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THIS AND THAT
Here are few short articles on various topics that hopefully will stimulate thought.
1. IT'S A FUNNY OLD WORLD
“It's a funny old world” Mrs. Thatcher said, as her personal world seemed to be falling apart. No doubt she didn't mean it is amusing, but rather that it is puzzling. So we find it still. Although many scientists speak with commendable caution about the big bang and the age of the universe, all too often this subject is translated into an absolute certainty in the minds of most people, largely through the medium of radio and especially television, where proponents of such views have free access. Confident assertions are made that the universe is extremely ancient and that we humans are where we are today as the result of a process that has taken all that time.
On the other hand, when Christians declare that there is a Creator God to whom we are all accountable, that there is life after death in heaven or hell, that God can be known now, and that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, then we are told that we should keep our beliefs to ourselves, out of our schools, out of the workplace, out of politics, out of the public arena generally.
The difference, we are told, is between science and faith. The former, so it is claimed, is about facts; the latter, about beliefs. But it's not that simple. For one thing, the occurrence of the big bang and the age of the earth are not demonstrable facts. If they were, every scientist would believe them, but they don't. For another thing, because those alleged events are not provable, they belong in the realm of belief, such belief being based on an interpretation of evidence. Still, I suppose the proclaimers of one faith will go on making their confident assertions, and the proclaimers of another faith will go on being to told to shut up. Yes, it's a funny old world.
2. WHO IS IN CONTROL?
Terrorist attacks abroad; police on high alert at home; political turmoil in Westminster; military aggression and war crimes in some parts of the world. Added to these distressing worldwide and national events, there are personal tragedies like terminal illness, fatal or life-changing injuries, marriage breakdown, and becoming a victim of crime. With all this, it's no surprise if we wonder who, if anyone, is in control.
Christians say that God is in control, but how can that be? If he is almighty and a God of love as the Christians say, surely he would do something to stop the pain, if indeed, he would have allowed it to start in the first place.
But if God is not in control, who is? National governments or international organisations like the UN? If so, they're obviously not making a very good job of it. Could it be the devil? In the unlikely event of people believing in the devil, it's cold comfort to think that the prince of evil is in control of world events.
What's left? Only cruel fate. What other explanation can there be? It seems as though the world is like an old sailing ship that has lost its rudder, sails and masts, and is being driven helplessly to destruction on the rocks by blind fate. Pretty dismal, don't you think?
But hang on a minute. Before drawing the conclusion that there cannot be an almighty God of love, it is worth stopping to ask, “What will I gain by denying his existence?” What comfort can atheism give me? What's more, if there is no God, no after-life, no day of judgement, where is ultimate justice to be found? If the suicide bomber simply goes into oblivion, if he ceases to exist in any form, then according to the atheist his lot is no different to that of his victims. Where is the justice in that?
This is a big subject and these sentences only make a tiny scratch on the surface, but surely it's worth thinking about – isn't it?
3. YOU KNOW WHO I MEAN
of a man who could walk into a famine region and feed many hungry
people with the barest of supplies – who could go among diseased
people and cure them without medicine – who could prevent natural
disasters. A man who had phenomenal powers so that he could do
anything he wanted, but only ever used his powers for the good of
mankind. A man who never retaliated when people were rotten to him. A
man who, if he ever got angry, it was only on account of people who
were behaving badly and dishonouring his family name.
All right, you don't believe such a man ever did or could exist. But humour me; let's pretend that he did. How would you expect people to react to him? Would you expect them to laugh at him? To say he was mad? To accuse him of being under the power and in the service of the devil? Would you expect people to want nothing to do with him? To ignore him? Or if they took notice of him to spit on him and clamour for his death?
Well, whether any of us believes it or not, we have it on reliable testimony that such a man did once walk this earth, and that is how he was treated. Insofar as making a joke of him, or dishonouring his family name, or wanting nothing to do with him, that is still how he is treated by many. Of course, you know who I mean. You do, don't you?
What's the point of life? Well, to be brutally honest, there's no point at all except to perpetuate the human race and to make life as bearable as we can for ourselves and others while we may. But what's the point of that? Why bother to perpetuate the race just for the sake of it? We're all going to die anyway. According to an item on Classic FM News on Wednesday 5th October, no-one can ever expect to live more than 125 years.
The belief that four and a half billion years ago, without any intelligent cause, there was a big bang, and everything that we see about us today is the result of that, dominates our world view. As a result, nothing has any real meaning or purpose. Natural selection, the survival of the fittest, call it what you will, means that dog eats dog, the strong survive and breed, the weak fall by the wayside, and why should we care?
There's one problem with this. We do care about the weak and oppressed, like the suffering people of Aleppo. We do have have compassion for the sick, and build hospitals. We do feel for the hungry, and have food distribution programmes. We are concerned about the victims of crime, and have a justice system.
Well it's December, and Christmas is coming, so let's think about summer holidays!
No, I'm not assuming the character of Ebenezer Scrooge and dismissing Christmas as humbug, but “time, like an ever-rolling stream” flows on, and as it does so, plans and hopes are replaced by memories, some good and some not so good.
Spring, summer, autumn, winter. Christmas, New Year, Easter, holidays, back to work. We make an entrance at the maternity unit; then it's school; after that, it's often university, marriage, parenthood, career, old-age. So the years roll on. Soon time will give way to eternity – then where shall we be?
NEW YEAR OPTIMISM ~ OR NOT
Perhaps January is not everyone's favourite month, with its cold days and perhaps a depressing bank balance after a big spend at Christmas, but it does have its more optimistic side. After all, we're into a new year, the days are beginning to lengthen, and there are signs of early spring flowers beginning to be seen. Some of us may have even booked our summer holidays, giving us something to look forward to.
On the other hand, we may feel the future is full of uncertainty, anxiety and loneliness. Instead of hope, there are doubts and fears. Daily news broadcasts telling us about the plight of refugees from war-torn regions, do nothing to brighten our horizon. We can feel very vulnerable in the face of trouble.
The last place that most people in Britain look for comfort is the Bible, but in spite of that, it does say “The word of our God stands for ever” (Isaiah chapter 40, verse 8). Amidst all the uncertainties of life, God's word, like God himself, always remains certain; always true; always reliable. Those who build their lives upon this foundation will find that when the storms of life, and more particularly, the storm of God's final judgement, breaks upon them, they will not be shaken, but will be safe.
What part does the Word of God have in your life?
EVERYONE IS EQUAL, BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAT OTHERS!
Equality is a big issue these days. That's all very well, but one person's equality is another person's repression. The Government wants to bring in an “equality oath” which would have a seriously detrimental affect on our freedom of speech. If the Government succeeds with its plan, school governors, civil servants, councillors, and possibly people working in the NHS and candidates for Parliament would have to take the oath to support the notoriously vague “British values”.
The idea being considered came from Dame Louise Casey's review into integration and extremism. On 18th December last, the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, backed the idea. Since then Dame Louise has criticized religious conservatism, saying, “often it can be anti-equalities”. She said that Roman Catholic schools should not be allowed to oppose same-sex marriage.
The quest for “equality” has been demonstrated as being very unequal in some circumstances. The Equality Commission of Northern Ireland has chased the Ashers Baking Company through the law courts. Other Christians in the UK have been taken to court or lost their jobs. In its inspection of schools, Ofsted has promoted same-sex marriage using the “British values” rules.
The proposed “equality oath” would have the effect of driving people with conservative (small “c”) views on religion and morals out of public life. Between 1661 and 1668 the Test and Corporation Acts were used to oppress non-Anglican Christians, and, in 1662, about 2000 of the best ministers of the Church of England were ejected from their livings because they could not subscribe to a government oath. Do we want to return to those days of repression?
ROTTEN LUCK? OH NO!
We were looking forward to a few days visiting family in Scotland. Arrangements had been made. Train tickets had been bought. All was ready. But then, illness struck. Plans had to be cancelled.
Some people might think that was rotten luck, but I prefer to think that it was the work of the God of Providence “who works all things according to the counsel of his will”. “How could your God be so unkind?” someone might ask. He is not unkind, for he has promised “that all things work together for good to those who love God”, so although I don't know why this illness came and prevented us from enjoying a family visit, I do know that my heavenly Father had a good reason for it, and one day it will all become clear.
I realise that what happened to us is no big deal compared with the tragedies and trials that some people have to endure, but the principle I've outlined can apply in those cases too. Trusting God means that even when things go wrong from our point of view, and we don't understand why it had to happen that way, there is an underlying belief God knows best.
Someone will complain that that requires faith, and the complainant will assert his ability, or at least his desire, to live life without the “crutch” of faith. But does he have a better alternative? Like many people, he may resort to something called luck, whether good or bad, to explain life's trials and triumphs, disappointments and successes. Is that all he has to explain events? What is that, but a belief in an undefined, unverifiable, impersonal, unseen, capricious force determining his life, and beyond his control? In other words, he is a man of faith.
But as for me, while I can’t explain every event, I'll trust in the good, kind, wise, almighty God of providence, and with the hymn-writers sing, “Through all the changing scenes of life, In trouble and in joy, The praises of my God shall still My heart and tongue employ.”
A LAMP FOR OUR FEET
Some time ago, an Australian newspaper reported the story of an elderly grandfather who flashed his headlights at six motorists on a motorway because he thought they were driving the wrong way. Grandpa ended up having his car keys confiscated by the police!
Even longer ago, there was a very wicked king who had a very wicked wife. They were religious people, whose religion involved them in all manner of wicked practices. One day a preacher came to see the king, who accused the preacher of being a trouble-maker!
Even longer ago still, a very great king stole another man's wife and when she became pregnant, murdered her husband to cover up his crime. It appears the king was able to live with himself quite happily until a preacher came and told him a story about a rich man who stole from a poor man to provide a meal for a visitor. The king was enraged by the story, until he realised the point of the story was against himself.
Let's come back to the present. Interesting, isn't it, how we find it much easier to think of ourselves as being in the right, rather than admit we've got things wrong? But as grandpa and the kings referred to above had to learn, personal opinion is not a reliable guide to what is true or right. Neither, for that matter, is the opinion of the majority. We need a more sure guide if we are not to make shipwreck of our lives.
NOW HEAR THIS! (NOT THAT!)
When I was at school, one of our teachers was a Mr. Smith. We called him “Slipper Smith”, not so much because the alliteration slips off the tongue, but because the slipper was his chosen weapon of chastisement. On one occasion, Mr. Smith sent a boy on an errand. When the boy returned, Mr. Smith greeted him with, “Mercy!”, then added, “Do you know what that means?”
Now my tortoise-speed brain was in trouble, thinking of mercy as the quality of showing undeserved kindness, and failing to understand what Mr. Smith was driving at. But then the messenger-boy said “Thank you”, and the teacher affirmed his correctness. At last the penny dropped in my poor brain. Of course, it was not “Mercy!” but “Merci!” It was Mr. Smith's appalling French accent, (he taught Geography), that had caused the problem. A word spoken with the wrong accent came out as a different word altogether, and created misunderstanding and confusion.
Similar misunderstandings can arise in other contexts. A young man was sitting in the lounge of his girlfriend's home while he waited for her to get ready to go out with him. As he waited, his girlfriend's much younger sister came into the room and said, “Sis says she wouldn't marry you for toffee, but I would.”
In my case, I heard one thing, and thought I heard another. What we hear, or think we hear, is not always what is meant.
When you hear the word “Christian”, what do you hear? A protestant (another word that can mean more than one thing), a Roman Catholic, a Jehovah's Witness, an evangelical, would all define the word in different ways. May I encourage you not to assume you know what the word means, or that it makes little or no difference how you understand it. If you enquire further, you will hopefully find that the difference is even greater than between “Mercy” and “Thank you”!
WHAT WOULD YOU DIE FOR?
Huge numbers of motorcycle enthusiasts will have gathered last month (June) in the Isle of Man for the annual TT Races. The roar of powerful engines, the smell of racing oil, the excitement, the danger, the thrill of watching TT aces hurtle past at speeds up to 200 mph all combine to make it an unmissable event for some people.
It is an extraordinary thing that men, and sometimes women, are prepared to take such great risks for the love of motorcycle racing, a moment of glory and a place in history. There must be something in them that makes them blot out of their minds the fear of terrible life-changing injuries or death.
It makes me wonder what you and I would be prepared to take risks for – even to risk our lives. I read a report that said the Chinese government last year – yes, last year, not hundreds of years ago – launched a massive crackdown against house (unregistered) churches. Many ministers from different parts of China were bundled into vans and not seen again. Some were taken to dreaded “black gaols” which are secret prisons where they are tortured without mercy. Some church leaders have been arrested and injected with an unknown substance and then sent home in a vegetative state and permanently mentally incapacitated. All this because the Chinese government feels so insecure in the face of the phenomenal growth of the Chinese church. Christians in parts of India face similar challenges.
Again, I ask myself, what dangers am I prepared to face? What is more important to me than life itself? You might like to ask yourself the same question.
IS ANYONE LISTENING?
You don’t need me to tell you that terrible things have been happening in this country in recent times. Terrorist attacks in London in March, two more in June, and the terrorist attack in Manchester in May. Then there was the the horrifying fire in the Grenfell Tower, also in June. How many have died in these incidents, and how many are still suffering from the effects of injuries and bereavement, I cannot tell. It’s not only the numbers of people involved that is so dreadful, but the depth of suffering experienced by those who have survived.
Speaking at a rally in London last Saturday (July 8th), the Mayor of London told the crowd: “We’ve had a horrible last few weeks. We’ve had terror, we’ve had tragedy. You know what the best antidote to sorrow, the best antidote to sadness, to bereavement, to hatred, is Pride In London.”
Really, Mr Khan? Well, you are entitled to your opinion, but others are entitled to disagree. There is nothing new about violence and tragedy of course. Such things are mentioned in the New Testament. For instance, Pilate was guilty of a terrorist act when he killed some people from Galilee whilst they were offering sacrifices. A tragedy also occurred when a tower collapsed and killed eighteen people.
The response of the Lord Jesus to this violence and tragedy was to make it very clear that the people who suffered in this way were no worse people than those who lived around them. In other words, he was saying they were not being punished for their personal actions. He declared that what happened to them was a lesson for everyone else, and that includes us. God was and is calling everyone to turn to him and away from their sins, or disaster would come to them and us also.
Such language is anything but “PC” these days. Like Mr Khan, we prefer to try to come to terms with the suffering around us in ways that we find more acceptable. As a nation, we have long since abandoned any believable claim to listen to the voice of God in the Bible, but will anyone listen to him in these disastrous events? When disasters happen today we should ask ourselves “What lesson is there in this for us?”
The old saying, “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man” claims that what is taught to, and absorbed by, a child in his earliest years makes him the man he will become.
Assuming the truth of this saying, we may well ask what kind of men and women we are creating for the future? In most UK households, there is no adult who attends any place of worship, so children born into these homes grow up with little thought of the importance, or even the existence, of the soul’s needs. Few children go to Sunday School, and the religious teaching they receive in day-school can be a distortion of Christianity. Where children do receive some moral instruction in faith schools, Ofsted inspectors may be found trying to force such schools to change their ways. A senior politician is determined to push her view of morality onto the education system. Children, even very young children, are being taught that feelings are more authentic than reality. There is no longer (so it is claimed) any truth that is invariably true at all times and in all circumstances.
It should not be a surprise, therefore, if the children of today become the adults of tomorrow without any moral “compass” to guide them, other than what “works”, what feels good, or what pleases those with the loudest voices.
Of course, we’re not just thinking about tomorrow. We are already seeing the effects of this kind of child-rearing in the adults of today. As the trend of recent decades continues, we can but expect it to end in tears.
But it need not be like this. There is Someone who looks out upon people of today, upon adults and children of today, as he looked out on the multitudes long ago with compassion, seeing them as sheep without a shepherd – no-one to guide them; no-one to protect them. But he was willing to be their Shepherd then, and he is willing today, for those who will listen to his voice.
REMEMBERING THE REFORMATION
My guess is that for most people today, the Reformation was an event that never enters their thoughts. For them it is a matter of no concern, which, if ever it did come into their thoughts would be readily dismissed. To do this, I believe, is a big mistake. I’ll try and explain why.
Two things which the Reformation highlighted were the authority of Scripture, and justification by grace through faith, or, in plain language, how a sinful human being finds acceptance with God. Again, these may be dismissed as having no interest to 21st century people who think of what is believed as a purely personal matter, or who don’t believe in God at all.
But we are missing something important if we think the Reformation was nothing more than a disagreement between 16th century theologians. What ordinary people believed at that time affected the way they lived and how they would spend eternity. The Reformation in doctrine led to a reformation in living.
England in the 18th century before the preaching of men like John Wesley, was in a terrible state morally. Gin was indeed the ruin of many. Crime was rampant, and all the state could do was impose increasingly severe punishments, until a man could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread; but all to no avail. The church was just as powerless as the state. Then Wesley and others preached the message that had been rediscovered at the Reformation, the authority of the Bible and salvation by grace. Britain was transformed!
Most people today may think the church is well past its “use by” date. It is true that even at its best, the church is largely ineffective in drawing people to Christ. But that has a serious “knock-on” effect for us all. If Christians are “salt” and “light” as the Lord Jesus said, the fewer Christians there are, the more corruption and darkness prevail. And that should concern everyone who cares about goodness and truth.
JUSTICE? WHAT JUSTICE?
One of the largely unrecognised consequences of our national downward slide into secularism is that we rob ourselves of the comfort of justice which is to be displayed in a world beyond this.
Sometimes we hear of the police force spending a large sum of money investigating allegations against a deceased person. Even if guilty, that person is beyond any human justice and so, from that point of view, the investigation seems utterly pointless.
Yet the police force regards itself as having a public duty to pursue the investigation. Perhaps the rationale is to vindicate the victims, should their allegations be proved well-founded.
But to what end? The culprit has still “got away with it”, death having put him beyond human retribution. This being the case, it is hard to see much in the way of return for the time, energy and expense invested in pursuance of the case.
On the other hand, where there is a belief in judgement in the court of a perfectly just Judge beyond this life, there is the very real comfort of knowing that those who have perpetrated evil in this life and escaped the wrath of man, will have to answer for their deeds nevertheless.
The subject becomes more personal when we ask how will I – and you – fare when we stand in that court, especially when the Judge has already declared, “There is none righteous, no, not one.”?