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Monday, 31 August 2009

Persecution!

Sometimes I get so caught up in praying for, and seeking to support, the persecuted church in over fifty countries around the world (and would that many more would join with me!) that I forget that persecution is actually something to which every true follower of Jesus is liable! Writing to the young Timothy, the apostle Paul said that "... everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (II Tim.3:12, NLT)

Recent months, and even years, have seen an increasing intolerance - even an active antagonism - towards those, here in the UK, who would dare to stand up and be counted for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ; those who would be so bold as to stand up for Biblical values in a society that has been, in fact, built upon those very values!

I recently received an 'open letter' in which the author pointed out that it is shameful "... that our society can chastise Christians for merely giving a private opinion about homosexuality, yet a government-funded body can refer to anyone who disagrees with the adoption of children by gay (sic) couples as 'retarded homophobes'...". This latter quotation is taken from an official publication of The British Association for Adoption and Fostering which is apparently less concerned about the eventual outcome of such an unnatural 'family life' for the children involved, than they are about verbally abusing those of us who hold the view that such an arrangement is positively harmful for those children - and there is, of course, well-documented evidence such as the homosexual 'couple' who were found to be abusing the children that the local authority had, so conveniently, placed in their care! (http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=33a_1212786490).

There is a similar level of intolerance against a Christian nurse who offered to pray for a patient; a Christian Registrar who asked to be excused from officiating at so-called 'gay' civil partnership ceremonies; another who wore a simple cross around her neck; a man arrested, and charged with using 'threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour', for distributing leaflets that contained quotations from the Bible that state, clearly, that homosexual activity is sinful.

And the list could go on, and on! We may not, yet, in this country (UK) be faced with the kind of persecution that followers of Jesus experience in N.Korea, Burma, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Northern Nigeria, Pakistan, etc., etc. However, the words of Paul may be a timely reminder that believers in the 'West' should not become complacent.

However, we do have the confidence that the Eternal "God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear, even if earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea." (Ps.46:1-2)
Hallelujah!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Sex – you can’t get away from it!

Following the publication of a letter in The Herald newspaper, in which the writer supported the call by a Dr Lyndsey Myskow for the ‘morning-after’ pill to be made available to schoolgirls due to the apparent failure of either gender to carry condoms (for various quoted reasons), I have sent the following to the Letters Editor. I trust that it will be published!

Dear Sir,

May I applaud the expressed sentiment of Dr Philip Gaskell when he writes (Letters, 29th Aug) “Young women having the confidence to say, ‘This is my body, I need to protect it and look after it and if you won't wear a condom, then I am not having sex with you’ would be a big step forward.”

However, I would encourage the good doctor to go even further, and encourage young women – and young men – to adopt total abstinence with regard to sexual intercourse, until they are in a settled, long-term, committed relationship.

A recent analysis from the USA (and I would hope that the even more recent political posturing over the release of Mr. Megrahi will not hinder us from accepting anything that is good and constructive from the other side of ‘the pond’) shows that abstinence education leads to fewer abortions!

The analysis, undertaken on behalf of San Antonio Coalition for Life, compared the rates of decline in the annual number of teen abortions between states that accepted federal funding for abstinence education and states which declined the funding.

The discrepancy was startling. Abortions among teens dropped by more than 20% over the 2001-05 period in the states that accepted abstinence funding, almost four times as much as the 5.2% decline in teen abortions in states that rejected abstinence education.

It seems not unreasonable to also extrapolate from this survey, that the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases would also have been reduced very considerably in those states in which abstinence is encouraged.

Perhaps we need, in this country, to stop trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted and, instead, teach our young people the benefits of sexual abstinence before entering into some form of committed relationship (preferably, in my opinion, marriage); and sexual fidelity within such a relationship. One’s virginity is something that can only be given once – how sad that so many, male and female, seem to throw it away at the first available opportunity, and probably regret having done so for the rest of their lives.

Yours faithfully,

Knowing - or not!

A conversation in the Science base of LHS a few days ago, centred around the subject of "Is there anything that [a certain member of the Faculty] doesn't know?". I pointed out that it was impossible to know what we don't know because, as soon as we know what it is that we don't know, we no longer don't know it! Confused? The following work by R.D.Laing may (or not, as the case may be!!) help.

There is something I don't know,
That I am supposed to know.
I don't know what it is I don't know,
And yet am supposed to know,
And I feel stupid if I seem both not to know it,
And not know what it is I don't know!
Therefore, I pretend to know it.
This is nerve-wracking,
Since I don't know what I must pretend to know.

Therefore, I pretend to know everything!

I feel that you know what I am supposed to know,
But you can't tell me what it is
because you don't know that I don't know what it is.

You may know what I don't know,
But not that I don't know it, and can't tell you.
So you will have to tell me everything
!

Friday, 28 August 2009

The End!!

I was very restrained, this afternoon, as I walked out of Lesmahagow High School for the last time (at least as a teacher employed by South Lanarkshire Council), and did not give a mighty shout of "Freedom"!!

Actually, it was a day of very mixed emotions. Indeed, it started yesterday when two of the pupils in my Register Class presented me with a card and a gift. This morning, I received another card - measuring 25"x16 1/4" - signed by lots of pupils, as well as a very expensive-looking Scheaffer pen. The first hug was even from one of the male members of the class - followed by many more, both boys and girls. During the day, many other pupils expressed their regret at my leaving (although there were others who will probably be having a party tonight to celebrate!!!). I will certainly miss the majority who are good, decent, willing-to-work, pupils. The minority I will miss - in the same way as I would miss a plaster-cast that I had been obliged to wear for six months! Some of the staff 'farewells' were also a little emotional (and many were openly jealous!!).

So what happens next? The simple answer is that I don't know. I am, as my police friends would say, "actively pursuing a number of lines of enquiry"!! However, I do believe firmly in a God Who has a perfect plan for my life. I have no doubt that He will reveal all that I need to know, whenever I need to know it. It's a wee bit like Abraham who went out, not knowing what the future held (see Gen.12), but knowing Him Who holds the future.

Watch this space!!!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Creationism - a joke??

Ricky Gervais is a well-known TV person(ality?!). He was mentioned, a couple of days ago, on the news programme to which I listen on my way to LHS each morning. Apparently, he had been at the Edinburgh International Festival with a new 'show' entitled "Science". As an example of Mr Gervais' humour, we were treated to his discovery that there are some 60,000 different types of vertebrate animal on planet earth, and the side-splitting question as to how Noah would have managed to get two of each of them into the Ark!

Perhaps Mr Gervais should learn that one of the basic maxims in the study of science is proper examination of the evidence. If he had done his homework properly, he would have discovered, first of all, that the Ark, according to the record in Genesis 6, was not the simple little boat that is so popular in children's story books, or in The Early Learning Centre. It was, in modern measurements, some 450 feet long; 75 feet wide; and 45 feet high. It had three decks, or floors and a total capacity of more than one-and-half-million cubic feet!!! That's a lot of space in anyone's book.

However, Mr Gervais, had he taken the time to check, would have discovered that the Bible doesn't speak of every breed of animal, but of each 'kind'. Putting it as simply as possible, that means that Noah didn't need a pair of spaniels; a pair of wolves; a pair of poodles; a pair of daschunds; etc. Indeed, most of the modern dog breeds did not even exist in Noah's time. All he needed was a pair of canines - from whom, eventually (and over a relatively short time) all of the present breeds would have descended. He would also have taken, not the largest, oldest, animals, but the youngest (and, therefore, smallest). When one takes all of this into consideration, it becomes clear that Noah not only had room for all of the necessary livestock, but also for foodstuffs, bedding, and all of the other necessities for both the animals and his family.

The problem is, I would suggest, two-fold. First of all, there is the basic - and false - assumption that 'science' has provided all of the answers to the big questions of life, and that it the evolutionary process has been "proved". However, evolution is just one interpretation of the available evidence. The other is that those who agree with the apparent beliefs of Mr Gervais tend to look only at some 'big picture' that they have been fed by people like Richard Dawkins, without asking the questions that are missed out by him and his ilk. Take, for example, something as common as the eye. It is one of the most complex organs in the body. Yet without being complete as it is, it is of no use at all. Why, we might ask, did such a 'useless' organ evolve to its present useful complexity?

The real reason for the popularity of the evolutionary model is, of course, nothing to do with science in its proper sense. It is nothing more, or less, than a rejection of the Creator God - the Eternal One Who lives in a dimension that mere mortal beings are incapable of understanding. The wonder of the Christian Gospel is that it tells us that that same God loves us so much that, in the Person of the Son (for a message on the doctrine of the Trinity, please go to www.revcbross.blogspot.com) He took upon Himself our humanity; lived among us as the One we know, historically, as Jesus of Nazareth; died on a cross, at Calvary - taking the punishment for your sins and mine; and rose again from the dead so that we might have the offer of His life within us.

I commend Him to you.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Justice – or compassion?

I doubt that there is anyone, who has access to any form of international communication, who is not aware of the release, earlier this week, of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi – the Libyan who, about nine years ago, was convicted of being responsible, with others, of having planted the bomb on Pan-Am Flight 103, that exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, on December 21st, 1988.

The reason given, by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, for the release of Mr Megrahi was ‘compassionate grounds due to a terminal and inoperable cancer’. This has not pleased a great number of people, especially among the families of the American passengers on the doomed flight. Calls have been made to boycott Scotland, and all Scottish products. The head of the USA’s FBI has openly, and in writing, accused Mr MacAskill of having rewarded a terrorist even ’though he has neither admitted to his part in the act of mass murder, nor disclosed the names and roles of others who were responsible.

There are a number of responses that one would wish to make. At a very basic human level, I honestly don’t know how I would feel – not so much about Mr Megrahi’s release, as about the tumultuous welcome that he received in Tripoli – if one of my own loved ones had been a victim of what was, to any sane and reasonable person, a dastardly and atrocious act. However, when I hear high-level officials from the USA Law Enforcement Agencies who, to the best of my knowledge, suffered no personal bereavement, making the sort of comment that this FBI boss is making, I cannot help but recall the way in which thousands of British police officers, soldiers, and civilians, were equally atrociously murdered by the IRA and its offshoots during what are still referred to, euphemistically, as “The Troubles” in N.Ireland – while the USA allowed open fund-raising to purchase the arms and ammunition that were being used. I also seem to recall that it was difficult to have certain suspects extradited from the USA – but I am open to correction on that score!

There also appears to be considerable doubt as to Mr Megrahi’s guilt! If he had been tried, in a Scottish Court, by a jury of ordinary men and women, it would seem that the prosecution would not have proved their case “beyond reasonable doubt”. The evidence, I understand, was purely circumstantial; there is, apparently, clear evidence that the one man who identified Mr Megrahi as the man who had purchased a particular item of clothing from his Maltese shop, was paid a substantial amount of cash – by the USA authorities – and is now living in Australia; the evidence against Syria is greater than the evidence agaist Libya – let alone Mr Megrahi as an individual.

However, the bottom line, for me, is this. The English bard, William Shakespeare, has his character Portia speak these words in The Merchant of Venice: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest – it blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” (Act 4, Scene 1).

And did not Jesus, in the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30ff), emphasise that mercy is neither deserved nor earned. It is an act of grace on the part of the one who dispenses it. How often did He dispense such mercy when He walked among human beings as one of us? (cf Matt.20:30-31; Mar.5:19 inter al). Paul's injunction in Rom.12:17ff may also be seen as highly relevant. And, of course, those of us who claim to have received the salvation that Jesus won on the cross at Calvary, are the recipients of God’s mercy (Eph.2:4ff).

I am so glad that I did not have the responsibility of Kenny MacAskill in this situation. I trust that Mr Megrahi, in the short time that he is expected to have in this world, will reflect upon the mercy that has been shown to him by a Scottish politician – but then, as he reads his Qur’an, that he will come to a realisation that Isa (Jesus) is, indeed, the Compassionate and All-merciful One, and that he will receive the salvation that He offers: the greatest mercy of all. It is in Him, and in Him alone, that justice and compassion, wrath and mercy, meet and are washed in the purity of His great love.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Brown's beliefs!

I have just listened to a recording of an interview by Premier Radio, with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. (You may listen, too, at http://www.premier.org.uk/). I was moved to add a comment to those already on the website, and am happy to share it with anyone who logs on to this blog. It will, of course, make much more sense to those who listen to the interview!!

"Like so many of our modern politicians, our current PM appears never to have been involved in real life - a real job that doesn't depend on 'spin'! Interesting that when asked about the Alastair Campbell statement that "We don't do God", he referred only to his 'values'. As has been said,he appears to have no idea as to what a true disciple of Jesus really is. He doesn't agree with the privatisation of religion - but won't discuss his personal standpoint! I wonder, too, if the Archbishop of York agrees that he is one of GB's best friends?

The young lady sounds as if she is a lovely person - Mr Brown needed to be interviewed by someone who would ask the awkward questions about broken promises (Lisbon Treaty); sending our young soldiers to die in Afghanistan in order that the people there might have the opportunity to vote, while refusing to go to the country and allow the people of this nation to have their say; MPs who have defrauded the taxpayer being allowed to remain in Parliament so that they can receive gold-plated pensions, and hefty 'golden handshakes'; etc., etc.

How will many of us remember him? Not as J.K.Rowling apparently will, but as the man whose economic policies have taken this nation into a recession that effects the voters much more than any politician; who has allowed bankers to make millions, while holding the Old Age Pension at a ridiculously low level (so much for the dignity of the aged, to which he refers); and one of the worst PMs that we have ever had.

Nick is right - Mr Brown is merely trying to garner some votes for one of the most discredited governments in the history of our nation. I can only hope, and pray, that believers are not conned by this epitome of hypocrisy."

Monday, 17 August 2009

Loneliness

Relaxing on Saturday past, I watched an episode of Morse – the fictional Detective Inspector played by the late John Thaw. It was as good a story-line as any other episode and, of course, with the (sometimes unwitting!) help of Detective Sergeant Lewis, Morse solved the crime(s). However, it was one line, near to the end, that stayed with me. The mother of one of the murderers, was being released – her son having already been arrested – and, as she was escorted from the cells, she passed Morse and, looking at him with some bitterness, said, “I suppose I’ll be lonely again, now”.

Loneliness. There’s a reality to it. It is, plainly and simply, a fact that there are people who are lonely – some of them desperately so. And one can be lonely even in the midst of crowds of people. Indeed, it has been said that the loneliest place on earth can be a large city. Bustling crowds – but everyone concerned about his/her own affairs, with no time for anyone else.
And loneliness may take many different forms. It may be physical – caused by the death of a spouse of many years; or by the demands of a new job that takes us to the other end of the country (or even to another country!); or the need to move away in order to study, as many young folk will be doing over the next few weeks as they prepare for their first year at university ore college.

Of course, it may also be spiritual. One of the young girls in Liberty Community Church is having a ‘gap’ year – working within the Students’ Union of her university. She shared, recently, that while she loves the work, she is the only disciple of Jesus in the group, and that it can sometimes be very hard. I understood – I went through a similar situation during my time in the Merchant Navy (many years ago!).

Loneliness. It’s often quite tragic. When we are alone, there are burdens, and blessings, that we are unable to share. Burdens of failure; of anxiety; of pain. Blessings of success; of joy; of good health. It is true that “a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved; a joy shared is a joy doubled”. The tragedy of loneliness is that we can share neither our sorrows nor our joys.

Praise God, then, that there is a remedy for loneliness! In John’s account of the Gospel, and in the 32nd verse of chapter 16, we read these words of the Lord Jesus, to His disciples: “you … will leave me alone; yet I am not alone …” Alone – yet not alone! There is a cure for loneliness – “…for the Father is with Me.” The remedy for loneliness is found with the people of God. In my Merchant Navy days, I didn’t mind too much where I worshipped when I was able to get ashore on a Sunday. The only important thing was that these people acknowledged Jesus as Lord, and as the only way to full salvation. We were one in Him (cf.Gal.3:28) The remedy for loneliness is also, of course, found in the presence of God. In the Old Testament book of Daniel, we read of the three young men, best-known by their Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Thrown into a fiery furnace because of their faithfulness to the Living God, the king testified to seeing “… four men, loose, walking in the midst of the fire … and the appearance of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Dan.3:25).

Is loneliness a reality in your life? Then the message of the Christian Gospel is this – that in fellowship with the people of God, and in the presence of God there is a remedy, a cure; and that all you have to do is to accept it through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Cheating death?!

The newspaper headline is dramatic: “Skydiver cheats death with 2,000ft drop on to roof”. (The Times Online, 16-08-09). The report is of Paul Lewis described, euphemistically, as “… in his forties,” who was filming a parachutist making her first jump from 10,000ft, on Friday. At 3,000ft, his main parachute failed, and he attempted to release his reserve. The reserve ‘chute opened – but a malfunction caused it to spiral rapidly to the ground, with a helpless Paul Lewis attached! He fell 2,000ft with the canopy only partially open, before landing on the steel roof of an aircraft hangar. Thankfully, the parachute then snagged on the roof leaving Mr Lewis hanging almost 30ft above the ground, from whence he was eventually rescued by the Emergency Services.

When I read that story, I thought how easily the headline could be amended to introduce another report. “Criminal cheats death by rising again, from His tomb”. Yes, the biggest cheating of death took place, not from 2,000 feet in the air, but almost 2,000 years ago, when Jesus of Nazareth – Who had been crucified as a common criminal – not only cheated, but defeated, death. His enemies were jubilant as He hung on that Roman cross, suffering one of the most painful methods of executing the death penalty that the twisted mind of fallen man has ever invented. They had won; He was finished. He even shouted it out Himself – “Tetelestai” (“It is finished” [Jn.19:30]).

What they didn’t realise was that all of this was in the plan of Father God. What they didn’t realise was that He had not uttered the exhausted whimper of a defeated foe. He had shouted the triumphant proclamation of One who has fully completed the job that had been given to Him to do, and that He had willingly accepted.

And, of course, as the One Who conquered death, He is alive for evermore. Hallelujah!

I am delighted that Paul Lewis managed to cheat death. However, if the Lord tarries, there will certainly come a day when death will claim him as its own. That’s why I am so thrilled that Jesus conquered death. Because I am assured that, as He rose so I will rise; and that I will then spend the timelessness of eternity in His dear Presence. Such is the prospect for all who have acknowledged, and confessed, their own sinfulness; who have knelt at the foot of Calvary’s cross, and accepted the full and free salvation that is provided there; who live their lives “to the step of a different drum”; and who look forward, with great anticipation, to His glorious return when He will take His own to be with Him.

Hallelujah, indeed! What a wonderful prospect for the true disciple of Jesus!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The sun, or the Son?

Well, here I am, safely home after a most enjoyable and relaxing holiday in France. Our (my wife and I) tanned bodies are testament to the amount of good weather that we enjoyed, and many hours were spent lying on the beach, or outside the caravan, or at the side of the swimming-pool (depending on where we were!!) soaking up the sunshine that is, we have to admit, such a rarity in dear old Scotland. (And we were careful, of course, to use plenty of sunscreen, and after-sun moisturisor!).

I suppose that some would accuse us of being ‘sun-worshippers’, but I would be quick to reject such an accusation. I think that there is a big difference between enjoying the warmth of the summer sun when one has the opportunity to do so (I Tim.6:17, and 4:4, would apply!), and making it the major focus of one’s life! It is foolish, as Paul points out in Rom. 1:25 (albeit in a different context), to worship the creation, rather than the Creator.

We are, however, happy to be called ‘Son worshippers’. That’s one of the things that we seek to remember – that just because we’ve gone off on an extended holiday doesn’t mean that we leave the Lord behind. After all, He has promised that He will never leave His people, nor forsake them (Heb.13:5, quoting Deut.31:6).

I thank God for the sun that He created, and for the pleasure that it provides – especially for those of us who don’t see a great deal of it. But I thank Him more for the Son, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me. (Gal.2:20) He, and He alone, is to be the Object of our worship. And, when I reach glory, I will discover that there is no sun for “… the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light.” (Rev.21:23)

If you have the opportunity, I hope that you, too, will enjoy the benefits of the sun. But I trust that you will also ensure that you are worshipping the Son, Who is always to be exalted.