Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The wonder of it all

We are situated in the Milky Way, a galaxy of at least 100 billion stars and 100 billion planets. The nearest star is so far away that it takes its light four years to get here. Some stars you can see with the naked eye are so far away that it takes 4,000 years for their light to reach us.

The Milky Way is so big that it would take light, travelling at 186,000 miles a second, 100,000 years to get from one end to the other. 

Beyond the Milky Way are at least 170 billion other galaxies. Some of them we only became aware of after the Hubble telescope was launched in 1990. Before that, they had functioned for thousands of years without mankind even being aware of their existence. When the Webb telescope is launched in 2018, scientists expect to be able to see even further into God's creation. 

We are just a few of seven billion individuals living on a tiny planet in the middle. Yet God sent His Son to die in agony so that I might be forgiven, because He loved me and wanted to have fellowship with me.

I find it a little bit difficult to know how best to describe MIchael Wenham. I suppose the best thing to say is that he is a former vicar. He is still an ordained Anglican minister, but he suffers from a variety of motor neurone disease and spends most of his time now in a wheelchair. You may have seen him campaigning against assisted suicide.

Michael tells a story about Lee Bramlett and his wife Tammi. The couple work for Wycliffe Bible Translators, whose job it is to translate the Bible into languages that do not have the Scriptures.

They were working in West Africa, translating the Scriptures into Hdi with the help of a few native-born community leaders. They knew that verbs in that language end in "i," "a" or "u," but that the verb to love ends only in "i" and "a."

"Could you dvi your wife?" Lee asked. Yes, they said. That would mean that the wife had been loved, but the love had gone.

"Could you dva your wife?" Yes, they said. She would be loved as long as she remained faithful and cared for her husband well.

"Could you dvu your wife?" They all laughed. Of course not, they said. If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water or never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to keep on loving her. "You would never say dvu. It just doesn't exist."

Lee sat quietly for a while, then asked "Could God dvu people?" 

There was complete silence for three or four minutes. Then tears began to trickle down the faces of these elderly men.

"Do you know what this would mean?" they said."This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all the time we rejected His great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people."

God, says Michael, loves you with a "u."

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Controversial or not, she won

Lia Mills was 12 years old. When it was announced they were having a speech competition at her school. Lia decided to enter, and wrote a speech for the occasion.

Her teacher said she could give the speech to her class, but she couldn't use it for the competition, as the subject was too controversial. But after hearing the speech in class, the teacher changed her mind and said she could go ahead.

There was one thing, though. One phrase in the speech made reference to God. The teacher wanted that phrase removed.

After an anxious night, Lia said she couldn't remove the phrase, so she would withdraw from the competition. Again the teacher relented.

Too controversial? What do you think? 

You can hear the speech here.

By the way, Lia won the competition.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A just-in-time answer to prayer

Hudson Taylor, the well-known missionary to China, was on his way to China for the first time when his ship was becalmed for several weeks. The ship was slowly drifting towards the shore of New Guinea.

On the shore cannibals were lighting fires and rushing about in great glee  Taylor remembered how when he was a medical student, other students had jeered at him and spoken of "cold missionary." It looked like someone was expecting a piece of hot missionary that night.

The sailors had tried to turn the head of the vessel around from the shore, but in vain. "We've done everything that can be done," said the captain."It looks like our fate is sealed."

"No," said Taylor. There were four Christians on board - the captain, a steward, a black man and Taylor. "Let each of us retire to his cabin and in agreed prayer ask the Lord to give us a breeze immediately." The three others agreed.

Taylor told the Lord he was on his way to China, that He had sent him, and he couldn't get there if he was shipwrecked and killed. He went back on deck and suggested that the mate let down the mainsail. 

"What do you want me to let down the mainsail for?" said the mate. The missionary explained they had prayed for a breeze, it would be here soon, and they had better be ready for it. The mate said with an oath that he'd rather see a breeze than hear about it.

Then they noticed that one of the sails was quivering. Soon the wind was upon them.

Wrote Taylor: "Thus God encouraged me, ere landing on China's shores, to bring every variety of need to Him in prayer, and to expect that He would honour the name of the Lord Jesus and give the help which each emergency required."

CWR are arranging a national prayer weekend for this coming weekend. Why not join in?

You can see the details here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Few answers as chaos increases

A fair number of European countries closed their borders yesterday as Europe's "open borders" policy collapsed under the weight of thousands of migrants. Politicians warned that millions are set to follow them.

Political leaders appear to be saying what they find politically acceptable. British Prime Minister David Cameron was saying that Britain had enough immigrants. Then Britons were moved by a photograph of a dead Syrian child lying in the surf. He announced that Britain would take 20,000 immigrants over a period of five years.

Giles Fraser says we should take them all. Dig up the green belt, create new cities, turn Downton Abbeys into flats and church halls into temporary dormitories. Peter Hitchens says we can't do what we like with the country. We inherited it from our parents and grandparents, and have a duty to pass it on to our children and grandchildren. We can't just give it away to complete strangers because it makes us feel good.

Serbian police say 90 per cent of the migrants say they are Syrian, but they have no documents to prove it. Discarded documents are found in bushes yards from the border. While many have suffered the ravages of war, a good proportion are believed to be economic migrants, fleeing not war, but poverty, attracted by talk of free housing, welfare benefits and a better standard of living. Almost all are Muslim. No one knows how many of them are fanatical Islamists.

One commentator says political Islam is the cause of their problems, and it is unfair to blame the West or to project themselves on to the West. Another has a good idea: let those fleeing war in Syria migrate to Muslim countries around them, and leave Europe with its Christian heritage. There is one problem with that. Oil-rich Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain refuse to accept any migrants.

So chaos increases as the world gets darker.

A Christian minister used to say that one of the things that kept him going was the sure knowledge that he belonged to an unshakeable kingdom. Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, says Hebrews, let us have grace by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall. But there's something to hold on to.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A right religious kerfuffle

Marty Goetz is an American. He's a musician: a pianist, singer and songwriter. He's also Jewish - so Jewish you would find it difficult to imagine how he could be any more Jewish.

He grew up in an area where 90 per cent of the people were Jewish. If he moved out of the area, his mother would warn him: "there are antisemites out there." He had to move out of the area, however, to complete his education.

As a young man, he formed a musical act with a Methodist called Bert. The trouble began when Bert went to another church and was born again. From then on, he preached about Jesus to Marty, which made Marty very angry and very frustrated, because Jews don't believe in Jesus.

What happened after that you can hear in Marty's own words in this video here.

If you would like to hear some of his music, try here.


Monday, September 07, 2015

Pastor's 'hate crime' prosecution drags on

The "hate crime" prosecution of Belfast Metropolitan Tabernacle pastor James McConnell, who called Islam "satanic" in a sermon, drags on.

A video of the sermon was placed on the internet. Belfast Islamic Centre complained to police, and Mr McConnell was charged under the 2003 Communications Act with sending a message by means of a public electronic communications network that was "grossly offensive."

Critics say the decision to prosecute him while routinely ignoring extremist Muslim preachers showed Christians are being persecuted.

Something like a thousand people turned up to show support for Mr McConnell at his first appearance at Belfast Magistrates' Court in August. He told them: "They are spending thousands. It is ridiculous. It is absolutely stupid."

Defending solicitor Mr Joe Rice told the court: "This is one of the most bizarre and peculiar cases I have ever seen before the court. The pastor. . . did not incite hatred or encourage violence against Muslims. He expressed views about another religion, not in a personalised manner but in a generalised way. This is not the PPS's finest hour." 

The case was adjourned for four weeks.

Atheist Suzanne Breen wrote in the Belfast Telegraph: "I carry no candle for Christian fundamentalists, but there is something seriously wrong in hauling a pensioner pastor in ill health through the courts for simply expressing an opinion. In the face of a draconian response from the state, the pastor's reaction has been inspirational."

Hundreds of supporters turned up when Mr McConnell again appeared at court last week. "I will stand firm for the gospel," he told them. "I will not relent one inch. This is, I believe, a test case."

Mr Rice told the court: "We have not lost sight of a possible abuse of process application." A request for a further four-week adjournment was granted to allow the Public Prosecution Service to review the case.

So in view of talk of a possible abuse of process application and a case review, will the pastor get to testify in court? Time will tell. 

Thursday, September 03, 2015

The price of a soul

The refugee problem is becoming increasingly desperate. Hundreds drown in the Mediterranean. People are found dead in lorries. While governments haggle about immigration quotas, thousands, young and old, are walking across Europe.

The government of Poland has agreed to take Syrian refugees - provided they are Christians. A Polish non-government organisation has been arranging selection and transportation. All the refugees are dedicated churchgoers.

Free language courses, medical care and spending money are provided when they arrive. Charities, businesses and churches are covering the costs.

"Today Christians who are being persecuted in barbaric fashion in Syria deserve Christian countries like Poland to act fast to help them," says Poland's Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz.

Slovakia has said it will take 200 refugees from Syria, but only if they are devout churchgoers. The Czech Republic applied the same requirements for 70 families granted asylum this year.

The UN, EU and some Christian leaders say we should help all in need, not just Christians. 

But Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of the British charity Barnabas Fund, says this is contrary to Middle Eastern culture, which expects each religion to help its own followers. "When Christians fail to show practical love for each other, the astonished onlookers ask: 'What kind of religion is this that does not even look after its own?'"

Barnabas Fund has launched Operation Safe Havens to fly Middle Eastern Christians whose lives are in danger to countries who will allow them to settle, and to help them with basic needs until they settle. They will then not have to take the risk of paying people traffickers. 

The charity says £2,000 covers all the costs of rescuing one person and supporting him for a year; £40 provides a week's food for a family in Poland

Rescuing refugees whose lives are in danger costs money. But what's money compared with precious, never-dying souls?