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Saturday, 25 February 2017

Apartheid?! In Israel?!!

This is the time of year when "Israel Apartheid Week" takes place. "Israel Apartheid Week" is an annual series of university lectures and rallies. The series is held in February or March. According to the organization, "the aim of IAW is to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement."

So is the State of Israel an apartheid state? The very use of the word conjures up pictures, in the minds of some of us, of South Africa, and the total segregation of the black population from those of Caucasian descent. We may think, also, of the southern states of the USoA in the 1950s and 60s, and the segragation that led to the Civil Rights Movement. If this is what is happening in the State of Israel, today, then that State deserves all of the condemnation that it receives.

"If this is happening ..."! Permit me to share some factual information about life in modern Israel - and then judge for yourself whether, or not, the accusation of apartheid holds any water. Here are just seven reasons that give the lie to any such claim - there are many more!

1. Voting. Israel is a multi-ethnic democracy. All citizens vote in elections on an equal basis. Israel's Arab minority participates fully in the political process.

2. Equal Rights. Minorities in Israel are guaranteed equal rights. Discrimination based on ethnicity is against the law, and the Courts are effective in countering unfair discrimination.

3. Integration. This is, of course, the total opposite of segregation!  Unlike apartheid South Africa, and the segregated southern states in the USoA, there is no segregation on public transport in Israel. Universties in Israel are fully integrated. Jews and Arabs work together; eat together; and live, side-by-side, in the same areas.

4. Economic gaps. Since the report of a Commission in 2000, Israel has been steadily closing economic gaps between Jews and Arabs; opening up the civil serice to Arab citizens; equalising welfare; introducing Arabic as a language to be learned, into Jewish schools; and improving access to higher education for all.

5. Arabic. Arabic is, in fact, Israel's second official language, and there is a thriving Arabic-language mass media, literature, and theatre scene.

6. Politics. There are twelve Members (MKs - the equivalent of UK MPs) in the current Knesset (Parliament). Arabs have also held Cabinet posts in the Government; and have served in the civil service, and the Supreme Court! Perhaps someone will remind me of any Arab country in which Jews are able to hold such high office! Oh, wait a minute! There aren't any!  On the contrary, those travelling on an Israeli passport are banned from Bangladesh, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen - even if they only wanted to enter for a brief holiday!

7. Popularity. In research done through Harvard University, 77% of the Arab citizens of Israel said that they prefer living in Israel to living in any other country in the world - and many of them back up that claim be serving in the IDF (Israeli Defence Force).

I have a very dear Jewish friend from the UK who has family living in Israel, and who visits the country frequently. When he does, I always receive a collection of photographs that he has taken during his visit. Many of those photographs provide, themselves, adequate proof that Israel is NOT an apartheid state. It is, in fact, as Nikki Haley, the new US Ambassador to the United Nations emphasised in her first news conference since taking up her post, "the one true democracy in the Middle East".

Let all who value truth be no longer fooled by the anti-Israel rhetoric that emanates from bodies such as the UN; by the attempts, by the UN and the strong Muslim lobby within its fold, to re-write history by denying the Jewish connection with the historic city of Jerusalem; by the false claims made by organisations such as the BDS (see the link above). Rather, let us be purveyors of truth that, by God's grace, it may triumph.

If we are praying people, let us pray regularly for the state, and the nation, of Israel. If we are disciples of Jesus, let us remember that He was born, in the flesh, into a Jewish family; that He was raised as a Jewish boy; that He lived and worked as a Jew; that He taught as a Jew; that He was crucified as a Jew.

And let us oppose anti-semitism wherever it raises its ugly head, by any means open to us.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Ladies' Night!

The pressure of preparation, at the moment, combined with the ongoing work in house and garden, led to me spending a lot less time on the social network Facebook than had previously been the case. With more than a week since my last post here, I am realising that the blog is also being neglected. Such are the joys of "retirement" when one is a disciple of Jesus. I was told - a long time before it applied to me! - that, in the Kingdom of God, there is neither retirement nor redundancy! There is always "a work for Jesus" for those who are willing and who make themselves available.

Anyway, last night my wife was at a "Ladies' Night" organised by some of the young women in the French Fellowship of which we are members. As it was quite a distance away, I was the designated chauffeur for her, and one of the younger ladies who was travelling with us. I took my laptop, and fully intended getting some preparation done for a meeting next week, and preparing a post for the blog. However, the young man of the house in which we met, and with whom I was sharing the study (he also had work to do), and I started talking! Already, in this post, I have typed almost as much as I managed to type last evening.

I had a splendid evening (by the way, so did my wife and the other ladies involved!) chatting with this young man. Our topics of conversation ranged over a wide spectrum - from foreign exchange rates, to politics, to DIY and, of course, to matters Biblical and theological. We shared our thoughts on how to respond to certain questions that are regularly asked of disciples of Jesus - especially questions concerning the existence of God; and the creation of all that is. We discussed the possibilities for overt evangelism in the French culture. It was wonderful - and I realised that I miss such discussions!

A couple of Scripture texts came to my mind. I thought of Proverbs 27:17 - "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." This was not me lecturing or preaching (although I confess that I did do most of the talking!!), but two brothers in the Lord Jesus sharing their thoughts with one another, and each learning something from the other.

I thought of the words of Psalm 133:1 - "Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" We were not always fully in agreement - but we were (and are!) brothers in Jesus, and so could agree to differ on matters that are not of the substance of the faith.

The evening was a reminder of how much we need one another. The Bible knows nothing of a "solitary Christian" - although there are obviously situations and circumstances in which one may be cut off from any form of Christian fellowship. I think, of course, especially of those who are incarcerated for their faith; and those who are the only believer in their locality.

However, even as I type, I am reminded of some words of the Lord Jesus, shortly before His arrest, passion, and crucifixion: "The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave Me aloneyet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me." (John 16:32). However dark the day; even if denied the joy of human company; the disciple of Jesus need never be "alone" - for He is always with us. He is the One Who, even as He commanded: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you;" promised "and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matt.28:19-20; emphasis added).

Do you know that Presence? He is only a prayer away!

Monday, 13 February 2017

It's February 13th!

Today has been a special day for me. It's that one that comes around, with unfailing regularity, every year on this date! Yes, today I have been celebrating my birthday. I have been blessed by good wishes from the UK (mostly Scotland!); from France; from Germany; from Canada; from New Zealand; and even from the United Arab Emirates.  Many of the greetings have been from former pupils at Lesmahagow High School - and many of them remembered that this is not my "birthday", but the anniversary thereof! It's always good to know that they remember something of what I taught them - even if it doesn't have anything, directly, to do with the regular lessons!

However, this is the second birthday anniversary that I have celebrated this year - the first one being just a few days ago. Today, I celebrate the anniversary of my physical birth; on February 9th, I celebrated the anniversary of my spiritual birth, when I was "born again" in the terms of the words of the Lord Jesus to a man named Nicodemus, as recorded in the New Testament Scriptures: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." (Jn.3:3).

My physical birth set me off on this journey that we call 'life'. It's a journey - as my former pupils may recall - that has lasted twenty-seven years ... ... ... and a few months (okay, it is now quite a few months!). It's been a varied life in which I have been wonderfully blessed in so many different ways. I was born to parents who loved me, cared for me, and often sacrificed their own comfort for mine. I received an excellent education so that I could read, write, count and, perhaps most importantly, think for myself! I was raised in a God-fearing environment; I was encouraged in all that I tried to do.

Then, I eventually "flew the nest" - but I saw a great deal of the world during my time in the British Merchant Navy. I moved on to tertiary education. I found the most wonderful girl in the world, and she agreed to become my wife. She gave me two beautiful daughters. She has been my faithful companion and friend for decades - encouraging me, caring for me, loving me; and she is still the most important human being in my life.

I have had three full-time careers - and dabbled in so much else from radio broadcasting to legal representation (and I never lost a case!!!).  Yes, my physical life has been varied, interesting, exciting - and has had its mixture of joy and sadness.

So what about my spiritual birth? Well, when I accepted that I am a sinner and unable, in my own strength, to do anything about it; when I accepted that the sacrificial death of Jesus, the Christ, cancelled all of my sin; when I came to Him, in repentance and faith; I became an adopted child of the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. I received that forgiveness that so many seek.

As an adopted child of the living God, I also have eternal life - that is, His own life in me, here and now! I have had a great life as a disciple of Jesus. Oh, I have often let Him down - but He has never let me down! However, the best is yet to come. When I "shuffle off this mortal coil" - either by my physical death, or by my being "... caught up in the clouds ... ... to meet the Lord in the air; ..." (I Thessalonians 4:17), I shall then spend eternity - which is not "endless time", but "timelessness" - in the presence of Almighty God, praising and glorifying "... the Lamb Who was slain from the foundation of the world." (Rev.13:8). And there shall be no "... mourning, nor crying, nor pain ..." (Rev.21:4).

I wonder how many birthday celebrations you have, each year? Each of us has one - but it's the second one that decides our eternal destiny. May you come to Him, "... the author and finisher 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).

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Parable of a Wild Duck!

The story is told of some wild ducks, making their annual springtime journey northwards. As they flew over a particular farm, they could see a flock of tame ducks in the yard. One of the wild ducks left his migrating friends in flight, and made his way down to the yard, where he mingled with the ducks on the ground.

After having eaten some of the corn that the farmer had provided for his own ducks, the wild bird flew away. However, he quickly returned and, this time, stayed a little longer. The safety of the farm, and the plentiful supply of food, were so appealing that he lived all summer among the domestic fowl. When autumn came, he heard the cries of his former companions as they headed southward to their winter nesting place. He felt a strong desire to join them - but his added weight from having eaten so much kept him from flying very far! So, he settled down and spent all winter on the farm.

In the following spring, he again heard the familiar call of the migrating flock. His eyes gleamed, and he began to flap his wings - but he had no real desire to fly, and made no real effort! That autumn, the sound of the wild ducks flying overhead only caused him to, momentarily, look up - and from then on, he paid no attention at all. One day, the farmer decided it was the turn of this particular bird, and he discovered the cost of all of that corn as his neck was wrung!

That little story has an important lesson for those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus. We, too, can be lured into complacency by losing the high ideals that we espoused when we committed ourselves to Him. Solomon is an example of one who began with a sincere desire to be a wise and righteous ruler; but he compromised his principles by being married to women from heathen nations, in disobedience to the Law of God. Eventually, he had drifted so far from the noble aspirations of his earlier years that his reign ended in failure - and resulted in the splitting of the kingdom.

If you are a disciple of Jesus reading this, I would encourage you to submit yourself fully to Him; renew your commitment on a daily basis; and be true to His high purpose for your life! Think of the parable of the wild duck, when you are tempted to associate too closely with those who may lead you astray. Remember, if you disobey God to satisfy your own desires, you will soon lose your high spiritual standards. We are called to be witnesses for Him, wherever we are. What sort of witness am I? What sort of witness are you?

Paul wrote: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Rom.12:2). That's the answer!

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Lies, damned lies, and statistics!

The well-known saying that is the heading for this post, has often been attributed to the great British statesman, Benjamin Disraeli. That, I have discovered, is unlikely to be true, and the actual originator may well be that other distinguished personage, A.N.Onymous!

However, regardless of who first made the statement, the meaning is obvious. There are three degrees of falsehood: lies ("white" lies?!); damned lies (more serious untruths?!); and statistics (which may be manipulated to mean whatever one wishes them to mean!).

However, some statistics are neither political, nor financial, and are therefore less likely to be manipulated in any way. On Sunday, I was presented with some statistics issued by the office of the French Minister of the Interior, concerning the year 2016. They made interesting reading. According to this official source, there was a rise, in France, in attacks against Christian places of worship of 17.4%. A total of 90% of attacks on places of worship were aimed at Christian buildings.

The state counted 949 acts of anti-Christian acts for the year 2016. Among these, 399 were acts of vandalism, 191 thefts of cult objects, 14 facts were deemed to have had "satanic motivation" (and remember, this is an official report from the government of what is a secular state!), and 25 were perpetrated by anarchists.

On the other hand, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic acts are on the decline. Indeed in 2015, the State counted 429 acts that were recorded as being anti-Muslim, and 808 acts that were recorded as being anti-semitic. However, these figures fall respectively to 182 and 335 for the year 2016.

So what may one take out of these figures? I would suggest that the most important thing is that, in spite of the number of Islamic-inspired atrocities in France, in recent years, there has been very little back-lash from the population at large, directed at Muslims.

What about the increase in anti-Christian attacks? Another set of figures, issued on Jan 6th by  the Observatory of Christianophobia, headed by journalist Daniel Hamiche, a member of the Church of Rome, claimed that "Christianophobe" (who coins these words that are literally false?!) activity in France increased by a massive 37.4% from 2015 - 2016.

I have been asked to give a presentation, next month, to a group of English-language speakers, on the subject of the Persecuted Church - a subject that has been dear to my heart for some fifty years. I plan to share about three countries that have become, over the years, the countries on which the Lord seems to have led me to concentrate. None of them, of course, are in any part of Europe. Do these figures suggest that, in the not too distant future, European countries will, in fact, be places in which disciples of Jesus are persecuted for their faith?

If that does happen - and it is more likely than less - then it will certainly clean out the church of its "deadwood" - those about whom Paul warns his "child in the faith" (I Tim.1:2), Timothy: "... understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people." (II Tim.3:1-5; emphasis added).

Many are increasingly certain that we are in the last days before Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists brings time to an end. The signs are all around us. This reported rise in anti-Christian activity may not yet be of the same magnitude as is experienced in North Korea; Somalia; Afghanistan; Pakistan; and Sudan - to name just the top five of the fifty countries in which disciples of Jesus are actively persecuted. However, there is no guarantee in the written Word of God, of which I am aware, that "western" Christians will be exempt from persecution. Jesus said: "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you;..." (John 15:20).

Those in the Persecuted Church about which I have been invited to speak, do not seek release from their sufferings, but constantly ask that we pray that they will be found faithful! When our time comes, may we also be found faithful - even unto death. 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Who is in charge?

In our contemporary society, it's a question we may often ask ourselves! Oh, we know who holds the "top" positions - the various monarchs, and presidents, and prime ministers, etc. But there are theories that those who are really in charge merely use these people to get their own way. Is it the "Bilderberger Group"? Is it George Soros? Are they all united in their aim of a New World Order - that they control?

Such thoughts came to me during my personal devotions, this morning, as I read Psalm 2:
Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?
 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together,
 against YHWH and His anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds asunder,
  and cast their cords from us.”
 He who sits in the heavens laughs; YHWH has them in derision.
 Then He will speak to them in His wrath,  and terrify them in His fury, saying,

“I have set My king 
on Zion, My holy hill.” (vs1-6)
This is a time of great uncertainty in many aspects of the world situation. News bulletins, and newspapers, are filled with concerns about the international situation. There is talk of war - whether between the USoA and China; or the USoA and N.Korea; or a full WW III. There has been a rise in anti-Semitism that has alarmed many. Some are using what they claim is simply criticism of the State of Israel

The Bible speaks of a great shaking that will take place before the end of this present age: "For thus says YHWH Sabaoth: 'Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with splendor', says YHWH Sabaoth." (Haggai 2:6-7). There are many - including yours truly - who believe that we are seeing that great shaking at this time. It is a time when we do well to watch the changing situation, and stay close to Father God. 

The assurance that we may have is that YHWH Sabaoth - The LORD of the armies of heaven - is still Sovereign. He is, whether some wish to acknowledge it, or not, the King and Lord of all that is created. He is the One Who is, ultimately, in charge! And His people may be encouraged by the closing words of that second Psalm: "Blessed (Happy) are all who take refuge in Him."

When the heavens are rent, and the Lord Jesus appears on Mt Zion, it will be too late. "'At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.' Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (II Cor.6:2).

What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be.
Some day, your heart will be asking: "What will He do with me?"