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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Greater Love

Probably my favourite hymn is "When peace, like a river, attendeth my way".  The words were written, in 1873, by Horatio G.Spafford, and the tragic story behind it is well known.  However, the music was written by Philip P.Bliss, considered by many to have been the equal of Fanny J.Crosby in hymn-writing ability.  He wrote the words, and the music, for such favourites as "Man of Sorrows! Wondrous Name for the Son of Man, who came ruined sinners to reclaim! Hallelujah! What a Saviour." - written shortly before he died.    It was at the urging of the evangelist, Dwight L.Moody, that the musician gave up a prosperous business career in order to engage in full-time Gospel singing and composing.

One of the songs that was popular in Christian circles in his day was Frederick Whitfield's "There is a Name I love to hear", to which an anonymously-written chorus had been added: "Oh, how I love Jesus; Oh, how I love Jesus; Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me."  Bliss was aware that it was a wonderful, and enthusiastic, hymn, full of testimony and personal admonition.  However, recognising his own frailty, and the chill of indifference that can steal over the hearts of even the strongest disciples of Jesus, he began to wonder if that hymn ought not to have a companion piece that would emphasise the reassuring thought of God's greater, and unchanging, love for us!

It was while he was reading in John's first letter that he came to these words: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins." (4:10).  "Ah", he said, "I have been singing too much about my own weak, wavering, devotion to Jesus, and not enough about His boundless compassion, and grace, that saves and keeps me."  He then sat down and wrote the lovely words: "I am so glad that my Father in heav'n tells of His love in the Book He has giv'n.  Wonderful things in the Bible I see - this is the dearest, that JESUS LOVES ME."  He wrote two more verses, and a jubilant chorus and then, almost as quickly, set the words to music.  That hymn is still sung in many parts of the world today!

Certainly, if we are disciples of Jesus, we should witness to the joy that we find in Him but, like Philip Bliss, let us rejoice even more in that "greater love" that never fails, and never grows cold.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Seasoned with salt?!

For those who would like a fuller, deeper, "meatier" analysis of the referendum result,  I offer this from David Robertson:

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone – Colossians 4:6
 In the providence of God I find myself on the other side of the world as my country has made the biggest decision in 50 years and the political and chattering classes have gone mad! I am profoundly grateful to be out of the irrationality, and it is profoundly interesting to observe from afar, and to some extent, through the eyes of others – “O that God would gie us, the gift to see ourselves as others see us”.  (Original: "O wad some pow'r the giftie gie us, tae see oorsels as ithers see us"!)
I have also decided to take a three-week fast from interaction on social media – which for me is just as well, because it seems as though a collective hysteria has gripped many people, including Christians. And this has really set me thinking. Are we as Christians supposed just to reflect the agendas and perspectives of the culture or are we supposed to be different? If the latter, in what way?
As we (eventually) flew over here I wrote an article about how I felt about the UK voting to remain in the EU – something which I expected. To be more accurate I had two articles in mind. The first was the kind of ‘how could you?’ angry article. What a bunch of idiots/cowards/selfish swine we are to have voted to have stayed in a corrupt mega corporate institution. But to be honest that was an emotive not rational and not helpful article. So it was replaced with what I hope was a more Christian response, expressing disappointment, but acknowledging the sovereignty of God, and the need for us to accept what had happened and work together both in politics and especially in bringing the gospel to the people of Europe. I was prepared for disappointment (I am, after all, Scottish!) but was thankful that in the grand scheme of things, this was only a ‘drop in the bucket’.
And then it all went right. In the most astonishing political surprise in my lifetime the British people voted to leave the EU. The cynic in me says, ‘aye right, we’ll see if they allow that’, but the optimist radical rejoices that change is possible.   So what should the reaction be of those Christians who supported Brexit? It should not be a kind of triumphalist ‘we won’, that is so often associated with your football team winning the cup. Nor should we react as if the millennium had come, and the kingdom of God arrived. That would be to give a political change the king of spiritual seismic connotations that it cannot deserve.
My own response to this vote is one of immense thankfulness that so many people voted against the Establishment and were prepared to take a risk. But it is a risk and it may not work out.   I recognize the fears and sorrows of those who perceive they have the most to lose (in this case people who have benefited most from the system) and also the danger of giving false expectations to those who think this change will bring them great benefit (essentially the losers under the present system). Justice and equality are never easy and cheap. I am glad to see that whilst I have read some triumphalistic comments, they have been few and far between, and most Christians I have read commenting on this have been somber and sober. As they should be.
Some of the comments from Christians who were on the Remain side have also been sober, reflective and asking for prayer and unity. Again as I would have expected. But what I did not expect are the number of comments and posts which have reflected a very different spirit; bitter, cynical and full of contempt and fear.   It seems as though the passive-aggressive posts have quickly morphed into aggressive-aggressive posts.
The passive aggressive were those who stated that their reasons for voting Remain were because they wanted international co-operation, peace and they loved their European neighbour, the not so subtle implication being that those who intended to vote Brexit did not share those altruistic motives.   When the result was announced it was astonishing how quickly that desire for ‘peace, love and unity’ expressed itself in anger, hatred and disunity.   Some of the vitriol has shown up the worst of Facebook/Twitter, or to be more honest, the worst of humanity. But I have been genuinely shocked at how many Christians have joined in with the mob.
I have seen posts/retweets about how dumb Britons have become (as bad as Americans supporting Trump), about how it is the end of the world (markets collapsing etc. – which by the way they have not), how those who supported Brexit were a bunch of working class racists or just too dumb to see that they were supporting racists. There seems to me to be an overwhelming identification of the church with the governing middle class ethos/values of Western society.   How could working people have been so stupid and gone against the ‘experts’ (ie. those who agreed with us)?  'Sover!  There is an anger, rage and contempt that makes David Cameron’s petulance seem moderate and mature! Why?
Because there is a lack of spiritual perspective. No, this is not the end of the world, or the victory of Satan, or the forces of evil taking over. Hitler has not come to power, Boris is not the Anti-Christ and the Stockbrokers are not the Masters of the Universe (whatever their own self-perception).   Christ is still on the throne. And please let us stop treating the Sovereignty of God as some kind of runners up prize! ‘Oh, we didn’t get what we wanted because of those idiotic racists, but never mind, God is still sovereign”. God would still have been sovereign if you had ‘won’. And his sovereignty (and goodness) should be our foundation, not our back up plan.   If it were we would avoid a great deal of the anger, fear and self-righteous loathing that we have of others who don’t have the sense to see as we do.
Tied in with this, there is an over identification with one particular political point of view. We far too often equate our politics with the Kingdom and its just plain wrong to do so, even when our politics are right!
There is also a genuine concern for others.   We are concerned about racism, about our European colleagues and friends and the direction we perceive the country to be going. That is commendable. But we also need the wisdom and humility to realize that even the best of our motives are mixed with selfishness and sin. Sometimes it is very direct. We belong to, are paid by, and benefit from, institutions that are financed by or dependent upon the EU in some way. So we are afraid about our personal circumstances. Good. That should help us understand how millions of the ‘have nots’ feel. It’s one thing for us to express ‘solidarity and sympathy’ with the poor, its another for us to have to face the same insecurities and fears, especially when we are so self-confident, self-reliant and self-assured.
There is also ignorance combined with arrogance. The truth is that we don’t know. Despite the Bible’s very clear warning that we are mist and do not know what will happen tomorrow, we think, act and write as if we do. We make our pronouncements and then we have this wonderful facility that allows us to Google articles that confirm our worst fears, which we then share as some kind of independent authority. Christians of all people should know that we cannot stay with certainty what is going to happen in our own lifes, never mind the variations of the casino that is known as the stock market! Since when did Christians base their guidance, politics and hearts on what computer algorithms do on Wall St, the City or the Borse?
Please, please, please, stop the passive aggressive and the virtue signaling. Let me mention just one example. The person who writes “I would like to reassure my European friends and colleagues in the UK, that we love you, welcome you and want you to know that we are standing with you”.   It’s like the Scottish government grandiosely pronouncing that they will protect their EU citizens. From what?   Are we talking about forceful repatriation, UKIP storm troopers at the door in the middle of the night, anti-French mobs patrolling the streets? It is ridiculous scaremongering – deliberately feeding fear and creating prejudice. I don’t think the French, German, Dutch, Italian, Irish, Greek and Spanish people in my congregation are in any more danger now than they were before. They are in no more danger than the Malaysians, Chinese, Africans, Americans and Australians.   In two years time, if Brexit actually happens, it is not about closed borders and throwing out foreigners. I suspect that we will end up with something very similar to what we have today (with the one big difference that our elected politicians will be the ones that determine the policy – not unelected commissioners in Brussels), and even if we don’t, those who are already here, will be able to stay.
We need to calm things down, not create more rage.  There is  a great danger that we could be part of stoking up an atmosphere which will do a great deal of harm.  There are already those who are seeking to get the result of the referendum annulled because the result did not suit them.  Blame the old, blame the poor, don’t let them destroy our economy.  If you really want to see chaos and the end of democracy in the UK, then watch that happen if some kind of Euro-Coup were to be staged by MPs, the City and the Middle classes.
We need to learn to be silent. To stop emoting our rage, frustration and fears in public. We need to stop stoking up fears, prejudice and ignorance. Yes – there is a place for sharing things – but we need to be aware of the teaching of James 3 – All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Lets make sure we are not adding to the collective poison of the human race by injecting even more into the Internet.
We are neither nationalists nor internationalists. We are Christians working for the Kingdom of God, working for the good of all humanity and seeking that Christ may be glorified on earth. Lets not get things out of perspective. And lets ensure that our interaction with each other and with non-Christians on social media, fulfills the scriptural injunction given by Paul in Colossians 4:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The poll that mattered!

So, with the final count giving a good majority to the Brexiteers, we may expect that, over the next 24 months, we will see the links with the EU broken - one by one. Reading some of the comments on social media, it would appear that some do not realise is that all that has happened is that a referendum of the British people (the referendum was NOT an individual country/province affair!) has resulted in the clear message that the majority want the UK to LEAVE the EU.  We have not yet done so!

What is interesting, however, is the way in which some of those who were the bearers of doom-laden messages in the campaign running up to the referendum - and I think of the current incumbent of The White House; certain of the so-called "captains of industry; and even certain bankers - are already changing their tunes in the light of yesterday morning's announced result.  I also notice that WW III has not commenced, that the sky has not fallen in, and that, "before the ink was dry", non-EU countries were already making overtures with regard to trade deals! Perhaps Brexit won't be as bad as the "Remainers" tried to make us believe it would be!

I confess to having been a wee bit apprehensive.  I was aware that the result could be very closely run, but was concerned that the "In" vote would just outstrip the "Leave" vote.  However, as my final pre-referendum post indicated, I knew that Almighty God was not about to be caught out!  He Who, from His eternal perspective, sees all of time simultaneously, could 'see' that result even 'before' the EU was formed!

This, of course, is the bottom line for the person of Biblical faith.  We serve the Sovereign God Who is the Creator of all that exists, and Who knows the very heart of man better than we do ourselves. He is the One Who, as the hymn-writer put it "... is working His purpose out, as year succeeds to year." (A.C.Ainger).  The old cliché was: "I don't know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future"! There's a lot of truth in that!  It could be a very interesting two years (if the Rapture is delayed that long!), but for the disciple of Jesus, there is nothing to fear.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

BREXIT, or remain: Some final thoughts.

This is the final pre-referendum post to be published on this blog.  As I shall be travelling all day Friday, my comments on the result will have to wait until Saturday!

One of the areas that the "Remain" camp seemed to avoid is that of national sovereignty.  That topic also ties in with democracy.  If those who make our laws are not accountable to those who elect them, then we have, not a democracy, but an autocratic dictatorship.  It is an indisputable fact that the EU Commission is the group that actually makes the EU laws.  It is equally indisputable that they are unelected, and unaccountable.  If there was no other reason for voting to LEAVE, that one would be sufficient for me.  

If sovereignty has been avoided by the "Remain" camp, they could not avoid the subject of immigration.  One of the points that has had to be repeated, almost ad nauseum, by the BREXIT camp is that to be opposed to uncontrolled immigration is not to be opposed to controlled immigration.  The system that has been regularly proposed is a points-based system similar (but not, necessarily, identical) to the Australian system.  This would allow the UK to accept those who have the skills that are currently lacking here (due, I would contend, to the 'dumbing-down' of the education system in every part of the UK over many decades - but that is a whole now topic!), while denying access to those who merely wish to take advantage of the UK benefits' system, or to take on unskilled work - at a wage that is less than a UK worker would expect but that is, to them, in terms of their own national income scales, undreamed of wealth.

Then there are the basic issues of honesty and integrity.  In 1975, I was one of those who voted against the UK becoming a part of what we were assured was nothing more than a Trading Bloc - the European Economic Community.  I did so, I confess, not because I had some wonderful insight, or prophetic vision, but because I did not trust the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath.  He did later confess that he was fully aware that, in spite of the assurances given, he was aware that the end-goal was a political integration that would subsume the UK.  I do not trust the current incumbent of 10 Downing Street any more than I did that former one!  Even the so-called "renegotiation" has yet to be ratified by the EU Parliament.  Does any right-thinking person really believe that this will happen?  I certainly don't.  On the other hand, I do believe that there are a number of plans (some of which have been 'leaked') for after the referendum, that will not be to the advantage of the UK, and that will be set into motion in the event of a win for the "Remain" campaigners.

However, let my final word be that I believe, fully and apologetically, in the sovereignty of Almighty God.  The Psalmist wrote: "... dominion belongs to YHWH, and He rules over the nations." (Ps 22:28).  Accordingly, I believe that His will shall be accomplished.  For His own purposes, it may be that He wishes the EU to continue.  Certainly, that could be yet another sign that we are in "the last days" (there are many others all around us).   What I believe is that, for the disciple of Jesus, this must be a matter of continuing prayer and that, however we intend to cast our vote, we must be willing to pray, as the Saviour Himself prayed on an infinitely more important occasion: "Not my will, but Yours, be done". (see Lk.22:42).

On Friday, there will be jubilation, and there will be disappointment.  I pray that we who claim to be His will accept the result as His will at this time, and react accordingly.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Part 2.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the unelected president of the European Commission, sees intransigence as a great strength. His priority is the survival of the EU and the single currency: the welfare of Europeans and even the notion of democratic consent seem distant concerns. When he dismisses the ever-louder voices of protest as the shriek of ‘populism’, he echoes the Bertolt Brecht poem: ‘Would it not be easier… to dissolve the people/ and elect another?’ When Britain asked for reform, he took a gamble: that we were bluffing and would not dare vote to leave.

All this has placed the Prime Minister in an impossible position. Unable to make a positive case for staying in the EU, he instead tells us that Britain is trapped within it and that the penalties for leaving are too severe. His scare stories, peppered with made-up statistics, have served only to underline the emptiness of the case for remaining. It also represents a style of politics that many find repugnant. The warnings from the IMF and OECD and other acronyms have served only to reinforce the caricature of a globalised elite telling the governed what to think.

Talk of anyone being made ‘worse off’ by Brexit is deeply misleading. Of the many economists who have made projections for 2030, none have suggested that we’d be poorer. The question is whether we’d be, say, 36 per cent better off or 41 per cent better off by then. Not that anyone knows, given the monstrously large margin of error in 15-year predictions. So these studies offer no real reasons to be fearful. This is perhaps why George Osborne had to resort to concocting figures, such as his now notorious claim that households would be £4,300 worse off. If the economic case against Brexit were so strong, why would the Chancellor have to resort to fabrications?

As the world’s fifth-largest economy, Britain has a reasonable chance (to put it mildly) of being able to cut trade deals with countries keen to access our consumers. The worst-case scenario is to use World Trade Organisation rules, tariffs of about 4 per cent. That’s a relatively small mark-up, and the effect would be more than offset by a welcome drop in the pound. And if house prices fall, as the Chancellor predicts, then so much the better. A great many would-be homeowners have been praying for just that.

There would certainly be turbulence, which would be the price of our leaving the EU. This would affect City financiers more than the skilled working class (two thirds of whom support Brexit). This week, we’re being invited to panic at the prospect of a falling pound. But why? A weaker currency would give our exporters the stimulus they need.

The question at this referendum is not whether Britain should co-operate with our European allies; the question is how. Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, has explained how our intelligence alliances are bilateral. Our closest is with the ‘five eyes’ of the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The Lancaster House agreements with France over military co-operation is another example. Alliances work when they are between nations with a shared agenda, with the ability and (crucially) the will to act.

The EU is an alliance of the unwilling, which is why it is useless on security — as we saw with Bosnia and Libya. Even the migrant crisis has to be handled by Nato, which has been the true guarantor of western security. It’s sometimes claimed that Vladimir Putin would want Britain to vote for Brexit. This is unlikely: what could suit the Kremlin more than European security being entrusted to the most dysfunctional organisation in the West?

As David Cameron rightly says, the British way is to fight rather than quit. Given that the EU has proved that it is structurally incapable of reform, we now have a choice. Do we cave in, because we’re too scared to leave? Or do we vote to retrieve our sovereignty, walk away from the whole racket and engage with the world on our own terms? A vote to leave would represent an extraordinary vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom and the principle of national self-determination. It would also show reform-minded Europeans that theirs is not a lost cause. And that we stand willing to help forge a Europe based on freedom, co–operation and respect for sovereignty.

The value of sovereignty cannot be measured by any economist’s formula. Adam Smith, the father of economics, first observed that the prosperity of a country is decided by whether it keeps its ‘laws and institutions’ healthy. This basic insight explains why nations thrive or fail, and has been the great secret of British success: intellectual, artistic, scientific and industrial. The principles of the Magna Carta and achievements of the Glorious Revolution led to our emergence as a world power. To pass up the chance to stop our laws being overridden by Luxembourg and our democracy eroded by Brussels would be a derogation of duty to this generation and the next.

No one — economist, politician or mystic — knows what tumult we can expect in the next 15 years. But we do know that whatever happens, Britain will be better able to respond and adapt as a sovereign country living under its own laws. The history of the last two centuries can be summed up in two words: democracy matters. Let’s vote to defend it on 23 June."