Wednesday, April 30, 2014

He risked his life - but saved 900 others

Antonin Kalina was born in Trebic in Czechoslovakia. When he grew up, he became an official in the Communist Party. When the Germans overran the country, he was sent to Buchenwald. During the war he rose to a position of influence among prisoners who looked after the day-to-day running of the camp for the SS.

In the final months of the war, as the Germans retreated from the Russians, thousands of prisoners took part in brutal "death marches" towards Germany. Thousands died, from cold, hunger or exhaustion, or shot because they couldn't keep up.

Some of those who survived reached Buchenwald. Among them were a considerable number of boys, from 12 to 16 years old. Kalina housed the boys in Block 66, far away from the main part of Buchenwald in the filthy quarantine area where the SS guards were loathe to go.

The boys of Block 66 did not have to turn out in the desperate cold for roll call. They were counted indoors. They did not go to work. They had blankets and sometimes extra food. Conditions were harsh, but Kalina saw that the boys weren't beaten, something almost unheard of in the camp system.

In early April 1945, the Nazis decided to eradicate Buchenwald's Jews. They ordered the Jews to report for assembly.

Kalina ordered the boys not to go. He changed the religion on their badges from Jew to Christian. When the SS came looking for Jews, he told them there were none left. When the Allies liberated Buchenwald, 900 Jewish boys were still alive.

After the war, Kalina returned to Czechoslovakia and lived in obscurity. For years, the boys didn't talk about their experiences, but on the 65th anniversary of the liberation, four of them went back to Buchenwald, and sought to have Kalina's efforts recognised.

A film, Kinderblock 66, was made. After a showing to a full house at the Jerusalem Film Festival, Irena Steinfeldt, of Yad Vashem, announced that Kalina had been included in the Righteous Among the Nations.

Unfortunately, Kalina wasn't there. He died in 1990 - and he had no surviving family to collect the award. But he had the knowledge that he had saved 900 Jewish lives.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Decision time for evangelicals

Once upon a time a Christian could make a choice of career and know that if he worked hard and lived by his principles he could make a go of it.

No more.

The American Family Association says there are seven careers that are no longer open to the Christian who lives by his principles. They are, it says: 

Photographer - A Christian photographer in New Mexico was fined $6,700 for politely declining to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony. The Supreme Court allowed this fine to stand.

Baker - A Christian baker in Oregon is facing both civil and criminal penalties, including jail time, for politely declining to bake a cake for a gay wedding ceremony. Her business was closed.

Florist - Baronelle Stutzman, a Christian florist in Washington, is being sued by the state attorney general for politely declining to prepare an arrangement fpr a gay wedding ceremony.

Broadcaster - Craig James was fired by Fox Sports Southwest after only one day on the job for expressing his support for natural marriage while he was a candidate for the United State Senate.

Counsellor - Jennifer Keeton was dismissed from the counselling programme at Augusta State University for her religious reservations about the homosexual lifestyle.

Innkeeper - The Wildflower Inn in Vermont was fined $30,000 and forced to shut down its wedding reception business after politely declining to host a lesbian ceremony.

Teacher - Ms Gillian John-Charles was kicked out of a doctoral programme in education at Roosevelt University for expressing in class her belief that homosexuals aren't born gay.

This (if you will permit a rather snide comment) in the land of the free.

Not that we have anything to boast about. We have a  list of people penalised for their Christian beliefs - the latest a young carer at a London nursery dismissed for gross misconduct for telling a colleague in response to a direct question what the Bible says about homosexuality.

In an important and careful piece, as you would expect from the president of one of the largest theological seminaries, Al Mohler says that evangelicals face a decision that cannot be avoided. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no place to remain silent. To be silent, he says, will answer the question.

The question is whether evangelicals will remain true to the teachings of Scripture and the unbroken teaching of the Christian church for over 2,000 years on the morality of same-sex acts and the institution of marriage.

"The world is pressing this question upon us, but so are a number of voices from the larger evangelical circle - voices that are calling for a radical revision of the church's understanding of the Bible, sexual morality, and the meaning of marriage. We are living in the midst of a massive revolution in morality."

Our answer to the question, he says, will determine or reveal what we understand about everything the Bible reveals and everything the church teaches -  even the gospel itself.

He ends with an appeal for fervent, urgent prayer that this moment of decision for evangelical Christianity will be answered with a firm assertion of biblical authority, respect for marriage as the union of a man and a woman, passion for the gospel of Christ and prayer for the faithfulness and health of Christ's church.

I couldn't disagree with that.

If you would like to read his piece - and it is well worth reading - you  can see it here. A masterly exposition of the Scriptures on homosexuality by Dr Mohler and four others you can download free here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Where the flames of revival once burned

Wales is a beautiful country with a remarkable Christian history. For years I have thrilled to exciting stories of bringing Bibles to Bala.

I have marvelled at tales of some of the great preachers. (Thomas Charles heard Daniel Rowland preach on Heb 4:15. "I had such a view of Christ as our High Priest, of His love, compassion, power, and all-sufficiency, as filled my soul with astonishment - with joy unspeakable and full of glory," he said. "My mind was overwhelmed and overpowered with amazement. . . I could not believe for very joy. The glorious scenes that opened to my eyes will abundantly satisfy my soul millions of years hence in the contemplation of them. Often walking in the fields I looked up to heaven with joy and called that my home, at the same time ardently longing for the appearance of the glorious Saviour to take me forever to Himself.")

I have been inspired by tales of the Welsh revival in the early 20th century, when miners sang hymns as they worked, public houses closed for lack of business, young people held meetings every night lasting for hours and something like 150,000 were converted and added to the churches.

I have been blessed by tales of how Rees Howells and his team of 120 prayer warriors prayed for victory detail by detail three times a day through the Second World War, being rewarded with miraculous answers to prayer.

It was all brought back to my mind by a news item. One of the earliest Bibles published in Welsh, translated by Bishop William Morgan in the 1580s, has been purchased, largely by the National Trust, and delivered to the house where he was born, near the village of Penmachno, in Snowdonia.

In 1563 Parliament was prevailed upon to pass a law requiring that the Bible and Prayer Book be translated into Welsh by 1567. The New Testament and the Prayer Book were translated by that time, largely the work of William Salesbury, but the translations were flawed.

William Morgan appears to have taken it upon himself to translate the whole Bible from its original languages around 1578. It took him nine years. His Bible was a superb translation, and was commonly used until the late 20th century. It set the standard for the Welsh language, much as the King James Version did for English.

To my mind, it doesn't seem long since there was a Bible on the Welsh dresser in almost every farmhouse in Wales - but churchgoing has considerably decreased in the principality, particularly among young people.  One commentator dared to suggest that before we've done there might not be more churchgoers in Wales than an average attendance at Chelsea's football stadium at Stamford Bridge.

Is it possible that the flames of revival could burn again right across the nation?

Monday, April 21, 2014

'Peace' negotiations drag on

The Obama administration showed colossal optimism in seeking to arrange a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. You can't agree peace with someone who doesn't want peace, and it seems quite clear that the Palestinians do not want peace as much as they want to destroy the Jewish state.

Asked to make concessions as a sign of goodwill when talks began nine months ago, Israel agreed, not without misgivings, to four releases of Palestinian terrorist prisoners, including multiple murderers. Three lots have already been released.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas refused to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, insisted that millions of so-called Palestinian refugees be given the right to flood Israel, and refused to accept that a final-status peace agreement would mean an end to conflict with Israel. Palestinians continued to fire rockets into Israel during negotiations and the Palestinian leadership continued to encourage conflict.

Abbas broke a commitment to the peace process not to seek recognition outside a unilateral agreement during negotiations by issuing some 13 requests from the Palestinians to join international conventions and treaties. The Palestinian leadership indicated that it was only remaining at the negotiating table to secure the promised release of Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to release the fourth lot of prisoners if there would be no benefit to the peace process. Israel is now being blamed for the failure of talks.

All is not over, however. DEBKAfile says Abbas approached the Israeli Prime Minister's office saying he was willing to resume negotiations. It says Israel will now release 420 imprisoned terrorists, including 14 Israeli Arabs.

Meanwhile, Israel has launched a new spy satellite into space to boost its intelligence capabilities in light of Iran's nuclear programme. The Ofek 10 satellite will also monitor Iran's military support for rebel groups in neighbouring countries.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

All the evidence you need

The most marvellous thing is not that the Son of God, having taken on human flesh as real as yours or mine, allowed Himself to be crucified, marvellous though that is.

The most marvellous thing is that He rose from the dead. The work of the crucifixion would not have been complete without the resurrection. He conquered death, not only for Himself, but for us. "Because I live, you will live also."

It is impossible to prove the resurrection scientifically. In a sense, it's impossible to prove the resurrection historically. There's faith involved. But it's not a blind leap of faith. You have all the evidence you need.

The empty tomb. Christ's many appearances to His disciples. The testimonies of countless people. The new life that you can experience now.

Do you believe that Christ rose physically from the dead? Have you examined the evidence?

When Jesus met with His disciples on the evening of Resurrection Day, Thomas wasn't there. The disciples told him that they had seen Jesus. Thomas said "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."

A week later Jesus was again with His disciples, and Thomas was there. Jesus said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing."

Thomas didn't need further proof.

"My Lord and my God!" he said.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The first Palm Sunday

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
  Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
  He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
  A colt, the foal of a donkey."

So prophesied Zechariah (in Zech 9:9).

On the first Palm Sunday, as Jesus and His disciples came to the Mount of Olives on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of His disciples into a village nearby to bring a young donkey they would find tethered there. He said "If anyone asks you 'Why are you loosing him?' say 'Because the Lord has need of him.'"

They found the donkey. As they were loosing him, the owners asked "Why are you loosing the colt?" They said "Because the Lord has need of him," and they let them go. They put their clothes on the colt, and sat Jesus on it. So Jesus fulfilled the prophecy.

A great multitude who had come to Jerusalem for the passover feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, spread their garments on the road. Others cut down branches from trees and spread them on the road. They cried "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! The King of Israel!"

The disciples were no doubt pleased to hear Jesus exalted as Messiah. But when Jesus saw Jerusalem, He wept. He knew that the leaders of Israel had already rejected Him, and He was aware of the terrible things that would happen to Jerusalem as a result.

In the next few days he was going to do something wonderful. Something that had never happened before. Something that they did not yet understand. . .  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Death on the doctors' say-so

Voluntary euthanasia became legal in Belgium in 2002. I have previously pointed out that 32 per cent of assisted deaths there are carried out without request by the patient, and an estimated 57 per cent of all assisted deaths are not being reported. Belgium recently allowed euthanasia for sick children.

Now an official statement by the Belgian Society of Critical Care Medicine considers it acceptable to use drugs to shorten the lives of patients in palliative care, whether or not they are suffering and whether or not they have made a request to die. The statement is published in the Journal of Critical Care.

It refers to "the administration of sedative agents with the direct intention of shortening the process of terminal palliative care in patients with no prospect of a meaningful recovery." Shortening the dying process by administering sedatives beyond what is needed for patient comfort, it says, can be not only acceptable but in many cases desirable.

"Shortening the dying process with use of medication. . . may sometimes be appropriate, even in the absence of discomfort, and can actually improve the quality of dying." The statement also applies to children.

Involuntary euthanasia is against the law. Intensive care doctors appear to be putting themselves above the law. Commentators are waiting to see how the government reacts.

That's what happens when euthanasia is legalised for "a few hard cases."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hollywood does it again

The new film Noah is nothing if not controversial. Some people say it is "terrific." The Telegraph calls it "astonishing and miraculous." Others are less kind. The Independent called it "underwhelming and frequently silly." The Observer's film critic called it a "preposterous but endearingly unhinged epic."

The director, Darren Aronofsky, is often described as an atheist. (Humanist would perhaps be a better description. "I think I definitely believe," he says. "My biggest expression of what I believe is in The Fountain. And that kind of sums it up.  It's hard for me to put it into words to describe. I made a movie about it. . . I still subscribe to the ideas in that movie.")

A lot of the story in the film is not in the Bible. Jewish-born Aronofsky and his co-writer use apocryphal writings and Jewish mysticism as well as the Bible for their sources."There is a big part of the population in America who don't want anything to contradict their view of the Bible and are never going to be open to this type of interpretation," he says.

Answers in Genesis, the creationist organisation, says: "The way in which Aronofsky's Noah blasphemes God, maligns the character of a righteous man, adds pagan and mystical elements, and twists the biblical narrative has prompted AiG to alert the church and culture about this unbiblical movie."

AiG president Ken Ham said the film was "boring," and "may be the worst film I've ever seen."

Meanwhile, the blockbuster continues to rake in its millions at the box office. The proprietors of YouVersion Bible app report that during the three-day opening weekend of the film, the story of Noah from Genesis was read or listened to 389,794 times. That doesn't account for people using other gadgets or reading the Bible story in print.

A word of advice. If you decide to see the film, find out before you do what the Bible says and what it doesn't.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Home at last

Viorel Cebotari was born in a village in Moldova. When he was two, his father committed suicide, leaving his mother to bring him up alone. She had trouble. As a teenager, Viorel was constantly in bother with the police, and frequently in and out of prison for drinking, stealing and fighting.

He married four times - and each time his wife left him. At 25, he attempted suicide by drinking poison. He was taken to hospital, and recovered.

He never thought about God until he found himself in prison after seriously injuring a man in a bar-room brawl. His cellmate, seeming to believe there might be a God, asked him questions. Viorel's mother was a teacher, and there were always books around at home, but they all said there was no God, and that we all evolved from monkeys.

Sick of living, Viorel did a deal with the God he didn't know. "If you really exist," he said, "get me out of this prison and I'll serve you."

He got out of the prison, but went back to his old ways. God reminded him of his promise, but he thought he would have to live in a monastery, and he didn't know where there were any monasteries. 

He would have to get his hands on a Bible, he thought. "I really thought it would be written in there which monastery I should go to and where I would find it."

He found a Bible and started to read. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." It felt like an electric current flowing through his body. Immediately, he knew this book was like no other book.

He read on. He found a woman taken in adultery. Jesus forgave her. He found a woman who had had five husbands. Jesus accepted her. He saw the thief on the cross. His own relatives didn't want anything to do with him, but Jesus accepted them. For the first time in ages he felt hope.

He took the Bible with him everywhere he went, and would read it even when he was drunk. He realised now that what he was doing was wrong, but he couldn't stop. "How is it possible to know all this and be unable to live it?" he said.

Finally, he broke down and wept. When he stopped trying to be good in his own strength, God met him.

He looked for a church in his own village, and found four old ladies meeting in a private home. They didn't know how to talk to him, but they accepted him.

They gave out food parcels, firewood and school supplies. They started a day centre for vulnerable children. The villagers had a prejudice against evangelical believers, and they knew Viorel's record.

The grandmother and the mother of two children in the day centre were converted. Some of the parents, most of them alcoholics, now come regularly to church.

After watching him carefully, they have decided that Viorel and his friends are not a sect who want to steal and sell their children, but are truly people of God.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The shocking announcement that doesn't shock

Do something wrong, and you feel terrible. Do it a second time, and you don't feel quite so bad. Make a habit of it, and you can quite get used to it.

Just over a week ago, it was announced that 10 NHS trusts had admitted incinerating the bodies of aborted babies with clinical waste. Two other trusts had burned the bodies in "waste-to-energy" plants to heat hospitals. (I wrote about the matter here.) It did not cause much of a commotion.

Peter Hitchens writes: "It is what doesn't shock us that is now so shocking. Not all that long ago, news that aborted babies were being burned in furnaces to heat hospitals would have caused a major national storm.

"But in our callous, distracted and unimaginative society, it passed by like a momentary gust of cold wind on a warm day, faintly disturbing but swiftly forgotten. . .

"What has happened to us that we no longer really care, either about the massacre of the innocents that goes on day and night in our midst, or about the disposal of human remains as if they were rubbish?

"Lots of people must have known, and found it convenient. But in this matter we are really a bit like the respectable inhabitants of Hitler's Germany, who vaguely noticed that people were loaded on to eastbound trains and didn't come back, were vaguely concerned for a moment and then returned to their normal lives. . . 

"Whoever sets out to destroy any class of humanity will always begin by claiming that his victims aren't really human. . . The lie has to be sustained by hiding the truth.

"We have pretended so hard and so long that it isn't so, that people, who no doubt viewed themselves as kind and decent, were able to shovel violently abused human remains into a furnace, and then go home happy."

Talking about abortion, there is an international organisation named 40 Days for Life which uses prayer, fasting and peaceful clinic witness in an attempt to do away with abortion. On the 27th day of their present 40-day campaign, 321 babies had been saved from the abortionist's knife.

A leader of the organisation reports that he visited a meeting at a small town in Michigan, where three pastors spoke and led prayer about abortion. Which leads to the question: where in a small town in Britain would you find three pastors who would speak and lead prayer about abortion?

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Flying here to say thank you

Ask Christian apologist Frank Turek if Christians should get involved in politics and he'll show you a satellite photograph of the Korean peninsula, taken at night. North Korea is in absolute darkness; South Korea is ablaze with lights. "South Korea is full of freedom, food and productivity. North Korea is a concentration camp." The reason for the difference, he says, is politics.

The difference between the two Koreas, certainly, is remarkable. North Korea is said to be the most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian. South Korea has an estimated 25 per cent of its population who identify with Christianity and has some of the largest Christian churches in the world. Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul had more than 800,000 members in 2007 and has continued to grow.

A thousand South Korean Christians will be visiting the UK this September as part of a nation-wide prayer mission. The National Day of Prayer and Worship is partnering with the Korean Word Prayer School in Seoul to bring the believers to Britain.

They hope to visit around 40 church communities around the UK, sharing in worship, joining in mission activities and issuing a prophetic call to the church in Britain to remain strong, and for Britain to remain faithful to its Christian heritage. Two large prayer gatherings will be held in London to conclude the trip.

Dr Jonathan Oloyede, convenor of the National Day of Prayer and Worship, says he is delighted. "I believe there is a call on the church in the British Isles to warmly respond in welcome as the Christians of South Korea thank these isles for sharing the gospel in times past," he says.

God bless them.