The face of God

Facial recognition is in the news. This new technology can uniquely identify a person by analysing patterns based on their facial textures and shape. Facial recognition is now a security feature on expensive mobile phones and many people have biometric passports. Photo apps scan our photo libraries and identify people who appear in the different photos. But concern is being expressed because for some time private companies have been secretly scanning people’s faces and are refusing to say what they are using the information for. There is uncertainty about whether mass surveillance using facial recognition is legal or if it is an invasion of civil liberty.

One major premier league football club is considering using facial recognition instead of tickets at its matches. The technology would recognise the faces of fans and would be quicker than checking a ticket, although fans would still need to be searched before entering the stadium. To opt in, fans would register a selfie they have taken on their mobile phone, but the technology also makes it possible for fans to be identified from the growing databases of facial images.

Moses was a man who was given great privileges by God. On Mount Sinai he received the Ten Commandments from God who spoke to him “face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” However, when Moses asked to see God’s glory God replied, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. But you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

When Jesus, God’s eternal Son, came to this earth he revealed his Father in a wonderful way. His life, teaching and love for people revealed the heart of God through a human life. To know Jesus is to know God and to experience his grace and love. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Because of what Jesus did it is now possible for people to see the face of God and live, in fact, it is the glorious hope offered to all in Jesus. The Apostle John wrote, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

No change my heart shall fear

We live in a world of change. In the sphere of technology once state-of the art gadgets are suddenly out of date. Great changes have also taken place in the moral sphere. In Britain the absolute standards of the Ten Commandments have been set aside in favour of “British values” – democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; and mutual respect for and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. People do things because they believe it is “the right thing to do” rather than because it is the morally right thing to do. Relativism rules.

Change also impacts our personal lives. People who have worked for decades for the same company suddenly find themselves being made redundant because a decision has been taken “for economic reasons” to relocate production to another country. We lived in Deeside when, in 1980, the Shotton Steelworks closed putting 6500 people out of work in a single day. People’s financial future became uncertain because finding another job was very difficult. Life for many would never be the same.

Change can also suddenly come through illness or death. People experience life-changing events when they receive a diagnosis of cancer or have a heart attack or stroke. There are people now lying on hospital beds who have lost the use of an arm and leg and cannot speak. Or someone we have loved and shared our lives with dies, and we have to face the finality of death. Friends and family gather round to provide loving support, but it is not long before we must face the pain of loneliness and loss.

When life-changing events happen, we can find peace and hope as we trust in God and his Son Jesus. A well-known hymn expresses it well, “In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear; and safe is such confiding, for nothing changes here. The storm may roar without me, my heart may low be laid, but God is round about me, and can I be dismayed? Wherever He may guide me, no want shall turn me back; my Shepherd is beside me, and nothing can I lack. His wisdom ever waketh, his sight is never dim; He knows the way He taketh, and I will walk with Him. Green pastures are before me, which yet I have not seen; bright skies will soon be o’er me, where the dark clouds have been. My hope I cannot measure, my path to life is free; my Saviour has my treasure, and He will walk with me.”

The Lord omnipotent is King!

There is a power vacuum in Britain today because the general election gave no political party an overall majority. There is a spirit of anarchy in the air. Anarchy is a state of disorder due to the absence or non-recognition of authority. When there is no effective government individuals claim absolute freedom to do what they want. The consequences for society are potentially very serious. In the Bible there was a time when Israel had no king and “all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.”

This raises important questions for the future of our society and the wellbeing of every individual in it. How do we know what is right? Are we free to do anything we want? To whom are we accountable? The Ten Commandments provide a clear and coherent basis for a stable society in which every individual can flourish. The commandments begin with God. He must be recognized as God and be given a unique place. So, the first commandment is, “You must not have any other god but me.” God is supreme. He is the One who created us and to whom we are accountable for the way in which we live. We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength.

The commandments also teach how we must relate to each other. Our neighbour’s life, wife, possessions and reputation are to be safeguarded and respected. We must not to be covetous about our neighbour’s possessions; a very relevant commandment in our materialistic society. In summary, we must love our neighbour as we love ourselves. These commandments are not advice, but are given by God’s authority and are to be obeyed.

When we recognize the absolute authority of God and seek to live according to his commands we are faced with the fact that we all fail to obey his commands. We are all lawbreakers and sinners. We need to find forgiveness and experience God’s grace. The wonderful message of the Christian Gospel is that God, the Lawgiver, is also the One who sent his Son to save those who have broken his laws. Isaiah wrote, “He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.”

Amazing grace

One Sunday morning I was driving along the M4. The weather was fine and most cars were driving at, or below, the speed limit. Some cars and vans passed me doing 80mph and then, on a quiet part of the motorway, a car passed me doing about 100mph. It disappeared from sight very quickly. Presumably the driver felt able to drive at that speed because there was little possibility of him being caught by a speed camera.

A little further on we came to a short stretch of the motorway where there is average speed camera surveillance. Every vehicle, without exception, drove at 50 mph! Why did everyone keep to the speed limit on that of part of the motorway? Because, if they drove too fast, the cameras were certain to detect it and they would be fined and have points on their licence. The evidence of the cameras would make conviction certain.

Our fallen human nature means that we are all most likely to break laws when we think we will “get away with it” and, in many cases, we do. Yet our leaders seem to think that making more laws will change people’s behaviour. In 2010 a record 3506 new laws were introduced in Britain, 10 for each day. The task of enforcing those laws, and all the other laws, is becoming impossible. In the absence of certain detection, laws have a very limited effect on how people behave.

The most important laws are God’s moral laws, summarised in the Ten Commandments. Few of us seem to have a sense of our ultimate accountability to Almighty God for the way we live. However, the Bible, and our consciences, tell us that “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” When we realise that divine judgement is certain for us all, our sense of guilt and helplessness can be overwhelming. At such times, we know we need a Saviour.

In one of his hymns Horatius Bonar summed up his faith, and the faith of all Christians. “Upon a life I have not lived, upon a death I did not die, another’s life; another’s death, I stake my whole eternity. Not on the tears which I have shed, not on the sorrows I have known, another’s tears; another’s griefs, on these I rest, on these alone. O Jesus, Son of God, I build on what your cross has done for me; there both my death and life I read, my guilt, and pardon there I see.”

The right work-life balance

This week MPs will vote on a Bill to end Sunday trading laws. If the Bill is passed then, by the autumn, large supermarkets and stores will be able to open for as long as they wish, instead of the present 6 hours’ limit. Shopping will become a 24/7 activity for some. Shop workers, who object on religious or family grounds, will be able to give one month’s notice that they no longer wish to work on Sundays. In practice those who exercise this option may be discriminated against when they apply for jobs. There is significant opposition to the Bill, but does it really matter?

Rest really does matter. It is vital for our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. God intends us all to have a right work-life balance which protects us from being exploited and also from being taken over by excessive greed. The Bible opens with a majestic description of God the Creator. In 6 days he created the heavens and the earth and then on the seventh day he rested from all his work. He blessed the seventh day and made it holy. God’s example of six days labour, followed by one day of rest, established the work-life pattern for all people.

The Ten Commandments establish the moral and spiritual foundations for us all. The fourth commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigners living among you.” So, not only must we rest ourselves, but we must also ensure that others don’t have to work for our benefit or convenience.

God’s laws are not an arbitrary imposition on us, but are for our well-being and blessing. Creating the “freedom” to work 24/7 is really a new form of slavery which exalts consumerism and threatens to destroy people’s health and wellbeing and their family life. We used to buy apples from a self-pick fruit farm in Herefordshire which closed on Sundays. The owners were Christians and kept Sunday as a special day. Many people came to pick fruit at their farm on a Monday knowing there would be a better crop because the fields had rested for a day. Both we and the world we live in really do benefit from a weekly day of rest.

All work and no play

The summer holidays have arrived and many families have already gone away for their annual break. Children are looking forward to 6 weeks when they don’t have to go to school and there is no homework. Hopefully the weather will be good and they will be able to relax, play with their friends and do things they enjoy doing. They, and their teachers, will return to school in September refreshed and ready to start a new academic year.

We all need a balance between work and rest. So it is very sad that there are plans to allow larger shops to open longer hours on Sundays. Local councils will be allowed to extend opening hours if this might “boost economic activity”. The chancellor thinks there is a “growing appetite” for shopping on a Sunday and feels that some people consider shopping to be one of their leisure activities. There are understandable concerns that if larger shops open longer hours this will put pressure on their employees to work extra hours and some smaller shops may close.

The Ten Commandments, which establish the moral basis for our lives, include a commandment about a weekly day of rest. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

All of us, whether we are religious or not, need and benefit from regular times of rest. The proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is true. When we don’t have times of rest and recreation we do become bored and boring people. For Christians Sundays also have a special significance because they remind us about heaven and the wonderful blessings God has prepared for all who love him. At many funeral services these words from the Book of Revelation are read, “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.’”

It’s not cricket!

Moral standards are changing. There was a clear example of this in the first Ashes Test between England and Australia. The match was at a critical stage when Stuart Broad edged the ball and was caught by a slip fielder. The umpire did not see the ball hit Stuart’s bat and said he was not out. Stuart knew he had hit the ball, but stood his ground and continued batting, to the dismay of the Australian team.

In the past it would have been accepted practice for a batsman who hit the ball and was caught, even though the umpire did not see it, to declare himself out. This kind of integrity gave rise to the phrase, “It’s not cricket”, which describes unacceptable behaviour, something which is just not done. When the television pundits discussed the incident, many did not condemn Stuart’s action. Their reasons were that the umpire’s decision is final; other teams do it; or other team members would frown on any action which jeopardised their chances of winning the match. As it happens, the extra runs scored by Stuart and his partner after the controversial incident did mean that England won the match.

The Ten Commandments set out God’s moral principles. They are commands, not good advice, and form the essential moral basis for all human society. One of those commands is, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” Truthfulness matters to God, who sees and knows all things. Stuart’s actions were witnessed by tens of thousands of spectators and millions of people who watched the endless television replays and analysis. He knows, and so do we, that he acted dishonestly. In the heat of the moment he did the wrong thing.

It is easy, however, to stand in judgement on others and not to face our own personal responsibility for what we do. How should we respond when we do wrong things? We must never try to justify our wrong actions and certainly not try to change the rules so that what was wrong is now right. The way to put things right is to acknowledge our sin, to seek God’s forgiveness and, with his help, to promise never to do it again. The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”

Lessons from the Banking Scandal

The latest banking scandal, involving Barclays Bank, has led to the resignation of its Chairman. Their Chief Executive is also under pressure to resign. The scandal involves inter-bank lending rate-fixing, something few of us fully understand. The Bank has been fined £290m and has promised a root and branch review of its flawed past practices and a zero-tolerance policy to anything that damages its reputation. Politicians and leaders in the world of finance and business have condemned what has happened. Other banks are also being investigated.

It is strange that we should expect integrity in some sections of our society at a time when there has been a general rejection of almost all foundational moral principles. The Ten Commandments are not arbitrary rules which God has laid down, but establish the essential basis for personal morality and a healthy society. In recent years every one of those commandments has been undermined. God is no longer honoured and his Name and special day are treated with disdain. Honour and respect for parents is not taught or practised. The sanctity of life and of the marriage relationship has been set aside in favour of new moral “progressive” views. So why should we be surprised that some people steal what belongs to others, tell lies and covet money and possessions?

The systematic dismantling of moral standards in our society is very serious for us all. Some seem to believe that making more laws is the answer, but clearly it is not. We have never had so many new laws. Others appeal to the innate goodness of every human being and believe that education will solve all our problems. However, those involved in the banking scandal are highly intelligent and have enjoyed the best education, but still they acted dishonestly for their own gain.

The Bible presents a much more credible explanation of the problem we all face and of its solution. From the very beginning the Bible tells us that we are all flawed. We find it easier to break God’s laws than to keep them. We are not sinners because we commit sin, but commit sin because we have a sinful nature. For this reason God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to be the Saviour of sinful people like us. He died, not for his own sins, but for ours. Through trusting in him all of us can find the forgiveness we need and the power to live a new life.