Friday, 24 December 2010

When Jesus was born

Tomorrow the world (with varying degrees of awareness) remembers the day that divided human history into two: the coming of God as man.

I have been walking outside earlier this week, and today, whilst on various errands. It is very busy where I am. People are building, buying, selling, repairing, planning, working, partying, relaxing, spending...

As I walked home this afternoon, I thought to myself... why do they bother? Such a lot of activity. For what, ultimately?

The old pagan view of history was that it was cyclical. Everything comes and goes... then comes again, and goes again... and so on.

And on, and on, and on. And on.

Christians have a radically different view of history: history as inevitable (but not smooth!), God-ruled progress leading to a glorious fulfilment. History under the control and direction of Jesus Christ, the God-man who is now raised to the Father's right hand, and who will fulfil all that his Father has appointed for him, bringing the nations to obedience under him and ultimately reigning forever and ever.

Since the Enlightenment, modern secularists have seemed to be trying to combine parts of these two ideas (cyclical / progress). Relentless progress comes from scientific endeavour and (since the 20th century) pushes for democratic reforms. New advances are indeed made. (Modern secularists ought to be honest enough to acknowledge that modern science and democratic ideals had their historical roots ultimately in the Protestant Reformation. I digress). But where is the goal? What are we heading to with all of this? What will the technological nirvana look like, and will it leave us feeling fulfilled when we get there? Will we arrive in some kind of heaven once everybody has fully free and fair elections? On the other hand, a lot of modern life is tediously cyclical. The X Factor comes, and goes... and comes again. The reds win the league, then the blues win it, then the reds win it again. The blue party wins at the polls, then the red party, and then the blue one again. People are born, get educated, work, have a family, get into some scrapes along the way, die, and then their offspring repeat it. Is there an ultimate destination that these cycles are heading towards? Or is it just more of the same but just a little bit better every decade or so? Is the ultimate goal of humanity the X Factor as it will be in the year 3000, and the Premier League will be so exciting that you'll, you'll, ... well ... you'll what? Isn't there something more to life than this? Is progress more than just better technology, a better education system, a more "fair" society, better health care and everybody getting to choose freely from a wide range of choices as to precisely how they slowly die? Isn't there something more?

So, as I walked home I looked at the green grass and the trees. Life has colour because there is one great, over-riding story: that of the Saviour who was born at Bethlehem 2000 years ago. All things are because of him, by him and for him. Life has colour and purpose because of him. It's worth pressing into another year because his kingdom can never fail, and its final fulfilment is now a year closer. Hallelujah!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The end of the world as we know it

I read the UK news websites 6 days a week.

In them, I see that in the UK, the idea of possibly facing very modest cuts in lifestyle standard is apparently one of the worst things you could possibly contemplate.

I ask myself - why do people in the land of my birth seem to have such a strong dose of this in their thinking? Grant that my description is too much of a generalisation.. but there is something there, isn't there? Where does it come from?

My answer: I think it's part of the misery of the practical atheism of the modern West. There's nothing to aim for, so they believe, in the next life.

Therefore, if you don't get it in this life, you won't get it at all.

That's why social engineers, dreamers and interferers want to find a way to guarantee continual happiness for everyone, if at all possible. Because if we don't get happiness now, so they think, we won't ever get it.

Of course, when I say things like that, people are tempted to think of old stereotypes of a Christianity which insists that the social order must remain what it is today, forever and ever amen - the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate.

Not at all. The point is that if you think you must build heaven on earth, you're building on doomed foundations. It can't be done. You will be uneasy, unhappy, you will fail. But if you being by letting heaven be heaven, and let earth be earth, then you have laid the foundation for being happy in both.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Why shouldn't it be you?

"Though these three men, Noah, Daniel and Job, were in it [the land], they should deliver only their own souls by their righteousness, says the Lord God." - Ezekiel 14v14

"Oh Daniel, a man greatly beloved" - Daniel 10:11
The Bible teaches that some people are closer to God than others. Not all Christians are the same. God has his favourites, as even a scanty consideration of the Bible's history or of Christian biographies shows.

And if some believers walk more closely with God and enjoy more of his favour than others, how can you bear for it to not be you? If some have got closer to God than you have, is not that itself enough to make you resolve to get there too? They didn't get closer because they were someone else's children other than Adam's. They got closer because of nothing in themselves, but because God's power and grace were greater towards them: and that power and grace are no less real today. Some Christians enjoy a depth and sweetness of fellowship with their Saviour that you haven't known yet. What sins are worth holding on to, rather than exchanging them for that? What do you want from life? If you want to get closer to God, you can, if you seek him and obey his commandments. It's not magic; use the light and opportunities you've been given, and you will receive more - with sufferings too. How much do you want it?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Do not be afraid

The Bible's most common command to Christians is, "do not be afraid". It appears 84 times in the Old Testament alone.

Why is it the most common command? There are two obvious reasons:
  1. Fear and faith are opposites. To trust God means not to be afraid of the worst that men or Satan can do. To fear as we see circumstances closing in on us, means that we think we won't be safe relying on God alone.
  2. For fallen men and women, in their alienation from and ignorance of God, fear drives almost everything they do. They fear social rejection or ridicule, so they conform with what is wrong. They fear being hungry or homeless because they don't have access to the God who provides and try instead to fall back on their own resources. They fear death because they instinctively know they are not right with their Maker, cut off from the source of life.
Ultimately, fear makes no sense for God's children. Is God all-powerful, so that he can prevent anything not ultimately beneficial to you? Yes. Is God all-loving, so that he does not desire anything not ultimately beneficial to come to you? Yes. Is God all-knowing and all-wise, so that he is fully aware of everything that could possibly come to you? Yes. So what is there left to be afraid of? Only God himself - and because of Jesus Christ, that is the fear of obedient and reverent and rejoicing sons and daughters, not of condemned sinners. The only thing we should fear is not loving and trusting him enough.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Because we know

Newspaper headline: "Jim Morrison wins posthumous pardon - American rock legend Jim Morrison won a posthumous pardon Thursday for charges of indecent exposure brought after a drunken rant at a concert 41 years ago Florida officials said."

Mr. Morrison was before my time. I don't know anything more about him than is in the above article.

But I do know that the concept of a posthumous pardon is only meaningful in a theistic universe. The Bible says that everybody knows about the reality of God, though they try to suppress it. But it just keeps leaking out, because it's who we are - made in God's image, living in God's world which testifies everywhere and always to God, we can't avoid it. Leopards have spots, ants work hard, and men know that God is, because that's how they're made.

In an imaginary atheistic universe, by now Jim Morrison would have been nothing for a long time. There is no Jim Morrison any more to pardon: he's dead, Jim. In a consistent atheistic universe, justice and righteousness do not exist as fundamental concepts, only as constructed ideas that exist solely in people's imaginations. (And which they disagree a lot about). The idea of handing out "justice" to a no-longer-existent ex-lump of long-rotted carbon-and-calcium would be foolish and absurd. Why bother? Who's keeping score, who cares, and if they do care shouldn't we send them for corrective counselling rather than indulge them?

But if human beings do continue after death, and if justice and righteousness are fundamental concepts of the universe, then this kind of thing makes sense. At least, it makes sense in principle...

Once someone has died, the right to pardon belongs to God alone. Mr. Morrison has left this world in which God has delegated authority to men, and entered the next world where God alone gives the verdicts - so it's not for us to pardon those who have entered His courts. That makes this line in the article a logical nonsense, even though Governor Crist identifies the underlying assumption:
"In this case, guilt or innocence is in God's hands, not ours. That is why I ask my colleagues today to pardon Jim Morrison," Crist said.
A world in which God is, God's law matters, and human beings know it, but are confused. That's the world we live in... and we know that too.

Do you believe the Bible?

According to the Bible, our material needs are all of the things on this list:
  • Daily food
  • Clothing
(I think that exegesis can also show that "clothing" includes night-clothing, and by extension a place to sleep).

e.g. 1 Timothy 6:8, "if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." The whole section that that verse is in should be looked at; see also Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 10:1-12 and Philippians 3:10-14.

I've lived in the West for most of my life, and in Kenya for 3 years. My conclusion from putting the two together is this: I can't think of a Biblical teaching that is more widely and openly disbelieved by professing Christians than this one.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christian preacher wins damages for unlawful arrest

Encouraging news from the Christian Institute:
An autistic Christian street preacher who was handcuffed and arrested for speaking out against homosexuality and many other sins has been awarded £4,250 in damages following a court case against West Midlands Police.
In a case backed by The Christian Institute, Birmingham County Court ruled on Wednesday that PC Adrian Bill committed assault and battery against Mr Anthony Rollins when he handcuffed him unnecessarily.
The court also ruled that Mr Rollins was wrongfully arrested, unlawfully detained and his human rights to free speech and religious liberty were infringed. The court ordered the police to pay Mr Rollins' legal costs.
Now, West Midlands Police may think twice before arresting anyone for lawful Christian witness. Mr. Rollins could have rolled over, said "I don't need the trouble of a court-case", and backed down. But his courageous actions have, we hope, preserved precious freedoms for believers (and unbelievers, where they disagree from the stifling PC consensus) in his area for a little longer. We need to pray that God will raise up more men and women who will take on the inconvenience of fighting for freedoms, because it's only those kind of people who will win these kind of gains that we all enjoy the benefits of...

Alien life?

The supply of the present-day opium to the masses (i.e. secularism) includes a steady diet of mass-media stories suggesting that alien life might exist, and thatperhaps the probabilities are almost certain now.

Scrape the surface of the headlines, and you'll usually find evidence of nothing except the mass-media's prejudice, someone's attempt to draw attention to themselves or get funding, or a hundred "might / possibly / speculated" get-out clauses.

I'm happy to say that with NASA's latest "alien biology" press release, someone else has already done the donkey work of taking it apart for us...
Has NASA discovered ET Life?

NASA announced that they were going to reveal “an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”

But as usual, hype makes headlines. They just found a well-known variety of Earth bacteria on Earth—nothing extraterrestrial about it. But this one used arsenic, usually known as a toxin, that is chemically quite similar to the vital element phosphorus (a component of DNA, RNA, and ATP, among many other vital molecules of life). Yet even these germs grew better under phosphorus, and this arsenic use was sub-optimal. So far from being ET creatures, or even evolutionary advancements, they are more like the citrate-eating bacteria that have a disabled off-switch and the superbugs that are really superwimps that we have reported on previously.

So, this is more publicity seeking by an organization always seeking funding, and using the popular cultural belief in alien life is a sure fire winner for them. It’s just the “Mars Life” fiasco all over again.

As this is making spectacular headlines, claims of ‘different life’ will no doubt be used as a ‘proof’ of evolution. To be prepared with real science about this discovery, read NASA’s ET suffered arsenic poisoning! by Shaun Doyle.

Ways to destroy your child's imagination

Justin Taylor, quoting a newly published book, lists ten ways to destroy your child's imagination (or that's what he says - I count only eight or nine!):
Esolen shows how imagination is snuffed out at practically every turn:
  • in the rearing of children almost exclusively indoors;
  • in the flattening of love to sex education, and sex education to prurience and hygiene;
  • in the loss of traditional childhood games;
  • in the refusal to allow children to organize themselves into teams;
  • in the effacing of the glorious differences between the sexes;
  • in the dismissal of the power of memory, which creates the worst of all possible worlds in school—drudgery without even the merit of imparting facts;
  • in the strict separation of the child’s world from the adult’s;
  • and in the denial of the transcendent, which places a low ceiling on the child’s developing spirit and mind.

 My immediate thoughts...
  • My children are used to playing outdoors every day. They spent last week without their usual big garden... and there have been many tears. (Of course, this gives an opportunity to try to encourage them to focus on the good things they had instead, but it was very interesting to me and mum to listen to them).
  • "Destroying your child's imagination" means destroying your child's creativity, which means giving great damage to their usefulness. At least, destroying their usefulness in not being drones to carry out the will of our society's present secularist thought-leaders, that is. I suppose that's what is meant by the quote in the original blog-post, "As author Anthony Esolen demonstrates in this elegantly written, often wickedly funny new book, almost everything we are doing to children now constricts their imaginations, usually to serve the ulterior motives of the constrictors."
  • I wonder what Esolen sees as a way towards a solution. Taylor doesn't say anything in this regard, neither does the blogger he got it from. Obviously, the present state-controlled education system is a huge factor in promoting the above list. To reform state education would be part of a solution, but that's a generational project - it's not going to happen in time for any of our children today. Being aware of the problem is only one necessary - but not sufficient - step towards actually mitigating its effects...
  • ... and so surely one of the necessary steps for parents today is to either use, or if it's not available from others, to themselves organise alternative, solidly Christian-based education. Is it not? What we pass on to the world ultimately is our children (both physical and spiritual). If this organising isn't worth it, what is?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Aslan and Tash

I can't imagine that C S Lewis would truly be angered by this. Saying that so-and-so is "angry" in reaction to any disagreement seems to be a modern media fetish - it makes the story they're writing seem more exciting or important than it really is.

Personally I laughed and rolled my eyes and imagine Lewis would have done likewise. Obviously Mr. Neeson is a bit Narnia-ignorant. Just who does he think Tash is? Has he never read how Aslan responded to the suggestion that he and Tash were the same? Oh dear.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Preserving Christian values

I receive different e-mails from organisations whose work is to give a Christian testimony in the public and political sphere. One part of such work is fighting to preserve freedoms that had their roots in Christian teaching.

I think that's valuable work, and thank God for those whom God has raised up with that calling and gifting.

Christians must always remember, though, that "Christian values" are not the root of the tree, but its fruit. Being "salt" to preserve the good fruits of Christianity is a good work. But the next generation needs far more than this work. It needs new fruit to grow, as a result of strong, healthy roots. Slowing down the decay of old fruit is real help. But - to change to a military metaphor - it is a holding operation, not an advance.

"Christian values" are a result of Christian regeneration, from the loving and effective proclaiming of Christ himself to sinners. They are the result of Christ himself coming to live amongst his people. The gospel tells us that without the living Christ, attempts at moral reform are doomed to failure. But if we bow the knee to Christ, then he gives us his own Spirit, and his Spirit will make us new people.

The ultimate and foundational Christian value is that Christ himself is the Lord and Saviour. All other "values" flow out of that one, and are nothing without it. A "Christian" who tries to live their life by copying Christ's behaviour but without this foundation, is no Christian at all - he's living a charade. We may as well make mooing noises, eat grass and then claim we have thus become cows. A real Christian knows, submits to and enjoys God in Christ, and then the real Christian life flows unfailingly out of that. If we really care for our nation then churches and individual believers must first of all focus on that, and the rest must be allowed to come from there.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

What a day may bring

Yesterday at 10.50 a.m., I was walking alongside the road outside my
house. About 30 metres in front of me and in the road, Mark Wanyama
Marofu was riding his bicycle. He was a poor, labouring man, 55 years
old and a member of the Salvation Army, who was cycling to an epilepsy
centre where he did some volunteer work.

Behind us both was a Mitsubishi Prado driven by a drunk man who was (I'm
fairly sure) not its owner. He drove past me, but into Mark's bicycle,
shunting him down the road, and into a parked pick-up truck with such
force that some of the car's bumper fell off. Mark finished up under
the pick-up; his bike ended up about another 20 metres down the road.
Other angry pedestrians started chasing the Prado, which crashed into a
bollard not much further on.

I telephoned a friend who was coming to meet me, and about 10 minutes
later we had managed to get Mark into the car and were on the way to the
nearest hospital. We managed to find out Mark's identity from the
contents of his pockets.

Mark still seemed semi-conscious at this point - it wasn't clear if he
could understand anything that was going on, but he seemed to register
that someone was speaking to him - and still conscious but less so
whilst he was having his emergency assessment at the A & E. But not much
later, he was hooked up to all kinds of machines and having continual
injections and a blood transfusion. The machines were flashing up many
warnings about his blood pressure, pulse, oxygen levels and body
temperature. It seemed that he was in shock with big internal bleeding,
but the staff managed to stabilise him and the numbers improved. But not
long later they put a curtain around him and refused to allow me to see
him any more and gave no more reports.

From the contents of Mark's pockets we managed to contact someone in
his church. About 3 hours after the accident about twelve people,
including his wife, arrived at the hospital, but by this time nobody was
allowed to see him, and he was left in the acute care unit overnight.

He died overnight, presumably from his internal injuries (the only major
visible injuries were a large gash on top of his head that was bleeding,
and a puncture of his cheek).

I left the house expecting to have coffee with a friend; but instead was
yards away from a fatal accident and spent most of the day at hospital.

Mark's wife saw him leave the house in the morning. The next thing she
heard was that he had been hit by a car and had a severe head injury.
She never saw him alive again, and is now a widow.

Mark went out on his bike to help volunteer at an epilepsy centre. He
never arrived. Before he did anything else, he had been hit by a car,
left this world and everything in it forever, and stood before his Maker
to be assigned his eternal destiny.

Are you ready for what today may bring? If God summons you before the
sun sets, will it all be well with your soul?

Do you live each day reminding yourself that whilst you make your plans,
God can and does over-rule them all?

Have you said sorry to God for your sins, and are you walking closely
with Jesus Christ as your Saviour, so that at whatever hour he calls
you, you will be ready to stand before him?