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."