septicaemia. She could not walk, talk, eat or drink. She needed 24-hour hospital care and was fed and watered by tube.

Her mother, Charlotte Fitzmaurice (36), of Ilford, said "Simple things like birds singing and hearing children play would put the most beautiful smile on her face. She loved Michael Buble, and when I slurped my tea she would give out a hearty chuckle." 

Nancy had apparently developed neurological problems and screamed with pain, despite painkillers.

The mother told the High Court "My daughter is no longer my daughter, she is now merely a shell. I truly believe she has endured enough. For me to say that breaks my heart. But I have to say it."

Justice Eleanor King, granting permission for nutrition and hydration to be withheld, said of Nancy "In her own closed world she has had some quality of life. Sadly that is not the case now."  It took 14 days for Nancy to die.

Said Charlotte: "Watching my daughter suffer for days while they cut off her fluids was unbearable. She went in pain. All I wanted was for my daughter to die with dignity with me holding her hand. Although I will live with the guilt forever, I know I have done everything I can for her and she is at peace.

"Although I know it was the right thing to do, I will never forgive myself. It shouldn't have to be a mother's decision to end a child's life. I believe hospitals and parents should be able to decide without mothers or fathers going to court."

Said Dr Andrew Fergusson, of Care Not Killing: "It is never ethical to speed up the process of dying by any intervention which has the primary intention to end life. Weakening laws that protect the sick, disabled and elderly would put vulnerable people at risk."

ASAN, an American charity, said "Euthanasia of people with disabilities is an extremely dangerous and wholly inappropriate solution to inadequate pain management. In cases where painkillers are insufficient, a number of alternatives for pain management exist."

Monday, November 10, 2014

The world's most persecuted people

Christians are the most persecuted group of people in the world. They are being murdered, tortured, imprisoned and assaulted solely because of their faith.

Christians in many parts of the Middle East face wipe-out. Churches and Christian homes are being vandalised and destroyed.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the right to change his religion or belief. Yet in many places those who choose to change their religion are beaten, imprisoned or killed.

The above facts are taken from a report on global persecution, containing almost a hundred pages of evidence, published by Maranatha, the Manchester-based Christian community. The report may be read or downloaded here.

Next Sunday, November 16, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. A coalition of Christian organisations, impelled by the knowledge that more people had died for their faith in the 20th century than in all the previous centuries combined, decided in 1996 that the church worldwide would no longer be silent.

People from 110 countries pledged to pray in that first year. It has since become an annual event.

Will you pray? You can download a free resource pack here.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The man in the borrowed clothes

This month is the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of Hungary: which is an opportunity to tell the story of Pinchas Rosenbaum.

It was late 1944. The Germans were already losing the war, but they still took every opportunity to kill Jews. In a few months, they destroyed something like 600,000 of the 800,000 Jews in Hungary.

Pinchas came from a long line of eminent rabbis: his father was rabbi of Kleinwardein, in north-east Hungary. Pinchas himself was ordained for the rabbinate at 18 years old. It was expected that in due time he would succeed his father.

After the invasion, Pinchas was sent to a Nazi work camp. With several friends, he escaped and returned to Kleinwardein. He obtained false papers for his family, and pleaded with them to flee. His father refused to leave. The entire family except Pinchas was sent to Auschwitz and perished.

From somewhere he obtained a uniform of an officer in the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian fascist organisation that rounded up Jews for the Germans. Mingling with Arrow Cross officers, he would learn who were the next Jews to be arrested, rush to their addresses, "arrest" them himself and take them to the Glass House, a former glass factory, where they hoped to survive the war.

"You're going to have to lend me your suit," he told a friend one day. "I'm going to a party at the Hungarian police tonight. I can't go in uniform. If I'm arrested, well, you'll lose your suit. But if I'm not, I'll give it you back in the morning." The man got his suit back.

One day Pinchas heard that a friend was going to be arrested that same day. He decided to attempt a rescue. He went in uniform to his friend's address and began to curse the Jew. A non-Jewish man was present. "Pinchas, what are you doing?" said his friend. He continued to curse the Jew until his friend caught on and began to play the game. He got away with it.

Before the war ended, Pinchas saved hundreds of Jews, including entire families. When the war ended, he took off his uniform and left it behind in the Glass House. He was still only 21 years old.

After the war, he married and had three children, all of whom moved to live in Israel. He died in 1980, aged 57.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rape, death and destruction - as the world looks on

Christians in Iraq are in desperate need. Christians have been crucified. Christian children have been beheaded and their bodies cut in half. ISIS, now calling themselves the Islamic State, have seized vast swathes of land in northern Iraq and forced their brutal rule on all and sundry.

Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled. Most have been robbed of all their possessions and left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They are homeless, helpless and starving - and facing a cold winter. They are threatened with genocide and extinction.

Hundreds of Christian, Yazidi and Turkmen women are held in Badush Prison in Mosul. The women are raped daily unless they agree to convert to Islam. The UN estimates that there have been roughly 1,500 Iraqi women and children abducted from the Christian and Yazidi communities and forced into sexual slavery.

Said one Iraqi Christian woman: "I wouldn't wish my experiences in Mosul on any human being on earth. They threatened us with death. They forced us to pay jizya - knowing that we can't. For years we have lived close to poverty. In our emergency we Christians looked for help everywhere, but they didn't help us. I plead to the international community, to churches, to human rights organisations, to the UN - to all who promote peaceful living together, to help us."

Politicians have expressed their sympathy, but done nothing effective. They want to bomb ISIS from the air. But what about the Christians?

Says Patrick Sookhdeo: "The real problem is that the Christians have no power, and because of this they are deemed irrelevant. They have no weapons, therefore they are deemed to be no threat. They have no oil, so they have no economic weight. For some politicians it seems better that Christians should leave the Middle East, for then at least they would not be a complication to the situation."

The response from the churches has been negligible.

Are you a Christian? These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. This week, October 26 to November 2,  is Barnabas Fund's Suffering Church Action Week. Will you pray?

You can contact your MP, urging him or her to put pressure on the Government to act. You can sign a petition here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

'British values' - or religious freedom?

Someone suggested that attempting to prevent Islamic extremism being taught in British schools would have repercussions for Christianity. Well, it has.

A successful Christian school in the Home Counties is said to have been downgraded from "good" to "adequate" and could even face closure because it failed to invite a leader from another religion, such as an imam, to lead assemblies.

The school is said to have been in breach of new rules to promote "British values" such as liberty and tolerance, following the Trojan Horse scandal involving Muslim schools in Birmingham.

Orthodox Jewish schools have complained about recent inspections in which girls from strict traditional backgrounds are alleged to have been asked if they were being taught enough about lesbianism, if they had boyfriends and if they knew where babies came from. The girls were said to have been left "traumatised."

The Telegraph, which reported the case, suggests the new rules were pushed through during the school holidays.

The Christian Institute, which is providing legal backing for the Christian school and is preparing a judicial review of the new regulations, says they are "invasive and unjustified." Simon Calvert, the institute's deputy director, says the regulations are invading the rights of children, parents, teachers and schools to hold and practise their religious beliefs.

Home schooling, anyone?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dealing with the pain

Next Monday, October 27, is the National Day of Prayer about abortion. Statistics say that one in three women in England, Scotland and Wales will have had an abortion by the time they are 45. Eight million unborn babies have been killed since abortion was first allowed - equivalent to almost an eighth of the present population.

Yet there are many churches where the word abortion is never mentioned, leaving people who have had a connection with abortion afraid to confess it and unable to find forgiveness and healing.

Says author Jonathan Jeffes: "Christians can be reluctant to engage with the issue because they do not want to appear judgmental or bigoted; thus a powerful silence has grown up around the subject in the church. Two generations of Christians have grown up with little or no understanding of church tradition or theology in this area."

Many Christians are burdened to see a practical and compassionate response to deal with these issues in a church setting.

"Our churches have many women (and men) who feel trapped by the silence and unable to talk about their past personal experience," says Jeffes. "The place they can find themselves is one of real darkness and pain.

"This is where the church could begin to make a real impact. Not by campaigning or protesting but by connecting with a theology of compassion and understanding and humility. If we can start to change the culture of our churches so that women and men who have been through abortion feel welcomed and able to unburden themselves, then perhaps we can start to influence and change the worldview of the surrounding culture."

On the day, will you pray for the silent taboo to be broken so that people can be set free from the pain that binds them?

Details of the day here.

Friday, October 17, 2014

One Christian killed 'every five minutes'

The latest issue of Dabiq, the propaganda magazine of ISIS - or ISIL, or the Islamic State, call them what you will - contains a declaration of war against Christians. The front cover shows a picture of St Peter's in Rome flying the black ISIS flag.

"We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women," they say. "If we do not reach that time, our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market."

Meanwhile. a letter has been sent to the heads of state of 95 countries calling for urgent, determined action to halt the brutal persecution of Christians in the Middle East. The letter was signed by International Christian Embassy Jerusalem executive director Dr Jurgen Buhler, World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder, and Dr William M. Wilson, chairman of the Empowered21 Global Council.

Dr Buhler said the participation of the head of the main umbrella organisation representing world Jewry, together with leading evangelical ministries, made the event "historic." "Western churches have to do more to bring the suffering of our fellow believers to the forefront worldwide. To have a prominent global Jewish leader lend his voice to this moral call for protecting the region's persecuted Christians is unprecedented in modern times."

Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest in Israel, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September that some 120,000 Christians have been killed each year in the Middle East for the last 10 years. That meant that every five minutes a Christian was killed because of his faith.

"Those who can escape persecution at the hands of Muslim extremists have fled. Those who remain exist as second if not third class citizens to their Muslim rulers."

Israel was the only place where Christians in the Middle East were safe. He appealed to the council's 47 member nations to "end your witch hunt of the only free country in the region." 

Some 4,500 Christians from 80 countries have been in Jerusalem this week to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. A  prayer vigil, organised by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, was held at the southern wall of the Temple Mount, adjacent to the Hulda Gate, on Wednesday. The Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem issued a ban on Jewish participation.

The embassy said the prayer event was "for pilgrims only" and was "not in any way an interfaith event." 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Christians 'should speak out for their faith'

John Lennox was born in Northern Ireland. He is professor of mathematics at Oxford University. He is a Christian, and speaks five languages.

He travels the world speaking on a variety of subjects, and has debated his Christian faith with a number of the world's best known atheists.

One day he met bioethicist Peter Singer. "Were your parents Christians?" Singer asked. Lennox said they were. Singer said this was one of his problems with religious belief: children tended to adopt the faith of their parents. Lennox asked "Were your parents atheists?" Singer said that they were."So you adopted your parents' faith." "No," said Singer, "because atheism is not a faith. It denies faith." "Really?" said Lennox. "I thought you believed it."

People think Christians talk about faith in Christ because there is no evidence, but Christianity is an evidence-based faith, Lennox says. "The Gospels were written to provide evidence, as the beginning of Luke attests. The end of John's Gospel says 'These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.'"

You don't have to choose between science and God. "Statements by scientists are not always statements of science. Stephen Hawking said 'Religion is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.' I said 'Atheism is a fairy story for people afraid of the light.'

"For an atheist, they might be missing the point, or evading the real issue." He advises Christians to ask the most important question: Suppose I could give evidence for God, would you be prepared right now to repent and trust Christ?

People often have an attitude that it is fine for you to be a Christian so long as you keep it to yourself. Lennox appeals to Christians to speak out. He points out that the verse - 1 Peter 3:15 - which says always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, is preceded by a verse which says "do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled."

Many atheists, he says, do not support the ideas of militant atheists like Dawkins. "I have many atheist friends who thank me for taking Dawkins on."

The new atheist onslaught, says Lennox, is beginning to wane - "but Dawkins et al are still wreaking havoc in the minds of young people."

He is speaking in Northern Ireland this week, before travelling to the Faroe Islands and Eastern Europe. Wish him well.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The surprise attack that didn't come

Terrorists arrested and interrogated during Israel's war with Hamas revealed that Hamas, the terrorist organisation that has taken control in Gaza, had planned a surprise for Israel on Rosh Hashanah -  the Jewish New Year - which fell this year on September 25.

The plan was that on this day, when many of Israel's soldiers would be home on leave, 200 terrorists in bogus Israeli Army uniforms would emerge simultaneously from a number of underground tunnels and invade six kibbutzim and a number of towns in southern Israel to kidnap, kill and destroy. The initial force of 200 would be followed by a wave of several thousand additional terrorists. They had been working towards the attack for years.

Needless to say, the attack didn't take place  In the Yom Kippur war, Israel ceded to US pressure not to make a pre-emptive strike, and suffered considerable casualties when Egypt and Syria attacked on Yom Kippur, the most serious day in the Jewish calendar, when everything closes down for a day of worship. This time, Israel ignored US pressure not to attack and invaded Gaza.

The war with Hamas, however, is not over. When Hamas accepted a ceasefire after 50 days of fighting, they made it clear that they would redouble their efforts to rearm for the next stage of the conflict.

Israel is currently preparing for "a very violent war" with the terrorist group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has an estimated 100,000 rockets - 10 times as many as were in Hamas's arsenal. In addition, it has 5,000 long-range missiles with precision guidance systems covering all of Israel, capable of carrying warheads of one ton or more.

Israel's Iron Dome system would not be able to cope with the challenge, and Israel's forces would have to "manoeuvre fast" and act "more decisively, more dramatically," according to one Israeli commander.

As with Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah is believed to have been tunnelling under Israel's northern border. Dozens of residents in the border area have reported the sounds of tunnelling underneath their homes.

The most dangerous threat to Israel's security comes from Iran, which is believed to be preparing to have a nuclear arsenal. Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a speech at the United Nations last week: 

"Don't be fooled by Iran's manipulative charm offensive. It's designed for one purpose, and for one purpose only: to lift the sanctions and remove the obstacles to Iran's path to the bomb. The Islamic Republic is now trying to bamboozle its way to an agreement that will remove the sanctions it still faces, and leave it with the capacity of thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium. This would effectively cement Iran's place as a threshold military nuclear power.

"In the future, at a time of its choosing, Iran, the world's most dangerous state in the world's most dangerous region, would obtain the world's most dangerous weapons. Allowing that to happen would pose the gravest threat to us all. It's one thing to confront militant Islamists on pick-up trucks, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, It's another thing to confront militant Islamists armed with weapons of mass destruction."

Meanwhile, God is preparing for the day when His Son will reign in Jerusalem. Christians have a responsibility to pray for that nation.

 For Zion's sake I will not hold my peace,
   And for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, 
Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
  And her salvation as a lamp that burns.

I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem, 
  Who shall never hold their peace day or night. 
You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent,

And give him no rest till he establishes 
  And till he makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth   
                                                                  Isa 62:1, 6, 7.

Monday, October 06, 2014

So what other explanation do you have?

Terez is a schoolteacher in her forties living in Israel. When she went to the Rabin Medical Centre in Tel Aviv she had a cancerous tumour on her leg the size of an orange.

The biopsy showed it was a sarcoma. "This is one of the most aggressive and terrifying of all cancerous tumours," said Professor Yaacov Bickles, head of the orthopaedic oncology department at the hospital. "With a tumour developed to this degree, the only treatment we could offer was to amputate her leg."

Terez sent the laboratory test results and x-rays to the USA to check the prognosis. The reply said the same thing: the leg must be amputated to save her life. Terez began to prepare herself for life with one leg.

On the day the amputation was to take place, Terez was told the operation had to be rescheduled because of "technical difficulties." On the day of the rescheduled operation, she was about to be wheeled into the operating theatre when she was told the amputation would again have to be postponed. There were no surgical units available because of the number of emergency cases. Then her mother fell ill, and Terez had to postpone the surgery to take care of her mother.

"Three times this surgery was delayed," says Terez. "This was a clear sign to me from heaven that I should not have the surgery." She reported her decision to the hospital. "When she told me she had decided not to have the leg amputated, it was clear to me she would soon die," said the doctor. "I was sorry about her decision."

What happened after that left medical staff - and the nation - speechless. "If someone had told me the story of what happened to Terez, I would have said they are crazy and sent them to a mental hospital," said Professor Bickles. "But I was there. I saw it with my own eyes."

Terez walked into Professor Bickles' office three months later with a big smile on her face. "What happened?" he said. "I prayed," she told him

They gave her an MRI scan. The results were undeniable. "This just does not happen," said the professor. "A growth of this kind cannot recede like this." They sent for another biopsy. 

There was no cancer. "We kept checking her records over and over. We just could not accept that the cancer had gone without any treatment."

News media began to report on the incident. Hospital staff and newshounds travelled to Terez's home to look for an explanation. They tasted the food she eats and checked the water she drinks.

They were left with no explanation other than the one they were given: Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, heals today.

David Lazarus tells the story on his blog here.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Marriage 'till death us do part'?

A recent article by demographers said that the current divorce rate is much higher than previously thought, especially among those 35 and over.

"This news," says Patrick Lee, a professor of bioethics, "suggests that two generations of no-fault divorce (among other things) have altered the general concept of marriage and have severely eroded our society's confidence that marriage can be counted on.

"Indeed, the high divorce rate has ceased to shock or even concern many people. Divorce has become an acceptable, normal fact of life. The predominant view is that many marriages break down through no fault on the part of either spouse: they simply "grow apart." And so - the thinking goes - one cannot expect married men and women to remain devoted to each other until death parts them. If marriage is a love relationship, and the love has died, is it not pointless to continue with the charade of 'marriage'?

"But this conventional wisdom is based on a redefinition of what marriage is. In the traditional understanding, the term 'marriage' is reserved for the comprehensive union of a man and a woman - bodily, emotional and spiritual. . . In the alternative view, marriage is seen as an essentially emotional and sexual relationship that, by implication, can be dissolved when the relationship is no longer emotionally fulfilling.

"This false view has caused marriage to be fragile and has led to immeasurable tragedy for children, wives, and husbands."

Marriage, says Professor Lee, requires a lifelong commitment. But what of those couples who simply "grow apart"?

Read the rest of the article. (You can see it here.) What the author says needs to be heard.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

ISIS at the gates of Baghdad

Islamic State fighters are on the verge of entering Baghdad. 

Canon Andrew White, known as the vicar of Baghdad, reported on Monday that IS militants were only a mile from the city, and had killed more than 1,000 troops during the weekend.

"All the military air strikes are doing nothing," he said. "If ever we needed your prayer it is now.

"People are very fearful. The nation looks as if it has collapsed. The usual hectic and crazy streets were this morning almost empty. The news from our friends in areas surrounding Baghdad is equally worrying. . .

"We do not really know what is happening; all we know is people are very afraid. We know that civilians have been killed in air strikes; we know that there are huge battles with ISIS; and we know that our army is not very efficient.

"This morning I was with one of my soldiers who is assigned by the government to protect me. I asked him what he would do if he saw ISIS coming. He told me he would take off his uniform and run. So I asked if he took seriously his role as a soldier to fight and protect his people; he assured me he did not. He told me he just did it because he needed the money.

"Yesterday at church I spoke on the subject of why we must love Israel. . . Quite an interesting title for a sermon in Iraq. The sermon was based on Romans Chapter 11: 'Do not boast over the root, for the root supports you.'

"The sermon was well received. . . Because Abraham is so important to us here the issue of the Yehudi and us is taken very seriously. Despite being in Iraq I love the Jews and Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians and Iraqis and God loves them all too.

"I received a barrage of postings from people, whether they hated Israel and saw them as anti-Palestinian or they were totally for Israel. What people failed to understand was that loving Israel was far more than love for a state. It was love for a people. . . 

 "Though we can see that we are called to love Jews and Arabs alike, but that loving Israel is not an option for those of us who love Yeshua. We must not forget the history. We as Christians have got to accept that our theology was responsible for the development of antisemitism.

"I spent hours yesterday just answering questions on the subject. I am not going to answer any more."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Women 'deserve to hear the truth'

Two stories have surfaced of problems experienced after abortion.

Lora Bishop, who is 34 and comes from Eastbourne, says when she left the abortion clinic, attached to her medical notes, face down, was a picture taken during a scan she had had five weeks earlier.

"Seeing my baby for the first time, it finally became real to me that a life had been brutally stopped. As a mother, I had committed the most unimaginable betrayal. I hated myself so much at that moment, I could hardly breathe."

A couple of days before her baby's due date, she took an overdose of pills and was hospitalised for several days.

She writes: "I don't doubt that if I'd continued with the pregnancy our lives would have been challenging, but surely that would have been preferable for my child to having no life at all?

"The destruction of that baby is something I will live with for ever. It never goes away and maybe that is the way it should be. Not quite an "eye for an eye," but it is naive to assume we can end a precious, beautiful life and simply forget about it afterwards.

"I would advise any woman planning a termination to think very carefully. Otherwise she could, like me, end up regretting it for the rest of her life."

Adele Best, who has suffered abortion twice, says "!Women deserve to hear the truth about the horrific after effects of abortion. Nobody ever warns them, nobody ever tells them - the media doesn't, the abortion providers don't. Women deserve the truth. and they're just not hearing it.

"I would say now that I really think abortion is never right in any circumstances because of the damage it does to a woman.

"Abortion is never, ever, the answer. It's just going to give you a lot more problems and those problems are for a lifetime."

Adele later became pregnant for a third time, and now has a five-year-old daughter. She says the amount of joy her daughter brings her every day is "priceless."

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Not a slippery slope, but 'an avalanche'

Frank Van Den Bleeken, who is serving a life sentence for rape and murder, has become the first prisoner to be given permission by a Belgian court to undergo euthanasia.

He is 50 years old and is not terminally ill, but claims he is suffering "unbearable psychological anguish." "What's the point in sitting here until the end of time and rotting away?" he says.

Some 15 other prisoners have now reportedly made inquiries about euthanasia.

Since euthanasia was legalised in Belgium some 12 years ago, qualifications have been steadily expanded. Says Paul Moynan, of CARE for Europe: "With euthanasia being packaged as palliative care, our care homes are not safe. With its extension this year for all ages, our children are not safe. And now the mentally ill are not safe. This is not a slippery slope, but a rapid avalanche."

This is the danger of making so-called mercy killing legal. Wherever it has been permitted, it has become increasingly easy to obtain.

Since 2006, British parliaments have been asked to legalise euthanasia or assisted suicide three times. Each effort has been unsuccessful. But the House of Lords is now believed to be more favourably inclined to a change in the law. And in a recent appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the law, dismissing the appeal, but hinted that if Parliament does not make a satisfactory change it would consider allowing individuals wishing assisted suicide to have their cases heard by a High Court judge.

 Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill, which has already passed its second reading, has been criticised for its lack of adequate safeguards. It would allow doctors to dispense lethal drugs to adults who were mentally competent, judged to have six months or less to live, and to have a "settled wish" to end their lives. These conditions are difficult to assess. Apparently it would only be necessary for a doctor to say it was his "genuine view" that these conditions applied for lethal drugs to be given.

All major disability rights groups in the UK oppose the bill. It would allow assisted suicide for a few - but place pressure on a far greater number of vulnerable people - old, sick, disabled, depressed - to end their lives for fear of being a burden to others.