Friday, December 28, 2007

Tragedy in Pakistan

This is a tragic time for the nation of Pakistan following the appalling scenes of chaos and brutality yesterday in which Benazir Bhutto was assasinated. She was without doubt the symbol of moderate Islamic politics and whatever question-marks surround her previous administrations or her husband's record she did hold out the hope that extremists might be sidelined in the coming elections. Now she is dead and Pakistan is one step nearer to becoming a fanatical Islamist state posessing nuclear weapons.

I well remember my time visiting Pakistan and the impression made on me then by the people there. It is an amazingly busy place, with nearly three times the population of Great Britain and huge crowds of people jostling the cities and airports wherever you go. It is also dominated by mosques - some ancient some very recent - and the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer through his loudspeakers early in the morning is one of the abiding memories that I have. What we should not forget in all this political turmoil is the relatively large and growing number of Christians in that land. They meet in all the major cities and in quite a number of rural areas also. They are being persecuted for their faith, but are seeing the faithfulness of God to them as friends and neighbours are being won for the Lord. They need our prayers at this time.

In fact, in all the talk of Islamic extremism we should not lose sight of what God is doing amongst ordinary Muslim men and women. Large numbers of them are following Jesus and are delighting in the teachings of the injil (gospel). Whereas years ago, Muslim converts to Christianity were very rare, since 9/11 that is no longer the case. God is revealing Jesus to Muslims in their dreams. Christian radio like FEBA Radio and other media such as SAT 7 tv are reaching into previously closed lands. Muslim immigrants are coming to faith in the West and forming all ex-Muslim congregations of believers. Now is the time to pray for Muslims everywhere and to seek to befriend them whenever we can. Let them see that real Christianity is not the immoral materialistically bankrupt society they see on their cinema screens. Model before them what it means to follow the teachings of the prophet Jesus, and to walk in God's ways by God's grace. (If you want to know more about Islam you can purchase the download study guide that I have written called 'What Muslims Believe' from Despite the tragedy in Pakistan God is on the march!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas!

When I visited the shepherd’s fields outside Bethlehem some years ago, I remember thinking what a very unlikely place it was for an angelic visitation. Despite all its fame it still remains a working area, where modern shepherds still keep small flocks of scrawny sheep and goats, and olive trees struggle through the dry earth to bring a crop that means a subsistence living for a poor Palestinian family. And it’s that ordinariness, that normality, which still speaks to me today of what God did at Christmas. He interrupted the ordinary, everyday lives of working people to place into their hands the Saviour of the world. And in a sense, that happens again this and every Christmas. Jesus comes into the midst of a busy, distracted working world, and asks us to pause and think for a moment about God’s amazing love. The shepherds were willing to do that, even to come and worship at the manger of which they had been told. Their lives would return to the ordinary, the routine, but they knew that now everything was different. Christ had come. Life had changed. God’s love had turned on their light.

‘And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests." 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
My most recent visit to Bethlehem was a very different kind of experience. Prior to the intifada – the uprising of Palestinian violence – we had been able to go right into the town and even into the church of the Nativity itself where it is believed traditionally that the manger was located. But on this next occasion we were not allowed to go right into the town of Bethlehem at all. We stopped at a hotel overlooking the area in the distance, and from there we could see helicopter gunships and distant plumes of smoke that may well have come from the battle that was then going on in the town. Today the little town of Bethlehem is behind the security wall that the Israeli government has built, and some of the Christians who are living there are finding it extremely hard to follow the Lord under pressure from the Muslims on one hand and the Jews on the other. It’s a pressure point, a place of conflict. Yet, that is where God chose to send His Son who would be called The Prince of Peace. Today the only hope for the Middle East, and for each one of us individually, is to ask Jesus Christ to come in and rule over our hearts as sovereign Lord, dealing with the problem of our sin as only He can, and giving us the benefit of His peace and joy. In the words of the ancient carol He was ‘born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth’.

‘Lord, help us to open up our hearts to you this Christmas time, and whether our situation is ordinary or even boring and routine, or whether we are in conflict or under pressure, come into our lives and make the difference that only You can do. In the name of Jesus, Amen.’

Have a very happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

So Privileged!

Some years ago we spent our Christmases in Zimbabwe, serving the people of that nation during a time of famine, drought and human deprivation. I will never forget one Christmas Eve when we were woken in the early hours of the morning by the cries of a young man who worked for us and whose newborn baby had died during the night. ‘Boss, boss,’ he cried ‘Come please help me. My children is dead’. I went with him to his tiny home and there saw his wife weeping and nursing the cold baby in her arms while her older child wailed alongside her. That Christmas Day we stood in line at the childrens’ cemetery outside the slum where thousands were pressed together in abject poverty, and we waited our turn to bury yet another infant who had not survived to see his first Christmas.

And so now, when people complain that Christmas in Guernsey is hard work, and a difficult time of the year, I am moved to remember the plight of my dear friends in Zimbabwe, and am just praising God for the prosperity, freedom and privileges of living in this fabulous island home. But I pray for them, that some of our blessings may fall into their laps also. And for ourselves, that we might live lives of gratitude, and show even a small measure of the joy and faith that the people I met in Zimbabwe still show despite the most appalling injustices and oppression. And I’m not really sure who needs the most prayer!

We are so privileged.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why all this Rush?

What a busy week this is with all the preparations for Christmas and the countdown to the great day itself getting lower all the time. I remember when this Guernsey family lived overseas and Christmas had a very different feel to it. We spent a couple of years living in the Seychelles – a fabulous group of islands in the Indian Ocean, a bit like Herm in the Channel Islands really but with hot weather all the year round. Christmas was a strange time living there because we felt so left out of all the dashing around that usually precedes the season at home. There were no Christmas decorations in the shops until Christmas Eve itself, and then just a few straggly paper chains to mark the coming of the special day. Christmas food was the usual spicy fish and rice followed by bread fruit or mangoes.

Yet in a sense that pared down version of Christmas was quite refreshing. Gone was the perpetual seasonal background music and the pushing and shoving of the crowds. In their place just simple, quiet reminders that people matter more than presents, and that some of the best things in life are free. In fact, when we tuned into the BBC World Service to listen to the nostalgic sound of carols from Kings College Cambridge thousands of miles away, we were probably closer to the real essence of Christmas then than we are today, despite the heat. ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie’.

Have a quiet Christmas!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Plot Thickens

John Darwin (photo above courtesy of the man who disappeared five years ago off the coast of Cleveland in north western England, was presumed dead and reappeared last week, has now been arrested on suspicion of fraud. It appears that his wife, who is now living in Panama in Central America, was spotted with him in a photograph published on the internet and dated around 18 months ago. The picture was taken in Panama and published on the front page of British tabloid newspapers shows them together and Mr Darwin alive and well.
Amazingly, his two sons are claiming that they knew absolutely nothing of their parents' deception and had been left to believe that their father was dead for the last five years. It would appear that the motive for all this was probably the insurance paid out on Mr Darwin's 'death'.

While the whole story gives the truth to the biblical adage 'be sure your sins will find you out' it also has other lessons too. The lengths to which people will allegedly go to deceive others for financial gain is enormous. The deceit of the immediate family, not to mention neighbours, employers friends and the rescue services (who risked their own lives in the prolonged search for Mr Darwin) beggars belief. And all through the last five years this apparently normal middle class British couple have been living a lie. After all that, they may even find the ordeal of exposure and punishment a relief now that the truth is out.
How much better to 'walk in the light' in the first place? Why choose to live a lie at any price? Jesus said 'I am the Truth' and those who follow Him do so in the strength of the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of Truth. Living a transparent and truth-filled life in Christ is the only path to peace. And at the end of the day, what is peace of mind and heart really worth?
More than a life-insurance pay out, that's for sure.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Back from the Dead

The mysterious reappearance in England of John Darwin after being missing for five years is becoming something of a cause celebre. When Darwin went missing he had been reported adrift in the sea in a canoe which later turned up smashed to pieces on the rocks and his paddle was found floating in the tide. A huge air-sea rescue search was unsuccessful and after a few days was called off. One year later, Darwin's wife went to court to have her husband declared legally dead. Then this week he walked into a West London police station declaring 'I think I may be a missing person!'

To add to the mystery, John's wife has recently gone missing, having sold the family home just weeks ago and reportedly moved to Panama. As to what happened to John during those five missing years - well, the police are still looking into it, but he claims to have lost his memory completely. His elderly father is a committed Christian, and when told of his son 's reappearance exclaimed 'Thank the Lord!' before bursting into tears.

What of course is clear is that John Darwin has not actually returned from the dead. There will be some explanation even if it takes a while to come out. But just imagine if that were not so. What if someone died a very public death and even went through a public burial in a borrowed tomb? Their death was certified by military specialists in judicial execution. Their body was smashed up almost beyond recognition. Then, suddenly and without warning, they were seen wandering about a few days later! Their family were shocked, their friends stunned. The one whom they had mourned was now actually alive and well and moving among them. The grave was now lying open and their loved one was speaking to them.

Surely if all this happened there would be massive public interest in the facts. What did you see on the other side? What did it feel like to die and then to rise again? Well of course, this scenario did really happen and the events described above actually took place. Even more amazing than the story unfolding in the Darwin family is the one that surrounded the person of Jesus. Now when we hear the news that he is back from the dead, we can really say 'Thank the Lord!'.