20190118

The National Lottery - another nail in the coffin


Monday, 14 November 1994 was a sad day for this country. It was the first day tickets went on sale for the National Lottery. Over 7 million were sold on that day alone. Eventually over half the adult population of the country took part. Tickets are widely available and, unlike other forms of government controlled gambling, the lottery is widely advertised. The draw features on prime time television. Some 50% of money raised will go on prizes; government will take 12%; Camelot, the conglomerate running the lottery, and the retailers who retail tickets will share a further 10%. The remaining 28% will go to a Distribution Fund that will then divide the money between the Sports Council, Arts Council, National Heritage Memorial Fund, Millennium Fund and National Lotteries Charities Board. Here are ten reasons why the establishment of this lottery marks a sad day for Britain:
1. It makes gambling more common. Already widespread, gambling is now even more so, with the opportunity to gamble in high street shops and post offices from 7 am until 11 p.m. every day. Gambling addictions cause untold misery to thousands. With this new, easily available, widely advertised form of gambling, it will undoubtedly increase.
2. It makes gambling respectable. The impression is give that good citizens gamble. Other opportunities for gambling, such as on sport, still have a certain seediness about them. The lottery has been introduced with the idea that here is a source of Innocent fun for all good citizens.
3. It actively promotes covetousness. It encourages a 'get rich quick' mentality. This is common to most forms of gambling. The difference here is its extensive promotion and the approval of those in authority and with influence. 'Be on your guard' says Jesus 'against all kinds of greed'.
4. It encourages irresponsible use of money. The lottery flies in the face of all that the Bible teaches about the importance of careful stewardship. The argument is made, 'But it's only a pound'. Even if it is (it will be more for some) that is still £52 a year, over £500 in a decade. In the vast majority of cases it will be money spent with no return.
5. It encourages day dreaming and idleness instead of honest bard work. The attraction for the punter is said to be the excitement of a possible fortune. In other words, millions of people are being urged to dream of something as likely as Elvis Presley riding on the Loch Ness Monster. Instead of working hard for their pleasures, people are being encouraged to seek something for nothing. Soon all will appear before the throne of judgement; is it right for people to be stuffing their minds with idle dreams of a future that will almost certainly never be? If a man will not work, he shall not eat was the apostle Paul's rule.
6. It exposes children to the world of gambling. Previously the age limit for gambling was 18. It is now down to 16 for the lottery and the pools. Further, unlike many aspects of gambling, the lottery will go on in full view of inquisitive children. Early fascination with and involvement in gambling will be the consequence.
7. It is an inefficient way of giving to the needy. One of the chief arguments for buying lottery tickets is that it helps the needy. In fact only 5.6% of money received will go to charities. Even the most greedy and inefficient charities pass on a higher percentage.
8. It undermines the concept of giving. In its attempt to make giving painless, it also undermines the whole concept. Jesus said, 'It is better to give than to receive'. But if you give in order to receive, is that really giving? We are in danger of losing true charity.
9. It is a questionable means of raising government revenue. If the lottery is a form of taxation it is a voluntary tax, most likely to come from those least able to afford it. It is clear from Scripture that the powers that be have a right to levy taxes but the lottery is a highly questionable means of obtaining revenue. It is inefficient, unfair and hedged about with moral difficulties.
10. It subtly undermines the concept of God's sovereignty and promotes superstition. This criticism can be levelled at most gambling but the lottery is particularly blatant in its promotional materials. The chosen symbol includes a crossed fingers motif, a superstitious sign for good luck. Then there is another finger, the finger that appears under the heading It could be you. Whose finger is this? God's? But these people ignore God and his word. Perhaps it is supposed to be the finger of fate. Chance, luck, fortune, these are the gods of this age, and the God who decides the very throw of a dice is not just forgotten but driven from every thought.
Mr Major believes that everyone in the country will benefit from this, the first state lottery in over a century. The truth is that it marks one more step in the decline of a nation that has known such blessing from God.
This article first appeared in Grace Magazine

20181228

What to include as you cook up plans for the coming year


At present our thoughts inevitably turn to the year ahead. No doubt you have plans, hopes, ambitions, goals. Many of you will be laying plans, consciously or unconsciously, for 1998. Holidays, entertainments, meetings, visits, etc. Quite right too. God is a God of order and he wants us to be orderly too and to lay plans. 
However, before plunging in it is worth putting your thinking cap on for five minutes. Time spent sharpening the axe before swinging it is never time wasted. Imagine a blank 1998 Desk Diary before you. How are you going to start filling it in? Or think of it as a big empty pot. What ingredients will you use to fill it? 

Some obvious ingredients
In James 4:13 an imaginary person speaks. He sounds like a businessman. Many Greek commercial centres had sprung up in the Mediterranean area in James's day: It was as common for people to travel to new locations to open up fresh business opportunities as it is today. Things just happen a little faster these days. James's man sounds slightly vague but this is only a general example. A businessman would be more definite. 'On January 31 we will go to London. We will open a shop in Tottenham Court Road selling computer equipment. In the first year our profit will exceed £10,000!'. Nothing wrong with that as far as it goes.
All the obvious ingredients are there:
1. The which
Today or tomorrow. On a specific date I will .... That is okay. We must plan which thing we will or will not do.
2. The where
We will go to this or that city. We need to plan with this in mind. When will you be where?
3. The when
Spend a year there. The time factor is a vital ingredient. There are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week. We must recognise this obvious but stubborn fact and plan accordingly.
4. The what
Carry on business. Next you must choose just what to do at that particular time in that particular place.
5. The why
And make money. An obvious but sometimes forgotten element. We need to look at all we do with this question in mind, 'Why?'. There is no point in simply filling up the time-table. What is your aim in life? Every activity you undertake must be subservient to this overall aim. 

The vital missing ingredients
The above is fine as far as it goes but there is a vital element missing. It is like trying to make tea without the tea leaves or having all the trimmings but no turkey. That is the problem with the person James describes - not what they include but what they omit. They seem so thorough, so careful, so organised, but no. What is missing? 

1. Do not forget the most obvious thing about yourself
Despite the apparent thoroughness such planning is rather superficial. It misses a major factor of life: its brevity and unpredictability. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow This is not a verse condemning insurance policies but a reminder of our weakness and ignorance. None of us know if 1998 will be our last year. We do not know if we will die or if the Lord will return. Do not boast about tomorrow for you do not know what a day may bring forth says Proverbs 27:1. Our lives hang on a heartbeat yet we confidently talk about 'Next year ....'. John Blanchard writes, 'We do have all the time in the world, but how much time does the world have?' 
James continues What is your life? You are a mist that appears ... and then vanishes. Repeatedly Scripture reminds us of this. Many illustrations are used. Life is a shadow, a breath, a puff of smoke, a weaver's shuttle, a swift runner, withering grass. Remember the parable of the Rich Fool. Life will not go on forever yet most live as though it will. 

2. Do not forget the most obvious thing about God
James writes to Christians. They had not stopped believing in God but they were living as though they had. There is such a thing as practical atheism. They had forgotten God is sovereign. He controls and wills all that happens. The future is not in my hands or yours but in God's. What happens is determined ultimately by his plans not ours. This is not an argument for not planning ahead but a call to remember God when we make our plans. 'Man proposes but God disposes'. We dare not forget to add, If the Lord will. Remember Paul typically in Acts 18:21 1 will come back if it is God's will. He says similar things in his letters. Advertisements for meetings in magazines such as this once all carried the letters DV. It means Deo Volente, God willing. Its demise, we trust, is not a sign of arrogance but a realisation that a right attitude is not a matter of adding DV to everything but of living in the light of God's power. We dare not leave him out of the picture. 

3. Realise the root of your problem if you have forgotten these things
It comes out in 4:16 where James condemns his readers' boasting and bragging. That is what failing to take God into account is. That is the problem. We need to humble ourselves before Almighty God and recognise his sovereignty. This is something James is most eager to say throughout his letter. The problem with the person imagined is not so much his desire to make money but his failure to leave room for God. It may sound innocent but it is not. It is arrogance. So many imagine they have a right to life; not just businessmen, all sorts. To fail to acknowledge God at every point is a great sin. 
4:17 is probably a contemporary saying. It applies here and, more widely, to all sins of omission. The Judgment will not only be about what we have done but about what we have not done. You know the good you ought to do. If you do not do it, it is sin. 

20181106

Libraries and their value Part 1 (definition, Bible, history)

Let me begin by thanking those responsible for giving me the opportunity to deliver this lecture. I must say that it is an honour to have my name associated with that of Alan Tovey. It is good to see his widow here, now Mrs Lucy Beale.
I understand that Alan was from Hafodyrynys, only nine miles away from where I grew up, although Cwmbran, it must be said, has a different feel to Hafodyrynys. As a boy we in Cwmbran and Newport used to refer to such places as part of “Welsh Wales”. (Welsh Wales has been defined as “post-industrial South Wales, epitomised by the coal mining valleys that fan out northward from Swansea, Cardiff and Newport”. Assembling identities, Sam Wiseman, Cambridge, 2014, 72.)
I recall being up in Welsh Wales with my dad one day when we passed a very compact little soccer field. “That's where we used to play” my dad said. My father was from Newport and was a keen footballer and a decent one. For a little while (at the end of his career I think, in the early fifties I guess) he was goalkeeper for the Hafodyrynys team.

Definition

And so to libraries. A library can be defined as “a place in which reading materials, such as books, periodicals and newspapers, and often other materials such as musical and video recordings, are kept for use or lending”. (Free Dictionary). The word can also refer to such a collection of materials, especially when systematically arranged. The word is sometimes used more loosely as in toy library, tool library, even seed library. 
Today we are thinking specifically of books, which the original word suggests. Library is from Latin librarium. It originally referred to a chest of books. It is interesting to note that the Latin word Liber can refer to a book or with different inflexion (Lee-ber) a free person (the two decline differently liber, libri, libro, etc and liber, liberi, libero, etc). There is also the adjective liber, libera, liberum. It is tempting to give an attractive but false etymology – Library, a place of freedom!

The Bible

The Bible itself is often spoken of as a library, as it contains 66 books by different authors, from different times and situations, using different styles and genres and originally addressing different audiences. The statement is open to abuse but if we maintain both that the Bible is a library and one book we will not be far from the truth.
In one volume in the Library, 2 Timothy, we read (4:13) Paul's words When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. We are not sure what the distinction between scrolls and parchments may be. Clearly Paul wanted books, however. He did not look down on book learning but was keen to use books. It is a fair inference from the verse that reading is important for Christians, especially ministers, and that libraries are potentially a good and useful thing. John Calvin (1509-1564) says the verse refutes “the madness of the fanatics who despise books and condemn all reading and boast only of ... their private inspirations by God” and “commends continual reading to all godly men as a thing from which they can profit.” (John Calvin, NT Commentary Corinthians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, eds S W Torrance, T F Torrance, California, 1960, 341.) Matthew Henry (1662-1714) adds that we should thank God that he “given us so many writings of wise and pious men in all ages” and seek “that by reading them our profiting may appear to all.” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the whole Bible, in loc cit.)
In another volume in the Library, Ecclesiastes (in 12:12) is a well known verse that makes a different point of making many books there is no end. It is often quoted. Our location today well illustrates the point. The following phrase is often quoted too, usually with a wry smile, and much study wearies the body!
Church father Origen (184-253), in his commentary on John, says that it appears to indicate two things - “that we ought not to possess many books, and .. that we ought not to compose many”. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume IX, Chapter 2). Conscious that he himself is composing a book he is aware of the irony, as others have been addressing the text. He suggests that it is a caution rather than a prohibition, which must be right Solomon himself was composing a book when he wrote as he did. John Gill (1697-1771) picks out the application well when he says on the place (John Gill, Exposition on the whole Bible, in loc cit.)
A man may lay out his money, and fill his library with books, and be very little the better for them; what one writer affirms, another denies; what one seems to have proved clearly, another rises up and points out his errors and mistakes; and this occasions replies and rejoinders, so that there is no end of these things, and scarce any profit by them; which, without so much trouble, may be found in the writings of wise men, inspired by God, and in which we should rest contented …
.

My subject is the value of libraries. I am happy to address it but by way of a disclaimer it is fair to add a caution. In a fallen world, fallen men and women can be harmed as well as helped by libraries. The experience of Richard Baxter (1615-1691) perhaps offers a graphic illustration of the need for caution. On one occasion we learn that as he sat in his study one day
the weight of his greatest folio books broke down three or four of the highest shelves, … and they fell down on every side of him, and not one of them hit him, except one upon the arm. Whereas the place, the weight, and greatness of the books was such, and his head just under them, that it was a wonder they had not beaten out his brains, or done him an unspeakable mischief. (Baxter's Practical Works, Volume 1, ix)
One shelf just above him apparently held the huge Polyglot Bible edited by Bishop Brian Walton (1600-1661), the complete Works of Augustine of Hippo (354-440) and several other weighty tomes. The story serves as a reminder that libraries can do harm as well as good.

History
(A good introduction to this subject can be found in The Story of Libraries, Second Edition: From the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age, Fred Lemer, London, 2009.)


It is apposite to attempt a very brief survey of the history of libraries. It is generally agreed that the earliest were collections of clay tablets gathered and catalogued in Mesopotamia by the Sumerians and their Akkadian and Persian successors. There may have been other early libraries that used less robust materials. If so, they have not survived. 
The first explicit reference to an ancient Egyptian library dates back to 1788 BC. A stele exists on which King Neferhotep records his desire “to see the ancient writings of Atum” in the library of the temple at Heliopolis. A famous Egyptian library also existed in the time of Rameses II (d 1213 BC), possibly the Exodus Pharaoh.
It was probably not until the fourth century BC that individuals, such as the Greek philosophers Plato (427-337 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC) began to amass personal libraries. A saying is attributed to Plato, though perhaps erroneously, that “a house that has a library in it has a soul”. 
We know little about it but the most famous of ancient libraries is the Hellenic one at Alexandria dedicated to the Muses. Established in the third century BC by Ptolemy I (c 367-283 BC), it was part of the Musaeum there. Greatly reduced in the time of Julius Caesar (48 BC) and Aurelian (270 AD) it was tragically destroyed by fire in 391 AD and probably entirely lost when the Muslims invaded Egypt in 642 AD. 
Roman Emperors commonly founded libraries and in the early years AD libraries were founded not just in Rome but all over the Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD a library containing 1800 volumes was destroyed in the Villa of Pisones in Herculaneum. 
Christians were early aware of the usefulness of libraries. Bishop Alexander (d 251) founded one in Jerusalem before 250 AD and Origen did the same around the same time in Caesarea. Clement (150-215) used one in Alexandria to quotes from nearly 350 authors in his works. Christian Libraries were one of the targets of Diocletian (244-311) when he persecuted Christians. The one in Caesarea survived. We know that Eusebius (263-339) used it to write his Ecclesiastical History and Jerome (347-429) after him.
While the papyrus roll ruled for hundreds of years, by the first century AD, the use of vellum and parchment was coming in, the former being eventually supplanted. The other technological change, famously pioneered by Christians, was the codex or book. By the fourth century AD it had overtaken scrolls in popularity. (There is a hilarious sketch on Youtube where a mediaeval monk gets help with the new technology, which he does not quite have the hang of. See here (Accessed March 2017). 
In the mediaeval period libraries began to centre on monasteries and monks became famous for copying manuscripts. In the sixth century one of the first copyright disputes occurred in Ireland, when Columba (521-597) secretly copied a psalter, or perhaps a whole Bible, belonging to Finian (470-549). They took their dispute to High King Diarmait mac Cerbhiall (Dermot McKervil, d 565) who ruled against Columba, saying “to every cow belongs its calf and to every book its copy”. It was one of the reasons Columba left Ireland for Iona.
It was in this period that libraries began to chain their more valuable books in order to keep them from being purloined. One of the largest chained libraries, one that you can still visit today, is in Hereford Cathedral. Another, the first endowed for use outside an institution, is the Francis Trigge Chained Library in Grantham, Lincolshire, established 1598, a forerunner of later public libraries. 
The invention of printing had its own impact, increasing the number of books and the ease with which they could be reproduced. Before 1602, The Bodleian Library was refounded in Oxford through Thomas Bodley (1545-1613). (Today one of six copyright libraries in the British Isles, ie one entitled to a free copy of every book published in the UK.) Other early libraries include Norwich City Library (1608) and Chetham's Library, Manchester, (founded through Sir Humphrey Chetham 1580-1653) which claims to be the oldest public library in the English-speaking world (1653). Other early town libraries are Ipswich (1612) Bristol (1613-15) and Leicester (1632). The British Library was established 1753. (Another copyright library.)
This is the transcript of part of a lecture given at the EFCC Conference 2017

Kan Yu Trust Feng Shui?



Newspapers recently reported the visit of feng shui expert, Paul Darby, to the notorious south dressing room at Cardiff’s prestigious millennium stadium at the request of the stadium’s owners. With Wembley out of action several soccer games have been played in Cardiff and it has been noted that the team that occupies the south dressing room almost invariably loses. In a bid ‘to counteract the static energy’ that Mr Darby claimed was trapped there he carried out various rituals and recommended several further steps, seemingly to no avail.
Similarly, last year it was reported that Hong Kong billionaire businessman Eric Hotung had decided to sell the house he had bought for some 6 million dollars from Senator Edward Kennedy in 1997. Why? Because he thought that the house suffered from bad feng shui.


Chi
Developing in China within Taoism feng shui or kan yu has been practised in various guises for over 2000 years. It was first used in regard to the siting of graves but was later taken up with enthusiasm by Buddhist monks when siting their temples and more generally by those siting new homes and towns. Feng shui (pronounced fong shwee or fung shway) is the popular name for the practice of Kan Yu. Feng means wind and shui means water. In ancient times a site was considered to be ‘lucky’ if it was sheltered from ill winds and untamed waters. Kan is to do with time and Yu with place and so is the study of a site with reference to a time factor.
Underlying the practice is the belief in chi or ki, an energy that is believed to be flowing through the universe on certain lines. Chi can take both yin and yang (literally, shade and light) forms and can attract both positive energy, sheng chi, which moves along curved lines, or negative energy, sha chi, which moves quickly in straight lines. (That is why straight pathways and similar features are avoided). There are also three categories of chi: heavenly, earthly and human, that further subdivide. The first includes meteorological and astrological considerations, the third social and personal ones. The five elements (earth, fire, water, air and metal) are also important.

Divination
Chi is held to be the source of life and harmony in the world. As with many forms of alternative healing the idea is that by means of various complex methods you can achieve harmony with nature by certain means. In feng shui it is positioning objects and structures such as buildings, rooms and their contents and gardens in a way that is sympathetic to this flow leading to health, wealth and prosperity. To do this divination is involved. Divination involves gaining information by reading hidden meanings in ordinary things, through spirit contact, or using tools. It is then an animistic approach, a form of geomancy, designed to manipulate the forces of nature to the advantage of the individual. It arose out of a desire for harmony between the elements, nature, and man, in order to prevent disaster and keep evil at bay in a world full of the unexpected.
In various forms (there are at least two major schools and many differences within these, quite apart from various offshoots and pseudo-practitioners) feng shui has become relatively popular in the west since the 1970s. The way it meshes with many of the eastern and new age ideas that are in the air has helped to popularise it. No doubt many have been attracted at first by the way its practice can often be aesthetically pleasing. Some of the advice makes obvious sense – a house should have ample sunlight and be well ventilated; avoid living by a straight road with speeding vehicles; use comfortable dining chairs; have a friendly fire in a cold room; balance the shapes and sizes of plants. Among the cures for problematic chi are the use of mirrors, wind chimes, certain plants and hexagrams. Also sometimes recommended are statues of a black tortoise, a blue dragon, a white tiger and a crane or heron. These can all look very attractive. However, the philosophy is built on a fundamentally flawed view of the universe and many people are not only paying good money for very poor advice but by believing these lies are endangering their immortal souls. It is not only a tedious, burdensome, unscientific and potentially expensive viewpoint that has no guarantee of success even on its own basis but it is also fundamentally flawed in its whole outlook.

The Prince of Peace
The truth is that this world is not controlled by impersonal forces. There are impersonal forces, of course, such as wind and electricity. However, none of it is at the mercy of luck or fortune. All of it is in the safe hands of the personal God who controls all things, the God revealed to us in Scripture and who is pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. A mere force cannot bring peace or harmony to anyone. The Prince of Peace, however, can bring reconciliation with an offended God who is full of wrath against us not because we happen to live in a certain place or were born at a certain time but because we have broken his law. He can bring us into a perfect relationship with the Creator of the universe if we will simply trust in him.
Further, all forms of divination are strongly condemned in Scripture (see for example Deuteronomy 18: 10-12). The Lord wants us rather to turn to his Word and to the Christ revealed there. We must put our trust in him not in some supposed harmony brought about by various pieces of pagan mumbo-jumbo and sorcery. In the end, feng shui cannot deal with our real problems and it cannot satisfy our spiritual longings. It cannot provide forgiveness and it cannot bring us to God. When we meet those who are enamoured of this particular form of superstition we must do what we can to alert them to the underlying philosophy and seek to show them its emptiness. May God help us to introduce the to the Saviour, the one who can give them real harmony – with God himself in Christ. if they are interested in power in this universe they need to know about the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and that is now at work in the lives of believers to raise them from their sins to be with the Lord forever.

In compiling this article I was greatly helped by various websites and in particular by an essay by Marcia Montenegro which can be found here I believe.

First published in Grace Magazine

20180907

A Word of Testimony to Jesus


I was born in 1959 and grew up on a housing estate in South Wales. From my earliest years I knew the name 'Jesus'. I now know that not everyone refers to him that way. Some say Iesou or Iesu, others Isha or Yeshua, but to me he was always 'Jesus'. 

Early vague impressions
My earliest impressions were all positive but were unhelpfully embodied in traditional pictures of Jesus as a bearded young man in a long white gown. Our local chapel had a graveyard and one of the more flamboyant Victorian graves boasted a statue of an `angel' (ie a winged young hermaphrodite in a long gown). Despite the missing beard, I thought this must be a statue of Jesus (perhaps marking the site of his burial!). I think this was because from the beginning I had picked up the idea that above everything else Jesus is good. It seemed to me that anyone who was good must look good. 
As I grew a little older I remember pointless arguments in my unbelieving home as to Jesus' physical appearance. I had come to the conclusion that there was no reason to suppose him to be the blue-eyed, blonde of Sunday School pictures. I was particularly keen on the idea that he was of African appearance. I had never met anyone of a different race to my own European one but this was the 1960s and I think I came to this rather odd conclusion because I was aware of the oppression of people of colour in different parts of the world. Jesus, it seemed to me, was a man on the side of the oppressed, one who himself had been persecuted and so even if not black in reality he was at least so in spirit. 
A little more research established the fact that Jesus was most likely to have been of Middle Eastern appearance. We had a beautifully tooled book at home (a Seventh Day Adventist production I later learned). It included several pictures of Jesus, still very romantic, but clearly suggesting he was Jewish. 
So I came to believe that Jesus was a Jew (whatever that might mean). I believed he was a man, but no ordinary man - one who transcended racial barriers and even human ones. Sometimes this latter perception was bolstered in rather bizarre ways. For instance, at the Sunday School we would sing a song I knew as `Jesus bits of shine' (you may know it better as 'Jesus bids us shine'). Yes, I thought, Jesus was majestic, a 'sparkly Jesus' even. Then from somewhere else I picked up the chorus of the Negro spiritual 'Michael row the boat ashore'. When I asked my mother who Michael was she told me it was another name for Jesus. She held to this view, I guess, under the influence of the Watchtower teaching that she was receiving at the time. I believe Calvin also identified the Archangel and the Christ but most evangelicals would not accept that today. For me, even though the information was not necessarily accurate, it added to my conviction that this man Jesus was definitely someone very special indeed. 

Later clear impressions
So, throughout my pre-teens, my notions of Jesus remained decidedly vague. However, in 1970 I began to sit regularly under the faithful preaching of the Word of God. The Scriptures speak first and foremost of Jesus Christ and it was through the exposition of the Word, in public and in private, that I eventually came to a clear understanding of who Jesus really is. Since about 1971 I have felt that Jesus knows me and that I know him, personally. In 1973 I sought to underline that conviction publicly by being baptised by immersion. 
I now realised Jesus is not simply a very special man but the God-man. He is God, it is true, yet he is also a man. As a man he came to earth from the glory of heaven and as a man he died on the cross on behalf of sinners. Also as a glorified man he is now at the Father's right hand in heaven. By means of his Holy Spirit he comes to those who put their trust in him. I have put my whole life in his hands and I firmly believe that he lives with me and in me by his Spirit. It is a developing relationship not a static one but from my own viewpoint I would say there are five leading characteristics in my relationship to him. 

I. Jesus is my Friend
Who is your best friend? Without hesitation I have to say Jesus is. That can sound trite I know but I have no-one like him. I tell him absolutely everything. There are no secrets nor can there be. There are things I tell Jesus I would not tell my own dear wife. Not a day passes, sometimes scarcely a daylight hour, without us speaking. Often - on my best days - we are inseparable. We are always together. Life without Jesus is impossible to contemplate. It would have no meaning. I love him with all my heart. Nothing grieves me more than to let him down. The better I know him the more amazed I am that he should want to be a friend to me but that is what he has always been. 

2. Jesus is my Saviour
Of course, he is far more than a friend - he saved me. He lived and died so that all my sins could be forgiven and that I might live with him in Paradise forever. I truly believe that if I were the only sinner on earth Jesus would have died just for me and that there is no other way I could possibly have been delivered. To say I am indebted to him for everything is an understatement. Apart from Jesus I am nothing.

3. Jesus is my Shepherd
The Lord is my Shepherd. I say this because although he is my Friend and Saviour and although he lives in me, yet I still feel, within, a temptation to wander from him. It is madness I know but sometimes the temptation can be strong. When I do wander he gently brings me back and on my best days I am more than willing to follow wherever he leads. I am convinced this can be only for my good. Even when I pass through the darkest times I am not afraid because he is with me. Both blessing and trouble assure me of his guiding hand. He will bring me safely home. I trust him. 

4. Jesus is my King
He is also my King., my Lord and Master. Whatever he commands I am willing to do. Wherever he sends I am willing to go. I honour him. I respect him. I look to him. If necessary I am willing to give up my life for his sake and for the sake of his kingdom. 

5. Jesus is my God
Finally, I do not simply love and serve him: I worship him. I bow down before him not simply as my King but as my God. He is the absolute Lord of all of my life. Nothing is hidden from him. He has the right to demand from me what he will and to do with me as he please. I am nothing. He is all.

First published in Grace Magazine

Madness, evil and death

Flowers outside Kensington Palace following Diana's death
This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The .I. same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterwards they join the dead. Ecclesiastes 9:3
I was only 4 years old on 22 November 1963, but I remember it. It was the day President Kennedy died in Dallas. I guess my young sons will remember equally well 31 August 1997. It was the day Diana, Princess of Wales, died in Paris. Certainly they will remember 6 September 1997, when we walked the two streets from our door to where thousands had gathered to see the hearse containing Diana's coffin pass. The outpouring of grief that has followed this tragic death has been unparallelled. Not even the deaths of Eva Peron, Elvis Presley or other so-called 'icons' have caused such widespread grief. Even Mother Teresa's death has not been met with the same world-wide attention. 
We were all stunned by the news. Sometimes God shocks us. You do not know what a day may bring forth he says. At the same time no doubt, our hearts went with compassion to the families involved and especially to the young princes, William and Harry. 
But such a death also makes us stop and think. We need to consider, when God does such shocking things. Consider what God has done ... When times are bad consider (Ecclesiastes 7:13,14). There is no point in seeking to pry into God's inscrutable providence. We cannot say, for instance, 'If they had not divorced, she would not be dead'. There are too many Ifs between the two events. God has not built a law into this present world that evil always leads to pain. 

DEATH
Rather, as with every death, we call to mind God's sovereignty in life and in death. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised (Job 1:21). Similarly it is a reminder of our own mortality. As the Preacher says All share a common destiny (Ecclesiastes 9:2). Even from the under the sun point of view, without considering the eternal dimension of heaven and hell, it is clear that everyone dies. Nothing can exempt you. The death of the princess brings this home. 
Beauty exempts no-one. Diana was lovely and benefited from the best beauty treatments of the day. But beauty is fleeting. Beautiful or ugly, all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Fine clothes exempt no-one. It is tempting to think a person in fine clothes will never wear a shroud. Sharp dressers or slobs, all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Youth exempts no-one. She was only 36. One can die at any age. Babies die, children, teenagers .... The same destiny overtakes all.
Personality exempts no-one. Diana had personality, charisma. But it could not save her from death. Life and soul of the party or rather lacklustre, we all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Fame exempts no-one. She was the most famous woman in the world. Celebrities and nobodies die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Riches exempt no-one. Wealth could not save her either. Man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. Rich or poor, all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Power exempts no-one. Politicians failed to get land mines on to the political agenda; Diana succeeded. Yet your power cannot deliver from death. The same destiny overtakes all.
Troubles exempt no-one. Her life was certainty not without its troubles. But no matter how many troubles we face we still have to face the last enemy. The same destiny overtakes all.
Overcoming troubles to find happiness exempts no-one. She seems to have overcome many of her troubles. It is easy to get a false sense of security when that happens but only Christ has conquered death. Winners and losers in life, all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Good works exempt no-one. A great deal has been said about Diana's compassion and concern. There is no denying her good works but they have not preserved her from death. Good works or none, all die. The same destiny overtakes all.
Religion exempts no-one. Sadly, there is no evidence that Diana knew the Lord. One of her last reported brushes with anything remotely spiritual was to consult an astrologer. Was she told what would happen? Even the true religion of faith in Christ leads to the glory of heaven by way of death. Whatever your religion you will die. The same destiny overtakes all.

EVIL AND MADNESS
Then think of the evil and madness surrounding Diana in life and death. Think of the divorces that marred her life; the adulteries; the way she was photographed and turned into an `icon'; the way her presence could totally transform the presentation of issues. Think of the bizarre circumstances of her death - the jet-set romance that led up to that night, the paparazzi, the excessive speed, the apparently drunken driver, the furore that has followed. Think of the massive TV and radio coverage - and scarcely a word of biblical truth and sense. Think of the supposedly Christian funeral that centred on the one created not on the Creator, its high point not a hymn but a secular song from an avowed homosexual, no sermon from God's Word but a powerful scathing speech that mentioned God but once. Great is Diana taken out of the pagan stadium and into the church itself! Think of the banishing of the National Lottery from the TV screen, hiding in a corner as it were until the coast was clear! Think of supermarkets and sportsmen respecting the Princess but not the Prince of Glory. Think of the madness and evil of a nation spiritually empty with a religious hierarchy so bankrupt as not to have a word of genuine comfort for the spiritually starving. 
Meanwhile from 'above the sun' it has been made clear: After death, the judgment. Diana, Dodi Al-Fayed and the chauffeur are all either in heaven or hell. We are all headed to one or other too. In the madness and evil of this present time let's look to the Lord and pray for mercy.

this article first appeared in Grace Magazine at the time of Diana's death

The creativity of a 19th century evolutionist

Ernst Haeckel
DOWN'S SYNDROME is a chromosomal disorder found in certain babies. Not so very long ago it was better known as mongolism. The reason for this is that in the 20th century evolutionary science held to the view that as the embryo develops it recapitulates the supposed evolution of the species from its more primitive forms. A baby found to be suffering from Down's syndrome was thought to be under-developed, having reached only the stage of development of the (supposedly) inferior Mongol peoples.
It sounds staggeringly inept, frighteningly racist and staggers belief. Yet that is why until surprisingly recently the word mongol was used to refer both to people of a particular Chinese ethnic origin and those suffering from Down's syndrome. 
One of the chief popularisers of this so called biogenetic law or recapitulation theory was the Professor of Zoology at Jena, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). His 1868 History of Creation popularised and extended Darwinism. He denied being a materialist but much of what he said sounded very much like it. He coined the now familiar term ecology and in his best selling Riddle of the Universe he claimed that plants were conscious. It is perhaps understandable that one of his followers declared that Haeckel's name would become a shining symbol that would 'glow for centuries'. 
However, the recapitulation theory, though warmly greeted at first, was not set to last for long. The theory is often summarised in the phrase 'ontology recapitulates phylogeny'. The idea was that the various stages of human evolution are observable as a fast forward re-run in the development of the human embryo. Thankfully this nonsense has long been discredited and is no longer acceptable to modern scientists. 
Haeckel was an atheist. He endeavoured to apply Darwinist principles in politics and society. He has been described as attempting to synthesise 'romantic folkism with scientific evolutionism'. Through his later Monist league he was a major ideologist for racism and nationalism. His likely influence on the future author of Mein Kampf (`My struggle') cannot be overlooked. Thankfully, however, the horrendous racism of the Third Reich has also been rejected on a large scale. 
On the other hand, if you pick up a modern edition of Gray's Anatomy or a textbook such as Scott Gilbert's Developmental Biology you will find that they contain drawings based on Haeckel's 1874 work that purport to show embryos of various species all looking remarkably similar in their early stages of development. 
However, it seems that this part of Haeckel's legacy is no more trustworthy than his recapitulation theory and scientists are being slowly awakened to the fact. Haeckel, if we may put it this way, was rather creative in his efforts to promote an evolutionary view. Last summer an essay appeared in the journal Anatomy and Embryology by Dr Michael Richardson of St George's Hospital Medical School in London. There he says (according to The Times
This is one of the worst cases of scientific fraud. It's shocking to find that somebody one thought was a great scientist was deliberately misleading. It makes me angry.
He describes the drawings as 'misleading and inaccurate' or, in the vernacular, 'fakes'. 
Dr Richardson has put together an international team of experts to demonstrate the inaccuracy of Haeckel's drawings and it seems that this particular plank of evolutionary theory is being abandoned for good. Of course, for Bible believing Creationists there are few surprises here. As long ago as 1989, in his book The Long War Against God, Henry Morris wrote that even in his own lifetime Haeckel was
forced to admit that he had "Schematised" (or better "fabricated") the famous series of sketches supposedly showing that the embryos of all mammals (including man) are essentially identical for some time after conception. These fallacious drawings have been reproduced in text after text since they were first developed by Haeckel as part of his atheistic propaganda.
But, of course, no-one listens to Creationists and their crack-pot ideas! 
We do not suppose that all evolutionists are crooks. Nevertheless, their blind faith in an unbiblical and atheistic theory does leave them susceptible to being hoodwinked in this way. If Dr Richardson was angry when he realised that Haeckel had deceived him, how will he feel when he realises that the whole evolutionary theory, to which he continues to be committed, is built on sand? How we should weep in compassion for those who have believed this lie.
This article first appeared in Grace magazine