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Sunday, 31 January 2010

Celebrity Big Brother!

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, that I am not a fan of the Big Brother television show, or of any of the other, so-called, 'reality shows'. However, as I listened to the Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4, this morning, I was impressed with the interview of Stephen Baldwin - actor and, according the information given in the interview, about-to-be producer - who took part in Celebrity Big Brother.

Some of the information that Mr Baldwin shared about his experience has certainly put me off appearing (as if I am ever likely to be invited!!). Temperature raised to a very high level during the night, so that inmates (?) awoke to find themselves drenched with perspiration; all of the food being removed from 'the house' for a period; no hot water for up to 24 hours - these are not my idea of a pleasurable experience!

However, what made Stephen Baldwin different was that, since inmates are apparently not allowed to bring a book with them, but are permitted one 'luxury item', he chose as his luxury a copy of the Bible! He was, I have discovered, converted (saved/born again) after the atrocity of 9/11. And, as it should do for all who have a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus, this affected his whole life. He is even paying a price as, apparently, some producers and casting directors have told him that there are those who don't want to work with him because of the outspokenness of his faith.

More positively, his appearance on CBB led to some interesting situations - casue for rejoicing for those of us who, likewise, love the Lord. The actress, Stephanie Beacham, was reading the Bible with him, and one of the other inmates, Alex Reid, made a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus, during the programme.

Of course, one does not have to be a film star, and appear on CBB, in order to share one's Christian faith. Jesus made an unequivocal statement when He said to His disciples (now, as much as then!) "You shall be my witnesses ..." (Acts 1:8). This has been misunderstood, by some, as an instruction to be a Billy Graham, or a Luis Palau - evangelising the world from platforms and pulpits, in large auditoria, or sports arenas. That, however, is a specific gifting of God the Son, for His Church. (Eph.4:11). Being a witness is something that we are - either good ones, or bad ones! As I shared, this morning and afternoon, in Calderhead Erskine Parish Church: Shotts and Allanton, we are saved for both holy living, and sharing of the Gospel. For most of us however, its the different lifestyle; the different priorities; the different attitudes; that lead others to ask the questions that afford us the opportunity to share the truth of the Gospel in a more direct way. As Francis of Assisi put it: "Preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words."

I trust that Stephen Baldwin will be greatly used, and encouraged, in his walk as a disciple of Jesus. But Jesus needs more than the celebrity few. He needs you, and He needs me, to ensure that the Gospel is proclaimed "... to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8). May any ability we might have be exceeded by our availability in His service.

Friday, 29 January 2010

An official recognition of the efficacy of prayer?

Today’s issue of The Independent newspaper has a very interesting article – and almost half-a-page – headed “£10,000 grant for Christian police – who believe prayer can cut crime”. I hope that the headline grabbed the attention of many, and that they went on to read the article!

The Christian Police Association wants members of the public to “adopt-a-cop” by praying for the safety of local officers as they patrol their beats. The article recounts a couple of situations in which, it is claimed, the prayer support of local disciples of Jesus made a substantial difference in either the identification and charging of a suspect, or a drop in the instance of a specific crime (burglary, in the situation noted) within a particular area.

Of course, due credit is given to good police work but …!!!

Reference is also made to Street Pastors – the movement, founded by Les Isaacs, whose members patrol city streets into “the wee sma’ oors” (until very early in the morning, for those who require a translation!) http://www.streetpastors.co.uk/ They help drunken revellers; diffuse gang tensions; and, in conjunction with the local police officers, play a major part in keeping the streets safe.
As a (new) police chaplain, I had already noted the formation of a team of Street Pastors in my ‘patch’ as something in which I could possibly become involved. I will certainly be contacting the local representative of the CPA to find out if we might work together on that! However, any of us can start, today, to pray for our local officers – by name, for any whom we know at a personal level – and for Street Pastors wherever they may be operating. Neither group needs to know. It is enough that we play our part, and allow God the Holy Spirit to play His.

Paul’s exhortation to Timothy was to “…pray for all people. As you make your requests, plead for God's mercy upon them, and give thanks. Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Saviour, for He wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” (I Tim.2:1-4). As we support our police officers in prayer, who would dare to say that God would not only work in our areas, but also in the hearts of those for whom we pray?!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The sins of the parents!

There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when the majority of the population of the U.K. would have been at least familiar with the Ten Commandments. The extremely disturbing reports of the two young brothers who were convicted of having severely assaulted two other children - almost killing one of them - and having forced them to commit sexual acts on each other have, rightly, caused many to ask what has gone wrong with our society.

There is no way in which such deliberately sadistic behaviour can be condoned, and these boys must now suffer the consequences of thoer actions - although I suspect that the victims, and their families, will suffer more, and for far longer. However, equally disturbing are the reports of the environment in which the perpetrators have been reared during their short lives to date. It would appear that these boys were regularly watching horror films - that would have had an 18 Certificate; that the elder of the two drank alcohol, and smoked cannabis; it has been alleged that they saw their father threatening their mother with a knife. They are reported as having climbed on to the roof of a building, stripped off tiles; and thrown them at passers-by; they were captured on video, throwing stones at a house.

As it is alleged that the authorities knew about much, if not all, of this unacceptable behaviour, questions are also being asked about the part that the Doncaster Social Services played - or failed to play - in the situation. They, it has been reported, did not even act in accordance with legal requirements!

But, back to the top - the second of those Ten Commandments states that Almighty God does not "... leave unpunished the sins of those who hate me, but [punishes] the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generation." (Ex.20:5, NLT). This is not, as some might conclude, the statement of a capricious Deity. It is actually a statement of fact. Children learn by mimicking the adults with whom they have closest contact. That's how, in more 'socially-normal' families, children grow up able to speak and behave with some degree of acceptability. Sadly, far too many parents today - certainly in our "western" culture - blissfully unaware of the Second Commandment (or any of the other nine!), and content to abrogate all responsibility for the upbringing of their offspring, fail to realise the consequences of their own behaviour.

The declared policy of the Conservative Party to enhance, if elected to government, the status of marriage, is a hopeful sign. There will always, in a fallen world, be those who will be willing tools of the evil one, and he will always find work for them to do. May it be that this distressing case will cause people, not only to ask questions, but also to find answers in the right place - the written Word of God!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Euthanasia - again!

The resurrection of the attempt by Margo McDonald, MSP to bring about, in Scotland, the legalisation of euthanasia through her proposed Assisted Suicide Bill, and the many objections that I expect to hear and read will, doubtless, bring about the usual plethora of complaints that the 'religious right' are trying to impose their views and beliefs on the rest of society.

However, let's forget any religious/moral objection to this proposed legislation. Surely we must still recognise that its implementation would involve serious risks to public safety. A law that may be acceptable for a minority of determined, and self-relient, people - people like Margo McDonald, for whom I have a high regard - could easily result in others who are depressed, or suffering from feelings of guilt at the "burden" that they are imposing on their families, following the same course of action. In addition, the possibility of pressure from more unscrupulous family members could not, sadly, be discounted.

It may, of course - and probably will - be argued that the law would ensure that this such situations did not arise. However, it is my understanding of the proposals, as currently made, that there are almost no safeguards included. Even if more were to be added, we would already have set out on a very slippery slope. Baroness Warnock, a major proponent of assisted suicide in England and Wales, has already suggested, publicly, that people with dementia are wasting the lives of others, and the resources of the NHS, and should consider whether, or not, they ought to remove themselves as a burden on their families! Once we start to think along those lines, it becomes difficult to anticipate where the final line would be drawn. Look at what happened with the Abortion Act - designed to help the few who were the victims of "back-street" abortions but, within a relatively short period of time, having become, to all intent, abortion on demand.

As I pointed out when this issue was last raised by Ms McDonald, there are many actions in life, the results of which may be reversed. Unfortunately, euthansia is not one of them!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Secretary of State for Scotland, and the B.N.P.

The following is a copy of a (as yet unpublished!) letter that I sent to The Herald newspaper. As the article to which it refers was published in The Sunday Herald, it may be that publication is being delayed until this coming Sunday. However, not all of the letters that I submit are published - and, to date, I have not been offered even a monthly column!!!!! (Anyone who has influence in The Herald is welcome to put my name forward!!).

Dear Sir,

It is with some astonishment that I read that the plan of the Scottish Secretary, Jim Murphy, to counteract the threatened opposition by the BNP in his East Renfrewshire Westminster Constituency, is " ... to recruit Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups to fight what he described as the “abhorrent” far-right party." (The Sunday Herald, 17-01-10).

Is Mr Murphy prepared to stand up for the rights of these very groups whose support he is planning to solicit, against the further restrictions of the planned Equality Bill, now going through the House of Lords? The present law allows, e.g. churches and other Christian organisations, to refuse to employ persons who do not share their core beliefs, in particular those whose sexual conduct is contrary to the teachings of the Bible. This I should point out, includes adulterers and fornicators just as much as active homosexuals/lesbians.

However, the Government's Equality Bill is an attempt to erode such exemption so that it will apply only to those whose employment wholly, or mainly, involves the leading of worship, or the promotion/explanation of doctrine. Apart from the fact that even a full-time parish minister spends a considerable amount of time in areas such as pastoral work that are outwith the now-proposed exemption parameters, there are many churches who employ a deacon/deaconess; a youth worker; a church secretary; etc., whose terms of employment would certainly not fall within the terms of the 'new' exemption.

As if this is not bad enough, I am concerned that this will be just another push at the wedge that is rapidly marginalising Christianity in this country. If this is successful, the next potential move would be to have the narrower exemption apply to volunteers - Boys' Brigade and Girls' Brigade officers, Sunday School teachers, Youth Fellowship leaders, to name a few.

The track record of the present government, with regard to religious liberty, is not one of which they have any right to be proud. However, Mr Murphy will presumably seek assistance from anyone who might save his political skin, regardless of how he and his colleagues have treated them in the past! I hold no truck with the BNP; but the present Labour Party do nothing to give me confidence that, as far as Biblical Christianity (any other is a sham) is concerned, they would not be content to see its adherents suffer the level of persecution that is the lot of disciples of Jesus in more than fifty countries around the world.

Yours faithfully

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The Haitian earthquake.

I have been surprised that, following the violent earthquake off the coast of Haiti, the popular media have not been full of the usual questions that come in the aftermath of a natural disaster. "How could a supposed God of love and compassion, Who is all-powerful, allow such a tragedy to take place?", is the sort of question I had expected. The latest estimates speak of some 200 thousand deaths. Did they all deserve, after the poverty-stricken existence in a country that has been afflicted by corruption and weak government, extreme criminality, and the darkness of voodoo, to suffer such a catastrophic end to their lives?

I am reminded of the Tower of Siloam. Pontius Pilate had had some Galilean Jews murdered as they were sacrificing in the Temple in 1st century Jerusalem. This was reported to Jesus, Who asked if His informants thought that those who had been murdered were, somehow, worse sinners than other Galileans. Then, to ensure that they didn't get side-tracked by the obvious pre-meditation of that situation, He went on to ask if eighteen men who had died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them were the worst sinners in Jerusalem. (Luke 13:1-5). The implied answer, in both cases, is 'No!' However, the warning is given that all of us need to repent - to be ready for the day of our own physical death, that may well come when we least expect it!

It's interesting, of course, that such questions, today, seem to be asked by those in 'the West' who lead a relatively pampered lifestyle in which a shortage of rock-salt and grit for a couple of weeks of snow and ice is viewed by many as a national disaster! A letter on Ceefax, earlier this week, expressed the hope that people in the S.E. of England had watched the T.V.news bulletins (from Haiti) before they had opened their curtains - to see what a real disaster looked like! Could it be that such an event, while not 'planned' by God; and not a punishment from God; is a test of faith for those who actually have one?!

Where is God? As always, He is right there, in the middle of the disaster, for those who seek Him. He is there to comfort the dying, and the bereaved; He is there, in His people, as they seek to alleviate the situation for the survivors; He is there, in His people, tending the injured. He is there, with the members of the persecuted Church in some fifty countries around the world.

And, of course, He was there in what could have been the greatest disaster in the history of the world. It happened, almost 2,000 years ago, at a place called Calvary when a Man hung on a cross, suffering unspeakable agony. He had done no wrong - even His enemies could not convict Him - and yet He died; and did so for you, for me, for every Haitian, for every person who has ever lived, or ever will live.

Like every other thinking person, I don't have a nice pat answer to that earthquake, that will satisfy everyone. I wish that I had. But I am totally convinced that God not only 'knew' that it would happen (not enough space in one post to go into the subject of time and eternity!), but that He is saddened by the loss of lives that had not been committed to Him, and that He is available to all who call upon His Name.

By the way, it is also interesting to note that such disasters do nothing to support the standard atheistic evolutionary teachings of some. It would seem that even modern scientific knowledge is unable to control, or even anticipate, such events. Entropy, not a steadily upward climb, continues to be the observable order of the day!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Offering

A long time ago (relatively speaking!) I published a post on the difference - in Christian terms - between an offering and a collection! It's still in the archives, but you would have to go back a bit if you wanted to read it (well worth the effort, wrote he, modestly!).

In the clearing-up that brought to light a folder that I had 'mislaid', is this 'offering in verse'. It's one that I had dated, so I know that it goes back to June, 1982. The copy I found is subscribed "Disciple", so I suspect that it may have been published in a church magazine!

The Offering

A widow came into the Temple, one day;
Two mites she did put in the plate.
A paltry wee sum - just a farthing, we're told -
As, quickly, she passed through the gate.

There were others, that day, put their offerings in;
Silver coins, even golden ones too.
How slowly, and grandly, they dropped their coins in;
Making sure it was all in plain view!

But a Man Who was standing outside on the street
Watched with interest - and insight as well.
For He was concerned, not with what they put in,
But with what was kept back for themselves!

For He was the Lord, the Messiah Himself,
And the widow's mite made Him so glad;
For He knew that the sum, be it ever so small,
Was the giving of all that she had.

He stands, even now, watching you, watching me,
Bring the gifts symbolising our love.
Do we make His heart glad; or do we make Him sad
As He gazes on us from above?

And His wish, you must know, is for more than our cash:
It's our lives that He wants most of all.
So don't fob the Lord off with a spare coin, or note;
But before Him, in gratitude, fall.

Then your offering will be, as the Scriptures exhort,
Your whole life, as a sacrifice given.
And the Saviour, Himself, on that glorious Day,
Will receive you, with joy, in His heaven.

If you aren't familiar with it, you'll find the original in Mark 12:41-44

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Adultery, hypocrisy, and repentance.

I suspect that at least one person is less than upset at the ‘sensational revelations’ that have been made concerning Mrs Iris Robinson, M.P., M.L.A, wife of the First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly and her, apparently brief, sexual liaison with a young man some fifty years her junior. That person is Gordon Brown, who must be content – if not delighted – that the spotlight has been removed from him; that the heat is, albeit temporarily, off!

In the reports that I have read, and the comments thereon, much has been made of Mrs Robinson’s vocal opposition to the practice of homosexuality – what the media decided, a long time ago, and with no regard for etymology, to refer to as ‘homophobia’.

“What a hypocrite this woman is!” shriek her critics. And, of course, there is a very real sense in which she has shown herself to be exactly that. However, I am reminded of the story of the man who informed his parish minister that he didn’t ‘come to church’ because the place was too full of hypocrites. “I know”, replied the minister, sadly, “but we’ve always got room for another one!”

I certainly don’t condone this adulterous act that is now, so clearly, in the public domain. And I am not in a position to look into Mrs Robinson’s heart in order to judge as to whether her expressed sorrow is over the sin that she has committed, or because that sin has been so publicly displayed. However, I do know that there is a world of difference between a sin repented of, and stopped; and a life style that does not even recognise its sinfulness – even when practised by those who wear a clerical collar, and call themselves Christian ministers!

Some Pharisees from an earlier generation (and they are still with us, even if they do not use that name!) brought to the Lord Jesus a woman who, they claimed, had been caught in the very act of adultery – making one wonder what happened to the man who was involved! These Pharisees knew the strict letter of the Law. She should be stoned to death. But, in reality, they weren’t really bothered about her. They were out to entrap Jesus. Would he uphold the Law – and see this woman die, painfully, in front of Him; or would He set the Law aside – and demonstrate that He was not a very good Jew?

It’s never wise to go ‘head-to-head’ with God! Ultimately, we always come off worse. Initially, Jesus seems to have ignored them but, as they kept pestering Him, He looked up from whatever He had been writing on the ground and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7 – see 3-11 for the whole story). They melted away like snow off the proverbial dyke. Jesus turned to the woman: “Has no-one condemned you?” “No-one, Sir,” she replied. “Then neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go now, and leave your life of sin.”

Those same, gracious, words are spoken to Iris Robinson. They are also spoken to homosexuals/lesbians who turn away from that perverse, un-natural, unproductive, lifestyle. And they are spoken to you, and to me for, “There is no-one righteous, not even one;” (Rom.3:10 ; cf. Ps.14:1, 53:3; Eccles.7:20). Jesus made it quite clear that I do not have to enter into a physical sexual relationship with a woman other than my wife (even one fifty years younger!) to commit adultery. He says that if I look at a woman with that kind of desire in my heart and mind, then I have already sinned by committing adultery in my heart. (Matt.5:28). And I don’t have to be directly, and deliberately, responsible for the death of another human being, to have committed murder. Even being angry with another is seen, by God, to be a breach of His law. (Matt.521-22). At that rate, I have to confess to being both a serial adulterer, and a serial murderer!

“There, but for the grace of God, go I” may not be a Biblical text – but it’s a saying worth remembering before we criticise those who have fallen into obvious sin, but who claim to have repented!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Jesus is Lord

From time to time, I have shared some of my own poetic endeavours. The piece that follows was written about 1977, while I was minister at Bellshill: St.Andrew's Parish Church. We had been experiencing some vandalism at the Church Hall, and I had decided to sit in my car in the adjacent car-park to keep an eye on things. Ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney, had recently brought out his hit number "Mull of Kintyre" and, as I sat there humming the melody, words began to form in my mind. The Youth Fellowship sung them some months later, at a Worship Service but, as far as I can recall, they have not been used on any other occasion!

Chorus:
Jesus is Lord!
O let the sound echo all over the world,
'til all of the people know
Jesus is Lord.

1. Sing out His praises, and shout out His Name;
tell of the love of the Saviour Who came.
Came to redeem us, and save us from sin
if we'll open our hearts, and let Jesus come in.

Chorus

2. Lord of creation, and Giver of light;
He is the One Who brings hope to our night.
Died there, at Calvary, on man's cruel tree
so that sin might be conquered, and sinners set free.

Chorus

3. Just as He promised, He rose from the grave;
First-fruit of all those whom He'd come to save.
Then He ascended to heaven above
that His Spirit might fill us with power and with love.

Chorus

4. Soon He's returning, our Lord and our King;
all of the ransomed to Glory He'll bring;
to live there, forever, the Scriptures record -
that's your future if, in your life, Jesus is Lord.

Chorus

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Time for change!

"Time for change" was the slogan that was, to a large extent, credited with gaining Barack Obama his success in the United States Presidential election. As we in the United Kingdom anticipate a general election during the first half of this new year, it would appear that it is definitely time for change. At the latest count, approximately 160 members of the House of Commons are planning to stand down - many of them shamed into doing so by the scandal over the fraudulent use of the expenses system! (By the way, I have been pleasantly surprised to have heard little mention of "Expenses-gate"!).

This situation - that, a couple of years ago was totally unforeseen - means that there will be a similar influx of "new blood". That, in turn, means that there will be an opportunity like there has not been before, for those of us who believe that our nation has lost its way over recent decades, and that it is not only financially, but also morally, bankrupt to encourage, and vote for, candidates who will stand for Biblical truth before party dogma.

It is my hope - and has been my prayer for some time - that disciples of Jesus, all over the U.K., will become involved in the forthcoming election. Let us be prepared to go out of our way, to inconvenience ourselves if necessary, to question the candidates in our respective constituencies with regard to moral issues, as well as legal and financial issues. Above all, let us be a praying people and claim the promise that "... if My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (II Chron.7:14) And please note that it is the people of God who are to act, in order that the whole land might be healed!

Of course, we must keep in our minds the thought that the return of the Lord Jesus, heralding the end of time, may be very close. So, even as we act in accordance with, and in obedience to, the revealed Word, we must always echo the words of the same Jesus, as He agonised in the Garden of Gethsemane: "... not as I will, but as You will." (Matt.26:39)