Thursday, 29 August 2013

Love.......The Greatest Virtue

Here we are at the end of our journey through the seven cardinal virtues with a personal and historical illustration of what is considered to be the most important, ‘love’.

My late father spent 5 years of his life as a prisoner of war in World War 2. Detained in a small camp attached to a market garden outside the city of Gdansk in Poland, he witnessed the best and the worst of human behaviour during his incarceration.

In his book, ‘We’ve been a Long Time Coming Boys’ he described an incident which touches the heart because it illustrates real love. From a chapter in the book entitled ‘Guards’, the incident concerns a character the prisoners had nicknamed ‘Big Jim’ who was one of the German guards.

“I think his finest hour or his worst nightmare took place one Sunday afternoon. We were not working that day and I noticed two smartly dressed schoolgirls go through the gherkin beds, pick one of the miniature cucumbers, and finding it pretty bitter, throw it away. Presently, Farmer Burdin came down the same path on his usual tour of inspection. He saw the remains of the gherkin and hared off back to report the matter to Big Jim.

Now Big Jim had a particular hatred of a little Russian boy who had been taken prisoner with his mother and sent to join us at the market garden camp. The little lad’s name was Lonya, at least that’s how it sounded. He was the bane of the guard’s life as he was an expert work dodger. Jim decided that Lonya was the culprit and would pay the price for the crime.

Presently we saw the guard appear, dragging the Russian boy by the scruff of the neck (Lonya was only about nine years old). Big Jim was shouting that he had caught the thief and would teach the little fellow a lesson. Lonya, it was clear would have none of it, and said so vehemently and repeatedly-in Russian.

Deciding that he would have the last word on the matter, the guard picked up a heavy tree branch and beat the lad so fiercely that he broke the cudgel over the boy’s back. Lonya was now screaming.

Suddenly, round the building in full flight, came the figure of a woman. She ran straight to the scene. The guard saw her, dropped the boy a shouted, “Halt!” Ignoring the command, the woman kept on towards him. “Halt!” came the shout again and to enforce his words, Big Jim drew his pistol. Like a tigress, the woman sprang at him. His gun flew through the air, and before he could retrieve it from the grass, woman and boy had gone.

I’ve often described that incident to youth groups and asked them to guess who the woman was. Without hesitation, I always got the answer, “His mum of course”. Who else! Then I would go on to apply the lesson.

This mother risked her life for her boy because she loved him. After all, he was “her boy”, and no doubt he would love her in return for her heroic deed that Sunday afternoon. Here was just a faint picture of the love which led Jesus to die for you and me on a Roman cross. Ought we not to love him in return?”

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Who Gives You Hope?

When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain in 1940, the country was almost on its knees. The all conquering German army was sweeping all before it as one by one, countries fell to their Nazis. When France surrendered, Britain stood all alone against the might of Hitler’s military which was poised across the Channel.

Despite the ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ the country was weak, without significant allies, and in real danger of invasion and defeat. Churchill’s first priority as Prime Minister was to galvanise the country. He had to give the people hope in order to avoid the pernicious malaise of defeatism which had so quickly contributed to the fall of France.

Churchill used the media for the task, speaking directly to the people via the medium of radio. He was honest in his assessment of Britain’s position, and despite the seeming hopelessness of the country’s position in late August 1940, he was utterly defiant. For Churchill, there would be no negotiations with Germany; Britain would fight and ultimate victory would be won through ‘blood, sweat, toil and tears’.

Did Churchill succeed in building hope and optimism in the British people?

21st century historical revisionists are now casting doubt on the effectiveness of Churchill’s wartime rhetoric.

In his new book, ‘The Roar of the Lion’, university academic Richard Toye of Exeter University has questioned the accepted view that Churchill’s speeches inspired the nation, claiming that they were more controversial at the time than previously thought by historians.

Professor Toye studied Government and unofficial surveys plus the diaries of ordinary people as evidence for his book in which he argues:

“Churchill’s first speeches as Prime Minister in the dark days of 1940 were by no means universally acclaimed.............many people thought he was drunk during his famous ‘finest hour’ broadcast.............and there is little evidence that they made a decisive difference to the British people’s will to fight on.”

In response to Professor Toye’s book, Sheila Mitchell, spokesperson of ‘The Churchill Society’, speaking to the ‘Daily Express’ said:

“That Winston’s oratory was received enthusiastically by Britons during the Second World War was not just ‘the accepted view’ it was a fact, as anyone living through those times would bear witness to................His positive and robust manner encouraged and inspired the people of Britain and ‘stiffened the sinews’ of those who doubted or faltered when facing the tremendous odds................he was a great leader and such men, outspoken and uncompromising, will always attract critics.”

I’m sorry to disagree with Professor Toye. Sadly I feel that he has been pretty selective with his evidence.

When I talk to my own parents and their contemporaries, it is clear that all revered Churchill, not as a politician, but as a leader who gave them the quality for survival and future prosperity.................................................... hope!

As a Christian and a ‘Churchill fan’ what inspires me also is the ultimate in hope..........the hope that I have in Jesus Christ.

Here’s some Bible verses that would have inspired Churchill and most certainly inspire me!   

Hope brings....................................................................

  • Security: “You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety” (Job 11:18)
  • Confidence: “No one who hopes in you (God) will ever be put to shame” (Psalm 25:3).
  • Strength: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31).
  • Goodness: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him” (Lamentations 3:25).
  • Joy: “Be joyful in hope” (Romans 12:12)
  • Love: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
  • Faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Where is your hope today...............................?


Monday, 26 August 2013

Build on Rock

I was drawn to an article by Melanie Phillips entitled: ‘An unholy war in the Guides and why we must ALL fight the secular bigots’.

In 6 days time the Guides will change the historic promise made by all Guides and Brownies from ‘to love my God’ to ‘be true to myself and develop my beliefs’. The organisation will also drop the promise, ‘to serve my country’, which will be replaced by ‘to serve my community’.

Chief Guide, Gill Slocombe states that some girls found the old promise confusing, but the new wording would be easier for Guides to make and keep .

The Guide movement has had a historic link with the church with many local groups still meeting in church premises. The change to the Guide promise has therefore outraged many Christians, who perceive it to be a step by the Guiding establishment to accommodate itself with the rising tide of atheism and secularism by jettisoning values that are timeless.

Melanie Phillips does’nt  mince her words in contextualising the issue: “It is, indeed, the principal weapon of unholy war wielded by the forces of militant secularism, which are intent upon destroying the Judeo-Christian basis of western morality. It supplants traditional morality and the concepts of right and wrong, truth and lies by a creed which says in effect, ‘Whatever is right for you is right’.............So the new Guiding promise is all about being true to me, myself and my beliefs, whatever they may happen to be. It represents the antithesis of duty to others. It says, more or less, ‘I promise to serve myself’.

It is a promise for a narcissistic, self-centred and morally vacuous age.”

These sentiments were reinforced this weekend by Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi who has been one of the country’s highest profile religious commentators for the last 22 years. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme he said Britain is ‘losing the plot’.  Referring to the 2008 banking crisis, Lord Sacks said: “When you begin to lose faith and society becomes very, very secularised, you first see a breakdown of institutions, whether they are financial, economic or… marriage is an institution......

And then you ask why they have broken down and you arrive at one word: trust. Trust means having faith in somebody else to keep their faith with you, so there’s something about religious faith that undergirds trust as a whole in society and when trust breaks down you see institutions break down.

Individualism is no way to build a society... if people work for the maximum possible benefit to themselves, then we will not have trust in industry, economics and financial institutions, we will not see marriages last.”

Wise words from the Chief Rabbi!!

As a born again person of faith, I am thankful that the Bible is both the bedrock and backdrop for my life. Thus I can truly say that it is faith in its author, the living God who makes life worth living, giving me great hope.  

As the great old song written by Edward Mote, a pastor at Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham, West Sussex says:

My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;

No merit of my own I claim But wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

Let's build our society on the solid rock of faith, not the sinking sand of atheism and secularism.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Let’s Raise a Glass to Temperance

I was more than a little reticent when I came to consider the cardinal virtue of temperance. Always keen to enjoy good quality wine to accompany Mrs Wiselmo’s gourmet culinary offerings, the very thought of espousing a more teetotal, virtuous lifestyle is depressing.

Wikipedia defines temperance as ‘moderation in action, thought, or feeling; restraint.’

Historically referring to moderation or abstention from the consumption of alcohol, temperance spawned very successful mass movements in the USA and Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

The movement had its greatest success in the USA with the passing of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution in 1919 which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. It was a disaster, leading to an upsurge of crime and violence as  gangsters stepped in to provide the public with the alcohol denied to them by the government. 

The total failure of Prohibition led to its repeal by the 21st Amendment in 1933 and thereafter the temperance movement declined rapidly.

Interestingly, the American temperance movement had its roots in the 1820 Christian  revival which began in Rochester. This awakening transformed the USA in the 1820s, making it one of the most radical Christian nations on earth. The effects of the revival went beyond the spiritual, into the social and political, producing reform movements focussed on a variety of causes from temperance to the abolition of slavery.

The temperance movement in Britain originated from a variety of sources, including the churches. It reached its zenith in the early 20th century.

The First World War assisted the temperance cause. Through the Defence of the Realm Act 1914,  pub opening hours were regulated, beer was watered down and was subject to a penny a pint extra tax. 1916 saw an extraordinary measure with the nationalisation of breweries and pubs in areas where armaments were manufactured.

Post- war however, things returned to normal and over time support for temperance declined.

A side effect of historic Christian enthusiasm for temperance is the contemporary residual image of Christians as opponents of alcohol consumption and their association of alcohol with all things evil.

Yet the Bible takes a different view. While the consumption of alcohol is not prohibited, believers are instructed to avoid drunkenness. Christians are also commanded to not allow their bodies to be “mastered” by anything. The key here is ‘temperance’.....all things in moderation.

In the Gospels, it is recorded that Jesus changed water into wine and it even seems that he drank wine on occasion. If wine was good enough for Jesus it is certainly good enough for me. Let's all drink to that !



Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Fortitude....Virtue of Martyrs

If there is one thing that characterises modern culture in the developed world it is hedonism.  Defined in Wikipedia as ‘a school of thought that argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good’, the main goal of a hedonist is unrestrained pleasure.

The watchword of this and the previous generation, ‘if it feels good, do it’ typifies the lives of many who inhabit a moral landscape devoid of reason or restraint.

The Canadian educationalist, Doug McManamin writing in the Catholic Education Resource Centre (CERC) website argues that, “a typical hedonist today does not aspire to anything larger and higher, but settles for ‘feeling good’. Such a life does not require fortitude. But a truly meaningful life whose meaning (direction) is determined in regards to man's true end, which is the knowledge and love of the greatest good, does indeed require fortitude”.

Sounding curiously dated, the word fortitude is not common currency in the language of contemporary Scotland. It is however alive and well in the actions and motivations of believers across the world. Sadly however, this virtue has waned in the character and practice of many Christians in the increasingly materialistic western church.

Webster’s dictionary defines fortitude as, “mental and emotional strength in facing adversity, danger, or temptation courageously.” Fortitude is not an attitude of ‘rushing in where angels fear to tread’. As one commentator sagely declared, “putting our bodies or lives in danger when it is not necessary is not fortitude but foolishness.”

Fortitude is a virtue on open and sometimes heroic display as Christians in the Middle and Far East, North Africa and the Indian sub continent take a stand for their faith in the face of violent state opposition.

The highest levels of persecution are recorded in the Muslim states and North Korea where imprisonment or death awaits those who share their faith in Christ. In common with Jesus’ original disciples who died violently as martyrs, there are many 21st century believers who do not shrink from what they see as their duty to share the new life that they have found in Christ. Their fortitude should be an example to all believers.

While Christians abroad continue to suffer violence and injustice for the sake of their beliefs, closer to home, a new form of persecution is becoming the norm.

In Western countries like the UK, secularists are now using the law to attack Christian teachings. Thus, Christians who talk publically about concepts like 'true marriage' and 'natural family' are now considered to be propagators of hate speech.

Let’s pray for a real revival and an upsurge of fortitude in the hearts of Scotland’s believers.

Resurgent Christian fortitude........the antidote to the tide of secularism sweeping across our land!!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Justice.......God’s for it!!!

I have lost count of the number of times that I have uttered the phrase, ‘there’s no justice in this world!’ However, like most Scots, my understanding of ‘justice’ is limited to the notion of fairness, the law and the courts. Yet, when considered more widely, particularly in the light of scripture, there is much more to justice than meets the eye.

The Hebrew word for justice is ‘mishpat’. Used more than 200 times in the Old Testament it means, to treat people equally. In practice, ‘mishpat’, is about giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.

There is however more to ‘mishpat’ than just the punishment of wrongdoers. It also means giving people their rights. Scripture frequently highlights the need to care for and speak up in favour of those who have been called ‘the quartet of the vulnerable’...... widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor. In Biblical times, these people were at the margins of society living at subsistence level, sometimes only days away from starvation.

In 21st century Scotland we could expand this group to include genuine assylum seekers, the vulnerable (through substance abuse and or psychiatric problems), the homeless, some single parents, elderly people and the victims of abuse.

A second aspect to the biblical idea of justice is the word ‘tzadeqah’ which means ‘being just’ but is usually translated as ‘being righteous’. In the Bible, ‘tzadeqah’ refers to day-to-day living where all relationships in family and society are conducted with fairness, generosity and equity. In scripture, ‘tzadeqah’ and ‘mishpat’  frequently appear together.

Thus, when people have a right relationship with God, and live a life of righteousness with their community, there should theoretically be little need for the ‘mishpat’ notion of justice.

Finally, justice involves generosity. Believers who practice justice are not indifferent to the poor, seeking to ameliorate their plight through generous acts of charitable giving.

In the Gospel of Matthew, giving to the poor is described as ‘acts of righteousness’. In the Old Testament, Job describes every failure to help the poor as offense against the very nature of God who is for the poor.

It is heartening therefore to note that many Scots who have a living faith in Christ not only understand the true nature of justice, but are prepared to step up to the mark with their time and finances in support of the poor and the vulnerable.

Seems that there is true justice after all.........................and it pleases God too!   


Monday, 19 August 2013

Prudence....A Prime Virtue

Prudence, meaning the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason is one of the Cardinal virtues.

According to Wikipedia, in modern English, the word has become increasingly synonymous with caution. In this sense, prudence names a reluctance to take risks, which remains a virtue with respect to unnecessary risks”.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas....“it is the charioteer of the virtues.  It is the practical wisdom that forms and guides our conscience and our ability to make choices.” 

Damaris Zehner writing for the ‘Internet Monk’ website has a more contemporary view of  prudence: “it is not just the careful, almost miserly, meting out of money, time, and self; it is ‘right reason in action’.........without prudence we would neither recognise the right nor choose to do it.” 

Today, prudence has become a watchword of politicians as they grapple with the complexity of global economic uncertainty.

The politician we probably most associate with prudence is Gordon Brown during his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

In his first budget speech, Brown laid out his credentials as the ‘Iron Chancellor’ when he said: “my first rule – the golden rule – ensures that over the economic cycle the Government will borrow only to invest, and that current spending will be met from taxation.” In his second budget speech, he reiterated his goal stating, “I said that this would be a Budget based on prudence for a purpose and that guides us also in our approach to public spending”.

Sadly things went awry for Gordon Brown when he became Prime Minister. His Government failed to maintain a grip public spending. The end result was a humiliating defeat in the 2010 General Election. As a Prime Minister, Mr Brown was anything but prudent.

The Bible, particularly the book of Proverbs contains many references to the virtue of prudence.........

‘I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.’

‘In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.’

‘The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.’

‘A fool despises his father's instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.’

These proverbs are simply excellent advice for successful living. When prudence is consistently put into practice by individuals, difficulties can be anticipated and avoided.       

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Virtues that are Cardinal

There is probably more chance that the average Scot could name the seven dwarves from the Snow White fable than the ‘seven cardinal virtues’.

Sadly, ‘virtue’ would appear to have lost its appeal in 21st century Scottish culture. For the Twitter and Facebook generation, it has become a quaint and slightly embarrassing word that denotes the ‘homely goodness’ of a bygone era that’s perceived to be out of place in the contemporary moral landscape.

Despite this ambivalence, and having written extensively about the ‘seven deadly sins’, it is now time to tease out and promote the positive qualities of these wholesome cardinal virtues.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a virtue as: “a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself.  The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.”

The word ‘cardinal’ comes from the Latin meaning a hinge or pivot on which other things turn.  Thus, in Christian tradition, the cardinal virtues serve as a guide to the moral behaviour of believers.

In common with the seven deadly sins there are two categories of Cardinal Virtues: four human or natural virtues and three theological virtues.

The human virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance are considered to be natural to humans, and have been widely accepted throughout history as ‘admirable human qualities’.  Achievable through human effort they are common to both believers and atheists. 

The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, come from Chapter 13 of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth, written almost 2,000 years ago. Unlike the human virtues, they are rooted in an understanding and acceptance of God. Without this they are an absurdity.

Writing on the ‘Internet Monk’ website, Damaris Zehner encapsulates the true goal of these virtues: “So according to the Catechism, virtue is more of a disposition than an action, although it leads to action; it is what we are as well as what we do.  It is the ground from which all the fruits of our lives grow.  It is the habit of goodness.  Virtue doesn’t just buff us up to make us more attractive; it enables us to act with generosity and integrity to give the best of ourselves to others.  Its goal is ‘Christ-likeness’.... a Jesus-shaped life.”

Cultivating the ‘habit of goodness’ should be the first priority of all civilised 21st century Scots.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

God’s IQ ???

The headline of an article in Monday’s Independent newspaper proclaimed: ‘Religious people are less intelligent than atheists, according to analysis of scores of scientific studies stretching back over decades’. As an honours graduate of the University of Aberdeen and a zealous born again Christian, I was intrigued and read on.

It was as I suspected, those high priests of secularism, the psychologists, who were again attacking people of faith by attempting to show that non-believers were more intelligent than believers. Professor Miron Zuckerman and his team from the University of Rochester, in a review of 63 studies, dating back to 1928 have concluded that there is “a reliable negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity”.  

Journalist, Rob Williams explains that the psychologists, “defined intelligence as  the ‘ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience’.......religiosity is defined by the psychologists as involvement in some (or all) facets of religion......other factors - such as gender or education - did not make any difference to the correlation between intelligence and religious belief.”

What most people of faith might find objectionable is the arrogant and patronising conclusion of the report which states:"Most extant explanations (of a negative relation) share one central theme —the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who 'know better'."

As a believer, I humbly beg to differ with Professor Zuckerman and his colleagues. It is not as if their research has really uncovered anything that is new or ground breaking.

Writing almost 2,000 years ago to the Christians in Corinth, the Apostle Paul had to deal with the same kind of criticism from the so-called intelligentsia of the day. His response goes straight to the heart of the matter:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”.

For those of us who believe...........a ‘no brainer’!!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Out of Reach in Plain Sight

As a retired former secondary school deputy head in a provincial Scottish west coast town, I now see the names of former pupils emblazoned across the sides of their predominantly white vans. I am always delighted to see that these young men and women are successfully plying their trade as independent plumbers, electricians, joiners and painters and I wish them every success in their enterprises.

As time passes, these craftsmen and women become well known characters in Scotland’s small towns, not least because they carry out work repairing and improving the homes of ordinary people in the locality.

They are however an enigma when it comes to matters of faith. At 11am every Sunday morning very few if any of this group are to be found in church. Indeed in my town more adults attend primary age football games on a Sunday morning than attend all of the church services put together. Why is it that white van men and women seem to be out of reach of the church while remaining in plain sight in Scotland’s towns and cities?

There is no easy answer to this question. However we can glean some clues from the Bible. Writing to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul urged fellow believers to share the good news about Jesus when he said: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

The clear implication here is that it is the duty of Christians to ‘preach’ Christ to non believers. In our 21st century culture, we should perhaps read ‘communicating’ rather than ‘preaching’ as most people today do not like being preached at.

Sadly the body of born again believers, whose job it is communicate Christ, is largely middle class and the ‘church’ lifestyle is pretty disconnected from the rest of contemporary society. In an article in ‘Christianity Today’, Caryn Rivadeneira ‘cuts to the chase’ when she says:  “Lots of folks talk about how churches and the Christians who fill them up are known more for what we're against than what we're for and more about whom we'd like to keep out than who'd we want to invite in, or at least keep in.”

Herein lies the challenge for the can the body of Christ in 21st century Scotland begin to connect with all of society in a meaningful, culturally relevant manner....... What practical steps need to be taken?

Here are some starter questions which any church member/leader could begin to ask if serious about the mission of the church.

Does your church have a strategy for evangelising its own locality? Was the whole church involved in developing the strategy? Is that strategy regularly discussed, promoted and reviewed? Has your church identified and commissioned evangelism leaders? (Pastor can’t do everything) Does your church train its members in evangelism/how to share their faith? Does your church have a support/teaching programme for new converts in expectation that locals will come to Christ?       

It is really heartening that some born again Christians in Scotland do say that they want to share the love of Jesus with people in their locality. The real challenge is: do they love Jesus enough to move from words to deeds?

People deemed to be ‘out of reach’ can be reached when there is heart commitment, proper planning and real servant leadership by local Christians.

White van men and women need Jesus just as much as everyone else, but the key question is, does the church want them?  


Urgent....Champion Wanted

The actor, comedian and raconteur Stephen Fry has been in the news recently. Taking on the role of champion of gay rights in Russia, Mr Fry has used his celebrity status to call for a boycott of the forthcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.  
Not content with forcing a redefinition of marriage on the British people the militant gay lobby is now attempting to export its views to Russia where President Putin has recently signed into law measures to criminalise the dissemination of homosexual propaganda to young people under the age of 18. Last weekend’s London demo by gay rights activists headed by Mr Fry attracted a good deal of media attention, prompting comment from a number of prominent people including a Twitter response from Prime Minister David Cameron.

Socially conservative by nature, it is reported that most Russians have been bemused by this attempt to force a morality which they regard as corrupt on their country under the guise of ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’.

It is interesting to note that when a cause has a celebrity champion, it can attract a good deal of media attention which in the long run can help ‘ramp up’ the pressure for change.

Much more serious than the situation of Russia’s gay community is violent murderous persecution of Christians by Islamist militants across Muslim world. Largely unreported, church burnings and the butchery of Christian men women and children is a regular occurrence in states such as Nigeria and Pakistan.   

Yesterday Archbishop Cranmer’s website published a poignant article entitled, ‘Christians are being slaughtered by Wahhabi Islamists all over the world: who is their Stephen Fry?’
In particular, Cranmer highlighted the current plight of Christians in Egypt which is largely unreported in the UK.

“The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, for example, Pope Tawadros II, has had to cancel many public events at St Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, fearing attacks from Brotherhood supporters who blame the Copts for the fall of Morsi. Indeed, the Copts in Egypt, who make up around 10 per cent of the population, have it an awful lot worse than gays in Russia. But there is no rolling coverage of their plight by the BBC: their persecution and murder is only mentioned in passing. No marches are staged in London; there is no damning comment by David Cameron or President Obama, and the world is largely silent as their churches are torched and congregations slaughtered.
Pope Tawadros was not the only religious leader who demanded change in Egypt, but his church is bearing the brunt. The Copts are increasingly fearful of meeting to worship: one of their number was recently kidnapped and beheaded in the Sinai.”

Sadly the persecution of Christians abroad does not chime with largely secular agenda of the UK media. Even more concerning is the deafening silence of our ‘PC’ obsessed politicians on these matters fearing that they might ‘cause offence’.
I am in agreement with Archbishop Cranmer. It is time for Christians in Britain to stand up and get on the streets in support of their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ across the world.

What is needed is a celebrity champion from the world of entertainment, the media, business or sport who will do for Christians in the Muslim world what Stephen Fry has achieved for the gay community in Russia.

Does such a person of faith, courage and commitment exist? If so would he/she please step up to the mark!     

Monday, 12 August 2013


I was more than a little amused when I read a piece in the Daily Mail last week entitled: ‘Religion could disappear by 2041 because people will have replaced God with possessions, claims leading psychologist’.

The article focuses on the controversial conclusions of Irish biopsychologist, Dr Nigel Barber, in his book, ‘Why Atheism Will Replace religion’. Dr Barbour studied the beliefs of people in 137 different countries and concluded that there was a correlation between development and religious belief. His key conclusion is that atheism increases in more developed countries as their citizens become materially wealthy.

Writing in the journal ‘Psychology Today’, Dr Barber explained that in studies of countries which presently have secular majorities, there was a developmental timeline.  The key point in the timeline is when a society reaches a stage where only a minority of the population believed in a god, or a minority considered that a god was important to their lives.

Astonishingly, Dr Barber has concluded that the average country will transform into a secular society in 2041. He has arrived at this date by measuring a country’s GDP and Human Development Index and comparing this data with countries where atheists are already a majority.

According to the Daily Mail article, Dr Barber asserts: 'Religion evolved to help our ancestors cope with anxiety and insecurity. ............supernatural belief is in decline everywhere that ordinary people enjoy a decent standard of living and are secure in their health and finances. The market for formal religion is also being squeezed by modern substitutes such as sports and entertainment.’

As a born again Christian who is also a professional historian I beg to differ with Dr Barber. While Christianity is currently declining in Britain, looked at historically, there is very clear evidence that belief in society goes in cycles. The historian Callum Brown argues that there is clear evidence for cycles of belief: "Between 1945 and 1958 there were surges of British church membership, Sunday school enrolment, Church of England Easter Day communicants, baptisms and religious solemnisation of marriage, accompanied by immense popularity for evangelical ‘revivalist' crusades."

The Bible records that Jesus himself said that in the last days before his return there would be a falling away and deception amongst Christians. The Gospel of Matthew in Chapter 24 clearly records Jesus’ description of what will happen.

‘As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.’

So am I worried that Christians might be in a tiny minority in the future? Certainly not, because God is in control and has a plan for His Church across the world. I am therefore sure that faith in Christ will be at least as strong, if not much stronger in 2041 than it is now.








Sunday, 11 August 2013

The ‘Sins’ of Church Websites

There is an old adage which says that, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression’. As Scotland’s churches move into the 21st century, many are attempting to portray themselves in a positive manner through a website. The question is: are these websites serving any useful purpose in the overall mission of the church?

The ‘By the Way’ team has recently carried out a limited survey of Scotland’s evangelical church websites. The team’s findings are very similar to some research that has been carried out in the USA.

Dr Thomas W Rainer looked at over 100 websites from a variety of churches of different sizes. He looked at the sites from the perspective of a person considering visiting the church. Apparently, between 75% and 90% of guests will check out a church website before deciding to come through its doors. His conclusions are detailed below.

‘In the vast majority of churches:

1. The website is dated in both design and content. You are communicating an uncaring attitude and a sloppy approach to ministry.

2. The website was built cheaply and looks like it. From a ministry perspective, the church is missing many opportunities. From a stewardship perspective, one guest who becomes a member will pay for the cost of a good site. Though some web designers and builders are too expensive, it makes absolutely no sense to try to get by with a cheap-looking site.

3. The service times are either hard to find or non-existent. This information is probably the first information a guest tries to find. If the times are not clear and apparent, you probably have already lost the guest.

4. The physical address of the church is either hard to find or non-existent. Most of your guests will likely put the address in their satellite navigation system. They won’t be seeking your church in the Yellow Pages. You are probably missing out on the majority of your guests if you don’t have a clearly marked physical address.

5.  Not enough information on childcare. You’ve lost your young families with this omission.

6. Minimal information on your Pastor(s), Elders and Deacons. Guests want to know as much as possible about the staff of the church. The best sites I’ve seen include personal statements from the staff along with their photos.

7. No place to listen to recent sermons. A number of your prospective guests will listen to an entire sermon before deciding to visit. They may assume that you are not very proud of the preaching ministry of the church if you don’t have podcasts easily available.

8. In recent years, more prospective guests want to know the basic beliefs, vision, values and mission statements of a church. If you have none of these on the website, you will miss out on some of your more discerning guests.’

The best Scottish evangelical church website undoubtedly belongs to Deeside Christian Fellowship in the north east of Scotland. An exploration of this website presents a Biblically grounded, vibrant, family orientated fellowship which is open to the rest of the world. This is clearly an outward looking fellowship which puts evangelism and the Great Commission at the forefront of its thinking. Unlike many churches, it is not in decline.

Sadly, the excellence of Deeside Christian Fellowship’s website is not replicated across Scotland’s evangelical churches. This need not be the case. A well constructed website has huge potential in communicating Christ to the local community and the wider world: the sooner churches make this a priority the better.

Would I visit DCF on the basis of its website?.................................I fully intend to, and soon!! 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Pastoral Vision Needed

Strategic planning in which enterprises organise their long term development around vision, mission and values statements is now the norm for any organisation which aspires to grow. The Coca Cola Company, a highly successful global brand has a simple and straightforward statement which reads:

“Our vision serves as the framework for our Roadmap and guides every aspect of our business by describing what we need to accomplish in order to continue achieving sustainable, quality growth.

People: Be a great place to work where people are inspired to be the best they can     be.

Portfolio: Bring to the world a portfolio of quality beverage brands that anticipate and satisfy people's desires and needs.

Partners: Nurture a winning network of customers and suppliers, together we create mutual, enduring value.

Planet: Be a responsible citizen that makes a difference by helping build and support sustainable communities.

Profit: Maximize long-term return to shareowners while being mindful of our overall responsibilities.

Productivity: Be a highly effective, lean and fast-moving organization.”

Impressed by the Coca Cola statement, I wondered if any Scottish churches had vision, mission and values statements. Sadly, few seem to have much of any substance. This may in part explain why the body of Christians who are born again believers, continues to decline.

In a recent article, Senior Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, California argues that a church without a vision is unlikely to grow. The Bible in the book of Proverbs says, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves” and unfortunately many of our evangelical churches are doing just that. With no vision, they have become no more than very cosy social clubs.

Establishing the vision of a local church is not difficult because it’s already set out in scripture. It is the responsibility of church leaders in equal partnership with those they purport to lead to prayerfully establish what it will take to reach its community for Christ within the next three to five years. The church's vision would then be in line with Christ’s Great Commission.

There are two processes which can be followed when establishing an individual church’s vision: top down and bottom up. Most commentators are agreed that the risk of having a wrong vision is much lower when a bottom up process is followed. When a church gets down to serious ‘believing prayer’ and listening to all the members, it will undoubtedly discern what Jesus, its head, intends that church's vision to be. After all, he dwells in each believer!

God has given every believer a mission and He wants us to use our brains in determining how best to accomplish the task.  When rooted in Scripture, vision, mission and values statements can be a helpful way of focussing, motivating and keeping people ‘on task’.

Church leaders can learn a lot about growth from successful enterprises such as Coca Cola; the question is, are they willing to learn or are they content with more of the same?

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Charity ‘Fatcat’ Salary Scandal

You would expect that the senior officers of our best known charities would be motivated by altruism rather than material reward. Not so! An investigation by Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph into the accounts of 14 charities of the Disaster Emergency Committee reveals a very different picture.

The table below shows the 2012 salaries of the charities’ CEOs.

Charity                                   Chief Executive Officer                    2012 Salary

Action  Aid                               Richard Miller                                      £88,933

Age International                     Michelle Mitchell                                 £90,000-£100,000

British Red Cross                    Sir Nick Young                                    £184,000

Cafod                                      Chris Bain                                           £87,567

Care Intl.                                Geoff Dennis                        £100,-110,000                                

Christian Aid                            Loretta Minghella                                £123,729

Concern Worldwide                Rose Caldwell                                     £60,000-£70,000

Islamic Relief                          Mohamed Ashmawey                         N/A (no employee paid                                                                                                           over £60,000 in 2011)

 Merlin                                     David Alexander (interim)                 N/A (highest salary paid                                                                                                          in 2011 was £110,000-                                                                                                            £119,999)

Oxfam                                      Dame Barbara Stocking                     £105,943

Plan UK                                   Marie Staunton                                   £90,001 to 100,000

Save the Children                   Anabel Hoult                                       £168,653

Tearfund                                 Matthew Frost                                     £92,000

World Vision                            Justin Byworth                                    £95,988

Although salaries are lower than remunerations in the private sector, 11 of the CEOs received more than PM David Cameron’s annual salary.

Many of these charities depend partially on public funds receiving over £1.1 billion in the past three years from the UK Government, the EU and the UN. They are not however subject to the same level of scrutiny and accountability as the government or quangos. This should be a real concern for ordinary people who make donations and work hard to raise funds for these organisations.

William Shawcross, chairman of the Charity Commission has been severely critical of charities failure to deal with executive excess. Speaking to the Telegraph he said: “It is not for the commission to tell charities how much they should pay their executives. That is a matter for their trustees.  However, in these difficult times, when many charities are experiencing shortfalls, trustees should consider whether very high salaries are really appropriate, and fair to both the donors and the taxpayers who fund charities.

Disproportionate salaries risk bringing organisations and the wider charitable world into disrepute.”

Well said Mr Shawcross.

Many Christians across the UK will be outraged by the obscenity of the inflated salaries paid to these CEOs, some of whom head up Christian organisations!! These people are literally stealing from the world’s poor and vulnerable. There is no excuse for this!!

In future when asked to give, I will have two questions:

1.    What are the aims of your organisation?

2.    How much is your CEO paid?

I will not be donating to organisations paying excessive salaries to their CEO.  Readers should consider doing the same.