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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