The Innocence of Children

Everyone somehow knows how special young children are.  Jesus said not to look down on them for their angels always behold the face of His Father in heaven (Matt. 18:10).  But we also know that while they are growing up they lose this innocence.  Paul describes the process in Romans Chapter 1.  It starts off in this way in Romans 1:21-22:  “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise they became fools.”

So if you want to retain that innocence for as long as possible teach your children to give thanks to God for everything at every opportunity.

The school system is set up to undermine this mainly through peer ridicule. Children can be merciless to each other in the playground.

I have the joy of having three teenagers who are all loving God (none of them are perfect but their direction is the right one) and one of the keys has been their ability to cope with peer pressure.  It helps that they started school later than most and are old for their classes.  The other key has been peers who have encouraged them, which is why being part of a living church with lots of young people in it is so important.

The other reasons the school system undermines childlike faith is because of godless, cynical teachers and a curriculum informed by secular values that, even in Ireland, largely ignores God.

It is no wonder then that teenagers end up exchanging the glory of God for images of the Kardashians and other YouTube gods & goddesses.  The inevitable next stage of that exchange – as Paul points out in Romans 1: 23-25 – is impurity and the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves.  By the time they get to college sex before marriage has become the norm.  Paul then goes on to point out how things continue to deteriorate until all forms of perversion and evil are accepted.  As people grow older the realisation that these things are wrong doesn’t go away but, nevertheless, they cheer each other on (Romans 1:26-32).

Jesus took away the barrier between us and God on the Cross and young children somehow seem to know this.  When we live with very young children you can see something in them that reflects the fact that their angels are looking at the face of God.  This “innocence” is so prized, every parent wishes that somehow it could be retained.  If we are honest, it is impossible to think that any young child that dies could somehow not be going to heaven.

So how do we encourage our children and ourselves to keep that childlike understanding that Jesus says we must have if we are to enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 18:3)?  Paul has told us how already in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes”.  The gospel (or good news) is that Jesus died for your sins on the cross and rose again to prove his power to bring you to heaven to be with Him when you die.

Tell that good news to your children from a young age and if they go from faith to faith, believing more strongly in this truth and talking to God (starting with giving thanks) every day they will never lose their innocence.

The Difference between Pardon and Forgiveness

Jesus words on forgiveness are stark:  Unless you forgive others you cannot be forgiven.  He makes that very clear in the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:15), in the parable of the indebted servant in Matthew 18:21-35 and elsewhere.

However forgiveness and pardon are not the same thing.  To pardon someone is to let them off, to not enforce a judgement that is against them.  If you have the authority to pardon someone, that means you have some authority over them.  Kings, Queens, Presidents, some politicians and judges have this kind of authority.  Prison governours, members of tribunals, parole boards, military leaders and policemen also have this power at times.  Employers have authority over employees.  But the most relevant authority to most of us is that of our parents.

As a Christian, whoever you are, you are called to forgive.  But if you are a Christian in a place of authority over someone then you need to be careful before you extend that forgiveness into pardon.  If the person who you have the authority to pardon is unrepentant then the pardon will just lead to more opportunity for that person to cause the same type of trouble again.

I am really enjoying the Netflix series “The Crown” mainly because of its historical accuracy and attention to detail.  In Series 2 episode 6, the Queen is strongly impressed by Billy Graham who is holding a crusade in the UK at the time.  She invites him to the palace on two occasions.  Interwoven with these visits is an attempt by her uncle (formerly Edward VIII who abdicated before the war to marry a divorcee) to return to the UK.  Through powerful contacts he manages to convince the government to offer him some high profile ambassadorial roles.  Only the Queen is between him and a happy homecoming.  She has to decide whether to give him a royal pardon and let him in the country or to refuse and to leave him in exile.

The trouble is her uncle is unrepentant.  He is still as treasonous in his heart as he has ever been.

The Queen is confused between forgiveness and pardon.  The Netflix portrayal makes it clear that she hasn’t distinguished between the two.  She asks Billy Graham should she forgive her uncle, to which Billy rightly responds that she should.  In the end she tells her uncle that she can never forgive him – but when she said that she used the wrong word.  To protect her family and her country she could never pardon him.  In her heart she could and did forgive him but he was unrepentant.  She used the wrong word but made the right decision.  But she ended up confused.

We need to know the difference between forgiveness and pardon because all of us have either been a parent or a child.  Parents need to always be able to have an attitude of forgiveness towards their children but they would be foolish to pardon them and let them avoid the consequences of their wrongdoing – especially if they are unrepentant.  Children need to understand this distinction.

The Majority are Often Wrong

About 400 years before Christ came and made His rather dividing remarks about mankind, Plato wrote his book “The Republic” and called attention to the problems with democracy.  Many writers have done so since.  So Jesus is not alone in His thinking when He says:

“…..wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

These words from Matthew 7:13, 14 have a particular relevance when we think of how the majority of this country last Friday (25 May 2018) voted for destruction whereas relatively few voted for life.  One of the good things to come from that vote was this confirmation of Jesus’ words.  We would do well to believe Him when He says things.

He also said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6).

You will do better to ignore and reject the “liberal” spirit of this age and believe this instead, however “intolerant” it sounds.

Here is another passage from the bible that says something equally unpopular but also relevant:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

Jeremiah 17:5-8.

Black Friday

“Black …. day” is a term used for the day there is a major fall in the stock market.  The last “Black” day for the stock market was Black Monday Oct 19, 1987.

In contrast with the gradual and persistent climb in stock market values over many decades, days like Black Monday are sudden, precipitous and often unexpected.  They also cry out for attention and, in a similar way to all bad news, they can enter our consciousness much more than the gradual improvements that we experience over much longer time periods.

The results of yesterday’s referendum will have come as a shock to many.  They also represent an enormous blow to the efforts of so many people who have poured time and money into campaigning to keep the 8th.  Many of my friends will have lost sleep and spent money and time sacrificially.  They did what they could and now they should rest content that they have done all that could be done.  Their consciences are clear.

I know it doesn’t seem like it now but actually, if you take a longer view then things are getting better in this country as they are around the world.

Recently I have been challenged (by the Holy Spirit) to focus my mind on the things of Philippians 4:8: things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy.  On a day like today this becomes more important than ever.  Here are some things to think about:20180525_115433

  1. God:  He is all of the above.  Think about how much He loves us in that He sent His only Son to die on our behalf.  The gospel is every bit as much good news now as it was before the referendum.  A relationship with God is the ultimate answer to any wrong attitudes society may have.  This referendum has led to many people thinking about God and the Good News in ways they haven’t done before.  Only God really knows the hearts of people but there are many indications that, as a percentage of the population, more people know God personally now in Ireland than in the past and that percentage is actually growing.
  2. Family: The basic unit of society still applies to 100% of the residents of this country.  All of us have (or have had) a father and a mother and many have brothers and sisters.  We love them and they love us.  Nothing in any referendum results has changed that.
  3. Friends: Everyone knows someone they can call a friend, someone who accepts them as they are without judging them.  We all need them.  One of the major plus points of this and the last referendum has been to encourage a non-judgmental attitude in the population at large.  More people are accepted by more people as people than ever before.  There will be a change in the constitutional status of many of those people and that is to be regretted.  But a society that accepts people more will inevitably accept them at whatever stage they are, in the womb or outside of it and in whatever condition they are in, disabled or well.  Most people voting yes in this referendum were not voting for abortion, they were voting for acceptance.  I wonder how the result would have gone if the referendum had been phrased in such as way as to say “Vote “Yes” to retain the human rights of the unborn and vote “No” to remove them”?
  4. Honesty:  People are not as afraid as they were in the past to be honest about what they really think on many formerly taboo issues.
  5. Creation:  The sunsets are still lovely, the rhododendrons at Russborough House are as beautiful in May as ever, of all the things you may see still few are as beautiful as a tree.  The increasing consciousness of everyone about looking after their environment has made Ireland a more beautiful place than ever.  I walk down to the end of my road and see beautiful eagles and kites which, only a few years back, did not exist here.  This is progress by this generation of young people.
  6. Excellence because of opportunity:  athletes, figure skaters, football players (even) and any sport you can think of has become more inclusive, better funded, less dangerous, more participated in and more attractive and available to watch over the last 100 years.  Consistent, upward, progress is the hallmark of the Olympics and many international sports and, again, is led by young people.

I could go on.

It is a bad day, but it is not the end of the world.  Actually that would be a good day too for many.  We need to concentrate on ensuring that these last days continue to be truly good days for as many people as possible.

I still don’t know a better way of doing that than telling them God loves them, unconditionally and at great cost to Himself.

Well done to all my friends who have gone to great extremes to get that message out there about the most vulnerable in society. People may have voted for compassion in a way that looks counter intuitive to many of us but they also know more about the preciousness of the unborn than ever before.  Let’s build on that.

 

The Abortion Debate

I’ve collected my thoughts as posted on Facebook below.  Hopefully, you will find it useful.

My Position

Just to be clear: I am for protecting babies from being murdered in this State whether in the womb or outside it. This means I support keeping the constitutional protection in place and I am against repealing the 8th Amendment under any circumstances. The current legal set up adequately protects the mother in all situations where her baby might endanger her life. Doctors and other medical staff who are put in the very rare and unfortunate position of having to deal with these cases are also well protected in the current set up. I don’t hold to the position that a woman who has been raped has the right to end the innocent life of the product of that union neither do I believe that a child with a life threatening condition or disability should have their lives deliberately shortened because of it.

Eugenics

One of my reasons for not wanting to repeal the 8th is the eugenics legalised abortion on demand encourages.  See this article from Christian Today.

Today’s Legal Position (while the 8th Amendment is in place)

According to Irish law it is a crime to murder an innocent person. It is immaterial what age that person is or who carries out the murder.

On the Irish Supreme Court Judgement of 7th March 2018

The phrase “the law is an ass” has taken on a new meaning for me after today’s Supreme Court judgement. How can seven learned people come to such a ludicrous conclusion: a child is not a child when it is in the womb? This means, that they have judged that a child at any stage in the womb has no rights at all under the constitution except the right to life guaranteed by the 8th Amendment. There is now every reason for keeping the 8th amendment in place.

Aontas.

Excellent statement from an association of bible believing christians which I fully agree with:

Aontas’ Statement on the Eight Amendment
As an association of Bible believing churches in Ireland, we are deeply concerned about the current proposals to repeal the 8th Amendment.
We hold that all human life is precious. The ultimate foundation of this is the Bible’s teaching that we are made in the image of God. That gives every human being immense dignity, worth, value and meaning, regardless of size, shape, nationality, ability or colour.
The circumstances surrounding this new life may be hard and difficult, but each life is valuable because God formed and shaped it for a purpose. We thank God for the life of every child, no matter the circumstances surrounding their conception, or the length of days given to them.
As a nation we have not excelled in living out the implications of the preciousness of all life. We have failed mothers and babies. We have created stigma and shame instead of creating an environment of grace and love. We need to do better at providing support: emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. And we need to do better in providing loving, long-term alternatives like adoption.
But our shortcomings do not give us the right to determine who should be born and who should not. God alone is the author of life. His word is clear that life begins at conception (Psalm 51:5). Modern science has only underlined the truth of the Bible’s ancient claim.
Since God alone is the author of life, only he has the right to determine who lives and who does not. Much is made of the mother’s right over her own body, but from conception a new and separate person is formed within her. She has the responsibility to preserve the life of this new person but never the right to take it.
We acknowledge that difficult medical circumstances may arise where the life of the mother and the life of the unborn child cannot both be preserved. However the wilful killing of an unborn child by abortion is indefensible.
In choosing abortion we would declare that all human life is not valuable, that discrimination is permissible; we would make ourselves the determiners of a person’s worth, and worse still, take God’s work of divine skill and destroy it—denying His wisdom and purpose in creating it (Psalm 139).
There are some things we shouldn’t be free to do—denying another person their humanity is one of them, defacing God’s artistry is another.
The Irish Constitution magnificently recognises the worth of both mother and baby—far in advance of many other countries. It is not backward, but progressive. It is God-honouring and person-exalting.
We therefore urge our churches’ members and our fellow citizens to resist the call to repeal the Eighth Amendment, and to continue to work towards a richer, better, more grace-filled society.

Please consider posting this on your Facebook page and church Website.

The Only Real Answer

All sorts of issues, including important ones like abortion, can arise throughout the generations and in our lives. Ultimately the same answer has stood firm in every circumstance and generation: Jesus Christ the Son of God.

But how do you find that answer in the religious confusion and hypocrisy of this age? Come along on Sunday to clearly hear how and to meet others whose lives have been changed by an encounter with the living God.

The Connection between Life and Light

Being for (or pro) life is a more fundamental issue than any religion. It is tied in with the very nature of God Himself.

Ending a Cripple’s Life

RTE carried two stories on Morning Ireland at about 0845 today and yesterday. Both spoke about fatal fetal abnormality, one was supporting the repeal the 8th side, the other was supporting the movement to keep the 8th amendment. Both woman’s testimonies stressed how difficult the situation was. However it seemed clear from the interviews that the person who opted to go to the UK to get her baby terminated had had a more distressing time than the person who decided to let God take the child in His time. It also didn’t seem to be the case that had she been allowed to do the same thing in Ireland that she would have found the experience much easier. Notwithstanding individual cases like these in which an interview on a radio station for 5 minutes gives no one a real insight into the trauma of it all, it does seem to me that there is a principle in action here: God is the only one who has a right to take an innocent life for He knows what He is doing and where the person will be going afterwards. When we play God we put ourselves in a position we were not designed for and add considerably to our grief. In cases of fatal fetal abnormality I cannot see any justification for allowing abortion at any stage of the pregnancy unless the mother’s life is in danger (which is covered in the present legal regime). It seems much better to allow the life involved to take its (i.e. God’s) course. What do you think?

Edge Cases

One of the things I dislike most about the current abortion debate is the way it pushes people into “us and them” camps.  It’s as if there was no one in the middle contemplating the very real difficulties that any law based argument brings up.  Since I have taken a very “pro-life” stance on this question I seem to be on the receiving end of only one side of the argument.  It comes as a relief to hear the other side sometimes.

I have taken a firm stance on this issue because we are talking about changing a very significant aspect of our constitution: the spelled-out right to life of an unborn child.  Anything that I am about to say does not change my position on this: I believe that the best thing to do is to keep the 8th Amendment in the constitution for the many reasons I have articulated in other posts on this issue.

However laws cannot legislate for all aspects of life and, on their own, are a very poor basis for conducting civil society, even if, for no other reason than they are just writings and open to interpretation.

The bible has this to say about the letter of the law: “It kills” (2 Cor. 3:6).  There has to be a spirit behind the law, a spirit that informs how people interpret the law.  If there is no spirit there is no life in the law.

The way this works itself out in most civil society is in the people who interpret the law, i.e. the judges and the legal profession mainly but also anyone who has to work with the laws such as doctors and others in the medical profession.  As a Christian I could wish that the Holy Spirit informed more of the decisions of these people.

However, I am not a doctor nor do I work in the medical profession.  I have been in court many times as part of my expert witness work so I am more familiar with the workings of the legal profession.  But I am not a lawyer nor a legal judge.

I have noticed that my doctor friends have by and large stayed quiet on this issue.  They have had to face the reality of the circumstances of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, the real flesh and blood behind the situations women find themselves in.  I think they are less inclined to be black and white about the issues as a result.

And there are some very difficult edge cases that black and white letter of the law approaches cannot legislate for.  For instance, if we say that life begins as soon as life is conceived then even the morning after pill should be banned.  What about IVF?  There are often several fertilised eggs which are not implanted in the womb.  They all have the potential for life.  Should we make every effort to ensure they are all brought to full term?

Then there are the difficult cases where the mother’s life isn’t necessarily in danger but her ongoing health is.

Finally, there is the fact that abortions are going to happen whether we legislate against them or not.  By making abortion illegal under many circumstances we increase the risk to those women who do decide to go ahead and have an abortion anyway.

In a way, saying we have clear answers to all these questions is also playing God.  You are welcome to your opinion, as am I, but in the end we had better be prepared to put our actions where are words are for those who face realities we may never have to.  It is easy for me to talk, I don’t have to judge in an “X” case or counsel a woman who may be seriously injured as a result of carrying a child full term.

God bless those working in the medical and legal professions.  May we have more of you who are led by the Holy Spirit.

But I’m still going to vote to keep the 8th Amendment.  For what it is worth, on balance, I think you should too.

Biblical Creativity: Light and Life

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. (John 1:1).

John the beloved disciple or follower of Jesus was a poet.  He inter-weaved the creation account throughout the opening verses of his gospel speaking of the two main principles of creation: Light & Life.  He wrote:

“In Him was life and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4,5).

According to John’s gospel, Jesus is for (or pro) life in the most fundamental way possible.  Like a pregnant woman He has life within Him.  Again, according to John, that life is intimately connected with light or understanding.  The life of Jesus gives understanding.

A few chapters later in the same gospel, Jesus ties together spiritual birth with physical life.  He says it is not enough just to be born as a human: “You must be born from above.”

The fundamental problems with our society stem from a lack of spiritual life.  The fact that so many otherwise seemingly sane people want to deny the rights of physical life to the most vulnerable members of our society can only be explained by this.  There is a darkness that comes over people’s minds when they refuse the light of Jesus’s words.

In Ireland many people have reacted vehemently against the hypocrisy of a religion which, on the one hand, promotes a pro-life campaign and, on the other, denies rights to women and covers up the abuse of children.  As a Christian with no denominational adherence I can fully understand that position.

However should we use that as a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Being for (or pro) life is a more fundamental issue than any religion.  It is tied in with the very nature of God Himself.

The Infinitesimal Drama of the Virgin Birth

Incomprehensibly constrained to the size of a pinhead, the Lord of the Universe marches down through the ages and arrives Immanuel in a young girl’s womb.

From the first glorious image of Adam through patriarchs and kings, Matthew parades the central march of God’s history before us and brings us to a place of wonder – a few cells in a wonderful dwelling.

“Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?”

That whole long march, funnels down and focuses like a laser on this tiny point.

Matthew 1.

Music taken from the album “Music inspired by the Story” 2011.  Song sung by Francesca Battistelli.

The Abortion Debate

From what I have read, what seems to make Ireland a pro-life country is the legal view that a child’s life is equivalent to a mother’s from the point of conception.  This leads to a whole different way of treating difficult pre-natal situations from a country where the legal position is that the child is not a child but something less than human (often called a foetus) until some arbitrary stage in the pregnancy.

Well I am not a lawyer but that is how it reads to me.

If that is the case then I am all in favour of it staying that way.

Again from what I have heard and read however that doesn’t mean there won’t be some difficult legal situations that will arise.  When you have an adult or even a child threatening the life of another person it is difficult but the courts can deal with it and there are precedents.  A child would normally be considered as having diminished responsibilities as compared with an adult.  However a child in the womb can  have no responsibility at all for threatening the life of the mother and that is very difficult to legislate for.  So we seem to have buried our heads in the sand about this for some time now. Yes it is a difficult issue and perhaps the only way to deal with it is to have a judge nearby who can rule in each case as to what the best thing to do is.  In our pro-life environment we can be sure that any judgement made by doctors or specially assigned judges will be those that try to preserve the lives of both.  But unfortunately there are cases arising in this State in which that horrible decision has to be made.  They may be very few but they do arise.

The current approach is to avoid the situation or pass it over to another jurisdiction to deal with it.  I don’t believe that is the right approach.

 

No one is really sure if she was a real person or just a christianised pagan deity

The difference between tolerance and support

Our children go to a Church of Ireland based school.  Most of the schools in Ireland are run on religious lines and the ethos of the school very much depends on the religion that is sponsoring it.  Unfortunately there are very few if any evangelical run schools in Ireland and none near us.  So schools run by Protestant denominations are probably the closest in ethos to what we would believe.  Of course that doesn’t stop them being taught about other religions even to the point of making clay buddhas in school.  In general I have no issue with this, its not as if they are asking my children to worship the buddha or anything. 

Well, usually not. 

Being the 14th means he will probably die like his predecessors

The 14th Dalai Lama is coming to Ireland next week and visiting our home county of Kildare.  Apparently he has a particular interest in Brigid a Roman Catholic saint of doubtful pedigree.  In preparation our children have learnt a particularly suspect song directed to Brigid – who if she was a real human is now dead and so – according to the ethos of the school – should not be sung to.  But you know we’ll put up with that.  Our children have been educated enough to know these things (not by the school though unfortunately) and we don’t want to make a fuss about relatively minor matters.  There are more serious issues in children’s lives than that kind of thing.

No one is really sure if she was a real person or just a christianised pagan deity

And sure, haven’t we been taught to be tolerant?  Isn’t that the message of the Dalai Lama?  What could be wrong with that?

Jesus said:  “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6.

My 10 year old daughter quoted that to me recently when I asked her what she thought about the Dalai Lama.  You see she has a living relationship with Jesus and she has it, she knows, because He suffered a very cruel death so she could. 

If the Dalai Lama is right, the answer of God the Father to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane to his question: “If this cup can be taken away from Me..” should have been: “It can”.  Because if the Dalai Lama is right there is another way to the Father, in fact more than one.  That makes the Father’s insistence on making His Son go to the cross for our sins the act of either a mad God or a bad one.

So when one of my children is asked to sing to Brigid and to the Dalai Lama I’m going to back him up in his own desire not to be made to go and write a letter to the principal of the school explaining why not.  

Tolerance of other religions is fine but I will not support them. 

The Christian gospel still has some absolutes.