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Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Manipulating the system!

Michael Martin, Speaker of the House of Commons (Lower House of the UK Parliament) is reported as having expressed his anger at the leaking of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's expense claims, saying that he was "deeply disappointed" the details became public.

However, it could be argued that part of the reasoning behind such a “leak” is the abject failure of certain of the “honourable” members to act in an honourable fashion. In the specific case of Ms Smith (aka Mrs Timney) she has apparently manipulated the system so that a room in her sister’s home in London has been designated as her main residence, while her family home near Birmingham (where her husband watches pornographic films) is her second home. She has claimed, not only for an antique fireplace, plasma screen television, stone sink – at some £600 – etc. for this “second” home, but also for such “normal” household expenses as her broadband connection, and her Sky package (through which, undoubtedly, her husband ordered those offensive films). I have been using my own internet connection for school-associated work for years – but have never even considered claiming for it as a tax-deduction, let alone as a legitimate expense. On top of all of this, she employs her husband as her parliamentary assistant. Her total cost to the UK taxpayer (including yours truly!) has been some £300,000 in the past year. Nice work if you can get it, as the songwriter once put it! Almost forgot – this is the woman who reneged on an agreement over the salaries of police officers in England and Wales (not certain about N.Ireland). The words “sauce” “goose” and “gander” come to mind!

But the truth is being revealed. I am reminded of some words of the Lord Jesus: “The time is coming when everything will be revealed; all that is secret will be made public. Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!” (Luke 12:3-4).

This is, of course, a salutary reminder to all of us – not just to politicians who “play the system” to their own greedy advantage. Only Jesus could, with total confidence, ask the question “Which of you can truthfully accuse me of sin?” (John 8:46). To the rest of us, He says, as He said to a crowd of men, long ago, “…let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!"

Mrs Timney may, in the current context, pay with her ministerial post. All, who do not accept the salvation that Jesus won for us at Calvary, will pay with an eternity cut off from Him.

Friday, 27 March 2009

An interview with God!

I have just picked up the following from a Premier Radio website. My thanks to Yemi Awolola who submitted it there.

I dreamed I had an interview with God.
“So you would like to interview me?” God asked.
“If you have the time,” I said.
God smiled.“My time is eternity… what questions do you have in mind for me?”
“What surprises you most about human kind?”
God answered… “That they get bored with childhood, they rush to grow up, and then long to be children again. That they lose their health to make money… and then lose their money to restore their health. That by thinking anxiously about the future, they forget the present, such that they live in neither the present nor the future. That they live as if they will never die… and die as though they had never lived.”
God’s hand took mine… and we were silent for a while.
And then I asked, “As a parent, what are some of life’s lessons you want your children to learn?”
“To learn they cannot make anyone love them. All they can do is let themselves be loved. To learn that it is not good to compare themselves to others. To learn to forgive by practicing forgiveness. To learn that it only takes a few seconds to open profound wounds in those they love, and it can take many years to heal them. To learn that a rich person is not who has the most, but is one who needs the least. To learn that there are people who love them dearly, but simply do not yet know how to express or show their feelings. To learn that two people can look at the same thing and see it differently. To learn that it is not enough that they forgive one another, but they must also forgive themselves.”
“Thank you for your time,” I said humbly. “Is there anything else you’d like your children to know?”
God smiled and said…“Just know that I am here. Always.”
(Author unknown)

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

A passion for Holiness.

At last week’s meeting of the Home Group that I attend, one of the members quoted the title of a book by J.I.Packer – A Passion for Holiness. Holiness, of course, is one of those qualities about which there are many misconceptions.

Many have the idea that it is something to be shunned – having heard/read the words that Robert Burns puts into the mouth of “Holy Willie” in Tam O’ Shanter. However, this is a poem that was written about a certain Willie Fisher who was an elder in the Parish church of Mauchline, in Ayrshire. Fisher was a hypocrite and himself a sinner who spied on people and reported them to the minister if he thought they were doing wrong. The poem is, in fact, a condemnation of religious hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

Others see holiness as something that may, indeed, be acquired by dint of our own efforts to keep the law – both of man and of God.

Yet others consider holiness to be synonymous with perfection and, therefore, to be totally unobtainable by “ordinary” men and women.

However, the basic meaning of holiness is “separated-ness”. Thus, the vessels used in the services in the Jewish Temple were holy, because they were separated – set apart – for that particular use, and no other. They were separated to YHWH. We refer to the Bible as the Holy Scriptures – literally, the writings that are different because they are the Word of God. The Jewish Sabbath is a holy day – a day that is different from the other days of the week.

The same is true of the disciple of the Lord, Jesus Christ. We are called to be holy – different from the world (society that has rejected/ignored God). Peter’s first letter to the church has much to say about holiness. For example, he writes: "But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God – Who chose you to be His children – is holy. For He Himself has said, ‘You must be holy because I am holy’." (I Pet.1:15-16)

One problem that I see about much of even the evangelical church, is an emphasis on “conversion” that does not lead to discipleship and holiness. Perhaps we, who dare to call ourselves Christian, need to develop a passion for holiness, that we might be seen to be different. Is this, perhaps, one of the reasons why the church grows in situations in which it is persecuted – because those who acknowledge the Lordship of the Christ are seen to be “different”?

I have heard church members state that they don’t say much about their beliefs because they don’t want to “stick out like a sore thumb”! Perhaps that is the very thing that we should be doing – displaying our holiness, not that we might be praised (unlikely, anyway!) but that glory be given to the Father in heaven (see Matt.5:16; I Pet.2:12).

For a much deeper consideration of Holiness, I commend this link http://www.ccel.org/ccel/ryle/holiness.iii.iii.html (copy and paste!)

Monday, 23 March 2009

On death and stardom

The media circus should soon be over. Jade Goody is dead. I had every sympathy for her, as I would have for any young woman with any terminal condition, but I know two other men who, at this moment, have been given only a short time to live, yet who are unknown to anyone outwith their own circle of family, friends, and colleagues.

There is another major difference between the late Jade, and Ronnie and Neil. To the best of my knowledge, and basing any conclusion on a combination of the reasons for Jade Goody’s “celebrity” status, and her reported lifestyle, she had never made any profession of faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ – confessing her own sinful nature, and accepting the salvation that He won at Calvary, and that He offers to all. Both Ronnie and Neil, on the other hand, are believers whose hope is set firmly on that same Lord Jesus.

The story is told of the religious sceptic at the famous Speakers’ Corner (Hyde Park, London, England), who was ridiculing the very idea of the existence of the Biblical God and, hence, of the reality of either heaven or hell. He spoke from a position of some erudition, and did so with passionate conviction. However, in the crowd that had gathered around him was a flower-seller – a woman of considerable age, and of no formal education. When the sceptic stopped for breath, she called out that she had a question for him.

“And what is your question, madam?”, he responded. It was simple, and straightforward. “I, sir, am a follower of Jesus Christ. He has assured me, in His word, that there is both a heaven and a hell, and that only by placing my trust in Him, can I have assurance of spending eternity in heaven. Following Him has brought me great peace, and I have enjoyed His companionship for many years. If, when I die, I discover that I have been wrong, what have I lost? However, sir, if when you die, you discover that you are wrong, what will you say as you stand before the judgement throne of Almighty God, with no Jesus to be your Advocate?” The sceptic had no answer – because there is none that is satisfactory.

That same Jesus made it clear that each of us has a choice to make – and it has nothing to do with media exposure; financial wealth; or even living a “good” life. It has to do with following Him. A lot of what I have heard on the news programmes, yesterday and today, with regard to Jade Goody, has been sentimental nonsense. Whether we enjoy fame and fortune, or live our lives in relative obscurity, our eternal future is decided by what we have done with Jesus.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The One on the white horse.

“From our own correspondent” is a regular Saturday programme on BBC Radio 4 – and one that I enjoy when I am able to listen to it. This morning, the first report was from Mark Mardell, who sent a report from Brussels. The report was largely on the credit crisis that seems to be affecting each of us. However, the comment that really caught my attention was that by the head of the Latvian Employers’ Federation: “We’re looking for someone on a white horse.” Mr Mardell seemed to interpret this as a desire for a “hero” to arrive to show us how to get out of this mess that is, largely, of our own making, and expresses his regret that there are no heroes.

As I listened to those words, however, I had another picture in my mind. Twice in that strange Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, we are introduced to a white horse. In chapter 6, verse 2 we read that the apostle John “…looked up and saw a white horse. Its Rider carried a bow, and a crown was placed on His head. He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory.” Again, in the 19th chapter, and in verse 11, John records that he “… saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. And the One sitting on the horse was named Faithful and True. For He judges fairly and then goes to war.”

These, of course, are highly symbolic pictures of the Lord Jesus – the King of kings, and Lord of lords; the One to Whom is given all authority, in heaven and on earth; the One Who is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the One Who is Faithful and True; the One Who judges fairly; the One Who is the Victor, and Conqueror. The wonderful promise of the New Testament is that that same Jesus is coming again.

However, His second Coming will not be like His first. Then, He came as a helpless infant – the Godhead, veiled in human flesh. Next time, He will come as the Mighty Conqueror. Not that He will be welcomed by everyone. Those who have rejected, or neglected, Him will seek to hide from His powerful majesty and glory – although there will be no escape.

The story is told of a young man who was deep in thought as he walked along a busy street. Absent-mindedly, he walked on to the roadway, into the path of an oncoming lorry. Just in time, an elderly gentleman grabbed him, and pulled him out of harm’s way. Some weeks later, the same young man was charged with an offence, and ended up in court. He was found to be guilty but, as the man on the bench began to speak, the young man cried out – “I know you”. “You know me?” came the reply. “Yes. Don’t you remember that day when you pulled me out of the way of a lorry?” “Ah, yes. I do recall that incident”, said the man. “That day, I was your saviour; but today, I am your judge!”

When Jesus returns – whether or not on a literal white horse! – He will certainly deal with all of mankind, and our problems. But He will be coming, not as Saviour but as the One Who will judge. Be prepared for His Coming, by accepting His salvation – today!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Juxtaposition

Possibly not the most enticing heading to place on a post!! However, it’s a word that refers to two items, placed side by side in order to emphasise a relationship – whether of similarity, or of difference – between them.

Today’s newspapers had such a juxtaposition. One story was of 58-year-old Sean Ferguson, released from jail after having served 27 years for a crime that he definitely didn’t commit. The other was of 73-year-old Josef Fritzl finally having admitted to crimes that he definitely did commit – crimes of a most despicable nature.

Sean Ferguson could have been released many years ago – but only if he had admitted guilt. This was something that he was not prepared to do, simply because, regardless of the verdict of a jury, he knew that he was innocent. Josef Fritzl, for the months during which he has been in custody, refused to acknowledge his guilt, even ’though there could be no doubt about it.

My first thought has to do with the concept of responsibility. There is a sense in which Sean Ferguson was being responsible to himself – to the truth, and to his own integrity. Yes, I know that he already had some kind of criminal record before he was convicted of the rape and murder that landed him with a life sentence; but “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7) are words that come to mind. Josef Fritzl, on the other hand seems, until now, to have refused to accept any responsibility for his action in imprisoning his daughter; repeatedly raping her; and fathering seven children by her – one of whom died, in infancy, from neglect.

My second thought concerns two other men, from almost 2,000 years ago. They are the two criminals who were crucified by the Roman authorities, one on either side of Jesus of Nazareth. "One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, ‘So you're the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself – and us, too, while you're at it!’ But the other criminal protested, ‘Don't you fear God even when you are dying? We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn't done anything wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.’ And Jesus replied, ‘I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise.’" (Luke 23:39-43).

There are certain differences, of course, in the two situations. The criminal who died beside Jesus was, as far as we know, “guilty as charged”. But it’s that concept of responsibility that is still in my mind. In the “Western world”, so many seem to be all-too-familiar with their (perceived) rights. All too few appear to be willing to accept responsibility for their own actions! However, the teaching of the Christian Bible is that each one of us is responsible – and answerable! See, for example, Ezekiel 18: 4-24. and Matthew 25: 14-28. Which leaves the question – “On which side of the cross are you?”

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Forgiveness – a difficult grace!

It’s been a difficult week in N.Ireland. The murders of two young soldiers, and of a police officer (a member of the Church of Rome – thus removing any “religious” excuse for the killing!), have raised the unwelcome spectre of a return to the violence and death of “The Troubles”. The encouragement, of course, is the public show of support for the families of the victims, and the condemnation of the perpetrators expressed by people from across both the religious, and political, spectrum (spectra!!?).

I often wonder how I, as an individual, would react if one of my loved ones was to be gunned down, in cold blood, in similar circumstances. I fear that I might be consumed by revenge, and want to see those responsible for such an outrage held to full account. However, I hope that I would follow the example of the widow of a 46-year-old German missionary, Tilmann Geske, who was preparing notes for a new Turkish study Bible, when he and two Turkish nationals were murdered at a printing house in Malatya on April 18 last year. In a culture marked by an endless cycle of revenge killing, Tilmann’s widow, Susanne, shocked many Turkish commentators when she offered the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ to the perpetrators. In one of her first statements to the press she quoted Jesus on the cross; saying to surprised reporters, “Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

For the true believer, that example of the Lord Jesus is the only way forward. Violence, as is all-too-easily shown, breeds violence, and we may only hope and pray that the restraint that has, thus far, been shown by the “loyalist” factions, will be maintained.

Of course, like any right-minded person, I want to see justice served, whether in N.Ireland, Turkey, or anywhere else. But where there is revenge, there is only an escalation of violence; where there is forgiveness, there is hope for the future. The oft-quoted Biblical text “... eye for eye, tooth for tooth ...” (Exodus 21:24) was not a command of retribution – exacting the same injury from the one who had injured you! It was a command of limitation – you were not to do any more than had been done to you!

None of that makes it easy to forgive. It is true that there are many who would take advantage of the forgiving spirit. However, as many in the persecuted church – not only in Turkey – have proved, it is the only way, because it is the way of the Master. May all of us who own His Name, follow His example, and be “… slow to anger and rich in unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion ...” (Numbers 14:18) whilst not forgetting the demands of true justice that does not leave sin unpunished. And let us pray, not only for the bereaved and the injured, but also for those responsible for the deaths and injuries, that they may have their own eyes opened and, in confession of their sin, find salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Stem-cell Research

The news that President Obama is about to reverse his predecessor’s restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, is a worrying indication that this, admittedly charismatic, politician is going to live up to those of his campaign promises that many had hoped would be quietly forgotten – as are so many of those made by the vast majority of modern politicians!

The stated objective is that such research will discover better treatment for a wide raft of ailments, from diabetes to paralysis. This, of course, is something which no right-minded person would oppose. However, what appears not be publicised is the fact that there are, at least, two alternative sources of stem-cells, neither of which requires the destruction of a human being – albeit one that is at the embyonic stage – with all of the DNA/genetic material that it would have required to achieve its full potential. These are adult stem-cells, and the stem-cells that may be procured from the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after the birth of a fully-developed embryo (otherwise referred to as "a child"!).

Using either of these alternatives, it seems to me, avoids all of the moral and ethoical objections to the use of embryonic stem-cells. Indeed, it is my understanding that adult stem-cells are already being used to successfully provide treatment for a number of medical conditions.

One is left wondering exactly why some scientists seem to have this overwhelming desire to “go where no man has gone before”! I trust that, here in the UK, we will not follow Mr Obama’s lead in this area, but will focus our research on more certain ground – adult stem-cells; umbilical stem-cells; and even induced pluripotent stem cells. It may be wise to remember that those who sow the wind, do often reap the whirlwind! (see Hosea 8:7).

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Euthanasia

I suppose that there are those (Cannukbard at the front of the queue!!) who would say that it's simply an "age thing", but time does seem to pass by increasingly quickly. I can hardly believe that a full week has passed since I last posted on this blog. Okay, it's been a busy week in some respects, and part of that busy-ness was writing another letter to The (Glasgow) Herald newspaper. Amazingly, this one has been published - three in just a few weeks! Either the editor is getting fewer letters or, perhaps, the standard of my letter-writing is improving!! :-)

Anyway, for those who don't read The Herald, here is the letter (which was published without any editing!!):

Putting down a dog is vet’s decision, not the dog’s
Jane Hunter (Letters, March 6) makes the not unusual plea for legalisation of euthanasia, based on the fact that a dog will be "put down" if the vet considers it is in too much pain. The simple analogy is then drawn that if it is good enough for a dog, it is good enough for a human.


Two points may be raised: 1. a human is more than a dog (or other animal); 2. the decision is the vet's, not the dog's. However, one would also wish to emphasise both the high level of palliative care available for the terminally ill in the hospices and the advances in medical research leading to new, and effective, forms of treatment that can, in many cases, bring about a full, or partial, cure.

One major concern is that voluntary euthanasia would be the thin end of a wedge. The next stage would be the "vet stage" (involuntary/compulsory euthanasia) when a doctor would decide when a person should die. This could move to the compulsory euthanasia of other groups deemed to be living less than useful lives.

The claim would be made that such extremes would never be reached. Unfortunately, the evidence would seem to dictate the contrary. When abortion was legalised in 1967, it was intended that only in situations in which there was a medical reason for that fatal procedure would it be used. The simple fact is that social abortions have, to all intent, killed a generation's worth of potential.


With many others, I have deep sympathy for Margo MacDonald in the condition in which she finds herself. However, I do believe - as passionately as Jane Hunter seems to believe the opposite - that euthanasia is not the answer. Many procedures in life are reversible - euthanasia is not.

I will endeavour to get at least one post published, here, before next Saturday!!