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The Word on the Week

Disappearing Democracy

It seemed such a good idea after two world wars fought mainly on European soil that the States of Europe should get together. But peace comes at a price and anyone working out the maths could see the day coming when, with a population of less that 1% of the whole, this Republic’s voice would become a whisper. What was perhaps less clear was the extent to which our nation’s statehood would be diluted. The answer is hard to find in the 287 pages of legal jargon which comprise the Treaty. Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison but the USA was founded on a constitution 7 pages long! There is some truth in the suggestion that the treaty was designed not to be read by voters but by lawyers. The democratic deficit was seen when, despite the French and Dutch voters’ rejection of the Constitution in 2005, they were denied any say on the Lisbon Treaty – which is reckoned to be virtually identical to the rejected Constitution. Because it was ‘only’ a treaty, it was directly ratified by both countries’ governments. Indeed Ireland stands alone in Europe because it has a Constitution which cannot be altered without the consent of the people. A YES vote by Ireland would make our Constitution subservient to post-Lisbon European laws. This would effectively signal the end of a Constitution which has served us well in protecting our values through a turbulent era.  Perhaps this is inevitable as the EU has a tradition of disregarding inconvenient referendum results, but we should be aware of what we are leaving behind. Our Constitution with its Trinitarian introduction and particular reference to the person and deity of the Lord Jesus Christ indicates where its values lie. The Treaty makes no reference to our Christian heritage. The proposed legislation does not recognise the basic sinfulness of man and the measures for holding those in power accountable are far from adequate. If we are to cede our sovereignty we should hold out for a better system than the present unintelligible mess.

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The Word on the Week

Israel at 60

Or should it be Israel at 4,000? Last week’s celebration of the founding of the State of Israel reminds us of the promise God made to Abraham to leave his father’s country and go to a land I will show you; Genesis Chapter 12. This “promised land” presented Abraham with some problems from the start but none were greater that the decision as to which of his two sons were to inherit it. Was it to be Ishmael, the son of Abraham’s disobedience or Isaac the son of promise? In the providence of God it was through Isaac that the blessing was to flow to the nations but Ishmael was also to be the founder of a great nation – the Arabs. The struggles to gain possession of the land ebbed and flowed according to their obedience or disobedience to God’s commands culminating in the exile when Judah went into captivity “away from their land”. All that they had left was the promise of a better day; “Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this”. That day came but was largely unrecognised. The remnant, now reduced to peasant stock, living under Roman occupation, prisoners in their own land, heard the voice of Jesus proclaiming a new type of kingdom; “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Misunderstood by his own people who thought of him as a deliverer from Rome he answered Pilate’s question with “My kingdom is not of this world”. Jesus rule was to be over the lives of those who, like those in the Church at Colosse, had put their faith in Jesus and entered his Kingdom as St Paul said, “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”. This gospel has encircled the globe but what of God’s ancient people? The State of Israel is evidence that God is not finished with her yet. Her language restored, her territory re-established and the sons of Ishmael at the throats of the sons of Isaac, indicates the ongoing fulfillment of prophecy. St Paul’s prediction contained in Romans Chapter 12 will be completely fulfilled in that day when the promises are believed and “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”. Commit your life to Jesus and hasten that day.

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The Word on the Week

Madness in Myanmar

It must be the most callous disregard for its citizens witnessed this century for the military government of Burma to give a higher priority to their referendum than to the supply of aid to its people suffering from Cyclone Nargis. Not since Nero fiddled while Rome burned has there been such a studied indifference to the suffering of ones own people by those in authority. But then Nero had some excuse – he was mad! The Military government of Burma can only claim a degree of self interest that must astonish even Mugabe! The refusal to grant visas to countries to land their planes laden with food and drinking water was a particularly callous action, apparently taken out of a fear that it might disrupt a referendum designed to help them remain in power. Such is the paranoia of the ruling Junta that some foreign aid provided to disaster victims was modified to make it look like it came from the military regime, and state-run television continuously ran images of Gen. Than Shwe ceremonially handing out disaster relief. More than a week after the disaster, only one out of 10 people who are homeless, injured or threatened by disease and hunger have received some kind of aid. According to British Foreign Secretary “A natural disaster is turning into a humanitarian catastrophe of genuinely epic proportions in significant part because of the malign neglect of the regime.” Ringed by a horseshoe of high mountains that isolates the country from India, China and Thailand and with a standing army of 500,000 the Generals have a history of being able to ignore human rights. The land is strewn with temples and has 750,000 Buddhist monks but having been ruthlessly put down by the army in a recent protest last August they seem powerless to move the government to help those stricken by the cyclone. When a government is responsible to no-one it becomes a god ruling by fear and tolerating no opposition. But it will fall. Natural disasters will multiply till Scripture predicts the Omega point will come and declares that Christ’s reign will be ushered in and as the writer in last book of the Bible puts it, “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever”. That day may be sooner than we thing. Jesus said that his followers were to be ready.

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The Word on the Week

Flowers and Thorns

In Ireland we are sometimes blessed with a Spring morning which is idyllic! The scents and sounds are stimulating and there is a real sense of it being good to be alive. The grass, after a cold April, now bursts into that vivid luscious green that has the cattle lying down to ruminate after only one circuit of the field. Spring flowers border the country roads and the new motorways with their young plantations of trees display that fresh leafy green that sooths the eye and sweetens the landscape. It is good to rejoice in creation and recognise that even in a fallen world evidence of the Creator is plain to be seen for those who have eyes to see. Of course such musings do not make news! Newspapers are sold by highlighting our wrongs! When the Times of London conducted correspondence into what was wrong with the world, G K Chesterton replied, in what is arguably the briefest letter ever printed; “Dear Sir, I am. Yours faithfully GKC. He realised that we are part of the problem. This was starkly illustrated for us last week by the people of the Amstetten, Austria, as they tried to come to terms with the enormity of the evil which had dwelt amongst them for the last 24 years. Locked in the basement of her father’s house from the age of 18, Elizabeth produced 7 babies in horrendous conditions and only saw the light of day when the eldest had to be hospitalised. After initially protesting that the whole nation could not be held responsible for the actions of one man the Austrian press began the painful process of self examination. “Many of these answers are slumbering deep in ourselves” wrote the Kurier in an editorial which tried to get beyond the veneer of respectability. The Bible puts its finger on it; “There is no-one righteous, not even one” writes St Paul in Romans Chapter 3. Sadly thorns grow in God’s garden and they are reproduced in us. Graphically they were placed on Jesus’s head on the cross illustrating our sins laid on him. For those who turn from their wrongdoing and trust completely in Jesus a fruitful life awaits. As the writer to Hebrews puts it; Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

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The Word on the Week

Familyside

We are all too familiar with the horrors of suicide but now another phenomenon has hit the Irish scene where a family dies together. The tragedy is compounded by the thought that they may not have been of one mind and the setting fire to the house, as occurred this weekend, may not successfully conceal what led to the disaster. No doubt many factors contributed to the event but the notion that they would be together forever may well have influenced the distraught mind.

It’s only two weeks ago since Nuala O’Faolain gave a memorable radio interview reflecting on her feelings when confronted with terminable cancer. She highlighted the world of difference between thinking about your death and knowing your departure date. For her, it was the sense of loneliness this information created that made the difference between merely reflecting upon death and her present situation.

Her chief regret was the waste of all her accumulated knowledge, leading to the conclusion that life was meaningless.

Her desire to say her goodbye’s and fade into the dark may well be shared by many. Death is the ultimate paradox. It seems so unjust, so wasteful and such an unwelcome intrusion into life. It is described in the Bible as the last enemy. It’s articulated in the often repeated plea to the Virgin Mary for her intercession “now and at the hour of our death”.

The desire that it might be made all right at the end suggests that we know it has not been all right! Making peace with God, even if you are not sure of his existence, has a near universal appeal.

Leaving getting right with God till the end presupposed that to do so earlier would somehow be restrictive. Whereas the elderly farmer’s cheerful answer to the hospital chaplain, “I thatched my roof in the summer” testifies to the wisdom of accepting God’s offer of forgiveness to prodigals who come to him in the prime of life.

The Bible never promises us tomorrow but it does offer us the opportunity to come to him today. In St Paul’s words, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” Thatch your roof in the summer!

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The Word on the Week

A tale of two heads

It must have been perplexing for President Mugabe to read of the Taoiseach’s resignation so soon after he had won another five years in office.

In Zimbabwe the man in charge makes the rules and if they are found to limit his power he can change them. In Ireland the Leader pays lip service to upholding the rules while using everything in his power to get round them. What the heads of both countries have in common is the desire to retain their jobs whatever the circumstances they find themselves in.

Their motivation is simple. They believe it is good for their people that they remain at the helm. Of this they are quite certain. Their people may not be so sure! Any accumulation of assets that accrue to them in the course of their duties are understood to be to assist them in their task of governance – a modest recompense for their vision and enterprise.

The levers of power may be sharper in Zimbabwe with an army and police force on call. In Ireland the available resources are rather less potent consisting of the incumbent’s native wit and a bevy of lawyers.

Of course our Leaders are, to a greater or lesser extent, a reflection of ourselves. It is us who put them there. Our votes kept them in office. At election times there may have been some unorthodox methods used but we end up with a reflection of what we are like.

We want to control others while remaining outside such restraints ourselves. Laws are put in place to take into account these failings. Much human activity is taken up, not with complying but by looking for ways to avoid the law. We need a better moral compass.

One has been provided: For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. What St Paul is saying in his letter to the church at Rome is that through faith in Christ’s death for our sins we can do what no law can make us do – live a new life. This power to live as we ought is available to Mugabe, Ahern, you and me. And it starts with a simple prayer for forgiveness, a request to be changed and to have Jesus as my Leader for life.

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The Word on the Week

Martin Luther

This week sees the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King. The small town Baptist Pastor who found himself projected into the Civil Rights Movement and, recognising the grave injustices, set out to “redeem the soul of America”. His recognition that love, translated into non-violence, would win the day was inspirational and his speeches, quoting liberally from the Bible, heralded a new day. In the speech from the Lincoln Memorial Building in Washington he quoted Isaiah chapter 40, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” bringing hope of a better future to millions. He said, in his descriptive language, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope” little did he think that he would be that stone. In his final address in Memphis he etched his vision in the memorable words, “I have been to the mountaintop, I have seen the promised land”. The next day he was to enter it, cut down at the age of 39 by an assassin’s bullet. His memory is perpetuated in an annual holiday while the place of his death, now a memorial, is largely ignored, visitors to Memphis preferring to visit the home of that other famous son, Elvis Presley. In many ways this reflects the treatment his Master, Jesus Christ received. He was the one of whom Isaiah spoke. Jesus’s death and resurrection opened up the way for sinners to be forgiven and enter into a new life. Jesus too has public holidays. The fickle crowd enjoy the holidays but largely ignore the life and teachings of the one commemorated. Are you one of that crowd? If so read and reflect on the “Two Ways to Live” elsewhere on this site and you may find that you too are part of the outworking of Isaiah’s prediction.

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He Has Risen

After years of trying to produce a secular state in Stalinist Russia there was a large political gathering one Easter. At a defining moment in the proceedings someone shouted the words, “He is Risen”. Out of the mouths of the thousands present came the Christian response, “He is Risen Indeed”! The life of God in the soul of man is not easily extinguished. Most civilisations have the view that the soul is immortal but, uniquely, Christianity claims that the body will arise too. Our identity will be with us in the next life. We will be known to one another just as Moses and Elijah, although they lived in different eras on earth, knew each other and spoke together on the Mount of transfiguration. Some may say, “Others have come back from the dead”. What makes Jesus so special? Was Jesus simply another Lazarus? But Lazarus and all the others eventually died had a funeral and a grave where their bones were laid. Only Jesus arose, never to die again. He is the first fruits of a new kind of human life, a life in which the body is made perfect, no longer subject to weakness, aging, or death, but able to live eternally. With such a glorious future you might think that no-one in their right senses would shun Christianity. The resurrection is the mega miracle that would clinch for everyone! Wrong! Jesus scotched that idea in his parable of the rich man in hell who thought his brothers on earth would repent if he was able to warn them of his fate. Jesus referred him to the scriptures, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ St Luke Chapter 16 verse 31. It is by believing what God has said in the scriptures that we are saved, not through witnessing miracle no matter how dramatic. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” St John Chapter 5 verse 24. Jesus resurrection is the first fruits – “He has Risen” will become “They have Risen” to the praise of His glorious Name.

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The Word on the Week

St Patrick the Protestant

It’s now official; the Rev Ian Paisley says that St Patrick was a Protestant!   He might as well claim him as everyone else seems to claim him too.

The more remote the culture gets from his beliefs the more enthusiastically the culture celebrates his day!    It would be hard to find any resemblance of the authentic Patrick in any of the multitude of parades that bear his name although there is no doubting the commercial and community value of these occasions.

Patrick’s first visit to Ireland was as a slave and during the six years before his escape he had an encounter with God.    This is how he described it in his ‘Confession’:-

“I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people. We deserved this fate because we had turned away from God;…. This is where I am now, in all my insignificance, among strangers. The Lord there made me aware of my unbelief that I might at last recognise my sins and turn wholeheartedly to the Lord my God.

Patrick’s second visit to Ireland was as a missionary. As he said;

I cannot be silent then, nor indeed should I, about the great benefits and grace, which the Lord saw fit to confer on me in the land of my captivity.”

Patrick a Protestant? Perhaps it would be more accurate to simply call him a Christian as the concluding verses of his famous hymn make clear:-

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me! Christ below me, Christ above me. Christ at my right, Christ at my left! Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height!