thefrontpagecampaign

June 28, 2009

I went shopping with Jordan yesterday.  I don’t particularly like shopping.  I don’t go “just to look”.  There really has to be a reason.  Yesterday’s reason was to get the boy clothes for the summer.  He’s now wearing trousers made for the small adult. 

Another reason was to take that expensive pencil I bought in December back to the Pen Shop in Princes Square.  It has a blockage and I couldn’t fix it myself.  I thought they might just replace it, but as the lady behind the counter said, If your car breaks down they don’t just give you a new one!  So it goes off to the manufacturer to be pulled apart and reassembled.  It’s still within guarantee, but it does seem rather a palaver for a pencil. 

Anyway, while we were driving towards the car park we saw a Moslem woman standing at a bus stop on Cathedral Street totally covered head-to-foot, with only a narrow slit for the eyes.  Uncharacteristically (for he is not a curious boy) Jordan asked why she was dressed thus.  I explained that she must be a very strict Moslem and went on to talk about the concept of modesty and how different cultures and different religions have different ideas of what constitutes modesty.  It’s not that we in the West have no concept of modesty at all; just that our concept is different from some Moslems.  I explained that personally I would be upset if his sister dressed in the way that some girls do, for my concept of modesty prefers not too much flesh being on show.  Later, we did pass some girls with an awful lot of leg on show and I pointed out that I would regard that as immodest.  However, when the seminar progressed to an explanation of the connection between modesty and sex he asked me to stop—this is not the kind of talk he wants to hear from dad!

As we were heading home I noticed a stall.  There were lots of stalls, including one for the Communist Party of Great Britain, which I thought didn’t exist any longer.  The one that caught my attention was manned by a couple of ladies and was for “thefrontpagecampaign”.  These ladies were drawing attention to the soft porn that appears at the eye-level of children in many news agents and supermarkets these days.  This was a petition I was willing to sign.  I have complained at the Hamilton Asda about this but without any response.  The campaign leaflet says:

We respect the right of adults to choose their media and the same freedom should apply to the majority who would prefer to shop without seeing displays like this one [a picture of a scantily clothed woman].  Such displays are not suitable for public places where children and young people are present.  There is no age-rating system imposed on newspapers and magazines.  This means it is legal for retailers to sell to minors publications that routinely include themes of bondage, oral sex, group sex, and home-made sex photography. 

If you want to contact this group you can do so at www.thefrontpagecampaign.co.uk

As a society we wring our hands and demand blood when our children are sexually exploited and abused.  Yet all around we expose them to sexual images and even dress them up in in sexy clothes.  And if you’ve ever been to a school disco, you’ll know that when it comes to dance moves, you don’t know where to look. 

Why can’t we see the connection?

Advertisements

In recent months my wife, Kim, has got used to seeing my name in the newspapers.  Now the shoe is on the other foot.  In her weekly column in Carluke Gazette our MSP, Karen Gillon, mentions Kim by name.  Karen is talking about the end of the school term and is congratulating the pupils for all their achievements, and recognizing the sterling work done by teachers.  Then she expresses concern about the lack of jobs for teachers coming to the end of their probationary placement.  She says, “James [her son] has had a probationary teacher again this year and I cannot speak highly enough of Mrs.  Watson.  We need people like her in our schools and I continue to press both the Council and the government to find the money to employ more of these teachers.”  Karen already has our vote, but her support is very much appreciated all the same. 

(Luke 18:1-8)

This is what I call a “how much more” story.  Jesus tells a story, a parable, about how humans behave, and then compares it to how God behaves.  For example, when he talks about fathers giving gifts to their children.  We wouldn’t give our children a stone when they ask for bread, or a snake when they want fish.  How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.  It’s the same with the passage about worrying.  The Lord cares for the birds of the air; he’ll care for us too.  After all, how much more valuable are we to him than birds? 

Another example is in Mt.12, where he heals the man with the withered hand.  He challenges the Pharisees: if your sheep falls into a hole on the Sabbath, you would rescue it.  “How much more valuable is a man than a sheep.”

The point of this story in Luke 18 about the persistent widow is quite clear.  Jesus tells us at the very start: The Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  It’s about persistence in prayer.  He says that if an unjust judge is willing to grant the request of a widow simply because she nags him into submission; how much more can we expect our Father in heaven to answer our prayers.  He may delay in answering, but don’t be discouraged: always pray and don’t give up. 

The story is quite straightforward.  There was, in a certain town, a judge “who neither feared God nor cared about men.”  There was a widow in that town who had been wronged.  It doesn’t matter how she had been wronged, but she deserved justice.  She didn’t have a husband or any other male relative to plead her cause, so she had to do it all herself.  She may have gone to court formally and got no where.  All that was left to her was personally harassing the judge. 

She was like a dog with a bone.  She just wouldn’t give up.  He’d step out of his house in the morning and there she would be, crying, Give me justice.  He’d be out for dinner with his friends, and she’d be standing outside on the street.  She’d follow him about.  He couldn’t shake her off. 

At first he’d brush her aside.  But in time I can imagine she’d begin to play on his nerves.  He’d try all sorts of ruses to lose her—changing his routine; putting on dark glasses. 

Eventually, he couldn’t take any more.  So he says to himself:  Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me I will see that she gets justice so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming. 

He’s going to make sure she gets justice, not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of some peace and quiet.  She gets what she wants, not because she deserves it, but because of her persistence. 

Jesus concludes: Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night?  Will he keep putting them off.  I tell you he will see that they get justice and quickly. 

Jesus is saying, if that judge gave justice to the widow because of her persistence, how much more can we expect God to give his people the justice they cry out for?  God is not like the unjust judge.  Justice had to be prised out of his hands.  God, on the other hand, is only to ready and willing to answer our prayers. 

Let me make a few observations from this.

1. Christians are expected to pray.  We should pray always and not give up.  Prayer is not an optional extra.  It is our duty; our life-blood as Christians.

2. We are to pray continually.  v.7 “who cry to him day and night.”  Paul who prayed three times that the thorn in the flesh be removed.  Or the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane who also prayed three times that the cup of suffering be removed. 

Isa.62:6: I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem, they will never be silent day or night.  You who call to on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.

We might ask why we should keep on praying.  One answer if that God wants us to.  He wants us to give ourselves no rest; and to give him no rest.  He wants us to be persistent in prayer. 

3. We must accept that God will not answer our prayers as quickly as we would like.  We may get discouraged.  But look at the contrast between God and the unjust judge – this is the “how much more” factor.

a. the widow was a stranger to the judge; we pray to the God who calls us “his chosen ones”

b. she was just one; God’s elect are many

(Matthew Henry: As the saints of heaven surround the throne of glory with united prayers so the saints on earth besiege the throne of grace with their united prayers.)

c. she came to a judge that wanted her to stay away; we come to a Father who invites us to draw near

d. she came to an unjust judge; we approach a righteous Father

e. she had no friends or lawyer; we have an Advocate with the Father who ever lives to make intercession

f. the judge gave her no encouragement; God has given us precious promises that if we call on him he will answer

g. she could only press her claim at certain times; we can pray at any time

h. the judge came to dread the sight and sound of her; our God delights in our prayers.

How much more…

Finally: the Lord Jesus ends by asking: However, when the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?  Here is another answer to the question: Why pray, and why pray persistently?  The Lord is looking for faith and prayer is the exercise of faith.  Prayer that persists, though it seems as if heaven’s door is locked.  As Matthew Henry puts it so quaintly:

The parable has its key hanging at the door; the drift and design of it are prefixed.  Christ spake it with this intent, to tech us that men ought always to pray and not to faint.

The key is persistence.

New members

June 21, 2009

Today we had one of those “all singing all dancing” type services that tend come at the end of the school year.  To begin with we had a report from the Mission and Evangelism Task Group, feeding back the information which has now been collated from the community survey we did in January.  The survey was very worthwhile from several points of view.  Primarily it has given us some very practical ideas about what kind of outreach might be most worthwhile.  From a pre-evangelism perspective we are thinking about parenting courses.  Also, we feel a need for more social events. 

Next, one of our boys from the BB was awarded his Queen’s Badge which is no small feat.  Given that the survey highlighted the [perceived] lack of youth activities in the village, we believe that what we offer through the BB and GB is very valuable.  About 100 children and youth are involved. 

The highlight of the service was admitting to membership three people by profession of faith and two who are transferring from other congregations.  The fascinating thing is that the five of them come from very different backgrounds, yet share certain things in common.  Three were women; two were men. One of the men is in his late teens who has been part of this church family all his life.  One has suffered chronic depression; another is recovering from an addiction.  Three of them have connections with Africa. 

They all did the Christianity Explored course; and all of them found it immensely helpful.  All of them gave a short speech (“a word of testimony”) as to how God had led them to this place of joining the church today.  This is such an encouragement to the rest of the congregation. 

I now make it a policy that anyone transferring from another church should do the CE course.  It’s amazing how people who have been church members for years still find it such a revelation.  It gets them off to a good start within the church family, giving them a small of group they come to know really well.  And it irons out any misunderstandings about the basics of the faith. 

When people ask me how things are going in the church I tend to reply: Nationally, depressing; but locally very encouraging.  You can see why.

Whenever I go to the smallest room I like to read.  Always have done.  Anything that can be digested in the time-span allotted by nature.  Therefore, I usually go through books of quotations, or reference books, as well as magazines.  At the moment I have AC Grayling’s “The Meaning of Things” close to hand. 

AC Grayling teaches philosophy at the University of London and is popular with the media these days.  He writes newspaper columns and often appears on programmes like “Any Questions” or “Question Time”.  He is a trenchant atheist.

“The Meaning of Things” emerged from articles in the “Guardian” newspaper.  The subtitle is “Applying Philosophy to Life”.  There are short chapters on subjects as diverse as sorrow, virginity, health and trifles (not the pudding). 

Grayling does not suffer from ambivalence.  He knows what he thinks and gives it to you straight.  So you know where you stand with the man. 

His opening chapters on Moralising and Tolerance have forced me to think about my own attitudes.  Grayling says, “A moraliser is a person who seeks to impose upon others his view of how they should live and behave.”  Grayling takes a dim view of moralisers.  While they claim to be the voice of the silent majority, Grayling attributes to them less noble motives.  “Their true motives are that they are afraid of attitudes and practices more relaxed than they can allow themselves to be—their timidity, their religious anxieties, their fear that they might themselves be, say, homosexual or libidinous, and a host of personal motives besides, drive them to stop the rest of world thinking, seeing or doing what they are afraid to think, see or do themselves.”

Is this true?  Have I aired my views about homosexuality as a way of ensuring that I never hop into bed with another man?  Do I call adultery sin because I myself am tempted to stray?  Do I rail against promiscuity from the pulpit because in fact given half a chance I would be playing the field? 

The honest answer to that is “no”.  Fear is not my motive.  Love is.  I truly believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it’s message is a message revealed from the Living God.  I truly believe that this message includes warnings against those activities which are not only physically harmful to our bodies and emotionally harmful to our minds, but spiritually harmful too.  They contravene God’s perfect plan for our lives. 

And therefore I believe I have a duty not only to avoid such behaviour myself but to do my utmost to persuade others to refrain too.  I cannot force anyone to behave contrary to the way they wish; but surely I have a right to try to persuade. 

Grayling sets up the aunt sally of Victorian values, so easily knocked down—the abuse of women and children, the poverty.  (Though remember that it was evangelical Christians who were at the forefront of the anti-slavery campaign, and the Factory Acts reform.)

I don’t know anyone today who is calling for a return to Victorian values, certainly not me.  I am not calling for a return to anything, because I don’t think there ever was a golden age to return to.  What I am calling for is an honest debate that looks at what we have become as a society.  Are we happy?  Are our children secure?  Do our relationships—sexual or otherwise—fulfil our need for love? 

I’m not seeing a society at ease with itself.  I’m seeing a restless, discontent, dissatisfied society, constantly on the look for something more. 

All I’m saying, is that modern Scots are looking in the wrong places.  Does that make me a moralizer?

I’ve been reading “The Bruised Reed” by the Puritan Richard Sibbes (no prizes for guessing why I pulled this one down from the shelf).  Here are some of his pearls.

It would be a good contest among Christians, one to labour to give no offence, and the other to labour to take none. 

Nothing is so certain as that which is certain after doubts.

Illustrating the unworthy thoughts that sometimes come to mind, and distress the godly, he says, A pious soul is no more guilty of them than Benjamin was when Joseph’s cup was put in his sack.

Of Christ: He became not only a man but a curse, a man of sorrows for us.  He was broken that we should not be broken; he was troubled that we should not be desperately troubled; he became a curse that we should not be accursed.  Whatever may be wished for in an all-sufficient comforter is all to be found in Christ.

 

The Nuremburg Defence

June 9, 2009

Writing about this year’s General Assembly is never going to be easy for me.  Regular readers of this blog will understand that for me it was more than just an ecclesiastical debate.  It all became rather personal.  In fact, probably I was second only to Scott Rennie himself when it came to being the face of the debate.

Initially this was because the press had me on their books as the evangelical to call for comment.  This was because of my position as Secretary of Forward Together. 

However, the stakes were raised beyond measure on Wednesday 13th May when my photograph appeared on page 3 of the Times (UK edition) and on the “timesonline”.  I feel it’s now time to share something of this story.

Until then I would say that the Times had been the fairest of all the newspapers, in that they were not vilifying the evangelicals.  They had run the “Life and Work” editorial story; but they also ran a balancing story the next day.  The Sunday Times too had been quite fair.

However, on the Tuesday evening I received a phone call from Times journalist, Mike Wade.  I met Mike at the Assembly.  He’s a round Yorkshire man (no photo available) who looks as if he enjoys his real ale.  If Mike’s opening line had been less confrontational that Tuesday evening things might have gone differently.  As it is he asked me straight out to comment on the reaction of people to the previous Sunday’s sermon, the reaction, he said, being one of outrage that I had compared Scott Rennie’s supporters to the Nazis.  I realized immediately what he was referring to and told him that this story was “unworthy” of him and put the phone down. 

In the sermon (from Jude) I was trying to show my congregation why I was involved in the debate, my point being that though none of us like conflict, sometimes it is necessary.  Being someone who reads a lot of war history it occurred to me that a good example was that of the French not challenging the German re-occupation of the Rhineland in 1936.  Because they avoided conflict in 1936, a worse conflict arose in 1939. 

I’m not so foolish or pig-headed to insist that another illustration (or none) would have been wiser. 

With hindsight, I realize that I was making myself a hostage to fortune, especially by putting that sermon on the blog.  But only that day I had received an e-mail from a minister telling me that people in his congregation were down-loading those sermons from Jude and finding them very helpful. 

Initially I decided to have nothing to do with the story.  But an hour or so later the Times photographer called saying that he’d like to come and take a picture of me—otherwise they’d use an old, unflattering one!  I decided that if I were to co-operate I’d better hear the story.  The photographer read the blurb which by and large was ok.  Later, when Mike Wade was going through it with me I had to warn him that if he included certain comments (Nazis, death-camps, pink triangles) I would take the matter further.  Interestingly, those comments didn’t appear in the final version.  (And yes, I did take informal legal advice—I still have friends in the profession). 

The story itself quoted the sermon accurately enough, though with some journalistic flare (apparently the sermon reached a “rousing climax”). 

What was most damaging was the headline “Anti-gay minister in Nazi battle outrage”, a headline more worthy of the Sun than the Times.  Mike says he is not responsible for headlines.  But people read headlines before they read copy.  And since journalists tend, by nature, to be a lazy crew, every other newspaper jumped on this bandwagon, more or less copying and pasting the headline and Mike’s story (after all, why reinvent the wheel.  Note, that not one journalist has actually been to see me at Kirkmuirhill; all of it is done over the phone, or by copying someone else’s story). 

The reactions have been very interesting. 

First, domestically.  It lead to a week of stress and strain in the Watson household.  It has left me with a profound sympathy for all the other ordinary people who for a day or two become headline news and whose lives are turned up-side-down for the sake of selling a few more newspapers.  I’ve even felt a twinge of sympathy for the MPs hounded out of office following the expenses scandal!

Second, personally.  I shut up.  Ironically, the press, the bastion of free speech, shut me up.  And I won’t be posting any more sermons on my blog. 

Third, the church.  The amount of support and encouragement I have received from the church locally and internationally has been overwhelming.  I have received post cards, letters, e-mails and phone calls from people I know and from complete strangers, some of them quite emotional (personal stories I wouldn’t dare share in public).  They far outweigh the filth I also received (most of which went to SPAM anyway). 

And fourth, the disappointment.  Criticism, from fellow evangelicals; friendly fire if you like.  Most hurtful of all when they hadn’t even bothered to read the sermon and believed what they read in the papers!  A friend of mine overheard two ministers speaking on the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh, decrying me for calling their side “Nazis” (a word that never appears in the sermon).  “Those evangelicals are all fascists!” she said.  That I expect.  But not from fellow evangelicals.

When I told Mike about the affect his story had had on me and my family, he answered, without a word of regret, “I was just doing my job.”  I seem to remember that defence was used at Nuremburg.