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."