A Scottish Heritage

When I was growing up in Scotland, I was frequently told that a Scottish Education was superior to an English Education because it took a broader range of subjects to a slightly lower level, SCE Higher Grade than the English A Level in school.

This was supposed to give a more rounded person on leaving school and one who was better able to appreciate all aspects of life rather than only be tightly focused on the subject one read if one went to university, or to be better  equipped to deal with all human life if one left school and went straight into the workplace.

When I left school, it was possible to start work in a bank and earn the ACIB qualification in part time education, an entry level that is now reserved for graduates.  One could train as a registered nurse ‘on the job’ but now one needs to complete a university degree.

But always, divinity, or theology was a university subject.

I can remember teachers in the upper school telling us that at university we would be treated as adults and would not be spoon fed for our degrees, we would have to ferret out all the information for ourselves.

In the 1960s, when children left school, even without qualifications, they could, for the most part, read, write and count.  Neither my children nor the children of some of my friends could correctly calculate the change they ought to receive when making simple purchases from a shop.

Yet today I read an article by Rev Dr.Jules Gomes about the course “Creation to Apocalypse: Introduction to the Bible (Level 1) which horrified me.  The course has warnings for students that some of the content is more than a little graphic.

I would imagine that most of the students reading this course would be intending to go into some sort of full time Christian work.  That is something that, to use an Americanism, almost always involves heavy lifting.  It does not matter whether this work is a pastorate, a chaplaincy, counselling or whatever, but most of those students will face some fairly traumatic circumstances in a few short years.

If you need a trigger warning before you read about the flood, or about the destruction of Sodom, let alone the killing of Goliath, how are you going to cope when dealing with some of the sorts of situations that you will face, like performing the funeral service for a child who had died in a tragic accident, whose parents are distraught.

It is clear that if the entrants to university are not adults if they need these sorts of warnings.  What is happening in our schools these days if at the age of 17 or 18, students who have left school are unable to cope with the Bible without such warnings.  Go back some 50 or 60 years and young people not much older were getting married, setting up home together and starting to have a children.

After all this time are we really creating a society where a significant minority, if not a majority of the young people are unable to cope either intellectually or emotionally with life?

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The Role of the State

I have had the opportunity to watch about two and a half hours worth of lecture about the fall of the Roman empire, by someone who wanted to draw parallels with the modern day Western society, and it was quite frightening.

The first parallel that was drawn was the increasing intervention in the lives of the ordinary citizens by the state. In my lifetime we have gone from local councillors being unpaid with no expenses and council meetings being held in the evenings so that an ordinary person could be a councillor in his or her spare time to the present day where being a councillor, especially if one has any authority over any part of council spending, is a part time or even a full time job, and for some a step on the political career ladder. If it is a career, how can serving as a councillor simply be a public service?

The second point was that because government is seeping into every corner of life with regulations, life becomes more expensive. It is expensive for the citizens who have to comply with more and more numerous regulations, and government itself is more expensive leading to a greater demand for resources to be transferred from the productive to the public sector.

To pay for their current schemes, governments routinely borrow. whether this is the plundering of the National Insurance Fund by governments of all hues and party affiliations, including the chancellor of the Exchequer who set the whole thing up in the first place, David Lloyd George, or by debasing the currency. The Romans did this by reducing the silver content of the denarius, the standard coin for trade from 95% during the kingdom to eventually 0.02% by the 5th Century AD in the empire, or by the central bank planning to maintain inflation so that the real amount that has to be repaid when the debt becomes due is much less than the amount borrowed. Think Wiemar republic in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s and you see what I am talking about in a shortened time frame. Nowadays the economists call it “monetary easing” but the problem is still the same, a debasement of the currency.

Because government is more expensive, more people have to be taxed and taxed at a higher rate to pay for the government. This leads to two economic problems. The rich can simply move to lower tax and less rigourlously monitored regulatory regimes or move over to the other side of the border of the empire, as Ford were planning to do with a proposed car plant in Mexico instead of Dearborn MI, or did with the production of Transit vans in Europe from Southampton, England to Turkey. This reduces the tax base and increases the tax rates for those who cannot move. The other problem is the amount of time and effort that is put into avoiding taxation and regulation with complex tax avoidance schemes and regulatory avoidance by using self-employed subcontractors rather than employees to do work, so getting round both health and safety and employment law.

Initially, citizens are not too unhappy to pay the little tax demanded in return for a safe place in which to live and the freedom to work at their chosen occupations, but after the increasingly onerous demands both monetary and regulatory, the state becomes resented, leading to the most productive members of the society moving outside that state’s jurisdiction.

With increasing wealth comes increasing life expectancy, and parents are willing to cut the size of their families. This reduces the size of the working population relative to the people receiving welfare and is yet another incentive for the state to increase the rate of taxation. It also leads to a demand for immigration, for immigrants to do those occupations that native born citizens either cannot or will not do. Sometimes the immigrants were welcomed for no other reason than they will increase the tax base. These immigrants, in the case of Rome were the Visigoths who did not share the same values as the indigenous Romans, and this was to lead to tensions within a relatively short period of time.

There is also a change in the sort of heroes that people have. When once those heroes were people who had performed particularly brave deeds or invented something valuable, they became artists; painters, sculptors, actors and singers.

I leave it to my readers to consider the parallels with modern Western society.

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A Guid New Year to Yin and Aw’

On this first day of the year, I should like to take this opportunity to wish everyone who reads this a Happy and Prosperous New Year.  I wish that this year of 2017 brings you the all that you need, especially a closer walk with God.

During the last year I have had the privilege of reading a book called “Honest Evangelism” by a gentleman named Rico Tice, a curate based at All Souls, Langham Place in London.  He was honest enough, when I heard hi speak to say that the Church of England has a pretty poor record on utilising the services of evangelists within the denomination, and suggested that the last really good evangelist in England had been thrown out and had had to start his own denomination.  His name: John Wesley.

I wholehearted commend this book to all Christians reading this who are at times a little bit afraid to share the Gospel with others.  For one thing, it reminds you that you do not have to know all the answers and for another it suggests a manner of encouraging the shared exploration of the Bible with someone who is not sure about their belief or unbelief.  It is quite simply inviting someone to explore the Bible with you, not having you lead a Bible study for them.

He also suggests that the “old time” preachers got it right when explaining to people what they have been or can be saved from, because without this knowledge there is little if any incentive to want to follow Jesus.

But best of all, he reminds us that if we have committed our life to Christ, we are saved, and nothing, not even the inability to win one single convert, will make any difference because our identity is in Christ, and will remain in Christ.  Failure in the world’s terms is not failure in God’s sight.

With that thought in mind, we can all look forward to 2017.

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Apologies for Absence

I can see that it is almost exactly a year since I posted on WordPress. I would like to apologise to anyone who has been following this blog for the absence and I think it is only fair that I give you an explanation. The explanation is quite simple, yet to so many people it is threatening, because of the stigma attached. I have been suffering from depression and although I believe that I am over the worst, I still have relapses, and even after a relapse, it is still difficult to pick something up again. But I do hope to do this and post regularly over the foreseeable future. However we all know that a man plans and God laughs.

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We Are At War IV

“10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

After telling us to have the belt of truth fastened around us,the apostle Paul tells us to put on the breastplate of righteousness. Now this is the righteousness that comes when we are in God’s will,not self-righteousness. Self-righteousness will do no good as a protection, but God’s righteousness is excellent protection when we face up to our enemies. It is a breastplate. It does not give great protection to the back, but when we know that Jesus rose from the grave,we need have no fear and we need not turn and run. This is righteousness that is credited to us through our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In Roman times, a soldier wore a breastplate when he was going into battle. Because we are in a state of constant spiritual battle, we need to keep it firmly in place. In someways we are like sentries,always needing to be alert but uncertain of when a threat will arise, and in other ways we are like soldiers in a battle, needing to keep our wits about us all the time to prevent an opportunist strike that could disable us.

The breastplate does not protect when the soldier is running away. It does not protect from a fifth columnist who is in the same ranks and who strikes from behind. There are two implications from this: firstly that one needs to be sure of one’s companions, and secondly that there is no protection when one turns and runs. The answer to both is to immerse oneself in prayer,and the study of Scripture, so that we know the One on whom we rely. And that,of course,as the student of the catechism knows is the chief end of man, to know God and to enjoy Him forever. I pray that each and every one of my readers will do just that.

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We Are At War III

The apostle Paul understood what was happening in his day and it is still happening. We are in the midst of a war in which our opponents are spiritual forces. This is not a war we win by killing our enemies but rather by retaining our own integrity and our faith in Jesus who died so that we would be able to live.

When Paul tells his friends in Ephesus to put on the whole armour of God,he starts with the belt of truth. Paul’s correspondents would have been familiar with the Roman legionary,whose belt was the foundation upon which all of the other parts of the armour were attached, and this is the metaphor he uses for spiritual armour.

First of all, it means having no falsehood in our speech or our actions. Ever since the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples at Pentecost, they had emphasised the need for absolute truth in all of their dealings with people both within and outside the Fellowship. Such conduct is the basis upon which every other aspect of life has to be built.

Secondly, we need to keep in mind that Jesus declared himself to be The Way, The Truth and The Life. Jesus is the truth, the foundation upon which all of the other spiritual armour is built. We all understand that no superstructure is better or stronger than the foundation upon which it is built. We have the strongest foundation upon which to build, the God who became man,and the man that death could not hold.

One of the situations we face in a post-modern society is that the common view is that each has their own truth and there is no absolute truth. We Christians, on the other hand, claim that there are absolute values,including absolute and objective truth. That truth is Jesus. If He could be sufficient for the Christians who were burned as
torches in the time of Nero, or who were put into the circuses of the Roman empire to be eaten by wild animals, then we in the 21st Century West have more than sufficient for our situation.

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We Are At War II

This is no military war but rather a spiritual war. The spirit of the age is raging against the Church and here in the West the Christians have become soft and unfit. In New Testament times it was clear that Christians were under physical attack, put in prison and killed. Paul makes clear that he himself was involved in this, acting as a witness to the stoning of Stephen – possibly even being the one who signaled when to start the stoning, and obtaining letters from the chief priests to go to Damascus to arrest other Christians who lived away from Jerusalem.

This same Paul, after his conversion, writes to the Church at Ephesus, where Demetrius the silversmith had started a riot because Paul preached Christ while Demetrius’ whole livelihood was tied up in the worship of Artemis, in words that are relevant to the Church today,

“10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

You may ask why does Paul write these words. Bear in mind that Paul was beaten,imprisoned,wrongfully accused of all sorts of crimesand had gone from a situation of a pharisee, student of Gamaliel, a highly respected teacher,and persecutor of Christians to outspoken advocate for ‘The Way’. I contend that the reason is that too many of us are in the same position that the Sadducees who attempted to trip up Jesus were in. Unlike Paul, after his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, we know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.

We need to know the Scriptures. We need to study them constantly and consistently, so that we can understand what God is saying to us and can understand them in context. The Scriptures are given us for our good and that we might come to faith in Jesus as our personal saviour as well as the saviour of the world. They were written with divine inspiration. Godis not full of contradictions so we can expect any leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives to be consistent with Scripture. We can follow the exhortation of verses 18 and 19 for each other, that we may be given the words so that we will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel and declare it as we each should.

In the coming days, I hope to look at the various pieces ofspiritual armour.

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