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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Just as long as you were drunk!!!

It was more than a year ago that the news media reported that a six-year-old girl, who is both blind and deaf, had been left overnight in near freezing temperatures, after a bonfire and fireworks display.  Her carer - who may, or may not, be her mother, had taken her there, with the child dressed only in socks and a dressing gown.  My immediate question, at the time, was "Why take a deaf, blind, child to such an event in the first case?"!

However, the woman then realised that she did not have her keys, and so left the child, unattended, while she went to her sister's home to obtain spare keys.  Being, apparently, under the influence of alcohol, she then fell asleep - with the child still strapped into a pram!

It was the next morning that a classroom assistant came to take the girl to school - and found her tipped over in the pram, shivering and with blue lips.  The fact that she had survived the night may be seen as something of a miracle.  She was later given hospital treatment for hypothermia, and bruising.

Today, the carer was admonished, and walked free from court - the sheriff having deferred sentence for almost a year in order that she might display good behaviour!  Her lawyer claimed that she is "entirely remorseful, ashamed, and embarrassed".  Unfortunately, the accompanying newspaper photograph shows someone who gives no appearance of displaying any of those feelings!

I know that I am taking the words out of context, but I could hear Jesus say, "I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help Me."  (Matt 25:45; NLT).  How sad that the courts should, in my opinion, take the maltreatment of an extremely vulnerable child so lightly.  Perhaps, in today's Scotland, drunkenness is now an acceptable excuse for any form of child abuse!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Signs of Hope

Every so often, as regular visitors to this blog are aware, I make mention of the persecuted church and, usually, provide a specific instance of what my brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering for His name's sake.
However, while there is, sadly, much that could be reported on a daily basis, it is also good to know that there are positive reports that may be made.  I received some of them just today, and want to share some of the good, and encouraging, news with a wider audience.

China and the Far East
For centuries, Asia seemed to be almost impenetrable to the Gospel.  However, in the midst of sacrifice and martyrdom, the Spirit of God is moving powerfully in China, India, Vietnam, North Korea, and many other Asian nations.  In China, the Gospel is being eagerly received by university students, businessmen, and professionals.  North Korea is, once again, at the top of the list of those countries in which persecution of disciples of Jesus is most intense.  Indeed, one is open to arrest and imprisonment for nothing more than owning a Bible!  Yet even there, God is moving.  By the way, if you wish to sign a petition that Release will be sending to the North Korean authorities, you may do so at http://www.releaseinternational.org/petition/
The Muslim World
The Middle East and North Africa - so much in the news at present - were areas in which the Gospel of Christ had little or nothing to celebrate.  Today, we are seeing a turning of the tide.  Satellite television and radio are saturating the whole area.  It is estimated that more Muslims have come to Christ in the last ten years, than in all of the time since missionary endeavour to Muslims began!  In Iran, in spite of persecution directed specifically at the house church movement, the number of such house churches is doubling every six months.
The Latin-American Church
Fifty years ago, Chile and Brazil were the only nations in Central and South America with any meaningful evangelical presence (between 2% and 5%).  Today, there is a continent-wide explosion!  Some central American nations have become 40% Bible-believing.
Sub-Saharan Africa
Huge inroads are being made by the Gospel in sub-Saharan Africa.  Africans are taking on the mantles of men such as Moses, the Wesley brothers, and Lord Shaftesbury, as they lead the continent in the ways of God's righteousness.
The UK and the 'western' world
Secular humanism, amorality, and the curse of 'political correctness' have blighted the spiritual landscape of the West and, in many places, Biblical Christians are a small minority.  However, there are growing signs of life - prayer initiatives, and a new awareness by the church of the need for evangelism; together with surveys that indicate a growing interest in the Person of the Lord Jesus, particularly among younger people, are an encouragement to those of us who have sometimes felt like crying out with Elijah, "... I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too." (I Kings 19:14; NLT)

So those of us who own His Name, remember the words of the prophet: "And YHWH will be King over all the earth. On that day there will be YHWH - His Name alone will be worshipped." (Zech 14:9; NLT); and also the words of Jesus, Himself: "... I will build My church, and all the powers of hell shall not conquer it." (Matt 16:18; NLT)

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Marriage!

It is my contention that, for many years, the word 'love' has been greatly devalued.  In the English language, it covers such a wide range, from 'like' to 'lust', with every possible shade in between!  At least the Greeks of New Testament times (and, possibly, today!) used four separate words that allowed some clarification to be provided.

The word 'Christian' has also, in my opinion, been devalued, certainly in the so-called 'western world', and possibly since the early 4th century A.D. when the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity 'legal' and 'respectable'.  As to the Emperor's own conversion - there is considerable doubt as to the reality of it!

However, I am becoming increasingly aware of the devaluation of the word 'marriage'.  Marriage, certainly in the Christian understanding of it, was ordained by God, and given a blessing by the presence of Jesus at the marriage in Cana of Galilee (see John 2:1 ff).  It was given, according to the words of the marriage service that I used, "... for the sake of the life-long companionship, help, and comfort that husband and wife ought to have of each other. ... so that family life may continue, and that children, who are a gift from God, may be brought up in the love and security of a stable and happy home. ... for the welfare of human society, that can be strong and happy only where the marriage commitment is kept and honoured."

So I am unhappy when I hear of moves to introduce homosexual 'marriages', able to be conducted within buildings that have been dedicated to the worship of Almighty God.  And I am unhappy when I learn, in this evening's news bulletin, of the rise in 'sham' marriages, in which foreign nationals pay a great deal of cash in order to have a 'legal' marriage arranged with someone whom they have only met, and hired, for that purpose.  Where is the "life-long companionship"?   When will there ever be any children of such a union?  How can any such 'marriage' be a commitment to be "kept and honoured"?

Of course, there are a number of measures that are designed to make it as difficult as possible (although still not particularly difficult!) for these 'marriages' to be arranged.  Yet the present UK government is apparently bowing to a ruling by the Law Lords in July 2008 that Home Office rules that stated that foreign nationals needed official permission to marry, breached their "human rights".

According to Article 16 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
  • (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  • (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  • (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
I read nothing there that makes it a 'human right' to abuse the institution of marriage simply in order to make it easier to remain in a country to which one is not native, and to which one may be making no positive contribution.  The Immigration Minister, Mr Damien Green, did give an assurance that if any suspicious activities were to be reported, they would be followed through, and dealt with by the immigration authorities.  This, it seems to me, is saying "Commit the crime; and just hope that you're not caught"!  Surely prevention is much better than cure!

It is to be hoped - however vainly - that new procedures will be introduced, with all haste, to put an end to this fraudulent abuse of a God-given institution.

Monday, 21 March 2011

An E.U. referendum!

According to news reports today, the European Parliament has passed legislation that will permit "EU funding" (which, of course, like all 'government funding' is supplied by the taxpayer!) to be used by political parties to publicise their campaigns even in national referenda!

This could mean that, if the British people are eventually given the right to vote in a referendum regarding continuing membership of the discredited, disastrous, debacle that is called the EU, then their own cash could be used to support the campaigns of those with vested interests (aka overly-generous salaries, gold-plated pensions, exorbitant expenses, etc., etc.) in keeping the United Kingdom in!

Of course, there has to be the opportunity for such a referendum in the first case.  Unfortunately, while it would appear that Prime Minister Cameron is all for allowing the people of Libya to determine their own national future - and, as earlier posts would indicate, I am with him on that - he is not as willing to allow the British people to determine theirs!

It would appear that there is only one credible political party within the UK that would be willing to permit the British people to have their say.  It is my hope, therefore, that in the forthcoming elections at various levels of government around the UK, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) will see a great surge in support.  It is unlikely that they will end up in control of even a smaller Council, but a good result for them might just increase the pressure on Mr Cameron sufficiently that he would bow to the demands of many of his own back-benchers (supported, I understand, by a fair number from the Labour opposition) to allow a referendum.  It is unfortunate that he is not prepared to save considerable expense by holding such a vote on the same day in May as the other elections are taking place.  But of course, as usual, spending other people's money is just too easy!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A blesséd Sunday

It's been a great day - sharing the Word of God in two different fellowships.  In the morning, I was back with my former congregation in Bellshill: St Andrew's.  It's always good to meet up with them, and they always give me such a warm welcome.  The message, there, was based on Leviticus 6:13 - and I hope to be able to bring a further message based on that verse, next Sunday morning.

In the evening, I was back with the folk in the Dykehead (Shotts) Mission, where I was also warmly welcomed. The message there was on the unanswerable question that is found in Hebrews 3:2 and, as that message was recorded, I have uploaded it to my "audio blog" - hotlink in the right-hand side-bar (that means that you only need to click on the address, and you should be taken straight to the site!) where it says "We've moved!".  Some might think that it would be worth listening to!  It's the message at the top of the selection offered, and is headed The Unanswerable Question.  There are a number of other messages there - most of them, at this time, studio recordings - and I would suggest that they are worth listening to as well!  (No point in false modesty.  I believe, and others have confirmed, that preaching is a gifting that I have received from the Lord - He gets any praise that is due!)

What is that question?  Well, you'll just have to look it up in a Bible - and then listen to the message online, to discover more about it!

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Integrity.

How often have I written in a character reference for someone, that the person involved is someone of "integrity".  I knew what I meant when I used that word, and I assumed that the prospective employer would understand also.  However, if I had been asked to provide a full definition of the word, I would have been reaching for my dictionary - and discovering that, although the connection may be obvious, it only appears as a derivative from 'integer'! 

So I was delighted to receive the following in my e-mail Inbox today.  It came from Tyndale House Publishers, who regularly main a Leadership Devotional.  I commend it to everyone as an excellent summary of what integrity really is - particularly as it applies to those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus!

"People with integritywalk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall."  Proverbs 10:9

 Integrity is a high standard of living based on a personal code of morality that doesn't succumb to the whim of the moment or the dictates of the majority. Integrity is to personal character what health is to the body or 20/20 vision is to the eyes. People of integrity are whole; their lives are put together. People with integrity have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Their lives are open books. They say to a watching world, "Go ahead and look. My behavior will match my beliefs. My walk will match my talk. My character will match my confession."

Integrity is not reputation--what others think of us. It is not success--what we have accomplished. Integrity embodies the sum total of our being and our actions. It originates in who we are as believers in Jesus Christ--accepted, valued, capable, and forgiven--but it expresses itself in the way we live and behave, no matter whether we are in church on Sunday or at work on Monday or in a lonely hotel room on Tuesday or suffering in a hospital bed on Thursday.

Unfortunately, integrity is in short supply and seems to be diminishing everyday. All too frequently our integrity is discarded upon the altar of fame or fortune. Sadly, what we want to achieve is more important than what we are to be. Integrity is lost when we focus on expedience more than excellence, on progress more than purity, on riches more than righteousness.

People are watching. They watch to see if our behavior matches our belief, if our walk matches our talk, and if our character matches our confession. In a word, they watch to see if we have integrity.

How secure is your walk? Others are watching.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A Libyan parable

Earlier this week, I and some friends - each one of us strong, healthy, and with legally held weapons - were walking along the street.  On the other side, we noticed a frail elderly couple, and some young children, who were being attacked by a family from the area, well-known for their nastiness and violent behaviour, and some of their thuggish friends.

It was quite sad to see the unequal struggle, and to hear the cries for help that came from the victims.  We did spend some time discussing whether or not we should go to their aid - but that would have required crossing the street, and we were unsure as to whether or not that would constitute an illegal act on our behalf.  After all, that side of the street had been controlled by the family for over forty years!   Eventually, the situation sorted itself out. The victims were disposed off; the family continued to strut along the other side of the street; and we walked on, happy in the knowledge that our weapons had not had to be used.  We regretted the loss of life of the victims, but they had probably upset the family, so had really brought their troubles on themselves.

That is, of course, merely a 'parable' of the ongoing situation in Libya.  While westerm leaders talk among themselves about the legality, or otherwise, of dealing with a family that is headed by a mad despot, the Libyan people are being systematically destroyed.  Listening to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, this morning (16th March), left me in no doubt that the cries for help are genuine; that the ordinary Libyan people are in danger; and that if there is any further delay, not only will Qu'adaffi regain complete control of the country, but also that his revenge on those who dared to oppose him will be swift, and uncompromising.

I trust that those leaders who are still full of nothing other than rhetoric will be able to live with themselves.  However, I know that I could not - because the Libyan situation is not a parable!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Thank you, your Eminence.

With my cultural, and religious, background, I am constantly amazed at the fact that I regularly appreciate the pronouncements of various senior figures in the Church of Rome.  I recall, many years ago, actually telephoning the offices of the archdiocese of Glasgow to express my gratitude to the late Archbishop (later, Cardinal) Thomas Winning; I have publicly expressed my gratitude in the letters page of The (Glasgow) Herald newspaper; and, once again, I wish to do so - this time to Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

The Cardinal is widely reported, today, as having made the (in my opinion) very valid point that aid packages from the U.K. government to certain countries should be conditional on a firm commitment, by the relevant foreign government, to religious freedom; and a pledge to protect Christians and other religious minorities.

He is reported as stating that "To increase aid to the Pakistan Government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti- Christian foreign policy.  Pressure should now be put on the Pakistan Government, and the governments of the Arab world as well, to ensure religious freedom is upheld.  The provision of aid must require a commitment to human rights."

His comments were made at the launch of a Report into the persecution of Christians - a subject that is frequently aired on this blog - and follow the recent murder in Islamabad of Shabbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the Pakistani Cabinet and an outspoken critic of the country’s blasphemy laws.  It is to be hoped that the words of such a high-profile clergyman will have some positive effect on the situation.

However, I was also interested in the reported response of the Foreign Office.  According to The Herald, Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office Minister, said the UK Government shared the Cardinal’s concern about the plight of Christians.  Mr Burt pointed to how Mr Hague (the British Foreign Secretary) had set up a new Advisory Group on Human Rights, which identified religious freedom as a key human rights issue at its first meeting in December. He also stated that: “It is vital that Pakistan guarantees the rights of all its citizens, regardless of their faith or ethnicity. We will continue to press for religious freedoms to be upheld in Pakistan and around the world.” (my emphasis!).

I would love to know how the present British Government manages to make such high-sounding comment with regard to the persecution of Christians in other countries, while apparently ignoring the increasing marginalistion of Christians in the U.K.!  I suspect that Mr & Mrs Bull (B&B owners); Lesley Pilkington (Christian counsellor); and Mr & Mrs Jones (former foster parents); would wish to take the minister to task in the light of the recent cases in which these people have been involved - interestingly, all at the instigation of the homosexual lobby (funded by the taxpayer, in the form of the Government-funded Equality and Human Rights Commission.)

My other concern is that while Cardinal O'Brien is standing up, publicly, and making his voice heard, the voices of the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (and those of the other Presbyterian denominations); the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church in Scotland; the General Secretary of the Scottish Baptist Union; the leadership of the Congregational churches, the Methodist churches, Independent churches, and anyone from the Brethren movement, are deafening only in their silence!

Many of us need to seek forgiveness, for failing to speak out on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters.  The solemn words of the Lord Jesus, as recorded in Matt.7:21-23 and Matt.25:41-46 are worth pondering!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Lent.

Today was the first Sunday in Lent - that season in the Christian calendar that, like so much else, seems to have been hijacked by those who profess no allegiance to (or even interest in) the Christ of the cross.  It seems to be just another photo-shoot opportunity for so-called 'stars' to let us all know which particular item they are going to be "giving up for Lent"!

But what is Lent?  What is the real thinking behind it?  May I suggest that it has all to do with Jesus.  The Lenten period is a reminder, not that He "gave up chocolate" (I doubt if any would have been available in the Middle East of the time!), but that He spent forty days in the wilderness area, culminating in the attempts, by the devil, to sidetrack Him from obedience to the Father's will. (Matthew 4:1-11, et al).

Lent, if it is to be in any way meaningful, should surely be a time when we seek to concentrate our minds more on Him.  We, too, are subject to the temptations of the evil one.  Peter reminds us that he "... prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (I.Peter 5:8).   Just last night, I was watching a television programme that showed lions (actually, lionesses!) hunting.  It isn't just the speed of the great cat that is employed.  Indeed, speed is of secondary importance!  What those lionesses used was cunning strategy.  They targetted their prospective lunch, and worked, together, to bring it down.

The devil is no less cunning.  He knows me better than I know myself (although not as well as the Lord knows me).  He knows my weaknesses; my "Achilles' heels".  He also knows my strengths - few 'though they may be - and he employs all of that knowledge to attack me where he has most chance of success.

The fasting aspect of Lent, which is much more than giving up chocolate, or whatever, is an opportunity for me to use the senses that are thus sharpened in my defence.  If I give up an activity, then the time I would otherwise have used, should be used in alternative activities that will draw me closer to Him.  If I save money through this period, it should surely be given to a cause that is seeking to exalt His Name in our day.

Of course, I don't want to be "religious" about all of that.  I recall what Jesus had to say about those who act thus:  "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, thatyour fasting may not be seen by men but by you Father Who is in secret; and your FatherWho sees in secret will reward you." (Matt.616-18)

Lent - let it be to His glory!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Have a tissue ready!

It's a strange old world in which we live!  Somewhat 'topsy-turvey' at times.  I read my newspaper; I watch the televised news bulletins; I listen to the radio.  What I hear is that a top banker is receiving a bonus of £6.5 million.  That's just his bonus; and it's just for one year.  I don't know anyone, personally, who will earn that amount over a full working lifetime!  Of course, I don't know any Bank Directors or CEOs!

Then there are the 'pop stars', the 'sporting personalities', and the show business 'celebrities' who regularly receive their gongs in the Honours Lists.  It's as if all of that fame and fortune isn't enough for them - and maybe, deep down, it isn't!  Of course, one ought not to forget the politicians, and former politicians, who continue to use their position and/or contacts to ensure that their own little nests are well and truly feathered.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of ordinary, decent, people who work hard; are generous with their time and talents; support a variety of worthy causes; and care for their families.  Such a one is portrayed in the video clip, below.  As you watch, you'll realise the significance of the heading to this post!

It's a true story.  One day a son asks his father: "Dad, will you run the marathon with me?" The father answers "Yes", and both run their first marathon together. One day, the son asks his father if he wants to run the marathon with him again and the father answers "Yes". They both run the marathon together again. Then one day the son asks his father: "Dad, will you run the Ironman with me?" (the Ironman is the toughest - it requires a 4km swim, 180km biking and 42km running). yet again, the father says "Yes".  Doesn't sound too bad - but check the video!

You can have your bankers, and politicians, and pop stars, and all the rest.  Not one of them is fit to lick this dad's boots. And I know, that when I arrive in glory, it will because Jesus has carried me, pushed me, pulled me, done it all for me. But I'll be the one with the smile on my face, as the angels clap, and rejoice in another trophy of grace. Hallelujah! How can I be so certain?  The words of the song that accompanies the video, will answer that question! (and yes, I did shed a tear!).

Now - watch the video!


Monday, 7 March 2011

Who's watching the children?

Although it would appear that they have not broken any of the relevant regulations, Labour's dynamic duo (no, not the Milliband boys!) of Ed Balls and his wife, Yvette Cooper, have been named by a Conservative M.P. who has asked the Standards' Commissioner to investigate claims on their expenses for almost 400 journeys - by their three children!  The accusation is that Mr and Mrs Balls have had their family's travel subsidised more than other "Honourable Members" have had for their families!

Of course, the Party machine has quickly moved into operation, and the shadow Children's minister has pointed out that the couple have to be in Parliament, and in their constituencies, each week; and asks who is supposed to look after the children if they have to leave them behind in London, or in Yorkshire?

May I be so bold as to suggest that, with two ministerial salaries in the last government, and two shadow ministerial salaries in the current parliament, together with all of the expenses that members are still able to claim, they could at least afford to employ a nanny?!  Better, if Mrs Balls feels the need to be employed, let her take up a job that would allow her to be at home with her children at least as much as the average working mother!  Best of all, she could be radically reactionist, and stay at home to look after her children by herself!

Of course, there will be those who will defend this woman's right to take on whatever job she pleases.  However, I would wish to defend the right of her children to be surrounded by a mother's love!
 
The Biblical model of the family - with the husband being the provider, and the wife being the carer - may be out of fashion in our modern secular society.  But it's still the healthiest, and the best!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Another assassination in Pakistan

It was in July of last year that I was made aware of the violent threats that were being made against Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Minorities' Affairs, and the only Christian member in the Cabinet.  At that time, I was informed that this brother in the Lord had pled, passionately, that we in the 'free west' would take one minute to pray for him every day.
 
Having made him an integral part of my daily devotions ever since, I was more than usually shocked when I heard, on this morning's radio news, that he had just been assassinated - the second high-profile Pakistani politician to have been thus murdered, in just a few weeks.  In each case, the reason for the assassination has been the victim's opposition to Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws.

In such a situation, I find myself questioning.  I know that prayer works. I also know that this was not the outcome for which I had been praying.  The only answer that makes any sense is that, as the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah: "'My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,' says the Lord.  'And My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.'" (Isa 55:8-9; NLT).

I continue to believe, as did my brother Shahbaz, in the sovereignty of God.  I continue to believe that His will is perfect.  I continue to believe that He is, regardless of how the situation may look to my eyes, working out His own purposes.  I see everything from the limited perspective of created time; He sees everything from the perspective of eternity - an eternity in which Shahbaz Bhatti is praising the Lord for Whose Name he died.

Was it just 'coincidence' that a former fellow-student at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow, who had taken on the task of reuniting as many of us as he could contact sent, today, some further instalments of this epistle that he has produced - in one of which he gave this quotation from a former BTI Lecturer and, later, Principal?

Christians too may be puzzled by the ways of God, but He has given us such affirmations of His holiness, grace and wisdom in the cross and resurrection of Jesus that faith is constantly renewed as it contemplates these wonderful facts in a spirit of trustful worship.’ (Geoffrey Grogan)


In such a spirit of worship, I commend the family and friends of Shahbaz Bhatti to the gracious embrace of the living God - Who knows, Himself, what such a loss is like.  May they be filled with His peace, and surrounded by His loving strength.