Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas Day

A Very Happy Christmas to readers of my blog, your families and friends.

From the Bible –

Isaiah 9 v 6For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon is shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

1 John 4 v 14: And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.


Mum’s Christmas Poem 2015 –

The Saviour Comes

Into this darkened world the Saviour came,
Leaving His rightful place of heavenly fame,
In love He stooped to lowly stable birth:
To save His people, Christ came down to earth.

An angel told some shepherds He had come,
They left their sheep and came to Bethl’em’s home.
Wise men from far came bringing precious things
To give in worship to this King of kings.

How could this Babe rebellious man restore
To fellowship with God lost long before?
Only by taking human form could He
Lay down His life to pay sin’s penalty.

This penalty, declared in Adam’s day,
Was death for all who God’s law disobey,
Yet both the Father and the Son agreed
To help poor sinners in their fearful need.

So God the Son died in the sinner’s place
So that salvation could be all of grace.
Eternal life is freely given to all
Who trusting Christ, answer the Gospel’s call.

© JHS 2015  



Matthew 1:21 - " And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins."

What, shall we not remember the birth of our Jesus? Shall we yearly celebrate the birth of our temporal king, and shall that of the King of kings be quite forgotten? Shall that only, which ought to be had chiefly in remembrance, be quite forgotten? God forbid! No, my dear brethren, let us celebrate and keep this festival of our church, with joy in our hearts: let the birth of a Redeemer, which redeemed us from sin, from wrath, from death, from hell, be always remembered; may this Saviour's love never be forgotten! But may we sing forth all his love and glory as long as life shall last here, and through an endless eternity in the world above! May we chant forth the wonders of redeeming love, and the riches of free grace, amidst angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, without intermission, for ever and ever! And as, my brethren, the time for keeping this festival is approaching, let us consider our duty in the true observation thereof, of the right way for the glory of God, and the good of immortal souls, to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ; an event which ought to be had in eternal remembrance.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Defending the Faith in the United Kingdom: An Interview with John Blanchard



Tabletalk: What were the circumstances surrounding your conversion to Christ, and how did you become a Christian?

John Blanchard: Returning to my native Channel Island of Guernsey at the end of World War II, following my evacuation to the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, I soon became a card-carrying religious hypocrite. At my newly acquired stepmother’s invitation, I joined Holy Trinity Church and got involved not only in its regular services, but in the choir, the Sunday school and the Young People’s Fellowship, of which I became leader.

After leaving school in 1948, I joined the Guernsey Civil Service and was eventually transferred to the staff of the Law Officers of the Crown. It was there that I met a lovely young lady, who in October 1954 invited me to an evangelistic campaign led by the American evangelist Paul Cantelon. I tried everything I knew to avoid accepting, but the offer to join her proved irresistible. On the first night, I found the program disturbingly different from familiar Church of England services, but God’s Word swept away my prejudices and concerns, and a few nights later God graciously replaced my religion and feelings with repentance and faith, and drew me to trust the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior. (Three years later, I married the young lady.)

TT: How did you get involved with Christian apologetics?

JB: In 1962, my young family and I left Guernsey for England, where I became an evangelist on the staff of the National Young Life Campaign. Later, I joined the Movement for World Evangelization, and in 1980, I cofounded the organization Christian Ministries. Some twenty years later, when my ministry had broadened to include Bible teaching and conference ministry, I began to realize that in its ongoing evangelism, the church in the United Kingdom was virtually neglecting robust Christian apologetics, while atheism and agnosticism were rapidly gaining ground. I began to speak frequently on “the problems of being an atheist,” and in 1980 I wrote Does God Believe inAtheists?, which traced the roots and rise of atheism, pinpointed the fallacies in atheistic thinking, and presented the case for biblical theism and the Christian faith. To my surprise, it became an instant best seller and was named the U.K.’s Christian Book of the Year.

TT: How did you come to develop the popular Christian Apologetics project, and what are its goals?

JB: I began by speaking on “Does God Believe in Atheists?” in every county in the United Kingdom, and then I began to release DVDs and CDs covering various of its themes. Since then, I have authored another fteen evangelistic titles, each addressing questions unbelievers ask and pointing them to Christ. Along with Ultimate Questions, which was first published in 1987, these have some eighteen million copies in print in more than sixty languages. I also conduct Popular Christian Apologetics tours, largely in the U.K., and in hundreds of events I have tackled subjects chosen by inviting churches. The goals of the project are perfectly straightforward: to challenge unbelievers and to equip Christians to evangelize.

TT: What are the three most important things Christians can do to prepare themselves to defend the Christian faith?

JB: First, deepen their relationship with the Lord, so that their personal evangelism is the natural outcome of spiritual income. When Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin, they were rated “uneducated, common men,” but the clarity and boldness of their testimony was put down to the fact that “they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Second, master the Bible’s major doctrines. Get a grasp of the big picture and let this be the canvas on which everything else is painted. This begins with God’s aseity (His uncaused self-existence and independence) and includes His absolute sovereignty, in the exercise of which He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). Third, be alert to current cultural thinking and determine how best to counter it with biblical truth. In all of this, 1 Peter 3:15 is a good template.

TT: What is the most common objection to the Christian faith you hear from atheists, and how do you answer it?

JB: The theory of evolution, and science in general, have often been thrown at me as reasons for rejecting the Christian faith, and one must develop ways of dealing with these. It can easily be shown that evolutionary ideas have no explanation for human dignity, rationality, or morality, while science’s limitations can be pinpointed just as easily. For example, Richard Dawkins’ claim that “truth means scientific truth” is not even a scientific statement. On its own terms, it can’t be true; it is no more than a silly sound bite.

Yet the most common objection to the Christian faith is usually framed in the question, “Where is God when things go wrong?” On Popular Christian Apologetics tours, I am asked to speak on this subject more often than on all the other options combined. People are puzzled, skeptical, or simply angry that a sovereign, loving God could allow atrocities, wickedness, injustice, and hideous evil to take place on His watch. It is impossible in a few sentences even to summarize how I answer these concerns, but I often begin by positing the case if there were no God. This would reduce 9/11 to a spectacular, noisy, colorful rearrangement of atoms of molecules; it would turn solemn services of mourning for national tragedies into pointless pantomimes; it would make it futile for anyone who is suffering from physical, mental, or psychological pain, or trauma of any kind to seek supernatural help.

Most people have never thought this through, and when I sense that this is the case, I point them to a loving Creator, the violation of whose law is the root cause (though obviously not always the immediate cause) of all suffering. The next steps (though there is no rigid formula here) are to show from Scripture the immeasurable depth of God’s love, His amazing grace, the staggering sacrifice of His Son in the place of sinners, and His willingness to rescue us from our sins and to have us live with Him forever in the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21:4).

TT: What is the most significant apologetics issue of our day, and why?

JB: The 2001 Census for England and Wales revealed that 72 percent of the population identified themselves as Christian, but ten years later, this figure had dropped to 59 percent, while during the same time the proportion of those claiming no religion jumped from 15 percent to 25 percent. We can assume that “Christian” can be interpreted very loosely, but so can “no religion.” Both hide the fact that we live in an age permeated by religious pluralism. Even if we set atheists aside, huge swaths of people reject “God talk” as prejudiced radicalism and reduce quotations from the Bible as carrying no more authority than those from other religious books. Religious pluralism has inevitably spawned rampant relativism, which even claims that truth itself has been ripped from its roots. Yet archatheist Richard Dawkins’ statement that “all truth is relative” is a claim to absolute truth, so on its own terms it is false.

This points to the question of ultimate authority as the most significant apologetics issue of our day. The Christian apologist needs to face this head on. B.B. Warfield claimed, “If God be a person, it follows by stringent necessity that he can be known only as far as he reveals or expresses himself.” The Christian apologist must convey with conviction and clarity that He has done so.

TT: How can the church best prepare young people to proclaim and defend the gospel?

JB: The best preparation is to do everything possible to help them “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Courses designed to deepen their understanding of themes directly related to apologetics have their place, but there is no substitute for falling ever more deeply in love with Jesus. As someone the Lord has graciously (and very recently) led into a late-in-life marriage to a wonderful Christian lady, I can assure you that a training course is not necessary for me to tell others about her—only hearers are needed. The same is true of the gospel.

TT: What is the greatest apologetic for the Christian faith, and why?

JB: When I am asked which of my books I would like to outlast all the others, my reply is always the same: Meet the Real Jesus. This is because every other book ends by unveiling Him and confronting readers with His identity, work, and claims. It has been said that while apologetics can get people from A to Y, only the gospel can get them from Y to Z. I understand what this is saying, but I would prefer to go one step further and say that the Lord Jesus Christ, in all the glory of His deity, birth, life, death, resurrection, return, and everlasting reign, is the ultimate apologetic.

John Blanchard is an internationally known apologist and teacher. Dr. Blanchard is the director of Popular Christian Apologetics, a project committed to defending the Christian faith through broadcasting, writing, and teaching resources. His book Does God Believe in Atheists? was published in 2000 and voted “Best Christian Book” in the 2001 U.K. Christian Book Awards. He has written more than thirty books, including Right with God, Ultimate Questions, and Truth for Life. In addition, he is on the board of governors of Highland Theological College in Scotland and is a trustee and life vice president of Young Life.



Saturday, 12 December 2015

It’s time for doctors to apologise to their ME patients


For too long the medical community has dismissed 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome' as a mental illness which can be cured with therapy and exercise

By Dr Charles Shepherd
9:35AM GMT 07 Dec 2015

Back in 1955, a mysterious polio-like illness affected 262 doctors and nurses at London’s Royal Free Hospital. The hospital had to close for just over three months.

The outbreak was written up in The Lancet and a new neurological disease entered medical language: myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME, as it still remains in the WHO Classification of Diseases. "Myalgic" referred to the muscle symptoms; "encephalomyelitis" referred to the various neurological symptoms.

Others were not convinced that ME was a neurological disease, and two decades later two psychiatrists, without interviewing any of the patients, wrote a paper for the British Medical Journal where they concluded that the Royal Free outbreak was due to mass hysteria.

The mud from the BMJ stuck. Like most doctors at the time, I left medical school believing that ME was not a real disease and I would probably never see a case. I was wrong.

Ignored or dismissed by doctors, people with ME went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for long periods of time, often combined with harmful management advice – as is still the case. I can confirm this after developing classic ME following chickenpox, caught from one of my hospital patients. Some developed severe ME, becoming housebound or bed-bound with no medical help. Some never recovered.

During the 1980s, ME was redefined and given a dreadful new name: chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The term CFS trivialised a serious medical condition – the equivalent of trivialising dementia by calling it a chronic forgetfulness syndrome – and shifted the focus from a "disease" to a single symptom, "chronic fatigue".

CFS also brought in a much wider group of people suffering from chronic undiagnosed fatigue. A powerful body of psychiatric opinion convinced the medical profession that CFS was basically a mental health problem whereby people became trapped in a vicious circle of abnormal illness beliefs and behaviours, inactivity and deconditioning. In other words, there was no "disease" present.

The CFS model of causation resulted in two controversial forms of behavioural management – cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and graded exercise therapy (GET) – being recommended by NICE as the main form of treatment.

Now we have the PACE trial – the largest and most recent assessment of CBT and GET, which has cost the taxpayer almost £5 million. At long term follow-up, and contrary to what was reported in the press, the PACE trial found no significant difference between CBT, GET, adaptive pacing and specialised medical care.

Public reaction to the spin that has been put on the PACE trial results for CBT and GET has resulted in over 10,000 people signing a petition calling for claims relating to so-called recovery to be retracted and six academic researchers calling for an independent review of the study.

By contrast, in evidence collected from 1,428 people with ME by the ME Association, for which I am medical adviser, 73 per cent reported that CBT had no effect on symptoms while 74 per cent said reported that GET had made their condition worse. The MEA has therefore recommended that NICE withdraws their advice relating to GET.

On the progressive side of this medical divide are physicians and researchers who, like the patient community, believe that ME is a serious multi-system disease, often triggered by infection, but maintained by abnormalities involving, neurology, muscle, and the immune system.

In the UK, a research collaborative with a strong emphasis on the biomedical research has been established. And a major report from the prestigious US Institute of Medicine has recently concluded that ME is a "serious, chronic, complex, systemic disease that can profoundly affect the lives of patients". ME is not a psychological problem.

Biomedical research into ME is revealing abnormalities in the way that muscle creates energy, along with evidence of an ongoing overactive immune system response. New types of brain imaging are demonstrating low-level inflammation in several specific parts of the brain.

At the same time, a large multi-centre clinical trial is taking place to assess the use of Rituximab – a drug that depletes immune system B cells and which is normally used to treat a form of cancer called lymphoma.

The argument here is not with mental illness, which is just as real and horrible as physical illness. As with any long-term illness, some people will develop mental health problems where talking therapies can clearly be of help.

The argument is with a simplistic and seriously flawed model of causation that patients know is wrong and which has seriously delayed progress in understanding the underlying cause of ME and developing effective forms of treatment.

Opening the 2015 research collaborative section of neuropathology, Jose Montoya, professor of medicine at the University of Stanford, said: “I have a wish and a dream that medical and scientific societies will apologise to their ME patients.

I agree – the time has come for doctors and scientists to apologise for the very neglectful way in which ME has been researched and treated over the past 60 years. Doctors need to start listening to their patients and there must now be increased investment in biomedical research to gain a better understanding of the disease process and to develop treatments that these patients desperately need.

Dr Charles Shepherd is medical adviser to the ME Association

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Huddersfield woman Nathalie Wright talks about the misery of living with ME


In this thought provoking first person feature Huddersfield 22-year-old Nathalie Wright reveals how her life has been devastated by the crippling illness ME. Nathalie grew up in Pole Moor above Slaithwaite, went to Wilberlee Primary School, Crossley Heath School in Halifax and then Greenhead College. Day and night became indistinguishable

I lost my life as I knew it on November 1, 2013.

For many ME sufferers there is a date etched onto their deepest memory, the traumatic day they became ill with an often life-long disease. At my worst I suffered months of being completely bed-bound and was too weak to even clean up my own sick from the floor beside me. I only had the strength to shower every few weeks (sitting down.) I was 22.

Day and night were indistinguishable because most of the time I was not fully conscious in the way a healthy person is. I could simply pass out at any point.

When the crushing fog around my brain cleared even a little it only allowed me to be more aware of the relentless pain in my thighs and chest accompanied by a constant vice-like grip on my skull. A myriad of other symptoms danced round my body to a rhythm I couldn’t understand. Take away from this piece one fact about ME – it severely limits the patient’s capacity to function as a human being. I was reduced to a body on a bed in the prime of my life (yet in the grand scheme of ME suffering, I consider myself to have got off relatively lightly.)

My ME story began, as is very common, with a fever. I was a final year student studying English at Oxford University and was happy and fulfilled, looking forward to the future. When the fever hit I was working on some coursework and so asked for an extension as I just did not seem to be getting better. My request was denied.

The subsequent weeks were a blurred mix of confusion and helplessness as I felt myself slip further and further into the nadir of the disease. Why couldn’t I move? Why couldn’t I eat? Why could no doctors help me? You may think that with such a serious disease I would have been offered extensive medical support, but the opposite was true. Several GPs brushed me aside as being ‘a little stressed.’ When I asked another how long I could expect to be so severely ill she simply replied: “How long’s a piece of string?” Not only was I condemned to this tortuous illness, but my sentence was indefinite. I was forced to suspend my studies.

Months later when I finally got a referral to hospital (all the while languishing in a house I shared with strangers where I could barely cope to look after myself at all), I was finally officially diagnosed. “You’ll be back up and running in no time” grinned the specialist. I wanted badly to believe him but his words did not reflect reality.

As so often happens with poorly understood illnesses, attempts were made to psychologise my ME. I reluctantly saw a hospital psychologist who seemed determined to find a cause in my immediate environment. After 40 minutes of desperate floundering it seemed he’d hit the jackpot.

“Where did you go to school?” he asked. I told him, Huddersfield. Nodding sagely and narrowing his eyes he asked: “Are you having a hard time with the posh boys at Oxford?”

That was all the NHS had to offer me.

The relentless avalanche of ME symptoms completely took away my life and such a profoundly disturbing change in physical health is enough to drive anyone to despair.

I remember thinking, often, ‘I both feel like I’m dying and want to die so that I can stop feeling like I’m dying.’

Yet I think the worst consequence of such a disease is the sheer loneliness of it. I saved and treasured my scarce grains of energy to be able to have human interaction, often spending more energy on masking my symptoms and trying to appear as well as possible – I was so ashamed of my ME.

It seemed impossible to make friends and family understand exactly what was happening. Common responses included: “You’re just depressed” or even “this is just an ‘illness behaviour’ and not a real disease.”

However, often complete silence is the most hurtful response. As is common when a young women is in any kind of distress I felt I was dismissed and disbelieved while at the same time I was also blamed for it. It must have been that I was working too hard; it must have been that I only did four hours of exercise a week instead of six; it must have been that I was doing too much exercise. This added up to me eventually doubting every aspect of my being and sense of self – something I’m still trying to recover from.

Oxford University is often a terrible place to be sick. Determined to finish my degree I struggled on a year later under what is an enormous workload for anyone. As is usually the case at Oxford, even though I had suspended purely on medical grounds I was asked to sit nine hours of exams (including my extra time) to be ‘allowed’ back on my course. My protestations that that would make me extremely ill were all but ignored, although I managed to battle my way to just one penal exam with my tutor’s admonishment to ‘toughen up’ ringing in my ears.

I want to end this piece by saying that my ME is currently extremely life limiting, but nevertheless, I have improved a lot and am much better than thousands of severe sufferers around the world who literally can’t speak and are often ignored even when they break their backs to utter a cry of pain.

There are in-person ME support groups but it is a recurring joke in my head that people with ME are always too ill to attend them anyway – sometimes black humour gets you through a bad day. I stumbled across one such voice online which is where the ME community thrives and is an incredibly supportive environment. This voice was so ill and in such pain that it was simply asking others how best it could kill itself.

ME was my gateway to the world of the sick and often the barrier between the two worlds seems unsurmountable. How can you verbalise your body? How can the healthy understand sensations that no body should feel? This is why, when sick people speak it is of utmost importance that we are listened to, and listened to without judgement.

For ME, more biomedical research is needed urgently. In the meantime, the skills of listening and empathy are free.

I, along with millions of other sufferers around the world, want help and we want answers. Oxford University recently published follow-up data to its 2011 trial undertaken in partnership with Queen Mary and Kings College universities. The trial aimed to prove that the best treatment for ME (which they call ‘CFS/ME’) is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and graded exercise therapy (GET).

However, the trial, known as the PACE trial, has been highly criticised internationally and in the UK. Dr Ronald Davis of Stanford University commented: “I’m shocked that the Lancet published it. The PACE study has so many flaws and there are so many questions you’d want to ask about it that I don’t understand how it got through any kind of peer review.”

Indeed, according to the trial’s definitions, ME patients were deemed ‘recovered’ even if they had physical function similar to someone with congestive heart failure. For me, the impact of such misleading claims not only increase the stigma I experience but is actively dangerous. GET was found to make over 70% of patients worse, according to a study conducted by the ME association.

The reason why this is so makes complete sense to any ME sufferer. The defining feature of ME is something called PEM or post exertional malaise (if one thing, ME has honed my acronym skills). This means if I exert myself physically or even mentally I will experience a worsening of all my symptoms, possibly for days or even weeks. If I walk too far at once (say 100m rather than 50m) I will feel sick and faint. Several times I have passed out in public or had to sit of the floor if a queue in a shop is too long. It’s humiliating, but I have thick skin now. I used to be a cross country runner.

The UK trial is contradicted by a landmark report made by the American Institute of Medicine this year which examined all the current evidence and came to the conclusion that ‘ME/CFS is an acquired, chronic multi-systemic disease characterised by significant relapse after physical, cognitive, or emotional exertion of any sort.’ In contrast to the PACE trial which selected patients solely on the basis that they experienced ‘fatigue’ for at least six months, the IOM report states that: ‘The disease includes immune, neurological and cognitive impairment, sleep abnormalities and autonomic dysfunction, resulting in significant functional impairment accompanied by a pathological level of fatigue.’

The report found that ME patients are more functionally impaired than those with type 2 diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, hypertension, depression, multiple sclerosis and end-stage renal disease.


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

While shepherds watched their flocks by night

A traditional carol for the start of December 

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

‘Fear not,’ said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind;
‘Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.

‘To you, in David’s town, this day,
Is born, of David’s line,
A Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord;
And this shall be the sign:

‘The heavenly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swaddling bands,
And in a manger laid.’

Thus spake the seraph; and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels, praising God, who thus
Addressed their joyful song:

‘All glory be to God on high,
And on the earth be peace;
Goodwill henceforth from Heaven to men
Begin and never cease.’

Nahum Tate, 1652-1715