Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Were Sodom and Gomorrah man and wife?

It has been said that Christianity in the United States is "miles wide and inches deep." There's some truth in that. But can it be even worse than we have supposed? The facts quoted by leading American evangelical Al Mohler, if true, are profoundly shocking.

He says that, according to researchers:

●  Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels.

●  Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.

●  Sixty per cent of Americans can't name five of the Ten Commandments.

●  Eighty-two per cent of Americans thought "God helps those who help themselves" is a Bible verse. (Born-again Christians did better - by one per cent.)

●  At least 12 per cent of adults believe Joan of Arc was Noah's wife.

●  Fifty per cent of graduating high school seniors thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.

Americans revere the Bible, Mohler suggests, but they don't read it.

Churches must recover the centrality and urgency of biblical teaching and preaching. We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs.

But parents, he says, are to be the first and most important educators of their own children. They cannot franchise their responsibility to the congregation. Children must see their Christian parents as teachers and fellow students of God's Word.

God help us. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

The life of Neriyah Arabov

Neriyah Arabov was the only Jewish pupil at his school in Uzbekistan. "The name Neriyah stuck out against all the Mashas, Sashas and Pashas," he says. When he was 17, he and his family emigrated to Israel. He grew to love the country, and rejoiced that he would never again be called a dirty Jew by his own countrymen.

He got a job with the Tel Aviv municipality, where he met  a man who read the Bible and said Jesus was the Messiah. He realised the man knew the Bible better than he did, so he began to read the Bible in order to prove him wrong.

What he saw in Isaiah 53 shook him. He realised the prophets were speaking about Jesus. As he read the Bible one day, he asked God to show him the truth about a personal matter no one else knew anything about. God answered.

He prayed a second prayer. Again, God answered. Unable to resist any longer, he fell to his knees and accepted Jesus as his Saviour.

Now he had opposition from his family. "How could you do such a thing?" they said. "Why do you believe in Yeshua? Is the synagogue not good enough for you? What are you looking for with the Christians? Why are you getting into something that is not Jewish?"

Neriyah went to Bible college. While at Bible college, he began to suffer from severe headaches, and found that something was wrong with his kidneys. But God, it seemed, had a plan for that too. . .

Neriyah and his wife now lead a messianic fellowship in Israel. They distribute food packages to needy families, do free tours to holy sites and care for Holocaust survivors.

For more details of Neriyah's story, see here.

●  Record numbers of Jews from Europe are moving to Israel as antisemitism in Europe increases. This Wednesday, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, is also Holocaust Memorial Day UK. For details of the day, see here.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The church isn't dead yet

According to the latest poll, the number of white Britons who say they have no religion is greater than the number who claim to be Christian.

YouGov did  the poll for Professor Linda Woodhead, co-director of the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University, last month. 

Of a sample of 1,500 people, 46% said they had no religion. This was up from 42% in February, 2015, and 37% in January, 2013. This figure rose to more than 50% among white British.

The non-religious trend was most pronounced among under-40s. Among under-40s of all races, 56% had no religion, while 31% said they were Christian. Some 16.5% of those who said they had no religion believed that there was definitely - or probably - some higher power. Only 5% were absolutely convinced that God did not exist.

Andrew Brown, who writes on religion for the Guardian, points out that 95% of children of non-religious parents remain non-religious, while only 40% of the children of Christian parents continue to call themselves Christian. To me, he always appears to criticise the church for standing for what it believes, and seems almost impatient for the church to die and be replaced by "some kind of organised humanism."

I am confident he will be disappointed. We might live in dark days, but the church isn't dead yet.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

GM babies: 'Dangerous' research planned

Permission is likely to be given shortly to UK scientists to perform genetic engineering on human embryos using a powerful new technology whose use has been banned in more than 40 countries.

Dr Kathy Niakan, of the Francis Crick Institute in London, made her case for performing genetic modification to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority last Thursday. The authority will give a ruling later this month. Research could begin as early as March.

Philippa Taylor, head of public policy at the Christian Medical Fellowship, points out that there are two types of genetic editing. It can be done to "somatic" cells in an individual patient where sperm and eggs are not affected - a "one off" cure. Or it can be done to "germline" cells in sperm or eggs or early embryos, which would pass the genetic change down through all future children.

Dr Niakan wants to use the new technique, called CRISPR/Cas9, to edit genes in day-old human embryos left over from IVF. She plans to start with a gene called Oct4, using 20 to 30 donated embryos. If this is successful, she plans to test three or four other genes, again using a further 20 to 30 embryos. The embryos will then be destroyed.

Apart from the problem of destruction of human life, any genetic change would be in every cell, including reproductive cells, meaning the changes would be passed on through future generations.

Work on germline cells has until now been prohibited and widely condemned because of the many unknown risks to future generations. The discoverers of CRISPR say the technique should not be used at this time. American scientists have said that creating gene-edited humans is "dangerous and ethically unacceptable."

Why is the UK keen to do this research? Philippa Taylor says there are plaudits and money involved. An American professor says that since the 18th century the British have been fascinated by breeding. Galtonian eugenics sprang from University College London in the 19th century.  

Ms Taylor says the British rejected eugenics after the Second World War, but IVF developers Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards voiced eugenic aims for their IVF research. The discoverers of DNA, James Watson and Francis Crick, were both eugenicists. And there is a group of neo-eugenicist philosophers and biologists pushing a eugenics agenda.

It is not certain that permission for the research will be refused. "The HFEA can never say no to scientists," was the verdict of one doctor.

For a fuller report, see here and here.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

The problem of the universe (1)

The problem for people who want to pretend God doesn't exist is where the universe came from.

Some people say the universe was never created. It has always existed. But that won't do. Scientists have discovered that the world is winding down. It is now generally accepted that the world will have an end. If it will have an end, then it must have had a beginning.

Some would try to say that the universe created itself. This denies the law of cause and effect. Out of nothing, somebody said, comes nothing.

Some would say that the universe was created by chance. But that's not a valid argument. Chance is not an entity, with the power to create.

Some would even argue that the world is not real. Suppose the things of the world are just an illusion. But where did the illusion come from?

Go outside your house on a clear night and gaze up at the millions of stars twinkling above you. You'll find it difficult just then to say there's no God. You really will.

Psalm 19 says "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork." That's much easier to believe.

What do you think? 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Christian persecution on the increase

The persecution of Christians across the world is getting worse - and getting worse fast.

Each January Open Doors publishes a World Watch List of the 50 countries in the world where it is most dangerous to be a Christian - in other words, the 50 countries where persecution is at its most severe. Its World Watch List 2016 is published today.

It shows that well over 7,000 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons in the reporting period - a rise of almost 3,000 on the previous year. This does not include North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist.

Around 2,300 churches were attacked or damaged, more than double the number for last year.

Systematic  religious cleansing is widespread across Africa and the Middle East. Every year well over 100 million Christians are persecuted because of their beliefs. Extreme Islamic fundamentalism is rising most sharply in sub-Saharan Africa, where more people are killed for their Christian faith than anywhere else in the world.

North Korea tops the list of offending countries for the 14th successive year. In North Korea there are estimated to be about 70,000 Christians imprisoned in labour camps. Christians who worship in secret face death if they are discovered.

Iraq, where a 2,000-year-old church is on the verge of extinction, is second. Eritrea is third, followed by Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Libya.

More than 120 MPs were expected to attend a meeting at the House of Commons this afternoon to discuss Christian persecution.

You can read more details here

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Preparing for battle

If, as Barnabas Fund suggests, 2016 will be remarkable for the battle for religious freedom, what's to be done about it?

It's worth mentioning that the religious freedoms we have long enjoyed in this nation were won - and maintained - in a Christian culture. Religions who want to impose alternatives by force are no friends of freedom. And atheistic organisations who want to prevent Christians from practising their beliefs are no friends of freedom either.

John 8:36 says "If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." Gal 5:1 says "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free."

(Freedom is not freedom to do as you please. That's not freedom. Freedom is freedom to do the right thing. That's freedom.)

There are two things that a Christian can do here. He can compromise, pretending that any religion will do, accepting any sort of sexual lifestyle, or believing that there is more than one way to heaven. (There isn't.) Or he can stand.

Ephesians 6 says:

Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.

Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,

And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.

Not just words of comfort. Not just words of encouragement. But words of detailed instruction in preparation for the battle.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The battle for religious freedom

Political Islam, an increasingly intolerant humanism and the development of a new civic religion will be the major battleground in 2016 for the future of religious freedom, says Christian charity Barnabas Fund. 

Political Islam in much of the world is the greatest threat in its attempts to enforce sharia law, either through the political process or through violence. Last year ISIS extended to new areas of Syria and Northern Iraq. Boko Haram spread its attacks on Christians from Nigeria to Niger and Chad.

Acer province in Indonesia began enforcing sharia; in Tanzania the government attempted to introduce sharia courts to the mainland, where Muslims are a minority. Brunei and Somalia banned the public celebration of Christmas.

Humanists have campaigned against Christian moral standards, attempting to enforce their own secular version of morality. They have tried to prevent parents from sending their  children to Christian schools, wanting children to attend entirely secular schools that reflect humanists' own belief system. They have sought to prevent schools from including any Christian aspect in Christmas celebrations.

We are seeing, says Barnabas, the emergence of a new civic religion in the West in which all beliefs and lifestyle choices are equally valid, and no one, including churches, is allowed to discriminate against them. It claims to be based on tolerance, but is in fact profoundly intolerant of anyone holding historic biblical Christian beliefs.

One of the results is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold public office as a teacher, social worker, judge or politician without at least nominally subscribing to a particular set of beliefs. Freedom of speech is being undermined, with attempts even being made to prosecute pastors for comments made from the pulpit deemed to be offensive to such as Muslims, as evidenced in a recent court case in Northern Ireland. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Veteran Belfast preacher cleared

There's still some hope for free speech.

James McConnell, 78-year-old former senior pastor at Belfast Metropolitan Tabernacle, was yesterday found not guilty of making "grossly offensive" remarks about Islam.

District Judge Liam McNally said at the court in Belfast that while the words on which the charges were based were offensive, they did mot reach the high threshold of being "grossly offensive."

"The courts need to be very careful not to criminalise speech which, however contemptible, is no worse than offensive," he said. "It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances."

Mr McConnell described Islam as "satanic" and "a doctrine spawned in hell" in a sermon at the church. A video of his sermon was streamed on the church website. 

He made a public apology to anyone he might have unintentionally offended, but refused to accept a caution from the police. "The police tried to shut me up and tell me what to preach," he said. "It's ridiculous."

He was charged with improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network. He denied the charges. "I didn't mean to offend anyone," he said. "I believe in free speech."

Mr McConnell had a Roman Catholic priest, a Muslim cleric and an MP lined up as defence witnesses. After several  preliminary hearings, the case was eventually heard in December, but the judge reserved his judgment until yesterday.

 In a separate matter, the Government is proposing registration and inspection by Ofsted of "intensive education" in out-of-school settings for more than six hours a week. This could affect churches, Christian holiday clubs and Christian camps. 

It could involve censorship of teaching which did not agree with "British values," such as the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, sexual ethics and the sanctity of human life.

Organisations and individuals are invited to send observations to the Department for Education by post or e-mail by next Monday, January 11. You will find details at the website of Christian Concern (

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Happiness one day at a time

When Lillian Weber's husband died at 97 years old, she began to look around for something to keep her busy. She saw a mention in a newspaper of a charity providing dresses for needy children in Africa. She'd been sewing since she was 10, so she decided to help.

She set herself a target of 1,000 dresses, sewing one a day. She's passed the target easily. The remarkable thing is that Lillian is 100 years old.

She works at her home, a farmhouse in the small town of Bettendorf, Iowa. Each dress she makes is carefully decorated to make it unique.

"What would I do if I didn't sew?" she says. "I know I'm making little girls happy. That's important to me."