Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Dark Arts Here?....Surely Not!!!!

I have just finished watching the TV dramatisation of the ‘The House of Cards’ trilogy. It tells the story of Francis Urquhart, a fictional politician whose ambition and lust for power knows no bounds. Urquhart’s character, created by writer Michael Dobbs, is a classic character study in the dark political arts made famous more than 500 years ago by the Italian diplomat, historian and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli.

In the TV series, Francis Urquhart is superbly portrayed by actor Ian Richardson.  Urquhart's rise to the top and the totally cold and calculating ruthlessness with which he exercises power makes him an excellent example of a ‘Machiavellian’ character. In ‘House of Cards’, Francis Urquhart is known by his political colleagues and the media as ‘FU’, and also for his catchphrase: "You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment."

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Machiavellianism is: ‘the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct’, and while it is not uncommon in the world of politics, it is standard practice in the criminal underworld.

In the fictional world of Mario Puzo’s ‘Godfather’ trilogy, Machiavellianism achieves its popular literary apotheosis in the character of Michael Corleone. The film adaptation chronicles the rise of the Corleone mafia family from the early 20th century until the 1970s.  A key feature of these films is the growth and development of the main character, Michael Corleone, superbly acted by Al Pacino who grows darker and more evil with every Machiavellian act.

It is often said that art imitates life, and a cursory examination of church history shows that Machiavellian behaviour has been prevalent throughout its history. Indeed the machinations of the Borgia family in the Catholic Church may have provided some inspiration for Machiavelli. In a more contemporary setting, the lifestyle and moral compass of many contemporary televangelists would certainly meet Machiavelli’s criteria for sharp practice. 

Jim Baumgaertel, editor of the Christian website www.procinwarn.com writes that: “Machiavelli taught that it was good to promote morals and ethics and religious convictions among the people. These were important in order to keep them under control and productive. Morals and ethics maintained stability and order and peace.

The ruler himself, was under no obligation to live by these same morals and ethics and religious convictions. The ruler was above these things. He was beyond good and evil. The ruler had the obligation to do whatever was necessary to maintain and extend his political power.”

As a Scottish born again Christian, I am tempted to ask those who are part of my country’s evangelical leadership elite whether Machiavellian behaviour exists amongst its competing factions.

I suspect that I may get ‘F.U.’s’ response of: "You might think that, we couldn't possibly comment."

Monday, 16 December 2013

Value Versus Values

As the trial at Isleworth Crown Court involving the Grillo sisters’ alleged fraud of their former employers Nigella Lawson and her former husband art dealer Charles Saatchi, grinds towards its conclusion, it looks like there will be no winners. The innocence or guilt of the defendants, has been of little consequence to the media thus far. Saatchi and Lawson, mere witnesses in the legal proceedings, have been the star attractions.

Their lifestyle has been laid bare for all to see, and it is far from pretty. While most of the population has been struggling financially for years due to the recession, these two pillars of the country’s social and political elite were spending ‘eye watering’ sums of money on daily luxuries which most ordinary citizens can only dream of having. The Grillo sisters were employed to do the family’s shopping, presumably because Saatchi and Lawson were ‘too busy’!

This materialistic lifestyle is however quite common amongst the growing number of families who belong to the social and political elite. Writing recently in the Guardian, George Monbiot railed against this kind of materialism saying: “that they are crass, brash and trashy goes without saying. But there is something in the pictures posted on Rich Kids of Instagram that inspires more than the usual revulsion towards crude displays of opulence. There is a shadow in these photos – photos of a young man wearing all four of his Rolex watches, a youth posing in front of his helicopter, endless pictures of cars, yachts, shoes, mansions, swimming pools and spoilt white boys throwing gangster poses in private jets – of something worse: something that, after you have seen a few dozen, becomes disorienting, even distressing.”

According to Monbiot, there is a great deal of reliable research to suggest that materialism as it affects rich and poor is, “both socially destructive and self-destructive”. 

Materialism is defined as "a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social image they project". Research has found it to be associated with anxiety, depression and broken relationships. More recently, psychologists have shown that there is a definite causative relationship between materialism, lack of empathy with others, and general unhappiness.

The Bible has a lot to say about materialism. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” In the Gospel of Luke, he spoke about ‘mammon’, the Aramaic word for ‘riches’ when he said: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” The principle here is that wealth is a negative influence that can keep us from God.

Here’s some good advice to Ms Lawson, Mr Saatchi et al from the Apostle Paul. Writing to the young man Timothy he said: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment”.



Thursday, 5 December 2013

Saved to Serve, Not to Sit!!!!

It came as no surprise to find that in most local churches only 20 percent of the people are involved in their work. This ranges from stewarding to preaching to praying to leading worship and the whole host of practical tasks in between. These tasks enable the organisation to function at a basic level of effectiveness.  The remaining 80 per-cent’s input is limited to consuming what’s on offer week after week.

In the USA, the evangelical researcher George Barna has found that, ‘80 percent of the leaders in America today are talking about the ministry of their people, but only 20 percent of them are actually providing the people with opportunities to get involved.’ The situation is probably much worse in Scotland’s evangelical churches, where moving from the position of ‘pew warmer’ to active contributor to the work of the church, is at best a tortuous and uncertain process.

Yet this is not how things should be. As a historian, I am acutely aware of the doctrine of the ‘Priesthood of all Believers’ which the leaders of the 16th century Reformation derived from the Bible.

The reformers saw this as a buttress against the clericalism of the medieval Catholic Church. For individuals such as John Calvin and Martin Luther, Biblical truth opposed the existence of a special, elite, self- perpetuating priestly/leadership class within the church.

According to Martin Luther, Christians: “are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says, we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others. This is because we have one baptism, one gospel, one faith, and are all Christians alike.”

Sadly this ‘elite’ and its exclusive culture, continues to underpin areas of Scottish evangelical life. Expert at perpetuating and promoting its own small exclusive circle while denying opportunity to the many believers who are clearly gifted by the Living God, such elitist behaviour patterns are the opposite of the ‘priesthood of all believers’.

The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth shows that God has a key role for everyone in His Church:

“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body.”

In an article entitled “NO PEW WARMERS” Or “The Priesthood of Every Believer”, the preacher, James Hamann writes: “If a church is normal, the number of people saved should also be the number of people serving. This needs to be the mindset of every local church. In the New Testament, all the saved ones are priests; therefore, all the saved ones should serve.

The appendix in the human body was once thought to have little significance or function, so surgeons cut it out almost at the drop of a hat. They’re more cautious now. God, the Creator, doesn’t waste anything. He’s the supreme economist. Everything He creates is to purpose. Every part of a human body has a necessary function. In the body of Christ, all have a function and ministry -- everyone is special. The church should have no peripherals, no pew-warmers, no casuals, no spectators, and no “passengers only” on the gospel bus.”

Monday, 2 December 2013

An ‘Odds-on Racing Certainty’

Ask most Scottish evangelical Christians for their opinion on the many social, economic, political or cultural matters which are part and parcel of our national life and you will be lucky to get a coherent response. At best this group is extremely circumspect about expressing a clear opinion about anything.

There are however some exceptions to this general observation. Evangelicals do get exercised about matters like same sex marriage. However, lack of credibility with ordinary people after decades of a ‘head in the sand’ attitude to a  changing society, has left evangelical Christians floundering at the margins, comprehensively and repeatedly out thought and out fought by the ‘media savvy’ secularists.

Gambling is yet another issue which seems to get under the skin of evangelical Christians from time to time. Most regard this activity as sinful and any evangelical groups involved in social action will routinely refuse to accept funding for their ‘good cause’ from the National Lottery because, as they see it, it’s gambling!

I used to believe that gambling was a sin ……..not anymore!

Indeed frowning on those who make a donation to a good cause by buying a raffle ticket at a fete, gala or bring and buy sale in aid of many good causes merely serves to further disconnect evangelicals from the very people to whom they have been commissioned by Jesus to bring the good news of the Gospel.

Such hypocrisy and pettiness in the name of ‘Christian political correctness’ dishonours the name of the Living God.

As a born again Christian, I know that the timeless values of the Bible trumps the shifting sand of cultural norms. I was therefore not surprised to find that the Bible does not specifically condemn gambling, betting, or the lottery. 

According to the ’Got Questions’ website: “While the Bible does not explicitly mention gambling, it does mention events of “luck” or “chance.” As an example, casting lots is used in Leviticus to choose between the sacrificial goat and the scapegoat. Joshua cast lots to determine the allotment of land to the various tribes. Nehemiah cast lots to determine who would live inside the walls of Jerusalem. The apostles cast lots to determine the replacement for Judas. Proverbs 16:33 says “The lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

I rest my case!!

So the next time Christian friends, you find yourself in a National Lottery outlet, get your wallet out and buy a ticket. Consider the money spent as a modest form of tax.

Most importantly, remember that you are not condemned in scripture for such an act. Indeed, should you be blessed with a win, use your new found wealth, which has come from the Living God, to help as many people as possible who you know to be in need.
It’s an ‘odds-on racing certainty’ that God will bless all who have such a mind-set!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Lest We Forget the Persecuted

Today, Thursday 28 November, 2013 is Thanksgiving Day in the USA. This peculiarly American festival dates back to 1621 when the settlers of Plymouth Massachusetts held a harvest feast after a successful growing season.

According to Wikipedia, “The event that Americans commonly call the ‘First Thanksgiving’ was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. This feast lasted three days, and it was attended by 90 Native Americans (as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow) and 53 Pilgrims. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating ‘thanks-givings’days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought……….

The tradition of giving thanks to God is continued today in many forms, most notably the attendance of religious services, as well as the saying of a mealtime prayer before Thanksgiving dinner. Many houses of worship offer worship services and events on Thanksgiving themes the weekend before, the day of, or the weekend after Thanksgiving.

At home, it is a holiday tradition in many families to begin the Thanksgiving dinner by saying grace…. Before praying, it is a common practice at the dining table for each person to tell one specific reason they’re thankful to God that year."

Thanksgiving has developed as a civil as well as a religious occasion. It is also a time when families strive to be together over the holiday.

It is therefore particularly poignant that in 2013, many Christians in America will leave an empty place at their Thanksgiving dinners as a sign of solidarity with Pastor Saeed Abedini and the persecuted church worldwide.

Saeed Abedini has dual Iranian and US citizenship. Imprisoned by the Iranian authorities in 2012 because of his faith in Christ, he is serving an eight year jail term in Tehran's Evin prison.

A true hero of the faith, Saeed Abedini was first arrested in 2009. His crime was that of carrying out the Great Commission. He had grown, and was supporting, a network of underground house gatherings. In Iran, those who convert to Christianity are forbidden by law from worshipping in churches.

Journalist Carey Lodge, writing in ‘Christian Today’ recently reported that: “In prison, Pastor Saeed has endured long stints in solitary confinement, and beatings and torture at the hands of his jailers and fellow inmates.

He has been told by his captors to deny his faith, but he has repeatedly refused to do so. In a letter written from prison, he says his response to his persecutors is Romans 8:35-39:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  

As it is written:‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In a recent message from prison, Pastor Saeed thanked his supporters for their continued prayers saying: "I rejoice knowing that in my chains the body of Christ has chained together and is brought to action and prayer".

On this Thanksgiving Day, Christians should especially remember all those who stand for Christ in the face of extreme violence and unimaginable circumstances.

Let’s continue to be chained to and in prayer with these 21st century martyrs. The Living God expects no less from His people!

To connect with Pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini, sign up for Facebook today.


Scandal of the Persecuted……but God Sees!!!!

If you are thinking about the purchase of an appropriate Christmas gift, let me recommend ‘The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution’ by John L. Allen, published by Image Books, October 2013. Not for the faint hearted, Allen’s book meticulously documents a mere fraction of the persecution that takes place and, most crucially analyses the reasons behind it.

The International Society for Human Rights recently stated that 80 per cent of religious discrimination in the world is against Christians.

Since the time of Christ, historians have estimated that there have been 70 million Christian martyrs, with more than half of that figure, 45 million, losing their lives in the 20th century.  In the 21st century, it is estimated that more than 100,000 Christians have been brutally murdered each year between 2000 and 2010, and the slaughter continues today.

From North Korea in the Far East, through the Middle East and across the north and some central parts of the African continent, in more than 60 individual countries, there has never been a more dangerous time in history to be a Christian. These victims of persecution are the martyrs of the 21st century. 

According to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's 2001 research tome, ‘World Christian Trends’, martyrs are defined as "believers in Christ who have lost their lives prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility”.

Meanwhile in the West, as this tragedy of apocalyptic proportions unfolds, the media remains by and large silent. Indeed organisations such as the BBC have gone out of their way to question and undermine the figures produced by reputable academic and religious organisations i.e. the Vatican. Sadly even some Christian ‘watch’ organisations spend time disputing each other’s figures as the atrocities continue.

Today, most of the violence visited upon Christians in the cradle of the faith in the Middle East is carried out by Muslim extremists for sectarian and political reasons. In recent years this has spread across North Africa.

Meanwhile to our national shame, most of our mealy-mouthed politicians and other community leaders fail to speak up on behalf of the persecuted.

Today, I found out by chance that the church worldwide has designated the month of November as a time for all Christians to remember and pray for the persecuted church, through the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).

Today, instead of moaning about our ‘lot’ from the comfort of our armchairs in Scotland, we should be on our faces before the Living God lifting up those who daily put their lives on the line for the sake of Christ.
These ordinary people are the real heroes of the faith!!


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Narcolepsy in Scotland’s Church…….Never!!!!!

Writing recently in OUTREACH magazine, Brad Powell had some pretty scathing words for born again believers when he said, ‘I believe the biggest obstacle to the church fulfilling its mission is on the inside. Too many believers are asleep in the light. And the real problem is they don’t know it.

Jesus makes it clear. Believers can look awake. They can be highly respected for their lives of faith. They can do and say all the right things. And yet they’re dead, asleep in the light.’

Challenged by this statement I began to wonder is this true of me and the believers in my home town……are we ‘asleep in the light?’

This phenomenon of being ‘asleep in the light’ is something which has afflicted the body of born again believers down through the ages. In the Bible, Jesus speaking in the book of Revelation got straight to the point in his assessment of the church at Sardis:

“These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”

Brad Powell lists some of the key symptoms of this ‘spiritual narcolepsy’, the most obvious of which are summarised below:

·         There’s talk about Jesus but no genuine experience of him. We talk about him more than we talk with.

·         Spiritual life is more ‘weekend’ than an everyday of the week experience. ‘Church defines our experience with Christ more than Christ defines our life experience.’

·         Spiritual life is more ‘form than substance’……more ‘outside than inside reality’……It is not ‘something we are.’

·         Despite doing all the right things, there’s little authentic change in believers’ lives. It’s impossible to genuinely experience Jesus and remain unchanged. Lack of change this is a clear sign believers are ‘asleep in the light.’

·         We are all about ‘God in our plans’, rather than ‘us in His plans’.

·         The eternal condition of people in the local community is rarely considered.

At the conclusion of his article Brad Powell gets to the heart of the matter: “We don’t feel like we have a problem with being ‘asleep in the light.’ This is a big one for me. When I’m not consciously aware of the danger of becoming less passionate spiritually, it’s a clear sign I’m already there.”

In my local community many born again believers will not recognise the problem of being “asleep in the light.” They will point to the activities they are involved in and the many responsibilities that they have. Some will be quite irritated reading this post because it challenges their view of Christian living.

For me, Brad Powell is both courageous and prophetic.  The challenge to all born again believers is to reflect on their lives before the Living God, repent and turn around while there is still time.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Always Choose Life

It is becoming increasingly apparent that societal and moral trends originating in the USA inevitably travel across the Atlantic to infect our shores. This is even true in spiritual matters with the twin heresy movements of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses emerging in 19th century America, then spreading to Europe.

It used to be said that the USA was the bastion of evangelicalism which sent out evangelists to all parts of the world to preach the Gospel. Billy Graham’s crusades in the UK were a notable feature of Christian outreach in the second half of the twentieth century.

However, there is a growing body of evidence pointing to a dilution of traditional evangelical belief in the USA. The toleration of same sex marriage and the ‘dumbing down’ of clear Biblical teaching on a raft of social and moral issues by some evangelicals should be a cause for concern on this side of the Atlantic.

The latest evidence of the growth of moral confusion amongst American evangelicals comes from a survey by Pew Research into end of life medical treatment. It found that in certain situations an increasing number of evangelicals believe suicide is a moral right.

In a summary of the research published recently in the journal ‘Christianity Today’, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra notes that: “about a quarter of evangelicals believe that a person has a moral right to suicide if he or she is ready to die because living is now a burden, or if that person is an extremely heavy burden on his or her family.

The number keeps rising for other situations……………..about a third of white evangelicals and a third of black protestants believe suicide is a moral right for those who have an incurable disease. And 42 per cent of both groups believe suicide is a moral right for those in a great deal of pain with no hope of improvement.

Belief in suicide as a moral option for those who are suffering has grown modestly in the general public since 1990, rising to 62 per cent from 55 per cent. Since the percentage of American adults who say suicide is never morally right has stayed roughly the same, most of that growth comes from people who answered "I don't know" last time now taking a stand, according to the study.”

This is a worrying trend. Evangelicals are the group most noted for taking a strong stand on all pro-life issues, so any confusion or softening of a Biblically based position should be a cause for concern.

It should be of particular concern for Scottish Christians with the launch of MSP Margo MacDonald’s Assisted Suicide Bill in the Scottish Parliament on November 14.

In reporting the launch of the Bill on the BBC website, journalist Andrew Black’s balanced piece also quotes a response from the Scottish anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing. This is an alliance of 50 groups, including faith-based organisations, which is strongly opposed to Ms MacDonald's proposals.

Care Not Killing convener Dr Gordon Macdonald said: “The Scottish Parliament overwhelmingly rejected an attempt by Margo MacDonald to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2010. MSPs concluded that vulnerable people would be put at risk from such legislation. Scotland can learn from the damaging effects of legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide in other parts of Europe and North America.

Europe can learn from Scotland's example as a country which has rejected the view that some people's lives are not worth living. We believe that society has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable.”

Well said Dr MacDonald!

The Bible is very clear about the matter of suicide, assisted or not. For God, life is the only option. The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy captures the very heart of the Living God with these words:

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life..."

Let’s pray that Scotland’s evangelicals will stand up for this great truth unlike some of their American cousins.     


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Waiting for God or……Insular Inactivity!!

In the West Highlands of Scotland, Christian men from a variety of denominations meet periodically by invitation, to pray for unity and revival. This is a really positive step because the majority population of our churches these days is middle aged/elderly women. Thus, a group of men who are prepared to devote their time and energy to prayer is quite unusual.

Such prayer groups would agree that ‘waiting on the Lord’ is an extremely profitable activity for the development of their Christian lives and experience. However, having been around evangelical circles for most of my 63 years, I’m getting a little tired of phrases like, ‘being shut in with the Lord’ and ‘waiting on the Lord’. Indeed, I am certain that there is clear evidence in scripture that the Living God has never endorsed this persistent culture of insular inactivity.

Let me explain.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the ‘Parable of the Talents,’ is a story told by Jesus about the master who gives his servants bags of gold and asks them to invest the gold for him. In the parable, the bags of gold represent the gifts, talents and resources given to each individual by God.

In common with the last servant of the parable, Christians often take the gifts, talents and resources given by the Living god and bury them deep in the earth.

In the parable the servant is called to account by his master. When asked why he hadn’t invested the resource and returned it with interest he responds…….. ‘I was afraid’.

Sadly, for many Christians, myself included, this is the key reason why we neglect using the vast and varied resources God has given us to take the good news about Jesus to the immediate community………. we are too afraid !!!

A recent article in RELEVANT magazine by Michelle Bunt entitled, ‘The Active Work of Waiting on God………Waiting on God doesn't mean we don't do anything’, suggests three actions to enable Christians to change their perspective:

“Firstly, change the way you pray. Pray humbly, but from a place of empowerment rather than lack.

Secondly, share your good works with the world. Galatians 5:22-23 has already outlined for us what the fruit of the spirit look like: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’ Note the second part of that text: against such things there is no law. This means that if we are acting in accordance with love, kindness and self-control, for instance, we can be assured that we are doing God’s will, whether or not God directly spoke to us and specifically told us to take that action.

Thirdly, don’t allow yourself to get paralyzed looking for your ‘calling.’ By all means pray, but don’t let your praying trap you into a state of paralysis.”

For too long, Christians have satisfied themselves that prayer of the ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’ kind was all that was required for revival to happen, when all along, God is looking for people with surrendered hearts who pray, listen to Him, then take action in co-operation with Him.

I am in wholehearted agreement with Michelle Bunt when she says: ‘There are already enough Christians burying their talents in the ground where they can’t be seen or used. Let’s start a new trend: one where Christians are known as people of action and change and living demonstrations of their faith.’

So, amongst the born again Christians of the West Highlands……………….who’s in?

Let the ‘By the Way’ team know of your desire to take action. Fill in the comments box and we’ll take action to support you.

Monday, 18 November 2013

I Need More ‘Stuff’!!!

The last of the Ten Commandments is a list of items which we are prohibited from coveting: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Viewed from the perspective of the 21st century some of the items listed seem a little anachronistic, nevertheless the principle enshrined in the commandment is hugely relevant to contemporary living.

While the mantra, ‘greed is good’ dominated the 80s and 90s, the driving force in the lives of many of today’s citizens is consumerism. Defined as, ‘the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods’, consumerism, according to the American writer April Witt, “was the triumphant winner of the ideological wars of the 20h century, beating out both religion and politics as the path millions…. follow to find purpose meaning, order, and transcendent exaltation in their lives”.

There is no doubt that consumerism fuelled by incessant advertising creates and fosters the desire to covet in many individuals. According to experts the average Scot is exposed to between 500 and 3,000 items of advertising per day, all of which are designed to create discontent in each individual.

Blogger Paul Steinbrueck has written very perceptively about the ‘4 lies of consumerism’ which he lists as:

·         My ‘stuff’ makes me happy

·         My ‘stuff’ makes me important

·         My ‘stuff’ makes me secure

·         My ‘stuff’ makes me rich

As a 63 year old born again Christian, consumerism and material gain have little meaning for me because with Christ Jesus as my Saviour, I am already rich beyond measure.

In the Bible, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

Living in a state of contentment is good for your health and wellbeing.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

We're All Strangers To The Truth

Little now surprises me about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. Finally owning up to the use of performance enhancing drugs which he had denied for years, Armstrong was subsequently stripped of all his seven Tour de France titles and banned from the sport for life.

In the wake of the scandal, the United States Anti-Doping Agency plans to conduct a wide ranging inquiry into the issue of doping in the sport. According to a recent Guardian article, Armstrong will co-operate with the investigation, ‘because of legal proceedings in the US’.

Travis Tygart, head of the anti-doping agency told Reuters, "He is going for a deposition in the United States in November where he is going to go under oath in a lawsuit and have to answer questions and I think that he is now being forced essentially through that process [to come clean] and that he is trying to gain an advantage.............. It's a little late but we are still hopeful he will come and answer everything we have to ask him under oath but until he decides to do that, it is entirely premature to determine or speculate on any sort of reduction of his life ban."

This week, Armstrong told the BBC that he would: “testify with 100% transparency and honesty" if invited to the inquiry.

Most commentators and cycling aficionados, while keen to know the truth, will have one question: Can anything that Lance Armstrong, a proven liar says, ever be believed?

Sadly for people who are serious serial liars, the truth nearly always comes to the fore. Where the individuals involved have celebrity status, the consequences career wise and personally are almost always devastating.

Lying is however part of the human condition. There is a continuum of lying which ranges from the mild but untrue statement, to downright untruthfulness. Human beings lie to others, and according to psychologists, even lie to themselves!

Why do people tell lies?

Some individuals lie for the purpose of maintaining social contacts to hide their true feelings from others in order to avoid insults or discord. Thus some commonplace phrases can have a double meaning such as: ‘I value your opinion’....... ‘I forgot’..... ‘My phone was off’.... ‘Your kids are sooo cute’... ‘I love your hair’.... ‘That was the best meal I ever ate’..... ‘You look like you've lost weight’.

Writing on the website www.blifaloo.com, psychologist Robert Feldman says: "We find that as soon as people feel that their self-esteem is threatened, they immediately begin to lie at higher levels."

These ‘higher levels of lying’ include: lying to save face; lying to shift blame and lying for personal gain.

Robert Feldman says that, ‘lying is a complex phenomenon’. I disagree.

The Bible is clear about lying...it is sin. The Ninth of the Ten Commandments is clear: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour."

While the original Hebrew of the commandment reflects a legal context, it also suggests a broader application to lying in general. Lying is something all people should not do, particularly those who claim to be Christians.

Sadly we all sin, and deserve punishment by Almighty God who is holy and without sin. However, the Lord is a God of justice, who is merciful and loving, providing a way of escape for all from the consequences of their sin.

The Apostle John explained this great truth in his Gospel:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

These truths are just some of the good news of the Gospel.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Only 41 Shoplifting Days Till Christmas!

I’ll be making a start to the Christmas shopping this week. It’s not an easy task purchasing original gifts for one’s nearest and dearest. However, as my children have grown up, the days of being pressurised into buying the latest ‘must have’ designer smart and very expensive pieces of ‘technology chic’ have receded. The final bill, which I plan to be modest, will be settled in cash or with a debit card.

In a significant number of Scottish households, Christmas gifts will be procured at no monetary cost. They will have been ‘shoplifted’ by one or more members of the family. This has been a growing trend, particularly since the onset of the current economic recession.

In the past, shoplifting, though increasing, was perceived to be the preserve of the underclass, drug addicts and individuals with mental health problems. More recent research has however revealed a growing trend as elements of the middle classes in Britain have taken to shoplifting in order to maintain their lifestyle.

According to the Mail Online, “the goods most likely to be stolen include gammon joints, frozen chicken breasts, beef joints, bacon, gourmet cheese such as brie or parmesan, Nescafe Gold Blend coffee and wines and spirits, particularly Glen’s Vodka. One Tesco store has even found it necessary to put manuka honey, which can sell for as much as £20 a jar, into large plastic security boxes.”

One security company, Checkpoint Systems has concluded that: “due to the recession, people are stealing out of need for food, but you also have a Middle England group of people who have not had a bonus or pay rise but still want to maintain their lifestyle.......... there is no longer a typical person described as a shoplifter, they can come from all walks of life. You can see the profile of people involved by looking at the products that are being stolen.”

Shoplifting is however only one form of theft from a long list which includes robbery, burglary, vehicle theft, credit card theft and even identity theft. Many people would say that businesses such as Starbucks who employ armies of accountants to avoid paying taxes are as guilty of theft as the shoplifter. Additionally, theft can also involve stealing of intellectual property rights as well as copyright and patent violation.

The Bible in the Eighth Commandment states bluntly: “You shall not steal”. As a result thieves were reviled in Jewish society.

In the New Testament, Zaccheaus a Jew, collected the taxes for the Roman occupiers. He was doubly hated by his own community, because he took more money than the people were due to pay. However an encounter with Jesus radically moved his life from one of dishonesty towards repentance and restitution.

‘Zacchaeus stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, half of my possessions I now give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much!’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘today salvation has come to this household, because he too is a son of Abraham!  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’    

According to the analysts, Global Retail Theft Barometer, the total cost of shoplifting in the UK is now £3.4billion..........£124.60 per family. This loss is passed on by retailers to consumers in the form of higher prices. Little wonder that shoplifters are reviled in the press and the media.

However, the story of Zacchaeus illustrates that even the most hated of thieves can be forgiven and restored when they meet with and put their trust in the Living Lord Jesus. Now that’s really good news.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Forever Yours...and Yours....and Maybe Yours Too!!!

Back in the days of unfettered press snooping, shaky relationships and divorce cases involving celebrities were the stock and trade of newspapers such as the SUN and the News of the World. Sales of these newspapers relied on their ability to publish as much salacious and graphic detail as possible, particularly if adultery was involved.

However, a recent study has noted that adultery as a cause of divorce has been in decline for a number of years, being replaced by the unreasonable behaviour of one of the partners as a primary cause. The research carried out by the Co-operative Legal Services, shows that there are five times as many divorces now than occurred in the 1950s. It also highlights a marked change in the attitudes of society to divorce.

According to a recent article in the Mail Online:

“The study highlighted the Eighties, rife with young, upwardly mobile professionals, as the most adulterous divorcees across the ages with nearly one in three (29 percent) of all divorces granted due to cheating on a partner.

In the same decade, almost one in five (17.5 percent) divorces were down to the man’s infidelity. In contrast, figures for 2010 and 2011 show a fall in the number of divorces because of affairs with only one in six divorces ending because of a partner being unfaithful.”

In the 2010s only one in ten (9.8 percent) - the lowest among the decades – was the result of cheating men.

In the ‘naughty’ 90s almost two out of five divorces (38 percent) were granted to women because of their man’s unreasonable behaviour. Yet, less than one in 20 (4.2 percent) of marriages were dissolved because of poor behaviour by women.”

While adultery and divorce for whatever reason carried a certain social stigma in the 1950s, as secularism has advanced the values of fidelity, and the institution of Christian marriage based on sound Biblical teaching has declined.

The Bible is quite clear about the value God places on faithfulness in marriage. The Seventh of the Ten Commandments states bluntly: "You shall not commit adultery.”

Commenting on the value of the Seventh Commandment, the ‘Discipleship Ministry’ website says: “This Commandment deals with the most intimate area of our earthly existence. God is not against sex. He created it! But He has established the proper use of His most powerful natural gift to us. The ability to create new life and a new living being is to be used within the confines of marriage where every child born can receive the love and protection of a father and a mother within a family unit. To safeguard His purpose, God has issued this Commandment for the welfare of us all.”

Sadly marital unfaithfulness is a fact of our contemporary consumer society affecting every section from the highest to the lowest. Recent marital scandals in the USA involving high profile TV evangelists and mega-church pastors are evidence that even position in the church does not bring immunity from sin.  

The key principal from scripture when dealing adultery is forgiveness and reconciliation...that’s what Jesus taught!  The good news is that some couples are able with much grace, love and prayer to be reconciled and move forward together in the wake of infidelity. Sadly, others are unable to come to terms with unfaithful behaviour and divorce for them becomes the only option. 

Recently interviewed by the Huffington Post, British actress Gwyneth Paltrow said: “should she ever be faced with infidelity in her marriage to Coldplay musician Chris Martin, she would like to think she would be forgiving of the indiscretion.”

Well said Gwyneth!  Let’s pray that your optimism and generosity is grounded in a personal relationship with Christ Jesus and that you will never have to face that situation.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

No License to Kill

As a former history teacher, I am a veteran of many school trips to the battlefields of the First World War in France and Belgium. On each visit, I never ceased to be amazed at the effect the enormous memorials and vast cemeteries filled with the corpses of young men in their teens and twenties had on the students. Such visits always brought home the stark reality of conflict which no classroom teaching could ever hope to replicate.

World War 1 in particular, was a conflict unrivalled in history. On both the Western and Eastern fronts, there was carnage and slaughter on a hitherto unimaginable industrial scale. Yet, barely twenty years after the armistice of1918 Britain was again drawn into war in response to the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

My own father volunteered before war broke out, joining the Gordon Highlanders in April 1939. Aged 20, and with great maturity, he perceptively reasoned that it was better to stop the evil of Nazism on the continent of Europe than on his own doorstep. He was a born again Christian who viewed the coming conflict as a ‘just war’.

Many of my father’s Christian contemporaries did not share these sentiments. When war came they refused to join up when conscripted, claiming that the Bible prohibited them from taking the lives of others. They cited the Sixth of the Ten Commandments which says: “You shall not kill”.

Unfortunately this commandment has been misunderstood. Does this commandment forbid all killing of any kind or are there exceptions?  The word ‘kill’ when properly translated from the Hebrew means ‘murder.’ Thus the proper translation is: “You shall not murder”.

While we accept that all murder is killing, we must ask the question: is all killing murder? 

Writing on his church’s website, the pastor of Middletown Bible Church in the USA has brought some clarity to the issue:

“Murder involves killing unlawfully with premeditated malice. It involves a deliberate, planned, pre-mediated attack against a fellow human being for the purpose of taking his life for reasons that are purely sinful.

There is also the kind of killing that is unintentional, such as when a person causes the death of a person by accident...... Accidental killing is rightly classified as killing but it is not murder.  The Bible makes a clear distinction between someone who kills a person accidentally without ever having hated the person, and someone who murders a person by lying in wait for him.  The latter is an example of a carefully planned and premeditated murder motivated by hatred.”

As a father and grandfather who is a born again Christian, I believe that all human life is precious and to be highly valued. The Bible teaches that man is made in the image of God so every human being matters to the Almighty. Thus, the taking of a human life is always a tragedy, no matter the circumstances. It should never be trivialised or taken lightly.



Tuesday, 12 November 2013

How to Live Long and Prosper

It is far from easy growing up into adulthood these days. Peer group pressure, online bullying, teenage fashion trends, relationships, body image, not to mention the demands of teachers and of course the expectations of parents, can make the business of growing up long and arduous.

As a former deputy head of a large west highland secondary school, a significant part of my career involved dealing with a huge variety of pupils and their parents/ guardians. In this context, I must confess that on many occasions, I felt heart sorry for some pupils whose feckless parents had provided them with little in the way of security or moral guidance.

On the other hand some highly controlling parents stifled the very creative and energetic lifeblood from their children, while others still, tried to live their lives through their children, denying them the time, space and encouragement to grow as individuals.

Brought up in a loving Christian family, my siblings and I were regularly reminded of the Fifth of the Ten Commandments, particularly when our attitudes or behaviour sometimes fell short of what was expected: ‘Honour your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land your God is giving you.’

As I got to an age when I could read the Bible for myself, I found with a little glee, that the honour children were due their parents was not a one way street. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus explained that parents have a responsibility to conduct themselves so as to be worthy of honour:

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honour your father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

This Commandment is important today, although it is too often misapplied to young people and their parents only.

Very sadly, 21st century western culture does not give the elderly the place of honour they so richly deserve today. The philosopher, Bertrand Russell in the latter years of his life complained, "I was born in the wrong generation. When I was a young man, no one had any respect for youth. Now I am an old man and no one has any respect for age."

Today our local churches and the Christian media, with its burgeoning music industry honours youth. However, youth is not the age to which the Bible gives the greatest honour. In the Old Testament the Patriarch Moses said: "Show respect for old people and honour them", and in the New Testament, the Apostle Peter reiterated this principle when he wrote: "You younger men must submit yourselves to the older men".

Writing on the website Christians.org, the editor-in-chief, Dr. Douglas Beyer says: “The fifth commandment is addressed primarily to adults........it has more to do with medical care, old-age pensions, and retirement homes than with disobedient minors. It means quite simply: ‘when your Mum and Dad have to depend on you, don't let them down.’ Honour your father and mother.

Although social security, health care, and old-age pensions have largely taken over the kind of responsibilities enjoined by this commandment, no system can honour your parents for you. Many systems are terribly impersonal and even insultingly dehumanising.”

Jesus gave the Fifth Commandment its most potent application when he said: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me".

We honour others by treating them with the same high respect we owe to the person of our Saviour Christ Jesus. Today, our elderly citizens need more than ever to be honoured in this way and reassured of their worth.