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May 2, 2011
neil

Should we be glad Osama bin Laden is dead?

So Osama Bin Laden is dead. And what should be our response?

Three responses that I’ve observed in the hours since the news broke.

1) Gloating. There are a lot of people taking what I would describe as a perverse pleasure in the death of a man. That should not be so with the Christian. For at least two reasons

a) Our doctrine of creation reminds us that Osama was a man made in the image of God, made for a relationship with him. That is the reason the Lord says in Ezekiel 33:11 ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. ‘

b) Our doctrine of salvation reminds us that we too are sinners. Our sins alone would have taken Jesus to the cross. Any gloating would suggest a self-rightousness that is a denial of the gospel.

2) Sadness. Many Christians have rightly commented that we shouldn’t wish a man dead and have recognised that in lots of ways we are no better. They have suggested that we should grieve over the death of a sinner.

3) Rejoicing. Other Christians have argued that we should rejoice that justice has been seen to be done. That God in his sovereign will has brought an end to a life dedicated to wickedness and to a life that was behind much of the persecution of Christians in the Muslim-majority world.

So what is the Biblical response?

The question as Christians we have to ask is this; is it ever appropriate for Christians to rejoice in the death of the wicked? I would want to argue that the Bible says ‘yes’ it is. In an excellent book, entitled ‘Crying for justice, what the Psalms teach us about mercy and vengeance in an age of terrorism’ John N. Day looks at what are called the imprecatory psalms in which God’s people cry out for God to bring justice and through which God’s people call for vengeance. Such psalms contain verses such as

Break the teeth in their mouth, O God; tear out, O Lord, the fangs of the lion!’ Psalm 58:6

And

Happy is he who repays you for what you have done’ Psalm 137:8

Day comments:

Christians are continually called to seek reconciliation and practice long-suffering, forgiveness, and kindness after the pattern of God. Yet there comes a point at which justice must be enacted – whether form God directly or through his representatives, such as the state and its judicial system. This response is likewise patterned after the example of God. The inhabitants of Canaan, for instance, experienced God’s long-suffering grace for four hundred years. But then their iniquity became ‘complete,’ and judgment fell.

When God’s people find themselves suffering from gross or sustained injustice, they are in principle justified in calling for divine justice and appealing to divine vengeance.

The Christian must embrace the tension inherent in reflecting both ‘the kindness and severity of God’ (Rom. 11:22)

What can we learn on this day as we reflect on the death of Osama bin laden?

1. I should certainly have prayed more for Osama’s conversion than his death. I should pray for God’s enemies and seek their salvation remembering that I too was an enemy of God.

2. My rejoicing should be a ‘sorrowful rejoicing’ remembering that the Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked. There is no room for gloating.

3. I should remember that in God’s will sometimes justice is seen to be done and that the enemies of God’s people and agents of extreme wickedness are destroyed. God uses human agents to enact his justice.

4. I should remember that where justice is not seen to be done it is right

Apr 22, 2011
neil

What Ricky Gervais knows about Easter

What is it about being famous that means you get given a platform to speak your mind on issues you don’t even understand. Journalism might reasonably be regarded as 80 per cent entertainment and 20 per cent information but if Ricky Gervais’s blog on Easter is any thing to go by I’d suggest it’s more like 95 per cent entertainment and 5 per cent information.

The blog is called  An (Atheist) Easter Message from Ricky Gervais.  But I struggled to find any reference to Easter in it at all. There’s no attempt to explain or interpret the Easter story, no mention of the cross or the resurrection just a rant about religion.

The most striking thing about the article is Gervais’s claim to have kept the law of God. Seriously. Here is a man who seems to genuinely believe he has kept the 10 commandments.  He claims to like the teachings of Jesus and yet one wonders how anyone who has ever read the sermon on the mount could think that they have kept the law. If ‘do not commit adultery’ includes as Jesus insists never even to have looked at a woman lustfully then it’s remarkable that Gervais would claim to have kept it.

The 10 commandments are really a call to perfection as Jesus insists, Matthew 5:48, ‘Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.’

No wonder Paul argues that the very purpose of the law for those who will see it is to make us conscious of sin and to prepare us to receive Christ.

If you think you’re able to keep God’s standards, if you can make it on your own, well there can never be anything good about a good friday.

Apr 18, 2011
neil

In the end ‘Liberal’ Christianity kills everything it has ever touched.

The figures are truly dire. While non-Christian faiths have grown stronger and the evangelical Christian churches flourish, the story in the Church of England has been one of almost continuous decline since the war.

So concludes The Independent newspaper in an article today.

It’s hardly surprising when a newspaper features another article on the tragic decline in church attendance in the UK. This time it’s the turn of The Independent to question whether there is a future for the church. The author of the article is certainly no friend of evangelicals (inside or outside the C of E) and prefers to use the disparaging language of ‘sects’ and ‘fundamentalism’ when referring to Christians who hold to the faith and beliefs of the 39 articles of the Church of England. The author recognises that evangelical Christianity is growing at a time when liberal, ‘doubting’, Christianity is emptying churches but chooses not to focus on that fact nor does he devote any time to the many evangelical parishes in the Church of England where the building is full on a Sunday.

Some of the stats are certainly questionable. The report claims that only 1.7 million, or 3 percent of the population, attend church once a month. In reality the figure is much higher. A 2007 study has the figure at 15 percent.

It’s clear that the sympathies of the author lie with a vague liberal Christianity when he writes

Having an established religion on the side not just of moderation, but tentativeness, gives this strand some extra strength. But it’s not the way faith is going at the moment.’

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that what he calls ‘moderation’ and precisely what the public recognise as a gospel devoid of any real substance and a spirituality that mirrors the world. If that is what people are seeking then they also recognise that there are plenty of other places able to offer it without the need to ever set foot through the doors of a church building. In the end Liberal Christianity kills everything it has ever touched.

Apr 14, 2011
neil

Its official secularism makes you sad

Britons have become miserable because we are selfish, unfit and anti-social begins an article in yesterday’s Telegraph.

The article continues Experts say that unless we undergo a ‘radical cultural change’, the population will slide into unprecedented depths of despair and that rates of depression and suicide will rise.

We are according to the paper in a psychological decline.

So what is causing this bad state of mental health? According to experts the answer is that we do not give enough to others, have lost the art of connecting with those around us, and no longer possess a sense of belonging in society.’

Dr. Anthony Seldon  comments;

“Young people now are being brought up grasping for what they don’t have rather than appreciating everything they already do.

“For everything we have gained in material wealth and sophistication in recent years, we have lost in happiness and the overall richness of the fabric of society.

“If we don’t act now, in the future we are likely to see increased levels of adolescent suicide and mental illness, and a culture in which taking anti-depressant drugs is the norm.”

What the research demonstrates is what happens when life turns in on itself. When we live for ourselves and are concerned only for ourselves it will have a profoundly negative

What about solutions?

So what answers does our society have to such a crisis? Well if the answers proposed by actionforhappiness.org are anything to go by, pretty much none!  When you read down the list of suggestions they are nothing but a list of ideas on how to try and manufacture happiness in the absence of any meaning, purpose, value or direction to life.

How do you find happiness in a life devoid of hope!

Joseph Addison once said ‘the grand essential to happiness in this life are; something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for’

True and lasting happiness, the joy in life that we seek, are all rooted not in thinking positive thoughts about ourselves but through a knowledge that we are loved. Our joy is a joy derived from a relationship with the living God.

CS Lewis has so helpfully said:

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

You can’t make yourself happy! You can’t manufacture joy. It comes from a source outside of yourself. Our happiness is a gift borne out of a relationship with a God who is supremely happy in himself and so desires that we share our joy in him.

Lewis again: Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives.

The 10 suggestions for happiness put forward by a think-tank actionforhappiness.org  show how desperate our desire for happiness has become and yet how even more desperate our search has become.

1. Giving. Do things for others – volunteer to work for a charity in your spare time.

2. Relating. Connect with people – get in touch with friends with whom you had lost contact.

3. Exercising. Take care of your body – go for a run.

4. Appreciating. Notice the world around – take time to appreciate wildlife in your area.

Worship. Notice the world around and thank God for his goodness

5. Trying out. Keep learning new things – learn a new language.

6. Direction. Have goals to look forward to – make resolutions and stick to them.

Hope. Realise that

7. Resilience. Find ways to bounce back – learn from defeats to do things better in the future.

8. Emotion. Take a positive approach – focus on the happy moments of your life rather than the sad.

9. Acceptance. Be comfortable with who you are – do not dwell on your flaws.

10.Meaning. Be part of something bigger – join a society or club.

Surely at no point in human history in the western world have we so manifestly demonstrated our need for God. We cannot make it alone. We need God more than ever for life now and for life eternal.

Final thought from CS Lewis. ‘Happiness is never in our power and pleasure rarely is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasure in the world.’

Mar 18, 2011
neil

Must listen: Martin Bashir discusses the Rob Bell interview & his own faith

Mar 8, 2011
neil

Why does the BBC think it’s time to give Christianity a good kicking (again!)

The article in today’s Daily Telegraph had a sad ring of familiarity to it.  The opening sentence begins ‘The BBC’s new face of religion is an atheist who claims that God had a wife and Eve was “unfairly maligned” by sexist scholars.’ And it goes on to explain that the BBC have decided to invest your licence fee and mine in a primetime BBC Two series, The Bible’s Buried Secrets, which will set forth controversial and provocative views on the text of the Bible as interpreted by an atheist scholar at Exeter University.  No doubt this will all be out in time for Easter.

The head of BBC’s religious output is Aaqil Ahmed. So today’s headlines got me wondering when the BBC’s series attacking all the other world religions is likely to be commissioned. I thought I’d draft Mr Ahmed a letter to find out and I thought I’d share it with you.

Dear Mr Ahmed

I note with interest that the BBC has commissioned another series of programmes designed to disparage orthodox Christianity, The Bible’s Buried Secrets. No doubt in pursuing your agenda of equality and diversity you have also begun prelimenary work on spending my licence fee on programmes designed not just to ridicule the faith of Christians but Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus too.  When, for example, can we expect to find The Kuran’s Buried Secrets on our TV screens? There are a number of Islamic scholars who are themselves either liberal Muslims or atheists whose unorthodox views would be as interesting to hear as that of Dr Stavrakopoulou.

If, because of the time you’ve had to spend considering how to offend Christians, you haven’t quite got round to thinking how best to insult other people of faith maybe I can suggest one or two avenues that you could explore.  For liberal scholars who have done a fair bit of work deconstructing Islam how about commissioning Ibn Warraq  to make a series based on his scholarly books such as The Origins of the Koran and The quest for the historical Mohammed. No doubt his views broadcast by the BBC will help boost ratings and make a few newspaper headlines. Or you could turn to Christopher Luxenberg and his ground-breaking ideas that the text of the Kuran is based on pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts.  Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran is the work to consult for more on that line of thinking.

I look forward to hearing back from you on how work is progressing on these series but I won’t be holding my breath.

Yours not very sincerely…

Mar 6, 2011
neil

‘Atheist Hitchens given cancer hope by Christian’

So runs the headline in a surprising article in today’s Sunday Times.

An evangelical Christian who is one of the world’s top scientists is trying to save the life of Christopher Hitchens, the cancer-stricken writer who told him at their first meeting that God does not exist.

Francis Collins, who led the projec to map human genes, contacted the atheist when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year.

Hitchens was sent to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where scientists sequenced the 6 billion letters of his DNA. Using computers in a process that takes several weeks, they also sequenced the 6 billion letters in his his tumours, Then they looked at the two sets for differences.

‘Over these last few months, we have not talked directly about faith,’ Collins said, ‘But I would like to think that Christopher’s sharp intellect has challenged my own defence of the rationality of faith to be more consistent and compelling.’

Mar 5, 2011
neil

A new tyranny – extraordinary words by David Starkey on homosexuality & Christianity

The historian, television and radio presenter, David Starkey is gay and an atheist.  He is also an honorary member of the National Secular Society.  You might therefore expect him to be clearly in favour of the ruling in the High Court this week that banned a Christian couple from fostering children because of their religious beliefs.  Watch the exchange of views amongst the five panelists on this weeks Question Time and you may be surprised.

Mar 2, 2011
neil

Video of Shahbaz Bhatti predicting his own death

Feb 22, 2011
neil

The relationship wrecker or what porn does to a marriage

The on-line edition of Time Magazine has a feature this week on the damage being done to relationships between men and women because of pornography.  It seems at last that the secular press is waking up to the realities of the consequences of life in a sex-mad culture and how the very thing God has given to bring us together (sexual intimacy) is pushing us further apart (sex without intimacy).

Countless men have described to me how while using porn, they have lost the ability to relate or be close to women. They have trouble being turned on by “real” women, and their sex lives with their girlfriends or wives collapse.

So writes the author of one recent book on pornography.

Tim Chester’s book Captured by a better vision exposes just how damaging pornography can be to our relationships and marriage in particular.

Not only have you committed adultery against your wife, but, as we’ve seen, there is every chance that porn has corrupted your relationship with her and your sex life. The secret that you hide from your wife will create a barrier in your relationship.

You will start to view sex with your wife not as the celebration of your love, but as re-enacted porn. What matters is no longer the relationship, but the performance. This means you may be committing adultery against your wife even as you have sex with her. That’s because you’re not really having sex with her, a person. You’ve reduced her to an object for your sexual gratification, or an actress in your sexual performance.

William Struthers in Wired for Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain warns that even if you could stop consuming pornography your actions still have consequences.

Sexually acting out in response to pornography creates sexual associations that are stored as hormonal or neurological habits. These associations are seared into the brain.  These memories and fantasies keep [the man] in bondage and worsen the consequences of the earlier behaviour. It can prevent him from being truly present in a marriage, being more preoccupied with the images than focused on his wife.

And because of what pornography does to our brains it’s no excuse to reason but I’m not married. Chester comments,

It you’re not yet married, porn is a sin against your future wife. You’re also creating a set of expectations that bears no relation to real sex or real marriage. You’re storing up a database of images that will compete with your future wife. You’re gifting the devil, a reservoir of temptations to use against you.

And we’re kidding ourselves to think we’ll stop once we get married because the truth is that porn is NOT just a substitute for sex.  It’s an escape from reality, an addictive search for a legal high. The reality is that not only do men access porn after marriage but it’s mostly married men who access porn.

Chester again:

Using porn is a bad way of preparing not to use it when you’re married! Every time you use porn, you’re giving it more control over your heart. You’re sowing a bitter harvest for your married life.

Delayed baggage

I once heard someone describe the biggest threat to our marriages as coming from the unexpected baggage we bring into marriage. Maybe it’s the uncommunicated assumptions as to how the marriage should work, or how chores will be divided up.  Or perhaps it’s a bad-temper that is controllable in the context of going-out but cannot be disguised in the day to day of a marriage, or even an expectation of great spiritual character that begins to unravel under trial.  There again it could be porn.

What makes it more difficult still is that much baggage in the most important of all relationships is  not only unexpected but delayed on arrival.  Like flying BA the baggage tends to turn up sometime later. The baggage of porn addiction (whether through the temptation to continue or the way it has warped your expectations of sex or the images that stubbornly remain imprinted in your mind) may well not affect a marriage in the early days, weeks or months but over time as the initial euphoria of a giddy romance fades it can do untold damage to an otherwise healthy relationship.

But you were washed…

The great news for the Christian is that, whatever our past, the gospel is big enough to deal with our sin.

William Struthers writes:

Can someone retrain their brain to respond in an appropriate manner to sexual arousal? Most certainly, but this must be informed by the mandates of Scripture and the wisdom found in the body of Christ. This must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The process of sanctification is an addiction to holiness, a compulsive fixation on Christ and an impulsive pattern of compassion, virtue and love. This is what we are wired for. This is what we are meant for.

The reality is that we will rarely find the resources to heal the past and deal with the addictions on our own. Reading a book (and I would recommend both Chester’s and Struthers’ to you) or a blog post is almost always not enough. God has given us his spirit and his people to help us do battle against sin – we need each other to bring lasting change.

If you’re struggling with pornography (in the present or from the past)

What do you need to do now? Do you accept the need to cut it out of your life? Who do you need to speak to?

If you’re a pastor or church leader

Do you ever address the issue of pornography, directly? What could you do to foster an environment in which the men of your church can speak openly about this struggle?  What could you put into place to provide the accountability  and support for men to deal with their sin?

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