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Saturday, 31 December 2011

A Guid New Year tae ane an' a'

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year -
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
And he replied,
'Go into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way!'

So I went forth and, finding the hand of God,
Trod gladly into the night.
He led me towards the hills,
And the breaking of day in the lone east.

So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?

In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention."         (Minnie Louise Harkins; 1875-1957)

A guid New Year tae ane an' a'
An' mony may ye see,
An' durin' a' the years tae come,
O happy may ye be.
An' may ye ne'er hae cause tae mourn,
Tae sigh or shed a tear;
Tae ane an' a, baith great an' sma'
A hearty, guid New Year.
        (Trad.)

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Today is also the day in the Christian Church calendar on which we especially remember those who were massacred by king Herod, as he endeavoured to dispose of this new-born 'King of the Jews', of Whom he had been informed by the Magi who had travelled to Jerusalem, from the east. (see Matt.2).

I found myself thinking of two particular groups, of much greater relevance than those infants who were so cruelly, and wantonly, murdered almost 2,000 years ago.

I thought of the victims of abortion.  Surely, if there is one place above all where a human child, at its earliest stages of development, should be safe, it is in its mother's womb.  Yet the official statistics show that, in the year ended Dec.31st, 2010 (the latest date for which figures are publicly available), some 12,000 abortions took place - in Scotland alone!  That's 1,000 per month; 250 per week; 50 every day from Mon.-Fri.!  (all figures approximate).  If we look at England and Wales, then the latest figure I can find (2009) shows more than 189,000 abortions in a twelve-month period!  That equates to almost 16,000 per month - or 4,000 per week; 800 per day. 

And, contrary to popular belief (carefully fostered by the pro-abortion lobby), this is not the removal of some tissue from the mother's body.  This is the deliberate killing of a sentient human being!  The child may be, in physical terms, totally dependant upon its mother.  But it is a separate person, not a part of her body to be disposed of as an inconvenience!  The human foetus is not an appendix!

The other group of which I thought today, is those children who die because their parents are disciples of Jesus.  I thought, again, of the village of  Kurum, in Nigeria's Bauchi State where, in May of this year, Muslim extremists killed 16 Christians. Bauchi police reported that the dead were one man, three women  - and 12 children, the youngest of whom was just omne year old!

Another of those children was 13-year-old daughter, Sum James Rike, daughter of pastor James Musa Rike.  The pastor reported: “I rushed to my daughter, only to discover that she too was cut with a machete on her stomach, and her intestines were all around her,” he said. “I held her hand and began to pray, knowing she too was about to die. She told me that the Muslim militants told her they would kill her and “see how your Jesus will save you.”

The girl told her father that she responded by telling them that Jesus had already saved her, and that by killing her they would only be making it possible for her to be with Him. Pastor Rike prayed for her as she died.

Such instances can, sadly, be multiplied many times.  Of course, not all die, physically.  Many are abducted to be 'boy soldiers', and 'sex slaves', for militant groups.  They may be breathing, and their hearts may be beating, but their captors and abusers make sure that their spirits are broken.

The Slaughter of the Innocents.  Let us do whatever we can to alleviate the suffering of children, today - anywhere in the world.  Jesus said: "See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of My Father Who is in heaven. ... So it is not the will of My Father Who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." (Matt 18:10-14; RSV).

A tale of two funerals.

There were, sadly, a lot more than two funerals taking place today - but I'm thinking of two specific ones.  The first was (and, as far as I can make out, continues to be) a state occasion as the body of Kim Jong-il, second member of the Kim 'dynasty' in North Korea, was paraded around Pyongyang with tens of thousands in attendance, displaying grief in a manner that makes one speculate as to the genuineness of it - especially as the people were aware that military figures were filming them; all to the accompaniment of sombre music played by a military band, and the tearful voice of a television commentator.  Kim Jong-il was, like his father (Kim Il-sung) before him, literally worshipped by the N.Korean population.  They had the status of 'gods' - and acted accordingly.  Unlike Paul and Barnabas in ancient Lystra (see Acts 14:8ff), they not only accepted, but also expected (if not demanded!) the homage of the ordinary people.  While their people starved - even gathering grass in an attempt to fend off hunger - they lived in the lap of decadent luxury.   They were like the rich man in the parable that Jesus told (and that may well have been more than a parable!), and that is recorded in Matt.16:19ff - although at least the beggar, Lazarus, did get the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table.

This is also a family that has been responsible for the incarceration in so-called 'labour camps' (echoes of "Arbeit macht frei" at the Nazi Concentration Camp at Dachau!), of tens of thousands of N.Korean citizens.  The country, under this family's rule, is consistently at the top of the list of those countries in which the persecution of Christians (and other minority groups) is most severe.  Those who are discovered to have disagreed with, or criticised, the authorities have a tendency to disappear - never to be seen again!

The other funeral was one, the service for which I conducted myself.  It was for a lady named Agnes Donaldson, who had been an elder in the congregation of Bellshill: St Andrew's when I arrived there, in the spring of 1976, as the new minister.  There were about forty mourners in attendance in the Crematorium Chapel - for a lady who died just a few weeks before she would have celebrated her 100th birthday anniversary, most of her contemporaries had 'gone before'!   No military band (although the organist did a very good job); no wailing; no pomp and ceremony.  Just a straightforward, simple, service as we gave thanks for one who had been all that the Kims were not; one who was a woman of presence; of passion; of prayer.  A woman who never sought the lime-light, but was always ready to help another.

There is, of course, a final reckoning.  The inspired writer of the Letter to Hebrew disciples of Jesus states that "... it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, ..." (Heb 9:27; RSV).  It is not up to me to pass any final judgement on Kim Jong-il, any more than on Agnes Donaldson.  However, in the Sermon on the Mount, a little after the oft-(mis)quoted words "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matt.7:1), Jesus says "... you will know them by their fruits." (7:20; RSV).

Kim Jong-il may have lived a more affluent lifestyle than Agnes - but I would far rather meet my Maker as her, than as him!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Christmas Message

The Gospel according to John doesn't tell us anything about the birth of the Christ-child.  John commences his record long before that - indeed, right at the beginning of everything!  "In the beginning was the Word (the Son - Jesus), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Yet John provides us with the Christmas message in just one well-known verse.  It's the verse that is sometimes referred to as "the Gosple in a nutshell" - John 3:16.  "For God loved the world so much that He entered it, in the Persona of the Son, clothed in human flesh; that every single individual who places their trust in Him, and Him alone, for salvation from sin, might have, here and now, God's life within them" (Ross expanded vesion!).

It's a verse that speaks of three things.

First of all, it decares a fact.  "For God loved the world so much ..." Not just the nice people; the good people; the charming people; the people who go, regularly, to church; but the world – the unlovable and the unlovely; those who are loved by no-one else; those who never give Him a thought; those who rebel against Him, and use His name as nothing other than a profanity. Love, according to the Christian Gospel, is the very mainspring of the Being of God. “God is love”, writes the early apostle, John. (I Jn.4:8,16). And part of the wonder of this is that it’s not a scientific theory to be changed in the light of fresh evidence or experimentation; it’s not a legal speculation to be argued over in a judicial court; it’s not some popular idea to be maintained only while it’s fashionable. It’s a Biblical fact - “God so loved the world”.  

So, it is God's infinite, and unique, love that is behind the Incarnation.  And it's that same love that is the motivating force behind the Passion of the Christ, His crucifixion, and His resurrection.  'God loved the world so much' - the greatest fact in all of history, and the one with the most far-treaching results.
But the love, even of Almighty God, if it were merely passive and uncommunicated, would not be sufficient. And so, after directing our thoughts towards the fact, this well-known verse goes on to speak of an act.  “God loved the world so much – that He gave His only-begotten Son…” And here is the love of God being put into action. God so loved, that He gave. And He gave sacrificially – even giving Himself in the Persona of the only-begotten Son.  Love always wants to give - and we tend to give the best to those whom we love the most  At that first Christmas, the eternal Creator of all that is gave the very best that He could.  He gave Himself, in the Persona of the Son. (for further clarification of my use of the word 'Persona', please listen to my audio message on The Doctrine of the Trinity at revcbross.blogspot.com).  Amazing love; amazing grace; amazing God! 

Christmas is traditionally a time for giving. And isn’t it wonderful to remember that, at the very first Christmas, the greatest and best Gift that could ever be, was given? Almighty God gave His own Son; putting His love into action; giving the very best that He could; giving all that He is.  It was a Gift so termendous that even Paul, with all of his learning and education,was unable to find words to describe it, and so spoke of God's "inestmable Gift"; His "inexpressible Gift"; His "Indescribable generosity"; His "Gift beyond words" (II Cor.9:15; various translations).
A fact; an act; and a pact. That’s the third thing of which that well-known verse speaks. “... that everyone who has faith in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love; God’s Gift; are not mere handouts. Free they may be – but the Christian faith teaches that they are only so to those who are willing to enter into a living relationship with that same God through the Son; only to those who have faith in Him; who put their trust in Him; who receive Him with humble and thankful hearts.   But this eternal life, given to those who believe, is not merely life that never ends.  What is really stressed is a different quality of life.  "When one really possesses this life, he experiences close fellowship with God, in Christ." (William Hendriksen).  It's the life of the age to come, of which disciples of Jesus already have a foretaste, as they come under the influence, and direction, of God the Holy Spirit - although the full consummation, and enjoyment, of it lies in that eternal day.
A simple fact; a gracious act; an eternal pact.

And that’s the true heart of CHRISTmas!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Prime Minister calls for a "return to Christian values"!

It is reported that, yesterday, the Prime Minister delivered a staunch defence of the role of religion as he condemned a growing “do as you please” culture.  In a speech to celebrate the 400th birthday of the King James Bible (the Authorised Version), he said the New Testament had helped give our country “a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today”.  He said we should “actively stand up and defend” these Christian values.  

Is this the same David Cameron who promised, in October, to introduce full homosexual marriage by 2015, ending the legal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman?  Such a move, whatever else one may think about it, is totally contrary to the Christian (aka Biblical) values that the PM is here espousing! 
   
He is also reported as having stated: “Put simply, for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong.  ‘Live and let live’ has too often become ‘do what you please’.”  Yet I am unaware of any intervention, or even comment, from either the PM or his office, when a gang of Somali Muslim women who attacked a passer-by in a city centre walked free  from court after a judge heard they were ‘not used  to being drunk’ because of their religion.  If they had been true to their religion they would not have been consuming alcohol at all.  That situation was one of the best "Have your cake and eat it" ones of which I have heard in a long time!   

This is also the Prime Minister who declined to support four of the Christians who have been severely discriminated against in the work-place - because of their overt Christian faith.  They had hoped for support from Ministers after a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, appealed to the Prime Minister on their behalf. But the Government told the European Court of Human Rights that it backed the British judges and does not accept that the Christians have suffered discrimination. To the dismay of Lord Carey, the Government even said that wearing a cross or a crucifix was not a ‘generally recognised’ Christian practice – even 'though every Christian knows that it is a hugely significant symbol.  

If the PM is so keen on a return to Christian values - and he would have my full support in such a venture - then he should perhaps start reading the Bible, and learning something of what it is really saying. 

Or is this just the usual spin from a politician - speaking to his audience, but with not a single iota of sincerity and integrity?

Friday, 16 December 2011

The death of an avowed atheist.

The death was announced, today, of Christopher Hitchins - outspoken author, atheist, and alcoholic.  The late Mr Hitchins famously took on Mr Tony B Liar (former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), in a televised debate last year in Toronto, Canada, linking God to a "celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea".  Mind you, taking on as unprincipled a person as T.B. (no direct connection with a terrible disease - that's tuberculosis!) with his limited knowledge, and lack of theological education, seems to me to be on a par with Prof Stephen Hawking taking me on in a debate about quantum physics!  No prizes for guessing who would win that debate!

I've mentioned the well-known "Pascal's wager" on this blog before, but the death of such a prominent atheist prompts me to refer to it again. 

In its least-embellished form, it states that if a disciple of Jesus dies, and discovers that all that (s)he has believed - concerning the incarnation, the miracles of Jesus, His death and resurrection, the nature of God, the doctrine of the Trinity, etc., etc. - has turned out to be wrong, then that person will have nothing to lose! 

On the other hand if, when the atheist dies, (s)he discovers that the Gospel record is true, that the historic doctrines of the Christian are valid, that there really is a heaven and a hell, that the God of infinite love is also the God of absolute justice, etc., etc., then that atheist has lost everything and finds him/herself consigned to a lost eternity.

Christopher Hitchins now knows the truth!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Paying for the most capable!

Time, and time again, we are informed that it is necessary to pay extravagent salaries, and outrageous bonuses, to senior bankers and others, in order to ensure that we get the best people at the top!

It has now been revealed by the FSA that a major cause of the collapse of The Royal Bank of Scotland, in 2008, was "poor management"!   If that is the result of paying people like "Sir" Fred Goodwin annual sums that many working-class people don't manage to accumulate in a lifetime, perhaps that old chestnut needs to be consigned to the fire of history - and even the so-called 'top people' paid according to results obtained, rather than those expected!

This becomes especially relevant in light of the further reports that "Sir" Fred acted deceitfully towards the board of RBS by, effectively, hiding from them that the FSA had not always regarded the dialogue with RBS's executive management as constructive!  I wonder if he can not now be charged with fraud, or some similar criminal offence?

This evening's news bulletin informed us that he ended up - even after having returned some of it - with a pension pot of £12million.  That's on top of any savings/investments he might have had, and doesn't even include almost a year working for another company after he had left RBS.   His annual pension is reckoned to be £342,500 a year - reduced from the original £555,000, after he took out an estimated £2.7m tax-free lump sum. The agreement reportedly followed the completion of RBS's internal inquiry into his conduct, which found no wrong-doing!

We live in a strange world, in which failure is so highly rewarded, while those who provide the services that keep us all going from day-to-day, receive so little in financial terms.  And in the persecuted church, there are many who are expelled from their homes, and villages, and even their country, with what material assets that they had being confiscated by the state - or simply stolen by their former neighbours!

Jesus said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matt 6:19-21).  Those, whether in the world of banking, or politics, or industry, who show that their god is Mammon, ought to heed those words, and seek after the true riches that come from faithful service of the Lord.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Imitating others.

Earlier in the week, it was reported that heavy objects had been thrown, from bridges, at cars passing underneath, in the Blackburn area of West Lothian.  Thankfully, on those occasions, no-one was hurt but, as an Inspector from the Lothian and Borders Police Force stated: "... there is every chance this mindless vandalism could have had serious consequences."

One theory is that the perpetrator(s) of  those incidents were copying the actions of others that had happened, last week, in the Chelmford area of Essex.  Police officers are well aware of so-called 'copy-cat' crimes of one sort or another!

Copying the actions, and lifestyle, of someone else seems to be a natural trait among human beings - and, indeed, among other species as well.  It is, of course how our young learn the basics of life.  A child will copy its parents in all sorts of ways.  If a parent wants to know what (s)he is really like, (s)he only has to watch the child(ren)!  Some copying, of course, is frowned upon - and there were, recently, a number of publicised cases of plagiarism, when someone takes the words of another, and passes them off as his/her own work!  Indeed, the son of the late Muammar Q'adaffi is alleged to have gained his Ph.D. from the London School of Economics by a combination of plagiarism and cash donations!

The important thing about copying others, is that we choose the right person to emulate.  One of the problems in our contemporary society and culture is that a sizeable minority of young people choose poor role models!  Of course, those in the public eye don't always help by the way in which they act!

The apostle, Paul, knew a bit about copying someone else.  Writing to the disciples of Jesus in first-century Corinth - a city that was a byword for loose and licentious living - he urged: "... be imitators of me." (I Cor 4:16).  When we learn something about the life of the apostle, then we can see that he would have been an excellent role model.

However, it would appear that, as he continued to dictate the letter to his amanuensis (secretary!), he realised that he wasn't giving the Corinthian believers a good enough role model in himself.  So, later on, we find him saying "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (11:1; my emphasis!).  What a difference those few extra words make!  Imitating, copying, Jesus!  Having Him as my role model!  I know that I'll never match up to the example that He gives me - of love, compassion, self-sacrifice, devotion, holiness, etc., etc.  But I can try!

And I already have the assurance that He will help me in the process that theologians refer to as "sanctification" (a full chapter on it in the forthcoming book!!).  That's what sanctification is all about - becoming more and more like Jesus.  It's something that I will never fully attain in this life, but it's a goal worth aiming for.

Perhaps if more of us were to "copy Jesus" (or even Paul!) our world would be a safer, and a better, place!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Moving the goalposts!

I was unsure as to which of two thoughts I would share, this evening.  The decision has been made for me - neither of them!

I have just been informed that, despite what we were led to think, it now appears that ANYONE in the UK AND BEYOND can respond the Scottish Government's consultation on redefining marriage.

Yesterday, the pro-same-gender-marriage groups let it slip that they are asking people outside Scotland to respond, suggesting that the Scottish Government will accept non-Scottish responses.  It looks like they're movging the goalposts at the last minute (the consultation closes on Friday).

Don't let them get away with it, complete your response today at:

http://www.christian.org.uk/marriagescotland/

Please GET OTHERS TO DO LIKEWISE. Ask your friends and family, wherever they live in the UK OR BEYOND, to complete a response. 

And please pray that the legal definition of marriage will be retained throughout the UK.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

I Learned Everything From Noah's Ark


This has been circulating for many years, but it's still a really great list showing how Noah's Ark teaches us a lot in our daily lives.

1.   Don't miss the boat.

2.   Remember that we are all in the same boat.
3.   Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark.
4.   Stay fit. When you're 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
5.   Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
6.   Build your future on high ground.
7.   For safety's sake, travel in pairs.
8.   Speed isn't always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
9.   When you're stressed, float a while.

10. Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.
11. No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.

Monday, 5 December 2011

WW III is apparently over!

The newspaper headline says it all -

GERMANY AND FRANCE DECLARE: 'THE TIME HAS COME FOR A FEDERAL EUROPE'


So Frau Merkel has accomplished, with the assistance of the conniving little Sarkonaparte, what neither Kaiser Wilhelm nor Herr Hitler managed to do - and without a shot being fired!

Remember these words? -

"I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.
... ... ... ...
I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, "come then, let us go forward together with our united strength." (Winston Churchill)

That was attitude! That was a man who cared, and cared passionately, for his country. That was a man who was able to inspire the British people in their hour of need.

What do we have today? The Cameroon; the Horse-fly; and the Millipede. Not a single inch of backbone between them - and what little there is, is as yellow as a canary!

Where is there a true leader in the country, today? Where is the man - or woman - who will rally the people with truth, rather than spin; with integrity, rather than falsehood; with courage, rather than continuing capitulation?

Where is the modern Churchill, who will urge the British people on with the promise that "... we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender ..."?

GIVE US OUR REFERENDUM, Dave!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Pandas help cement China links

The following is a copy of the body of a letter that I have sent to The Herald newspaper.  It will be interesting to see if it will be published!

"It would appear that the most important event to occur, in Scotland, on Sunday, was the arrival of two animals - albeit giant pandas!  Mind you, one could have been forgiven for thinking that they are more than animals, what with bagpipes being played as they arrived at Edinburgh Airport, and the pilot assuring us that they had "enjoyed the trip"!

What was not emphasised as much was the cost of having these cuddly animals in Edinburgh Zoo - £700,000/annum over their 10-year visit, with an additional £70,000/annum for their diet of bamboo shoots.  In these days of austerity, in which we are all supposed to be "in it together", it would appear that giant pandas are exempt!

Of course, this is all part of a "cultural exchange", our First Minister assured us on the evening news bulletins on Saturday.  I am sure that the indomitable Mr Salmond will, with his entourage, do a very good job for Scottish exports of salmon and whiskey.  I would be delighted if, in his discussions with Chinese officials, Mr Salmond would be brave enough to raise the subject of China's appalling human rights record.  Might he mention the case of Gao Zhisheng - a prominent human rights lawyer, who was arrested more than five years ago; detained without trial; allegedly tortured; released briefly at the beginning of last year, but re-arrested in April; and who has not been seen since?  His wife, and their two young daughters are now in the USA and, understandably, long to be reunited with their husband and father, respectively.

This is just one instance from a catalogue of persecution of anyone who dares to speak up for the oppressed in China.  As we improve Scotland's relationship with that vast country, let us be careful that we do not become tainted with its brutality!"

Scotland For Marriage

Anyone who missed the earlier petition, in support of the traditional definition of marriage, that I had here, may sign the new one.  Please note - if you signed the earlier one, DO NOT sign this one; if you do not have an address in Scotland, DO NOT sign any Scotland-specific petition.

Please click on the link below!

Scotland For Marriage

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

More on marriage!

I was in Edinburgh, this morning, with more than 150 others, demonstrating in support of the traditional meaning of marriage as being a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, for life. The numbers would probably have been greater, but the organisers deliberately didn't put out much publicity in order that the demonstration would not be hijacked by opponents.

It was a dignified demo, with Gordon Wilson (former leader of the SNP), Cardinal Keith O'Brien, and Ann Allen, being the 'keynote' speakers, and each making an impassioned plea for the continuance of marriage as defined by Article 161 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights which clearly states that it is a union of 'a man and a woman'. The importance of a child's right to a father and a mother was also stressed, as was the fact that the homosexual/lesbia community (small 'though it is!) already have all of the legal rights of a traditionally married heterosexual couple, in civil partnerships. Indeed, a civil partnership gives the two persons involved greater rights than, e.g., two elderly siblings who share a home - but not a bed!

The demand for "same-gender marriage" has nothing to do with equality, but a lot to do with a continuing effort to undermine one of the basic building blocks of a stable society - the family.

It was also pointed out that to redefine marriage would open the same 'can of worms' that has been opened in countries like Canada where a man is using the legislation to claim that he may have a legal polygamus 'marriege'! Here, in Motherwell, there was an outcry just a few months ago, when a brother and sister were caught in a full sexual act in the local railway station; and the young man was taken to court. However, if marriage is redefined, could not the failure to permit such an incestuous relationship be seen as discriminatory?!

As history often shows, we tamper with the design of the Creator at our peril. It is to be hoped that the Scottish Government will listen to the will of the people of Scotland, rather than give in to the demands of a vociferous minority, within a minority!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Carrots, Eggs and Coffee

As regular visitors know, I love it when something comes to my mail-box that I can share on my blog.  A number of my personal friends are going through difficult times, just now.  Many others, who visit here, may also be finding life to be tough.  I hope that this story (for the veracity of which, I am unable to vouch!) will be an encouragement to each, and all.  Be Blessed!
 
"A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl.

Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me what you see."

"Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.

Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, "What does it mean, mother?"

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water.

Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a tender heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a break-up, a financial hardship, or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough, with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.

When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way."

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Dedicated to my 'huggy' friends!

Another piece of news in yesterday's media was that a survey, by the manufacturers of Nivea Cream, had established that Britons spend around one hour each month hugging relatives, close friends, and acquaintances!  It would seem that, as a nation (there will always be some exceptions - apparently one third still don't like hugging, and certainly think that it should be avoided at work!) we are no longer afraid to show our emotions.  Indeed, the results of the survey indicated that the average person enjoys thirteen hugs each day - with each one lasting an average of 9.5 seconds.  Somebody is getting very few, very short, hugs just to make up for yours truly!!!!

One report quoted a psychologist as stating that, "Hugging is one of the most comforting and bonding acts.  It brings people closer."  That was certainly the opinion of the (anonymous?) author who penned the following words - a copy of which is stuck to my computer!

"It's wondrous what a hug can do;
A hug can cheer you when you’re blue.
A hug can say, “I love you so”
Or, “I hate to see you go”.
A hug is, “Welcome back again!”
And “Great to see you!”
Or “Where’ve you been?”
A hug can soothe a small child’s pain,
And bring a rainbow after rain.

The hug! There’s just no doubt about it,
We scarcely could survive without it.
No longer do you have to worry,
For a hug's the way to say “I’m sorry.”
A hug delights and warms and charms,
It must be why God gave us arms.

Hugs are great for fathers and mothers
Sweet for sisters, swell for brothers.
Chances are, some favourite aunts
Love them more than potted plants!
Kittens crave them;
Puppies love them;
Heads of state are not above them.
A hug can break the language barrier,
And make the dullest day seem merrier.

No need to fret about the store of them;
The more you give - the more there are of them.
So stretch those arms, without delay,
And give someone a hug today!"

I LIKE HUGS!!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Truth - or lies?

I haven't seen the offending advertisement on T.V., but I gather from newspaper reports that certain furious parents are demanding that the Mail Order firm, Littlewoods, scrap its ad campaign because, they claim, it ruins the magic of Christmas!  The reason for this outburst is, I understand, that the ad shows a mum putting gifts under the Christmas tree, instead of 'Santa'!!  In other words, these parents are among those who wish to perpetuate a lie!

Of course, part of the problem is that the real meaning of Christmas has been swamped, deluged, and overcome, by the commercialised, materialistic, consumer-orientated, mid-winter festival that is what is celebrated by so many.  That is why, some years ago - and before the days of such ready access to the internet, and the ease with which one may establish a blog - I wrote to one of the major newspapers in support of those who wished to have a "Winterfest".  I suggested that this would be a good idea, as the majority wanted, and sought after, nothing else, and that it would mean, at least, that they would be less likely to hijack the word "Christmas"!  Those who think that some of us want Christmas to be too 'religious' ('Jesus-centered' might be more appropriate!) should take a moment to slowly spell out the word.  The clue is in the first six letters (even if they don't appreciate that a letter 's' has been dropped at the end of the word).  It's not rocket science!

Let the world (i.e. society living with no regard for its Creator) have it's Winterval (or whatever other nomenclature is chosen) and allow those of us who wish to remember one of the most amazing events in the history of mankind - the entering of that same Creator into this world that He had created, having taken upon Himself human flesh, in the Person of a helpless Infant - to celebrate our Christ-mas; without Mr Claus, his elves, reindeer, and sleigh!

By the way, my wife and I decided that we would not lie to our own children about this matter.  After all, when they eventually found out that there is no Santa Claus climbing down the chimney on Christmas Eve, they could have been forgiven for deciding that all that we told them about the Lord Jesus was equally false!  It may not always be palatable, but truth trumps falsehood, every time!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A converted church!

I walked up from the Strathclyde Police, 'N' Divisional H.Q. this evening.  It used to sit between two church buildings.  However, one of them was demolished, many years ago, and the site is now occupied by our local Lidl store.  The building on the other side was in use until the last minister retired, and the congregation was united with another local fellowship.  The building is now being used as the South Dalziel Studios - providing a variety of venues for concerts etc.  The banner on the railing identifies it as "the converted church"!

Of course, many of us are aware that what has been changed is a building, not a church.  The church is the people and, in its true form, doesn't even require a building.  Indeed, in many countries, such an overt display would have the authorities cracking down in no uncertain manner!  And, of course, there are those who would say (as I would) that a building that was built, and dedicated, to the glory of God, and for the worship of His Name and Person; and that is now a set of studios, may have been changed, but has certainly not been converted!

However, as they have before, the words set me thinking.  My first thought was, unsurprisingly, that the adjective is unnecessary.  The church is converted; it is comprised only of those who have been converted; an "unconverted church" is an oxymoron!   My mind raced on (I had just left the gym, after a work-out, so my body was moving at a slightly more leisurely pace!!).  There are those who seem to think that the answer to the world's ills is a major revival.  That is probably true, but they think of this in terms of multitudes of the unsaved coming to a vital relationship with the Lord Jesus - in other words, being converted.  Not true!  That is a work of regeneration - of being "born again" (see John 3:3).  Revival is a "re-lifing" - the dead, dry, bones of Ezekiel's vision (Ezek.37) being bought back to life as the Spirit of God blows over them. 

It is when the church - the people of God - is revived, that it becomes distinctive; and it is when it is distinctive that others are attracted to it!  That, I would submit, is why the church grows during times of persecution.  In those parts of the world - some fifty seperate countries - in which the disciples of Jesus are being persecuted even to death, one doesn't become a "church member" just to look "respectable" within the community.  No!  One counts the cost and, if the conversion is real, one stakes one's life on the Person of the Lord Jesus.

So, what we need in Scotland (and the rest of the so-called "western" world) is a revived church.  Then we might, no would,  see conversions - and the growth of the church as it was in New Testament times, and is in many other parts of the world today!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Unsung heroes

I'm never at ease with the word 'hero' being used to denote those who have not put their physical lives at risk in order to save the life of another.  However, the following, from the Evangelical Alliance, shows that there are those who are definitely going "the second mile" as they serve others, in Jesus' Name.

Unsung Christian heroes from across the UK were recognised for their community work at the Houses of Parliament yesterday (Nov.16th) as the 2011 Inspire Award winners were announced.  The winners were chosen from a list of more than 120 nominations submitted for this year's awards ceremony, which is organised by Inspire magazine and the Evangelical Alliance, and celebrated annually at a special ceremony hosted by Christian MPs.

This year's winners were chosen from three categories: an individual who is an inspirational role model, a church that is making a dynamic impact in its community, and a Christian-run project serving its local area.
Inspire magazine's editor Russ Bravo said of the awards: "It's been a privilege to find out about the way ordinary people are putting their faith in action in extraordinary ways. We're committed to telling these kinds of inspirational stories of Christians making life better for local communities, and the Inspire Awards is a great showcase for that."

Paul Slide, chief executive of CPO, said: "Hearing the practical difference Christians are making at grassroots level is a huge encouragement, and genuinely inspirational. These award winners are just the tip of the iceberg - we're looking forward to seeing a whole lot more local heroes in the future."  Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, added: "It was truly humbling and inspiring to meet all the individuals, and representatives of churches and organisations doing amazing work in their local communities, to hear their stories and to celebrate with them. As Christians, we are passionate about community transformation. These fantastic, innovative projects being run up and down the UK are feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and restoring the broken. They are just some examples of how Christians are doing great things."

The winners are:
Inspiring individual
Christine Deponio, who runs Emmanuel House in Gateshead, a free service to those suffering with terminal cancer. Despite being blind and a full-time carer to her husband, who is also blind, she single-handedly fundraises for the project, which she set up in 2003. The project offers free lunches and physical therapy services such as massages, hair and nail care. Christine also owns three properties in the country that she lets cost-free to cancer patients and their families.
Christine said: "It was a huge surprise, it really was. I'm just doing what God wants me to do. They need someone to be here, to cry with, to laugh with, to share their hope with. That's where I come in."

Inspiring church
Lifeline Church, Essex, run Open Doors, a project for vulnerable and isolated women. The project was set up over 10 years ago and, by providing access to consistent friendship and a caring community, has given hope and freedom to countless women. Healthcare professionals working in the NHS mental health services regularly refer patients to Open Doors, recognising the vital role the project plays.
Sally Dixon of Open Doors said: "It's been a real surprise to get this award. We just feel like we are doing the work that God has given us to do. It's really exciting to see somebody who's been isolated come out of their isolation and find a place of belonging in the church family."

Inspiring project
Green Pastures, Southport, started when Pastor Pete Cunningham and other church members bought a pair of flats to house and care for two homeless couples. In 2005 the local authority recognised the significance of Green Pastures when it announced that there were no longer any long-term rough sleepers in Southport. Today Green Pastures houses more than 200 formerly homeless people.
Pete Cunningham said: "As well as caring for their physical needs we are sometimes given the privilege of leading our tenants to Jesus. In the last few years, 27 came to faith, 19 were baptised and 32 are attending local churches."

Sunday, 20 November 2011

And great was the fall of it!

A little after mid-day, today, Glencairn Tower - a Motherwell landmark for some 60 years - crashed to the ground in a controlled demolition.  I don't know how long it took to build it, but it was down in less than 5 seconds!   The surrounding streets were well-filled with Motherwell resident who had come to watch - many of them, no doubt, like myself (and family!) former residents in the block.  The news was that the explosion would take place at 1200 hrs but, in the event, it was a couple of minutes later.  However, people waited, patiently; all eyes on the block still standing before us.

A couple of thoughts came to mind - apart from the one that I had lived there on two separate occasions, and that two of my former homes would soon be rubble!  I was reminded of the story that Jesus told about the two housebuilders.  One of them, you may remember, built his house on soft ground, with no solid foundation.  Then, when the storms arose, that house collapsed.  The other man built his house on solid rock and so, when the storms raged around it, it stood firm.  The planned destruction of Glencairn Tower doesn't quite fit in with the story - it appears to have been erected on good foundations, and nothing less than high explosives would have toppled it.  However, what might be termed a cataclysmic event, ensured its downfall.

The other thought came as I saw so many people looking, expectantly, in one direction.  We all knew the approximate time at which the tower would collapse - but none of us knew the precise second.  That knowledge was given, one assumes, only to the man who "pressed the button"!  In Mark 13, Jesus speaks of His return - His second advent at the end of time as we experience it.  He makes clear that, while there will be indications as to when that particular cataclysmic event will take place, "... of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (v.32; RSV).  One young friend took her eyes (and her camera lens!) off the tower for just a split second - and missed the moment!

Let us make sure that we build our lives on the firm foundation that is the Lord Jesus, Himself.  Let us be ever watchful, "... looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb 12:2; RSV).  Then, and only then, will we be fully prepared for the move from the time-space continuum that we inhabit in this mortal life, to that dimension that we call 'heaven' - timelessness in the nearer presence of our Saviour, and our Lord.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Faith of a Child

In a world in which the media seems to concentrate only on 'bad news', it is good to read a positive report. This story arrived in my mailbox, earlier today. Read, and rejoice!
The story was written by a doctor who worked in Central Africa ...

One night I had worked hard to help a mother in the labour ward but, in spite of all we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive, as we had no incubator (we had no electricity to run an incubator). We also had no special feeding facilities.

Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous draughts. One student midwife went for the box we had for such babies and the cotton wool in which the baby would be wrapped. Another went to stoke up the fire, and fill a hot-water bottle.

She came back shortly in distress to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst (rubber perishes easily in tropical climates). "And it is our last hot-water bottle!" she exclaimed. As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk, so in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over burst water bottles. They do not grow on trees, and there are no stores down forest pathways.

"All right," I said, "put the baby as near the fire as you safely can, and sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm."

The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with any of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot-water bottle, and that the baby could so easily die if it got chills. I also told them of the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died.

During prayer time, one ten-year old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt conciseness of our African children. "Please, God" she prayed, "send us a water bottle. It'll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby will be dead so please send it this afternoon."

While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added, "And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she'll know You really love her?"

As often with children's prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, "Amen". I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything - the Bible says so. But there are limits, aren't there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending me a parcel from homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send me a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!

Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses' training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the verandah, was a large twenty-two pound parcel. I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone, so I sent for the orphanage children.

Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box.

From the top, I lifted out brightly coloured, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children looked a little bored. Then came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas - that would make a batch of buns for the weekend. Then, as I put my hand in again, I felt the.....could it really be? I grasped it and pulled it out - yes, a brand-new, rubber, hot-water bottle. I cried.

I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, "If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly too!" Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone! She had never doubted!

Looking up at me, she asked: "Can I go over with you and give this dolly to that little girl, so she'll know that Jesus really loves her?"

That parcel had been on the way for five whole months. Packed up by my former Sunday school class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God's prompting to send a hot-water bottle, even to the equator. And one of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child - five months before, in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it "that afternoon."

"Before they call, I will answer" (Isaiah 65:24)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

We're all in this together!

When Lee Iacocca became chairman and CEO of Chrysler at the height of the car giant's problems in 1979, he knew he would have to ask employees to take a pay cut to keep the company out of bankruptcy. Although he persuaded the United States' Congress to guarantee the company loans, he was still deeply distrusted by Chrysler's union members. He knew that he had to find a way to persuade these workers that he had Chrysler's best interests at heart.

Iacocca called a meeting of key management and union executives. He announced that for the next year his salary would be $1. The gambit worked. By sacrificing his own salary, Iacocca proved that he placed the welfare of the company over personal gain.

He identified with the workers. He was saying, "We are in this together. And, together we can make it through." He knew that people will accept a lot of pain when they really are going through the trial together.

A similar situation is found in God's Word.  In the historical book of Nehemiah, this godly man is informed of the desolate state of Jerusalem and, having obtained permission from king Artaxerxes, was permitted to return from his exile in Persia (modern Iran) to oversee the reconstruction of the walls.  Here are some of his words to the inhabitants of the ruined city: "But now I said to them, 'You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!'" (2:17).
 
Notice the words we and us in that verse? In order to motivate the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, Nehemiah had to identify with their problem, their need, and their future. It was no longer their problem. Now Nehemiah saw the broken wall as our problem. Imagine the kind of response Nehemiah would have received if he had said, "You folk have got yourselves into this mess. Let me tell you what you need to do. You need to rebuild that wall. If you need me, I'll be in my office. After all, I'm not responsible; I wasn't part of the problem. You people will have to get on and do the work. Let me know how it turns out."

There seems, to me, to be a lesson here for our contemporary political leaders!  The Prime Minister has assured us that "We're all in this together"!  However, I haven't noticed him, or any other Cabinet Minister, or any MP, MEP, MSP, or MLA, following the example of Lee Iacocca!  What a difference it might make to the nation's morale if every politician, every local councillor, every senior banker, every CEO, was to announce that (s)he was taking a significant cut in salary until the economic situation in the country improves!

Identifying with the problem encourages motivation.  Now, can anyone ensure that the PM etc., read the above?!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Redefinition of marriage.

I have signed a petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government not to redefine marriage and thought you may like to sign it too.  Marriage has served Scotland well for centuries as the fundamental unit of our society and I do not believe that it should be changed.  Redefining marriage to include same-sex marriage will have huge implications for what is taught and promoted in schools and in wider society.  It is likely, over time, to cause an erosion of religious freedoms and freedom of conscience.  If you feel the same it is important to let the government know.  The link to the petition is at the right-hand-side of this page.

I'm sorry if you've heard about this before or if you've already signed but I have no way of knowing, and I wanted to make sure that you had a chance to be included.

P.S. If you and a spouse are both signing, please do so separately so that you count as two signatures rather than one!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Lest we forget.

This afternoon, in my capacity as a Strathclyde Police Force Chaplain, I had the honour of again conducting the annual Remembrance Day service at the Memorial to Officers of the former Lanarkshire Constabulary who exchanged their police uniforms for military ones, and died in either the Great War (1914-18) or in World War II (1939-45). 

As far as I know the Memorial, which is situated in the grounds of the Sheriff Courthouse, in Hamilton, is unique in Scotland in remembering only police officers who paid the ultimate price for the freedom that, in spite of the political correctness and State interference that surrounds us, we still enjoy in this country.

The brief Reflection that I brought to the gathering of, mostly, members of the Retired Police Officers Association of Scotland, was based on the prayer of the Old Testament prophet, Habak'kuk, and found in the 3rd chapter of the book that goes by his name.  The background to the prayer is one of national crisis - just as this nation faced the crises of the two World Wars, of many conflicts since, and even the financial crisis that effects all of us today.

The prophet saw, all around him, moral and spiritual decay.  Injustice was rampant with the rich getting richer, and the poor suffering more and more.  The law appeared to be powerless.   YHWH appeared not to care about the plight of His people.  And no, I didn't lift that from one of today's newspapers - although I could well have done!

Habak'kuk was concerned that YHWH was allowing these things to happen.  However, the response that he received was less than encouraging!  He was told that the approaching Babylonian (Iraqi) armies were, in fact, YHWH's means of judging His people for their sinfulness.  This response is accepted by the prophet - not as one beaten into submission, but as one who recognises the Sovereignty of the only true God.

It was that acceptance; that recognition; that willing surrender; that led Habak'kuk into that prayer - a prayer of worship.  His circumstances hadn't changed, but he had, and he was now walking by faith, and not by sight.  And what had changed him was the same set of spiritual disciplines that will change you and change me - prayer, vision, and faith.  We may respond to crisis situations in at least two, totally different, ways.  We may complain; seek to lay the blame at the doors of others; feel sorry for ourselves, and ask "Why me?" (I recall someone saying that it might help if we asked, "Why not me?!).

Such a response, I suggested, does nothing other than leave us in the pit of despair.  Or we may choose - and it is a personal, and conscious, decision - to follow the example of this oft-neglected Old Testament prophet.  The 17th verse of that 3rd chapter paints a word-picture of total financial and material disaster - a Wall Street crash; inflation at the levels that used to be seen in Zimbabwe!  But in the following verses, the prophet shows where his trust is placed.

On this Day of Remembrance, many of us have recalled the carnage and death in two world wars, and in countless other military conflicts.  We  have stood with those to whom today has been especially poignant because their loss, their memories, are so personal.  May we recognise that not every crisis involves physical battles, injury, and death.  And, as we face our personal crises, today and every day, may we be encouraged by the experience, and teaching, of Habak'kuk.  May we know the wonderful grace of God; may we be granted a glimpse of the glory of God; may we willingly yield to the government of God in our individual lives.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Money, money, money - or the lack of it, or other people's!

As happens so often, two news stories stand in complete contrast to one another.  Over the past couple of days, we have been informed that the "private" wedding of Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall actually cost the British taxpayer a cool £400,000 in policing costs!  When my elder daughter was married - admittedly  a little over 11 years ago - her complete wedding didn't cost 1% of that amount!  In my opinion, if over-paid 'celebrities'; sports 'personalities'; and members of the 'aristocracy'; wish to have police protection and/or control, then they should pay for it out of their own well-lined pockets, and not expect Joe Public to have to fork out!

The other news story is of another married couple.  However, that would appear to be where the similarity ends.  This couple were Mark and Helen Mullins.  I say "were", for the simple reason that both are now dead - an apparent 'suicide pact' after having been abandoned by the Welfare State.  According to reports, the couple had been existing on Mark's £57.50/week Jobseeker's Allowance.  The cost of policing the Phillips/Tindall wedding (let alone all of the other costs of that event) would have paid out that amount for approximately 135 years!

The Mullins had a 12-year-old daughter but, because Helen had learning difficulties, the local social services had removed her from the home - having decided that her mother was incapable of looking after her!  This, of course, meant that even the Child Benefit payment was stopped.  Helen was also deemed not to qualify for incapacity benefit, because her condition had not been officially medically diagnosed; Jobseeker's Allowance because her (non-diagnosed) medical condition made her unfit to work; and Mark was denied a Carer's Allowance because his wife's condition had not been medically diagnosed!  Yet at the same time, and especially with the apparently wide-open British borders over recent months, every Tom, Dick, and Harry (or should that be Mumtaz, Abdul, and Umar??) can apparently enter the country; remain on the most dubious of grounds; and receive all sorts of State handouts! 

Please don't misunderstand me.  I have no problem at all in supporting those who are in genuine danger in their own countries.  However, there would appear to be a substantial number who are in no danger at all, and who merely see the U.K. as a "soft touch".  There are also those indigenous folk who have learned how to "play the system" and who continue - in spite of some of the political rhetoric of last year - to maintain themselves to a standard denied to many hard-working families.

Perhaps if a couple like the Mullins had received a similar level of support, they would be alive today.  James writes about a not dissimilar situation in the early Church and writes: "... if you show partiality, you commit sin ..." (2:9: RSV -  see 2:1-17), while Paul doesn't 'beat about the bush' when he states "If any one will not work, let him not eat.  For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work." (II Thess 3:10-11; RSV).

It is to be hoped that the deaths of these two people will serve as a wake-up call (forgive the cliché!) to the relevant authorities; and that their daughter will grow up to be a young girl of whom they would have been justly proud.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Cancer Research, or homosexuality?

Which is of greater importance - Cancer Research, or homosexuality in its different "forms"?  I haven't shopped in Tesco since they started selling the "morning-after" contraceptive (read 'abortion'!) pill, over the counter, to under-age girls.  I hope that many more will now pin their colours to the mast and also boycott them! 

This artice is from "Marketing Week", a magazine focused on the marketing industry in the UK.

"Tesco has signed a deal to become a major sponsor of London Pride, the UK’s largest gay festival, as it outlines plans to host its biggest ever event in the capital.

Tesco will also host a family area designed to provide families attending the event with a “safe, relaxed and chilled out” place with family-friendly entertainment and activities aimed at younger children.

The supermarket will also contribute to funding the free-to-attend event, which is organised by volunteers.
click here

Tesco joins Smirnoff as headline sponsor for the annual event and builds on Tesco’s presence at the 2011 festival.

The news comes shortly after Tesco ended its 10-year partnership with Cancer Research’s Race for Life fundraising event.

Pride London is already the largest Gay Pride event in the UK and it is extending its carnival route and adding a second day to the festival for 2012, when it will host the global festival WorldPride 2012.

Andrew Higginson, CEO of retailing services at Tesco, says: “Tesco is the UK’s largest private employer, and a very diverse international organisation where everybody is welcome. Our Out at Tesco team will be working closely with Pride London to ensure next year’s event is even more a fun.” "

Perhaps Tesco just want to be trendy!!!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Is a promise an assurance?

In this morning's Today programme, on BBC Radio 4, there was an interview with a journalist who had been covering the trial of Dr Conrad Murray, accused of the involuntary manslaughter of the pop star, Michael Jackson.  She was asked about the scene when the "Guilty" verdict was announced to the waiting crowds.  This lady was obviously very excited, and repeated the words "I promise you".  However, she was using those words as a means of assuring listeners that she was telling the truth!

I have always understood that a promise applied to a future event - "I promise that I will meet you at such-and-such a place"; while an assurance applied to something in the past - "I assure you that the man bit the dog!"  It is, of course (and regretfully!) a typical USA corruption of the English language, that allows the two concepts to be thus confused.

In my private devotions, this morning, I was reading in John 14. In that chapter, John records these words of the Lord Jesus: "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (vs.2-3)

That's a wonderful promise for the disciple of Jesus!  It's something that points to the future.  However, because it is fixed in eternity - which is timeless, with neither past nor future - then it is also an assurance!  In eternity, in that dimension that we call 'heaven', the promise is already kept.  It's a mind-blowing concept, but I am totally convinced that it is gloriously true!

Of course, that promise only applies to His own - those who have placed their trust in Him, and Him alone, for their salvation.  But for them, it is not only a promise, but also a wonderful assurance.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Accident, or design?

This evening, I travelled down from Aberdeen, where I had spent an overnight with my good friend, April.  I am very grateful to her for her generous hospitality; to sister, Hayley, for her chat; and to brother-in-law, Carl, for his computer expertise!    I travelled by coach - and was able to plug my laptop (on which Carl had performed major surgery!) into a mains supply, and take advantage of free Wi-Fi access!  The wonders of modern technology never cease to amaze me!

Of course, these innovations don't just happen.  They are the result of certain, very clever, people applying their creative skills to provide a solution to a perceived problem.  No-one expects a coach to produce a 240v electricity supply just by travelling up and down the A9 often enough!  A Wi-Fi connection doesn't appear just because the coach has passed Dundee a sufficient number of times!

Yet even these technological marvels fade into total insignificance when compared with the intricate complexity of just one human cell; the cosmological order that enables us to accurately forecast the time of the next solar eclipse; the trillion, trillion (and more) aspects of the known universe that have been discovered by mankind.  Yet there are those, including some highly intelligent people, who happily believe that all of that is the result of nothing more than random chance over a long enough period of time!  The apostle Paul rightly said that "... the god of this world (aka the devil) has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, ..." (II Cor.4:4) - and I would claim that he has blinded them, also, to the truth of creation!

That truth is that all that exists was created, from nothing, by Almighty God.  That's the only intellectually satisfying conclusion to which I can come.  And this God is not some abstract, impersonal, force; but a loving and sentient Being Who cares deeply about every part of His creation.  He even cares for, and loves, the humanity that has, to such a large extent, turned its back on Him in this technological, materialistic, consumerist society in which so many of us live.  The proof of that love is seen in history when, in the Persona of the Son, He hung on a cross and died for each one of us.

Of course, the gift of full and free salvation that He gained for us must be accepted before it becomes effective.  That involves the confession of my sinfulness; the acceptance of His sacrice on my behalf; and the submission of my life to His control.

Have you made that move?  You'll never regret it if you do!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

There is some good in the world!

This morning, in my capacity as a Force Chaplain, I was at the Strathclyde Police Force Training and Recruitment Centre, Jackton, East Kilbride, for the presentation, by the Chief Constable, of Bravery Awards to both Police Officers and members of the public. This year we also had a Paramedic, and a member of Police Staff, among the numbers.

The citations that were read out - and that, I was assured, did not give the full stories - were a pleasing reminder that, in a world in which the media prefer to publish the bad news, and to remind us of the negative aspects of society, there are those who are still willing to take risks (including placing themselves in life-threatening situations) to assist their fellow human beings.   There were officers who entered a burning building because they had been informed that a deaf-mute couple lived there.  There were members of the public who held a man, armed with a hand gun, until police officers arrived.  There was a young woman who climbed over a number of fences in order to get to another woman who was floundering in deep water; there was a man who made his way out on to an ice-covered reservoir, and used his belt to pull out a woman who had fallen through the ice.  And it went on, and on, and on.

An uplifting experience.  Hearty congratulations, and thanks, to all of those who received awards. :-)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Love!

According to today's copy of The Independent newspaper, "Love, supposedly, is many things.  Blind, if you ask Shakespeare. All you need, says John Lennon. But scientifically compliant? Subject to a set of specified natural laws? Nothing more than a simple mathematical equation? It doesn't sound terribly romantic. Still, it's a prospect that has got matchmakers more than a little excited."

The story is that science can find the perfect match for each one of us!  Whether it's DNA compatibility assessment; or people who smell different, but not too different; or our ability to taste MHC (the major histocompatibility complex - no I don't know what it means, either!) in one another's saliva; the attraction of one to another may be scientifically explained and, therefore, science is capable of pointing us in the right direction in our search for Mr, or Miss, Right!  However, there are many who would insist that the idea that it is possible to boil down romance into a simple, straight-forward, formula is a total non-starter!  There are too many aspects to a realationship - to do with personality; physical attractiveness; beliefs; family background; etc.

Of course, all of that has only to do with human love.  However, there is a greater love than that.  I shared a little about it at the Communion Service in Coatbridge Baptist Church on Sunday.  It's the love of God!  And it is really special.

Many see only the best that I have to offer.   But I know every word I utter - not just the ones that I preach; every thought that enters my mind, and is entertained there - including those about which I would rather not have anyone else know; every deed that I perform - even those unseen by any other human eye.

Many of those things make me less than proud of myself.  Sometimes - all too often! - I see much in me that I don't particularly like.  I sometimes wonder, in moments of real honesty, if others knew me as well as I know myself would they think as highly of me as they do!

The amazing thing is that Father God knows me even better than I know myself!  He knows every thought before it has even entered my mind; every word before I have uttered a sound; every deed - and the true motive behind it.  Yet, such is His love that He still loves me - not because of what I am in public, but in spite of what I am in private.

That's real love; 'agape' love; divine love.  That's a love that, in this life, I can never fully understand.  That's a love that is displayed on a Roman cross as that same God, in the Persona of the Son, bled and died for my salvation.

It's a love that reaches out to every human being, in every age, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or anything else.  Have you responded, yet, to that love? 

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Pot; Kettle; Black!

Those were the words that immediately came to mind when I heard the news, earlier today, that China's Middle East envoy had called on the Syrian government to speed up the reforms it has promised in response to popular demands, saying the situation was dangerous and the bloodshed - well reported by the international media - could not continue.

Now, like any sane person, I am happy that additional pressure is being put on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government to end the bloody, seven-month crackdown on protesters demanding political reforms.  It is encouraging that China has made its position clear.  It is to be hoped that Russia will add its voice to the condemnation of the activities of this despot and his supporters.

However, I would also hope that China would "take the log out of its own eye, before attempting to take the speck out of Syria's eye"! (see Matt.7:5).     It is in China that Pastor Shi Enhao, deputy chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance, was recently sentenced to two years "re-education through labour" for organizing illegal meetings, trial observers said. It is in China that Gao Zhisheng a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Christian human rights lawyer who has published several reports and open letters detailing the human rights restrictions in China, including on religious freedom, has not been seen since April, 2010, in spite of repeated requests from his family (now in the U.S.of A.) and others , for news of his whereabouts, and his physical condition. Fan Yafeng, a house church leader and expert in constitutional law, has been held under house arrest at his home in Beijing since December last year.

Organisations such as Release International, Open Doors, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), for which links are available further down this page, have a catalogue of instances in which individual disciples of Jesus are being persecuted, in China, for their faith.  The Chinese government constantly denies human rights abuses, saying Christians are free to worship within the official denominations!  However, many of China's up to 130 million Christians prefer to worship in house churches, outside the control of the country's Communist government.

Leaders of the independent Shouwang Church in Beijing remain under house arrest. This congregation has tried to meet outdoors every Sunday since April 11, after government officials repeatedly denied them access to a permanent worship place which, according to all reports, is the legal property of the congregation!  Over 600 Shouwang Church Christians have reportedly been detained since April, including 15 on August 28 and 12 arrests on September 4. Police often detain believers, some of whom have travelled for hours, before the service starts  - and typically free them within 24 hours!

As many of us pray about the ongoing situation in Syria, and other parts of the Middle East, let us not forget those who, in China (and some fifty other countries in the modern world), are bearing in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus (see Gal.6:17).  They are paying a price that many in the "west", who bear the Name, might be unwilling to pay!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Meeting the family!

I can still (vaguely!!) remember heading towards my first meeting with the parents of the young girl whom I had been dating (and who has now been my wonderful wife for more than 41 years!!).  It was a rather daunting prospect.  Would they like me?  Would they think that I was good enough for their daughter?  Would they be impressed - or otherwise - that I was a student of Divinity?  I need not have feared.  All turned out well.

I thought of that earlier this evening.  I had been to one of 'my' Police Stations to meet with the shift that was going on duty at 1800 (that's 6.00 p.m. for those unfamiliar with the 24-hour clock!).  I was there in plenty of time and, knowing that the civilian staff, and most of the senior officers would not be in the building, I made my way to the Sergeants' room (sergeants, in my opinion, are the back-bone of the Force!).

One young sergeant was particularly conversational - and seemed to be very interested in where I had ministered; in my having been a teacher, and a chef.  I endeavoured to answer all of his questions as fully and frankly as possible (well, this was a police officer!!!).

After I had spoken to the shift at their muster, I went back to the Sergeants' room where my "inquisitive" sergeant was still working.  It was as we continued to talk that I discovered that he is working part-time, and also attending a Christian College in the south side of Glasgow.  He belongs to an evangelical Fellowship, and has connections with St.George's-Tron where my dear wife and I first met, and where we were married.

Suddenly our new relationship changed.  This young man was no longer 'just' another officer - this was a brother in the Lord; a member of the family of God.  What a lovely surprise for me.

My mind also went back to my days in the Merchant Navy.  I always attended the "Divine Worship" service that was held on board ship if we were at sea on a Sunday.  However, I looked forward more to those occasions on which we were in port on Sunday, when I could find a Christian fellowship (denominational tag was irrelevant!) and worship with others who truly loved the Lord.

It's one of the wonderful things about being a disciple of Jesus.  One may find family members around any corner; down any street; in any town.  The motto of the Keswick Convention is words from Paul's letter to the believers in the province of Galatia: "All one in Christ Jesus" (3:28).  That's the 'cord' that holds my new friend and I together, and that makes us brothers.

Of course, that family includes believers in Pakistan; Nigeria; Sudan; Egypt; Columbia; Kazakhstan; China; N.Korea; and some fifty countries around the world where the followers of the Way are persecuted - even to death - for no other reason than their faithfulness to Him.  They, too, are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and the least that I can do is to uphold them in prayer before the throne of grace.

I trust that you will do the same!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Tony Blair helps Kazakhstan boosts its image in West.

The heading is taken directly from today's Telegraph newspaper, above an article by Andy Bloxham that explains the way in which the former British Prime Minister "... works for several governments and companies including the rulers of Kuwait; JPMorgan Chase, the bank; and UI Energy Corporation, a South Korean oil company", and claims that "Mr Blair's deal with the country, said to be worth about £8 million, is the latest addition to his network of international clients, which are believed to have earned him £20 million since he left office."

One has to ask if there is any limit to this man's personal greed - and he is supposed to be a good Socialist!!!

He appears not to be too concerned as to where he makes his money.  The same article goes on to explain that "Diplomatic cables sent from the Kazakh capital, Astana, and published by WikiLeaks, have stated: 'Corruption is endemic among Kazakhstani officialdom.'  The US cables also described 'severe limits on ability to change their government; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prisoner conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech; pervasive corruption … discrimination and violence against women; trafficking in persons'". 

This is not all.  According to Release International, "Churches in Kazakhstan say officials are enforcing tough new policies on religious activity even before they have passed into law.

Kazakh Christians fear the new Religion Law will severely limit religious freedom by, for example, requiring all churches to re-register – and imposing strict registration criteria.

Officially the law does not come into force until Wednesday (October 26). But evidence gathered by Forum 18 news service suggests that Kazakh officials are already citing the law to crack down on religious activity.

In the south-west city of Atyrau, for example, police and security officials raided a worship meeting held in a local hall by a state-registered Protestant church called New Life last month. Officials cited the new Religion Law as the ground for the raid. A 17-year-old girl who tried to film the incident on her mobile phone was knocked unconscious by a police officer.

Officials claimed that the church could not legally meet outside its legally registered address – which is a local hotel. The church maintains that they had been forced to meet in the hall because officials had forced the hotel to end its rental agreement with them.

Shortly before the raid, officials published an article in a local paper claiming that New Life pastor Galymzhan Nagmadinov was 'brainwashing' his congregation for his own financial gain. He roundly denies the accusation.

Kazakh Christians had expressed concern that the proposed legislation had been rushed through Parliament and should not have been approved without significant amendment – but President Nursultan Nazarbaev put his signature to the new laws on October 11.

Religious rights campaigners claim the new Religion Law violates Kazakhstan's international human rights commitments. As well as imposing a complex new registration system, it requires faith groups to have both central and local government approval to build or open new places of worship. Other legislation soon to be approved has serious implications for the religious freedom of particular groups, such as children, and for the freedom to print religious literature.
"

If Mr Blair put his much-vaunted 'faith' before his apparent love for "unrighteous mammon", he would surely be using his relationship  with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of the oil-rich central Asian state, to support this part of the persecuted Church.  That's why those who call themselves disciples of Jesus must always take heed of the words of Jesus: "For no good tree bears bad fruit , nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit . For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:43-45; RSV)