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Saturday, 12 January 2019

Persecuted? Here in the UK?

A senior pastor of a local church has written a blog, posted on this website, about a boiler breakdown in the church building with an encouragement to come in on Sunday in extra clothing, at least until new units are installed. The main point of his post centred on when the new units are likely to be fitted, who the contractor might be, and the finance to cover the cost.

His rather cautious post also carries a paragraph reminding all his readers that the boiler breakdown and the resulting chill of the midwinter air is the worst possible scenario his worshippers will need to suffer, and therefore should not stand as a valid reason to stay away from their weekly services. He then makes a comparison between listening to a sermon with a nip in the air to Christians living abroad, where just merely attending church could cost them their lives.

At least in Israel, I was able to worship in a Christian church while at a nearby mosque, the call to prayer sounded from the minaret speakers. Oh yes, that call of prayer, set at definite times of the day. And how could I ever forget 1976, while at the Kidron Valley, where the Arab East Jerusalem residential district of Silwan echoed with the voice of a single male individual, or Imam, reciting his call to prayer tuned to a melody? The loudspeakers set on top of a tower amplified the voice to a level where it reverberated across the valley separating Mount Othel, on which the ancient Canaanite settlement once sat, from the neighbouring Mount of Olives.

How the Imam recited his call before the invention of loudspeakers has always intrigued me. Did he use a ram's horn, like the Jews did in ancient times? Who knows? Nevertheless, to listen to such a call several times a day echoing through a valley has really made me aware that I was in a foreign country, outside the European bloc.

Silwan at Kidron Valley, East Jerusalem.


However, the further away from the Mediterranean coastline one travels, then Islam becomes less tolerant of Christians. Until one ends up in Saudi Arabia, where Christians are seen as heretics. Hence holding a church service in an Arab city such as Mecca or Medina, the chance of a death penalty imposed by a Muslim judge stands as a high possibility. 

The persecution of Christians around the world is nothing new. Ever since Jesus himself was ministering, by the time he arrived in Jerusalem, the religious fanatics were baying for his blood. And thereafter it came as no surprise that the apostles and their followers suffered hostility, usually from the Pharisees and Sadducees. If my perception of Scripture and history are correct, then it does look as if all sources of persecution has a religious connotation. One good example is the Apostle Paul. He himself, as a Pharisee, chased after Christian believers as far as Damascus was from Jerusalem, and he did it under the authority of Jewish priests, whose letters of consent were carried on him.

Then after his conversion, his mission was constantly impeded by the religiously-minded Jews who were trailing him. One example which I find rather amusing (by modern thinking) was the case in the city of Lystra (Acts 14:8-20). At one particular location (perhaps at a market square or forum) he saw a man crippled at his feet and had never walked in his life. Paul looked directly at him and seeing that he had faith, ordered the man to stand up. And here is the amusing bit. He did stand up for the first time in his life and probably praised God too. But the rest of the crowd were astonished at such a miracle taking place at their midst and sincerely believed that the two preachers were human manifestations of gods - with Barnabas being Zeus and Paul being Hermes. And therefore animal sacrifices were prepared for them.

But it was a group of Jews who convinced the crowd rather than Paul's pleading. And the Jews successfully turned the crowd against the apostles and with the miracle forgotten, therefore creating a barrier blocking the crowd from receiving salvation. Indeed, what Jewish religion has done was to turn a rather amusing incident into a tragedy.

Then inside the arena at the centre of Rome, Christians were sent to their deaths on a regular basis. They were fed to the lions or killed in several other ways. The reason for this was again religious. The Roman edict demands that every citizen must swear an oath that their Emperor is Lord and divine. But Christians insists that the risen Jesus of Nazareth is both Lord and Christ, and one with the divine Godhead. As a consequence of such a confession, they were thrown to the lions.

With the testimony of history, both ancient and recent, I have wondered how our modern-day English Christian would respond and cope if persecution of the physical kind was to erupt here. On a Facebook comment forum which trails the pastor's blog link, I wrote a teasing comment on the issue, proving that I have read the whole blog. My contribution received no responses, whether for or against, agreement or disagreement. Or no "likes" or emoji. And there is an emoji reflecting every mood, from laughter to tears, from shock to anger. Indeed, I wonder whether such believers are so thin-skinned as they are either apathetic, too uptight or even upset by the tease to make any response, even if just by posting an appropriate emoji. 

Perhaps an invasion of Muslims into this country and turning it into an Islamic State may actually do good for our churches and to them! At least in three ways. Sure, Islamic persecution of Christians will indeed shake off the cultural dross clinging to all of us as believers, myself included. And such persecution would sort out the committed from the nominal, the regenerated from the mere professor. In turn, the Muslims will receive testimonies that this Jesus we believe in is the risen Christ, the Son of God, and be saved.

Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, Surrey.


If the Adversary has always been behind physical persecution of the churches, then his purpose was a complete failure. Through such oppression, the churches were purified from any worldly dross, and false brothers left voluntarily. Therefore he tried a different tact, one which was very efficient. That was to condition the grace of God into something that must be accompanied by a work of some kind. The Churches in the region of Galatia were confused by a set of teaching from some Judaisers, that in order for salvation to take effect, every male Christian must be circumcised. They have backed this with Scripture, particularly from Genesis 17:14, which says that any uncircumcised male will be cut off from God's people. Very convincing stuff. Little wonder that the Apostle Paul had to write a stern letter condemning such teaching, and cursed its advocates.

I suppose that the Adversary knows that God won't allow him to physically persecute British Christians. Or it may be that such oppression is not really necessary - well, at least if there is a far more subtle way of throwing a stumbling block at the churches. And that's through the mind rather than through physical harm. He has already tried physical discomfort, even to the point of death. It didn't work. The churches flourished. Their members lived purified lives and eagerly looked forward to the Return of Christ and to their bodily redemption and their promised glory. Their members all developed a close relationship with their beloved Saviour. Indeed, the more the flesh suffered an element of discomfort or was even destroyed, the more their spirits grew. 

Oh for Islam to invade Britain and start up a War of the Faiths! I guess that will sort out the men from the boys, wouldn't it? Or the true saint from the phoney. And one sidekick from all this is the Christian's stance on Divine Creation. I sincerely believe that those who believe in Theistic Evolution will either repudiate his ideas for the Biblical record or he will melt like a snowflake under the sun. 

Under such persecution, the Christian will be given a fundamental choice, and the choice is this: Is this Jesus of Nazareth the actual risen Christ who was crucified to atone for us? I think the making or breaking of his faith depends a lot on whether he believes in the Biblical record recorded in the early chapters of Genesis, or whether he has always believed in Evolution, theistic or otherwise. After all, if all the Old Testament saints believed in the Genesis record, as Jesus himself did, along with all the apostles and their followers, then who are we to think we know better?

But theistic evolution is not only the central core of our English brothers in Christ. What I have seen, a university degree is very high on the believer's order of importance. Now, to hold a degree of higher education is not so bad in itself. Rather, it can be an excellent commodity, opening a wealth of vocational opportunities. But I wonder what effect would Islamic persecution of Christians in this land would have on them? If their degree was to get in the way of a wholehearted faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Saviour or deny the reality of God's love to keep his high-income career?

Or here is another one: Social status. Over more than forty years as a Christian, one characteristic that is so well cherished by both Christian men and women is being middle-class. I guess this is inextricably linked to a high level of education and a profession with a high income. Throughout the years, I have seen far more computer experts than refuse collectors. As a matter of fact, I have never seen a believing dustman worshipping in church throughout the last 46 years as a Christian! However, I have known a few builders, two I knew have already gone to glory. However, there is a large student group fellowshipping with us every Sunday. Fortunately, I'm quite popular with them, but I do wonder where all this will go if persecution were to arise.

And there I need to look at my own set of circumstances. Okay, given a choice of limitless world travel if I was to deny Jesus as the Christ, or be banged up in a prison cell if I keep on confessing him. I think I'll know where I would stand on that one. Swapping a glorious crown for an air ticket is by no means a wise decision! Especially after touching down at Heathrow Airport, which I'll end up doing no matter how long I'll be away. But there is one situation where I would indeed be in dire straits. That is if my wife was kidnapped by a group of Muslims. Then given a stark choice: Deny Christ and she can return home with me. But refuse to deny Jesus as the Son of God and she would suffer a painful death.

Now that would be a real stinker, wouldn't it? My dearest beloved. I think this would require the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome this one. For both of us. For only God can empower her to encourage me not to deny my Lord, and I require the power of the Holy Spirit to keep on confessing him. But although such a situation is terrible, it is but a moment compared to the eternal glory to come. And both of us must realise this.

At Portsmouth Spinnaker Tower, 2011.


Under Islamic rule, there will be no more worries about church heating or boiler replacement. This is because, for its very survival, church members may have to meet in a garden shed, as the original building would be turned into a mosque. Not very nice during the Winter, but it's either this or scattered across the country. Furthermore, employers would willingly fire all Christians, and each has to find a way to keep bills paid, for it's quite likely that all State benefits will wind up for all non-Muslims. Perhaps many will also be made homeless as a result, and end up finding shared accommodation with other Christians. As for the National Health Service, only Muslims can use the facilities free to the point of use. Christians must pay the full price or face exclusion.

But whatever wretched set of circumstances every Christian has found himself in, one thing for sure, and that is every true believer will shine like glorious stars before a watching world. Their zeal for God and his Kingdom will be so intense that they will all be beyond reproach, blameless in everything they think, say and do. And rather than pursue the middle-class status quo, they would give up their bodies in an instant if this would bring glory to God.

But I guess none of all this will ever happen. English life is way too comfortable as it is, and our social-class culture is highly treasured. Could this be the reason why just a couple of days ago the hard-line Brexiteers and the far-Right hassled a female Tory MP outside Parliament to have all building of mosques stopped and Muslim immigration checked before our country turns into a caliphate? 


Saturday, 5 January 2019

Fascinating Facts, Another Year...

Another year over and a new one had just begun. And as I take a stroll outside, I thank God for allowing me to remain alive to see this particular day in human history. Yes, I thank God for just being alive. And that after considering how many people who were considerably younger than me, yet have already met their end, in many cases, unexpectantly. As the apostle James once wrote that I ought to consider the will of God when making future plans because nobody knows what's just around the corner (James 4:13-17). 

Therefore, I have come to learn over the years how precious life really is. I remember so well during my younger years how vain I felt over certain issues. The biggest was probably my position on the social stratum. Working class? Or should I say, a mere pleb? And I looked up to the middle classes with an element of envy. Maybe it was because my parents wanted to produce a successful son who would have lifted his family's social status to a higher plane. When I failed at school my parents were disappointed. Bless them. Who wouldn't be disappointed? Without a doubt, I would have loved to have seen my daughters attend university. I would have been so proud, witnessing my own offspring achieve a level I failed to achieve myself. And so it was no surprise having known how my own parents had felt.

Looking back, I have always believed that world travel has always been intrinsically linked to my social dissatisfaction. And who knows, I might not have been alone with this idea. For example, the Round-the-World backpacking trip I made in 1997 was partially inspired two years earlier by an Aussie builder who had a temporary job in the USA. When he shared his experience with me at an HI hostel in San Diego, not only did he inspire me to visit Australia myself but also reminded me of an Irish builder I had a lengthy conversation with at the backpacker's hostel in Jerusalem a year earlier in 1994. He related his experience to me of his year's contract as a construction worker in the Middle East, most likely on one of the new high-rise hotels which had back then recently sprang up in resorts such as at the Dead Sea and Eilat. 

San Diego Harbour, taken 1997.


However, my curiosity about Australia may have also been stirred a decade earlier during the mid-eighties when I was a member of a triathlon club in Reading, known as Thames Valley Triathletes. That was when a new member suddenly appeared at the swimming pool changing room. A tall, slim but very fit-looking athlete with longish hair and a high-pitched voice, he quickly made known his country of origin, and his six months stay in the UK sustained by his temporary work. What job he had I cannot at this point fully recall, but I think it was to do with computers. However, my dominant thought was, if he could travel halfway around the world, could I too? And if not, why not? In those days, after two trips to North America and to Israel in the 1970s, I was working to build my own window-cleaning business, and therefore I considered myself fortunate at that time to just cross the English Channel. Indeed, the mid-1980s was my "bleakest" decade for travel, if it can be classed in this way.

How I wished that I was more mature in Christ during those days as a singleton! Such would have saved me from much of this emotional turmoil. But I guess being in a healthy and robust marriage goes a long way towards a better sense of self-esteem. And with this heightened sense of self-worth as a husband, comes my greater appreciation of God's goodness. And when it came to retirement, a permanent ceasing of work, I knew that I had arrived at a major turning point. It was a reminder that I wasn't getting any younger, but more of the feeling of having one foot already in the grave. I guess I have achieved a new title based entirely on my present income - a pensioner.

And by my sudden realisation that I'm in this present phase of life has come a long way in my acknowledgement of God's goodness, his grace and mercy. Knowing that since gestation, my heartbeat was sustained by him together with the bloodstream in full flow, along with all other involuntary functions such as digestion, organ secretions such as from the liver, spleen and pancreas, the ability to see and hear, and (most of the time) involuntary breathing. And also the immune system, still little understood by science, and the vast complexity of the brain and nerve function, and the skeletal structure providing such an adequate framework. Then not to mention the dizzying complexity of every living cell, its nucleus being the home of the genome, the very essence of our existence. Such as admission to God's magnificent design. Indeed, if the Father saw fit to send his Son to atone for us, then we must be highly esteemed in his creative powers.



In divulging into this, during the Christmas holidays, we watched a programme on the television, A Day in the Life of Earth, presented by Dr Hannah Fry. Just by watching I caught the significance of how God remains committed to sustaining all life on our planet, even over just 24 hours. There is volcanism, for example. Usually perceived as such a destructive force if too close, even wiping out expanses of woodland as well as burying whole villages under a flow of lava. Yet, according to the programme, volcanism is one of the main forces in creating land and balances out the rate of erosion. This sort of negentropy versus entropy keeps our planet from ending up as a universal ocean. Then there is another issue which fascinated me. That is, not only oceanic tides at work to sustain life, but the moon also has an effect on land too. Known as solid earth tides, the land which we actually stand on literally rises and falls by a metre every day. Yet it remains totally unnoticeable.

Also according to the documentary, volcanism is the result of Plate Tectonics, the moving of the continents caused by radioactive decay deep under the earth's crust, of the heavier elements to lighter elements, releasing energy equivalent to 27,000 Hiroshima bombs each day.

Then the daily growth of phytoplankton in the oceans, five billion tonnes of it each day. This absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, as all plants do. There is so much of it worldwide, that literally speaking, every second breath we take is directly linked to this ocean phenomenon. Also, the presence of phytoplankton is the cause of the largest animal migration taking place daily. That is of the zooplankton which rises from the seabed each day to feed on these minute plants, therefore keeping the oxygen content in our atmosphere well balanced. 

Then the discovery of a fine dust layer deep in an ocean cave in the Bahamas was identified as from the Sahara Desert. Each day, up to 500,000 tonnes of mud dust is blown across the Atlantic Ocean to fertilize the Amazon rainforest, another sponge for carbon dioxide absorption and a vital source of oxygen. I wasn't aware of any of either of these two issues. But God is, for it was he who initiated it.

Then, by using satellite technology, it was worked out that if the growth rate of all the trees in every forest around the world were assimilated into just one tree, then each day the tree would grow by three kilometres. A very important fact considering that our lives and that of all fauna depend on the forests.

Finally, the programme focused on our planet's relationship with space. Its orbit lies within the Goldilocks Zone, that narrow path where water can be frozen, liquid and vapour all on one planet at the same time. Its satellite has a size and mass just right to keep the Earth's rotation steady and to avoid wobbling like a spinning top slowing down. In turn, the sun is one of a great many stars orbiting the core of the galaxy at a velocity of 828,000 km/hour, or 19,872,000 km every 24 hours, or approximately 12,266,667 miles each 24-hour day. In turn, the whole galaxy itself is moving through the cosmos at a velocity of 2,000,000 km per hour, or 48,000,000 per 24-hour day (approx 29,630,000 miles).

That means if at 12.00 noon today I was at a particular location in the universe, that means I will not be at the same location at twelve noon tomorrow. And never again shall I be at that same spot, even after a full year - ever again!

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. - Genesis 1:1.

True science provides the most fascinating facts proving that everything around me, including myself, was by intelligent design, a divine Creator. Yet most people believe that all this came about by pure chance! Amazing, coming to think of it. Really, the only difference between the majority of mankind and of Creationists such as myself is that we acknowledge God as the Creator.

This should give me the right perception for the coming year. This great God who created everything fine-tuned to perfection, is his arm too short that he cannot save? Is his ear so dull that he cannot hear? Or am I lacking faith in him? I need to look back on my life, all sixty-six years of it. Have I ever ended up homeless, naked, starving or in prolonged poor health? Have I ever lacked resources to pay my creditors? If I can answer "No" to all these questions, then I can testify that God has looked after me well, even during the days I didn't know him. Therefore he who keeps the Universe and the Earth tuned to a fine perfection, why should he not take care of us in the coming year? 



Living as a Christian is not easy. It can be quite difficult. It has always been hard and this coming year will be no exception. I have already been diagnosed with heart failure. I have to spend the rest of my life on medicine, particularly on anticoagulants. At the same time, my love for my wife Alex will always bid me to remain her full-time carer as well as a husband. She will most likely suffer episodes of intense pain. She may be in-and-out of a hospital. And on this day, as I write this, it is Sunshine Saturday, the peak time after Christmas when Britons book their summer holidays abroad. The thought of a booked vacation greatly helps in bearing the long cold "Winter block of weeks" (as I call it) which follows the end of the Christmas break and can last up to Easter.  

But with Alex's condition, and perhaps mine too, the thought of foreign travel is out of the question. Yet we both miss it, especially when foreign travel is in my genes! But by trusting God, he will fulfil the desires of our hearts without the risk of putting ourselves in jeopardy while out in a foreign country. Then again, this line of thinking could be stemming from a lack of faith in God whilst abroad. And here is the difficult bit: Am I confusing faith with presumption? I don't know unless we both have a definite revelation that it will be okay to travel and be safe.

In the meantime, I'll make it my intention to trust in God in all things and be dependent on his goodness. Like that we can't go wrong.


Saturday, 29 December 2018

Tribalism? The Queen Was Right.

One of the downsides with Christmas is that in just one day it's all over. That is after a build-up commencing from mid-November until Christmas Eve, that part of the year when independent TV channel adverts constantly pushing items that would make ideal presents to our faces. This alongside Christmas carols sang at churches and cathedrals - especially at King's College in Cambridge, which appeared daily on Facebook since the start of December. Then, of course, the putting up of the decorations - and it wasn't difficult to tell who was better off - such houses were adorned with decorative lighting from the roof to the front garden. A demonstration on their affordability with high energy bills, I guess. Suddenly, from after Boxing Day, all those gaudy and glittering paraphernalia had suddenly taken on a tired look, spent, having had its day.

But for many, the highlight of Christmas day begins at three in the afternoon, the Queen's Speech on the BBC. But I'll be honest with you, we did not watch it. But before you gasp in horror and turn your computer off, please read on.



With my late father being a Republican, Royalty had never scored high on his agenda. But Mum was more keen on it, or at least with its rather colourful history. However, the boyfriend of my niece was keen to watch it, and I guess Alex my wife would have too, as she is a keen monarchist, more so than I am. However, it was afterwards on Boxing Day when the Daily Mail online had posted the full transcript, allowing me to absorb exactly what she said.

Her content included her plea not to let tribalism take over the culture of our nation. Indeed, it indicates a subtle way of looking at Brexit. The Queen has got it right. Those who voted to leave the EU had tribalism in their hearts and weren't too concerned about the direction of the Economy or its consequences. That was endorsed by the devaluation of the Pound on the day after the 2016 Referendum when compared to both the Dollar and the Euro currencies. Hardly a whimper was heard, especially among Brexiteers who saw, and still sees, a bright future of an Anglican nirvana.

As Her Majesty pleaded against national tribalism, protests against this plea began to appear on the forum thread beneath the online article. There were a large number of similar comments, but one in particular read:
She treats tribalism as if a bad thing! Without tribalism, mankind would not have survived to our day.

And the username of that particular writer indicated a keen Brexiteer.

Other forum comments also condemned her negative outlook on such a worldview along with the hypocrisy of showing compassion to the poor and the unfortunate while displaying her "solid gold piano" in the background. What amazes me was that the vast majority of comments centred on these two main issues: Tribalism and her "solid gold" piano. And there were not a few comments on that thread, but hundreds, nearly all on the same theme - accusing her of blatant hypocrisy as both Head of State and her lavish wealth. Yet I knew that had I watched the broadcast, I would have hardly noticed the piano. Even if I did, it would have had no effect on how I was feeling.

About the piano, as any qualified wood finisher or antiquarian would straight away point out, that a piece of furniture of that size made of solid gold would be an impossibility. For a start, it would be so expensive, that the price would be out of reach from even the richest of billionaires. Furthermore, that amount of solid gold would make the piano so heavy, that to move it would require a crane! Then I wonder how the floorboards of the Drawing Room of the Palace, where it is located, can support such a heavy artefact without eventually giving way beneath it. In reality, the piano is of wood finished with gold gilt. And it wasn't recently bought by the Firm, as these comments imply. Rather it was a gift to Queen Victoria from her husband Albert, and it stood there for the last couple of centuries.

When a later online article appeared revealing this rather sobering truth, the forum thread beneath changed altogether from being a rebuke to the Queen for being so anti-tribal and hypocritical, to be the best gift providence has ever given to the nation. Wow! I'm amazed by this. All of a sudden she is the nation's darling! According to them, everything she said during her speech was right after all.

And I agree. Her stance against tribalism seems to be an endorsement to the book I have recently read, Hitler, Darwinism and the Nazi Worldview by Jerry Bergman, which I bought at Creation Ministries International Conference, 2018. As I see it, tribalism is intrinsically linked with warfare. History is so filled with one tribe going to war with another. Even the historic section of the Old Testament is filled with records of Israel constantly fighting with the Philistines, with the Midianites, with the Amorites and other ancient tribes. Then again, World War II was about a contest for superiority. First, the Jews, considered unfit for their struggle for survival, had to be eliminated from our planet, then the contest for world supremacy. Who of the two leaders was the most advanced on Darwin's evolutional scale? Adolf Hitler or Winston Churchill?

As pop band, Frankie Goes to Hollywood released a hit in June 1984, Two Tribes, which features a video of two world leaders: American president Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union leader Konstantin Chernenko, both fighting each other in an arena, thus emphasising a nuclear holocaust which would have desecrated the entire planet and wiped out the whole of mankind.   



Pretty grim, this in-group/out-group attitude. Little wonder that the Queen was unhappy about it in the country where she is Head-of-State. Surely, tribalism goes contrary to the Gospel, doesn't it?

Indeed, the Gospel does not advocate the in-group/out-group attitude of tribalism. Rather, what the Bible recommend is that we all change our minds and believe that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Jewish Messiah and the risen Son of God (eg Acts 8:37 AV; 1 John 4:15; 5:1, 5). We call this change of mind Repentance. And on one occasion the apostles of Jesus Christ command that all men everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30). And Peter, in one of his letters, writes that the Lord is not slack concerning his promise as men count as slackness, but is not willing that anyone should perish, but all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  

I suppose that the entire population is divided into just two groups: Believers and unbelievers. But according to the Scriptures, God does not want it to be this way. Rather he wants all men (and women) everywhere to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). If God loves everyone who is born universally (John 3:16), then there is no room for tribalism. Indeed, John says that the light of Christ shines into every person who is born into this world (John 1:4 and 9).

This universal desire for God to have all men and women come to him for salvation, to be reconciled to him and receive eternal life, looks to all the world why we are here. Maybe that is the bedrock on which my political views rests upon - and therefore voted to remain in the European Union. I am not ashamed of my decision but admit this openly. With the mixing of peoples from different nationalities, maybe the Gospel will spread further. Such a good case of this is found in the second chapter of Acts. Here up to fifteen locations are named, all with their own tongue, yet all understood the universal language of Aramaic and of them, three thousand believed. Sure enough, they were all Jews and even their converts (proselytes) worshipping at the Hebrew feast of Pentecost, yet each was able to receive and believe the Gospel.

True enough, Europe does not consist of Jews, even if they may be quite a number living there. But one thing which I consider to be very important. That every single person born is in Adam, Jew and non-Jew alike. And that remains true regardless of nationality. That is why I see Creationism as a fundamental bedrock for the Gospel. If Darwinism is true instead, then the Gospel is a lie and should be discarded, for our faith would be in vain. We are naturally born in Adam and we need to be regenerated to be in Christ, with his righteousness imputed into us. That is far, far more important for every individual than tribal nationalism or patriotism.

Oh, what a shame it is when my fellow brothers in Christ keeps on harping about Brexit, and to support a no-deal exit from the EU rather than risk becoming a vassal State. Supposing that the UK ends up as a vassal State of the European Union. So what? Will we become ill more frequently? Would we even die earlier? Or looking at the economic side, would we be poorer? Or for argument's sake, will dragons start flying across the sky? Er, I don't think so! Instead, we will carry on living on a day-by-day basis with a wounded pride until we are each called to meet our Maker.

Being reconciled to God before drawing our last breath is much more important than worrying about our national fate, whether it's for Leave or Remain. And that takes love rather than political division. Since it's the end of another year, I wish that every true believer in Christ would resolve to love and respect his brother rather than argue about politics.

How I long for Christians to put away their political differences and start loving each other! That is a good New Year's Resolution! On this point, I wish to share an incident which took place two weeks before Christmas. I had to take my wife to the hospital after an appointment with our GP. Whilst there, she suffered a severe episode of an acute backache which made her howl loudly in A&E. The doctor decided that she should be seen by a neurologist. Therefore instead of a discharge and a trip back home I was expecting, she was transferred into a ward to spend the night there. Fearing that she could be detained for weeks on end, as was the case in 2013, I burst into tears at her bedside and a nurse had to draw the curtains around our bed to lessen the distress my weeping would cause to the other patients. 

A little later, after alighting from the train at Bracknell Station, I called at the apartment of my good friend Dr Andrew Milnthorpe. He invited me in and together we watched The Apprentice. Andrew and I have opposing political views. He voted to leave the EU and he is happy to leave without a deal. I voted to remain and having lost the vote, I was happy with the proposed deal. We were as different as chalk is to cheese. But during the programme, he placed his arm around my shoulder and I rested my head sidewards on his chest. It was a sign of compassion he felt for me, allowing his love for God to cover all differences, to be one in Christ while I was going through intense distress.



I have not forgotten such a gesture, and I won't allow myself to forget it. It meant much more to me than any political issue. Therefore for this year's Christmas blog, last week I wrote a fictional story based on my real-life visits to the Church of the Nativity with the Star of Bethlehem in its crypt. The story was borrowed from the 1985 American movie Back to the Future. Having travelled back in time over two millennia, I found myself comforting a distressed mother named Rachel, whose baby son was slain by one of Herod's soldiers. In it, I had my arm around her shoulders, her head was on my chest while I spoke gentle, comforting words. As such, her faith in God was restored despite her terrible loss.

And so this should be our New Year's Resolution for all us Christians.

I wish you all a happy New Year. God bless.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Back To The Manger! - A Sequel.

I was one of many pupils sitting on the floor of the main school hall during morning assembly sometime within the mid-to-late sixties. It was the moment when our Deputy Head, a Mr Chapman, told us of his visit to the site of the Nativity in Bethlehem, during, I assume, his time of service in the military under the British Mandate governance in the Middle East. He described the site marked by a 14-pronged star located in the crypt under the main chapel. 



I absorbed the information both with a level of interest and also with some trepidation. Trepidation, because everyone who was not a member of staff was afraid of Mr Chapman. One false move, one word spoken out of place, and it's a dispatch to his office to receive three strokes of the cane across the palm of the hand. Gender was irrelevant. Both boys and girls were subject to such corporal punishment which occurred almost daily. Yet his information stuck in my mind despite religion being generally disliked by the pupils, especially among the boys, yet we all went along with the curriculum merely to escape punishment.

Mr Chapman eventually became the Mayor of our hometown of Bracknell during the early 1970s before passing on to meet his Maker. However, I have no record of anyone I know from the school of visiting the Middle East, let alone the star of Bethlehem. That was further endorsed in 1976, as a naive backpacker, I actually astonished the whole workforce at a precision engineering factory where I worked, after announcing of my lone backpacking trip to Israel. In other words, I doubt that any pupil in that assembly had ever bothered to make the trip to see for himself.

And so there I was, a young 23-year old and still green when it came to travelling experience, despite having done Italy for three years leading up to 1976. And by taking a bus to Bethlehem from Jerusalem, where I was staying, I managed to enter the Church of the Nativity and shortly after finding the steps leading downstairs, posed by the star to have my picture taken by a passing stranger:

A "picture of a picture" at the Star of Bethlehem, 1976.


Therefore, for this Christmas, I would like to continue with a sequel to the blog I wrote precisely three years previously.*

                                                                       ***

Once again I arrived at a garage in the city of Tel Aviv, wondering whether if by chance the Delorian fitted with the Flux Capacitor was available for hire. I was lucky. It was hired out earlier that day and was recently returned in time for a service and refuelling. The proprietor recognised me from my last call. Supplied with a spare can of petrol along with an all-important flask of plutonium, once again I was driving along the highway heading south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

But this time, I decided to leave some distance between the parked car and the town. Since as before, it was the start of the Sabbath, and therefore the highway was free of traffic. I made sure that the destination date was set several days later than the one previously set. This was with a hope that I would go through a very narrow window of time between the visit from the Magi to the moment they flee to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. Maybe it was because I wanted to be sure that Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus will leave safely.

I sped to 88mph. Just as Rachel's tomb began to appear at a distance - Bang! - suddenly the car was rolling along a dirt track on January 6th, 03 BC. The roughness of the ground causing the vehicle to halt at Rachel's Tomb, and I managed to push it out of sight from any passerby. It was evening when I arrived, the sunset making a beautiful display of light on the horizon. A passerby heading in the opposite direction greeted me in Aramaic, and then I recall that English here was totally unknown. If only I spoke Aramaic or Hebrew even. I realised that if I spoke fluent Greek or even Latin, I'll get by.

As I trudged along towards the village, I allowed my thoughts to ponder which I muttered under my breath.

"Different languages? Then I recall the story of Cornelius. When he and his house believed the message Peter delivered, so Luke narrates, 'they spoke in different tongues'" (Acts 10:46).

As I walked along the dirt road, I was muttering:

"A diversity of different tongues. I guess that in Cornelius' house Peter spoke in Aramaic, his home language, although he could read and understand Greek too. Pretty clever these people were - at least they were bi-lingual. I wondered how many tongues Paul the apostle had in his brain. Possibly Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin, the latter being Rome's native tongue. Who knows?

"Chances were that Peter delivered his message in his native Aramaic tongue, which was understood by his listeners. He might have been familiar with Latin, but with his disdain for the Roman legions, chances that he never got round to learning their language. But when they all believed, the Holy Spirit caused their emotions to rise to such ecstatic heights that they all reverted to their home tongue in praises to God, whether it was Latin or Greek, or more likely both.

"Different countries, a diversity of tongues. All within a mighty empire ruled by some cranky emperor enthroned in Rome. And he has subjugated the Jews and the Jews don't like that. Heh! that reminds me - Brexit. The English don't like being subjects to Brussels either. But at least the Jews can speak and understand foreign languages - tongues of former Greek and present Roman empires. Or at least Peter, a fisherman, can read and write Greek as well as his own Aramaic. I would be hard done by to find a bi-lingual working-class Englishman who can even write and spell his own language properly!

"Yet the Englishman is proud of his own identity. With a history of colonialism and subjugating the indigenous of other lands, they even gave sanction to Negro slavery for a couple of centuries before the likes of William Wilberforce came along. And they won't tolerate any form of subjugation now, er - that is, in my own time frame. Hence Brexit. Despite our politicians and 'experts' warning us that a no-deal Brexit would spell economic doom, the Patriots don't care less. As far as the Economy goes, to them, it can all go down the plughole. They couldn't be bothered. As long as they preserve their national identity - a culture to rule and never to be ruled. Such standing is worthy of any economic sacrifice."

Church of the Nativity, main chapel.


Suddenly I was approached by a squad of Roman soldiers on horseback galloping from Bethlehem and heading north toward Jerusalem. Apparently, I was invisible to them as they charged directly towards me, and I had to leap out of their way as they galloped past, just to save my own life.

As I walked into town, immediately I was struck by the wails, the screaming, the words of anger begging, despair. Women running pell-mell through the streets, into houses, along with their infuriated husbands shaking their fists towards Jerusalem. Among them were older children, including teenagers, all in corporal distress, their voices filling the air with utter despair. I managed to take a peek through the windows of several houses. In each was the husband tightly hugging his wife, both locked in their suffering. With them were tiny bloodied corpses of newborns and toddlers, their slaughter being the cause of this universal distress.

I passed the cave which I remembered accommodating the Holy Family. They were there on my last visit. But not now. Before Herod's troops arrived, they were warned in a dream to pack up and leave straight away, because the king wanted the infant slain. They must have fled to Egypt, leaving their former home abandoned, never to return. I stood with sadness into the cave, yet I was very grateful that they fled to safety.

I turned back into town. The wailing continued within the homes but the streets were quieter, with far fewer people out and about. It is as if the whole town had gone behind closed doors to mourn for their precious loss. However, sitting outside with her back leaning on the wall was a young woman with her dead child still cradled in her arms. I approached her and sat beside her, putting my arm gently around her shoulders. There was no one else with her. Apparently no husband or no other children old enough to survive the slaughter. Just her holding her dead infant boy.

Maybe her husband was elsewhere, maybe pursuing the horsemen heading north on his own steed. But as I looked upon her, I began to have an instinct that she was widowed. A responsible mother raising her only son. Now he who was so precious to her had also been taken. How her husband had died I could only guess. Maybe killed by a Roman soldier during a Jewish uprise? That's quite likely, as hostilities between the two nations are very intense, and has been ever since the Romans took over Palestine after a time of independence from their earlier Greek domination.

She lowered her head to my chest and shed fresh tears. All I could do was speak comforting words.

"I wish I could speak your language," I said. "Please trust in God. I know that your beloved son is now in Paradise. One day you will join him there, never to be separated ever again. I know, you can't understand English. But I can see that you have faith. You must believe that your anguish is known by God."

Slowly she looked up, her tearful eyes looking into mine.

"I wish you can tell me your name," I said.

Gradually her mouth pursed. "Rachel."

I almost jumped out of my shoes. How did she understand? Then she cracked a strained smile, and repeated, "Rachel".

Then I realised that out of love and compassion, the Holy Spirit has given her a gift of tongue interpretation. In other words, she has an idea what I was saying, short of a literal translation.

Encouraged, I then quoted a prophecy of Scripture which I already knew in my head:

This is what the LORD says:
"A voice is heard at Ramah, mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more."
This is what the LORD says:
"Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded," 
declares the LORD.
"They will return to the land of the enemy. For there is hope for the future,"
declares the LORD.
"Your children shall return to their own land."
Jeremiah 31:15-17.

Rachel looked up to me, smiling broadly. She arose, entered her house with her dead child still in her arms. She laid her child very gently on her bed. Then she offered me some refreshment. We both ate. There was a silence as we were both engaged in our thoughts. I was amazed. Her faith had made my faith look small. Likewise, her troubles make all my troubles look trivial. She has suffered a terrible double loss - the loss of her husband and the loss of her son. Yet there she is, believing and trusting in her beloved God, her God of Israel.

My own wife was alive and reasonably well, even though disabled and in need of a wheelchair. As for my three daughters, true enough, they were taken away for adoption, and we have suffered an awful loss because of that. But at least they are all alive and well, and as Jeremiah's prophecy, God has spoken to me with the same revelation. They will return to our borders one day. As for politics - well, her plight make all our political ideas look so nonsensical! Her country is ruled by the Romans with a high level of cruelty and flowing rivers of blood, sweat and tears. All we want to do is leave the European Union because it slants our sovereignty and steals our national identity, yet there is no violence, no bloodbath. On the contrary, the EU was set up to prevent or at least minimise bloodshed.

This poor woman has lost everything, yet her faith in God is a lesson for me. We stood to face each other, her eyes looking into mine and mine into hers. Our arms were also entwined as if about to hug, to wrap each other in a tight embrace. And embrace we did.


The Church of the Nativity, exterior.

At last, I said,

"I have come from a very far away place, where my wife lives. I must go back to where I came from. But I will never forget you. And furthermore, we will spend eternity together, my family with your family. Just stay faithful to God."

I watched as her face muscles move as if she was working on the interpretation of what I have said. Then placing her hand on my shoulder, she gently pushed me towards the door. She broke into a broad smile as I slowly left her room. Then in the dead of night, I made the walk back to the car.

Later, as I walk into my hotel room in modern-day Jerusalem, I checked for the safety of my return air ticket and passport. Soon I'll be returning home.

Wishing all you readers a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.




----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* Click here to read my original blog, on which this one is a follow-up.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

O Lord, Where are You?

What a week this has been! What with political turbulence over Brexit, however relevant may this be to many, my focus is on the physical pain and disability my beloved went through which led her spending a night and half a day in a hospital ward. With myself suffering emotional pain as I sat next to Alex's bed, my face buried in her chest while shedding tears of despair and blasted hope. Even one of the staff members had to draw the bedside curtains around us to minimise any distress my sobbing would cause to other patients and their visitors in the ward.



Not that an ambulance was called. Rather it was a sudden loss of her mobility, a similar state she found herself just over five years previously when she had to spend four months as an inpatient. Therefore all this involved pushing a wheelchair to our local GP, where she was told to visit A&E that same day. And so, armed with a letter, we actually made our own way to Royal Berks Hospital by combined train and foot. Later that evening, the doctor involved with her case recommended a visit from a consultant Neurologist, which can only occur on the next day. Hence, she was kept in. 

How could I ever forget that dreadful autumn of 2013? Every single day, after a full day's work, I cycled fast to the station, put the bike on the train, then cycled from Reading station to the hospital to spend two hours at my wife's bedside. Every day without fail. Then to come home to an empty house for a further couple of hours of cooking supper and watching the News or going Online. Then upstairs to the wide, empty bed amidst a gloomy silence.

Okay, it can be argued that I did live on my own in a bachelor's pad for twenty-three years until I met and married Alex in 1999. Therefore, this in 2013 should have been a very familiar situation. Actually, that was not the case. There is a difference as wide as the Grand Canyon between the life of a contented bachelor and that of a married man whose wife is kept in a hospital ward. Rather, at the time of our wedding, I was envisioning family life, with our offspring around teenage years doing their own thing, whether its shut in their bedrooms with all concentration fixed on the computer screen, or out in the local park kicking a ball with some mates. Or having spent her childhood "playing house" after a day at school, she prepares for the university. Or that matter, asking me to help with their homework, and ending up with myself being explained on this "new" set of unfamiliar mathematical formulas after growing up in the 1960s reciting the timetables.

Then not to mention the verbal tension and stress imposed on our household budget by one of our teenagers insisting on a new PlayStation, after insisting that the one he already has and works perfectly well, is no longer "cool". Or at the dinner table where a portion on the plate is mistakenly under/overcooked which would have aroused dissent. And as any parent would naturally feel, my desire for their educational success.

But it was not to be. It was never going to be. Instead, as my beloved remains in a hospital ward some twelve miles away, I warm up some dinner while the TV or Hi-Fi breaks the otherwise daunting silence. No, there was no way of comparing those four months with my earlier days as a singleton. And this week, here it is again. Alone in the house. But before all this, I managed to watch The Apprentice with my PhD friend, Dr Andrew Milnthorpe, at his apartment, which is conveniently near the station, before walking home. At least I could comfort myself that I was not the only one who literally shed tears that evening. The Apprentice candidates did too - in full view of the whole nation!

But this time being alone was only for the one night. However, that did not stop me from sweating in fear, anxiety. After all, the consultant could have easily kept her in for a prolonged period of time, like as in 2013. One of the doctors warned me of such a possibility before she was wheeled into the ward from A&E.

As I lay on the bed, I felt the world collapsing around me. It was as if demons haunted the air in the bedroom, tormenting me with the fear of the future. And this included financial security, a very important issue here for me. I can only claim a certain benefit on condition that we live together as a couple, that I'm permanently retired from work and on a State pension, and there is no other income. With Alex in hospital, I would be disqualified from claiming this benefit, which would set off an avalanche of extra expenses.

The next day, I found myself back on the train heading towards Reading. With me was a backpack containing some essentials for a prolonged stay. However, just before the train pulled into the Reading terminus, my mobile phone rang. It was from my beloved. She said that the Neurologist had seen her, talked and examined her, together with the Physio. Upon their optimism that she would part-regain her mobility over time, she was discharged with the belief that she would be far better off at home than stuck in a hospital environment. This meant that she could return home with me, a welcoming relief.

As I write this, her condition has improved, although still not to the level she was at before. 

It is during occasions such as this when I ask, Why? Why? Why us? As was during that one night home alone, I felt as if abandoned by God and at the mercy of evil forces. When a devil lies to you, yes, that is pretty bad. But lie to you with a Bible under his arm is a thousand times worse, believe me! And a verse of Scripture kept haunting me as goes round and round inside my head. It says this:

But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you will receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment (Isaiah 50:11).

That night I was doing just that: Lying down in torment. Having fear of the future. Also, I was already familiar with that verse. It means dependence on one's own righteousness and setting up one's own standards instead of trusting in God's righteousness. I asked myself, have I done this? Trusting in myself? After all, I was lying in bed, feeling tormented.

By assuring myself that all evil spirits are much more terrified of God than I am of them, after ordering the spirit to go away, I reassured myself of Jesus of Nazareth, his death by crucifixion, his burial and his physical resurrection, and with prayer, fell asleep.



For encouragement, I would just like to add that yesterday, whilst at the gym, I felt concerned about our future for the both of us during the middle of a workout. It was at that moment when I called out aloud to the Lord. Almost straight away I felt a rush of peace fill my soul, along with a reminder of a verse of Scripture:

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved - (Romans 10:13). 

At that moment I felt free from all anxiety and fears. Of course, it could be the "happiness endorphin" released from the pituitary gland into the bloodstream as a result of a period of intense exercise. Also, the word "saved" may not be always exclusive to mean eternal salvation, but can also mean deliverance from issues of the here-and-now, as hinted in Joel 2:32, from which Paul quoted. However, with Alex now back at home, I feel much better in relation to God and myself. After all, after sharing my distress online to my church elders, we were both covered by intercessory prayer.

Indeed, I ask, Why us? - after seeing so many Christian couples having done so well. A good education, a fulfilled career, healthy children who grew up as Christian believers, and they too are destined for university. They are a far cry, so it seems, from what we had to go through. If someone had said to me that to receive salvation you must be white, English and well-educated, I would have found some plausibility in such a statement! But I know that the Bible does not say this, of course.

But this does not stop me from wondering where is the Lord whenever Alex's condition set off a scene, with medics rushing to our front door. I find it all rather an embarrassment, this constant calling for an ambulance. How well do the paramedics know us as people who cannot put the phone down whenever she doubles up in severe pain? What wrong have we done to deserve all this? And why is it becoming more frequent with its severity? I was thinking about this earlier today. There seems to be a correlation between the start of my retirement and the beginning of these emergency call outs - as if all pre-planned.

But one thing I need to ask: Why all this is so bothersome? Obviously, it's because I love my wife dearly. Very much so. Therefore I would never in a million years want to see her hurt or in any form of pain. Because if she is hurting, I am hurting. When she's in pain, so am I. If I didn't love her at all, would I even care? There are stories abound about a husband who deserts his wife because she cannot live up to his expectations or even her poor health is giving him gyp. This includes Prince Charles and Princess Diana. He never loved her. That kind of attitude has always mystified me, especially among showbiz celebrities or royals like Charles and Diana. Yet I was always mesmerised by Diana's stunning beauty. I thought Charles was very fortunate there! 

Charles and Diana's marriage on the rocks.


And so am I when I married my wife. Even now I could never walk away from Alex. I love her far too much! And I know that she loves me dearly too. We cannot be separated. Therefore to watch her suffer causes me to suffer too. Yet I knew two men who had in the past earned my admiration. One attended our church before moving north to Scotland. The other attended another church which I once attended before 1990. Both these men had wives who gave them children. Then in both cases, the health of both wives began to deteriorate until they were each confined to a wheelchair. One constantly had saliva drooping from her mouth and therefore, she always held her handkerchief to her lips. Eventually, both women died prematurely at different times and different places and both have gone to glory. Until then, both husbands were fully devoted to their disabled wives. 

Compared to those poor women, Alex's ailment is mild. Unlike those other two, my beloved can get around the house unaided. But the two husbands stand as models of devoted, unconditional love, the same love Christ has for his church. And this, I think, is why we are in this situation. I believe God is using this to develop my character to be like Christ's, just as he trained up the characters of those two men.

If this being the case, indeed, I would want to be more and more Christlike. The Lord Jesus Christ is everything to me. How I long for him and how I long for him to love me right to the point of hugging me! If Alex's health is part of the process, then so be it, only spare the pain, please! Such episodes are very distressing!

Why I have to go through such character-building process while there are much happier, middle-class, problem-free Christians around me, I will never understand. But God's wisdom is infinite, I will never fathom it. But I need to be true to myself. I have a longing for these episodes to end and to see my wife restored to full health, no longer in need of medicine or the wheelchair while out of doors.

Al I can do is commit everything to God, and to cast all my anxieties onto him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Does God See Christ Or Your Sin?

Into December at last, that time of the year which has the Winter Solstice. That is, after six months of shortening of days and lengthening of nights, we see the start of the reverse, days start to get longer, nights shorter. And with the start of the month comes the Christmas season - the displays of fir trees decorated with light bulbs, baubles and fake presents, those gaudily-wrapped boxes which look so nice on the outside but contains nothing but thin air inside. And all those adverts, whether on TV, radio, newspapers, magazines - all of them bidding us to part from our hard-earned cash to buy presents for our friends and loved ones.

It's all a build-up for that one big day. In most cases, those bright illuminating decorations traversing our High Streets and shopping malls begin to appear as early as mid to late November, along with the city mall Christmas tree. It's all a build up, an annual build-up, to that one day of the year - with such a sort daylight span here in the UK, that by the time late evening arrives, somehow I can't help feeling that it's all over, rather like a balloon going pop after cautiously blowing into it. Suddenly, just like the residue left from the burst balloon, all the lighting, the tinsel, the fir tree, the row of cards, had somehow lost their magic, so it seems. Yet somehow, in this country, perhaps unlike in America where they are all taken down on the next day, here they all stay in place until, traditionally after the 12th day of Christmas - or Epiphany - they are all disposed of for another year.

It is during that particular morning when children open their presents with excitement and gusto, to find their favourite toy or game. Maybe the revealing of an electric train set, Lego, or Meccano which enthralled my generation has most likely been replaced by a computer, mobile phone or some other electronic gadget or wizardry which would never have entered our minds in my day.



Then comes the turn for the adults. I wonder how many homes, even along my street, let alone nationwide, have people still in their housecoats, unwrap their presents and then forcing out the words, Wow! Just what I've always wanted! - in their attempts to hide disappointment, a crushing anticlimax to a build-up of festive expectancy. Why is that teapot looking so much brighter and its colours so much more vivid in the catalogue photo than in reality? Or that ghastly jumper you would not be seen dead in, let alone wear at the office. Then, as one window-cleaning customer once told me, there is a queue for the store counter on the day after Boxing Day, all returning unwanted presents. 

It is the gifts which, I think, decides on whether a Christmas will be a good one or a bad one for the family. One relative brings as a present a computer software package or an updated PlayStation to a ten-year-old. Another brings in a well-wrapped tie. Sure enough, as foreseen by one benefactor happily looking on, while the other, shocked due to his total blindness to the boy's preference, watches with dismay as the lad greets the gadget with excitable glee and starts to set it up, while the tie lies quickly forgotten at the corner of the sofa. Indeed, how presents are evaluated by the recipients either makes or breaks Christmas. All that is the ins and outs of modernity, the growing up with the Christmas tradition as very much part of life where the exchange of presents are to be expected.

Perhaps one can imagine a group of shepherds out in the fields who had never seen a roasted turkey on show at the table with all its trimmings, along with Christmas crackers with their cheap trashy trinkets, all accompanied by tinsel, baubles, and torn wrapping paper squeezed into a nearby bin. Poor them. Over a span of two millennia, life without such niceties was much tougher. And furthermore, such an occupation in caring for sheep has made them pariahs of society. The posher guys of their day looked down upon them with disdain.

And after receiving an awful fright from a heavenly visitation, these men went off to nearby Bethlehem to see this newborn the heavenly hosts had informed them about. They entered the stable and saw the child, and believed.

They believed in their hearts that this child is the Christ, their Messiah, the future King of Israel, who will one day sit on the throne of his father David. From that moment onward they were saved. All their sins were forgiven, they were fully acquitted and furthermore, the righteousness of Christ imputed into their accounts, as was the case with Abraham (Genesis 15:4-6). As far as God was concerned, he saw those despicable shepherds in the same way he saw he only Son, even if as a baby he had done nothing whatsoever. They went away rejoicing, having received the best gift any man could receive. And that was without decorated fir trees, tinsel and Christmas crackers embellishing their dwelling.



Not long after, some wise men studying the night sky noticed a particularly bright star, and this was a revelation that the Jewish Messiah was recently born. At the moment they believed, they too were saved, even before acquiring gifts and setting off on their long journey. Throughout that trip, I doubt whether they mulled in their thoughts about any unforgiven sins remaining.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus performed miracles, even raising the dead, to demonstrate to all onlookers that he was the Christ. He preached a sermon upon a hill to show what the Law really stood for and to bring in the realisation that no one could keep the Law perfectly, together with the very uncomfortable fact that any acts of religion only worsened the situation instead of making it any better. He then concluded that believing in him as the Messiah is the only solution to the universal problem of sin.

That was so well attested by the sermon preached in Jerusalem (Acts 2) when up to three thousand Jews believed after the apostle had demonstrated from the Scriptures that this Jesus of Nazareth whom they crucified, was their Messiah, the Son of God. Sometime later, Philip was drawn to an African eunuch returning to his homeland after worshipping in Jerusalem (Acts 8:26-40). As the eunuch was trying to make sense of Isaiah's writings, Philip climbed into the chariot and explained the Scriptures to him, that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfilment of the prophecy. When the eunuch asked what was stopping him from being baptised, Philip simply replied, If you believe, you may be baptised. To which, as the AV puts it:
I believe that Jesus is the Son of God - (Verse 37, AV).

And he was saved at that moment before he was baptised at a nearby lake or pond. And he went away rejoicing, without the need to ponder whether all his sins were forgiven or not. He already knew that they were all forgiven.

Cornelius is another striking example. Here an angel calls to tell him to send men to Peter's house, about two days journey away. After he arrives, he explains that Jesus of Nazareth who was recently crucified, was buried and three days later rose again from the dead, is the Christ, the Son of God, proved by his Resurrection. At their moment of believing, the Holy Spirit fell on everyone in the house (Acts 10). And so it goes on. Paul and Silas with the Philippian jailer is another example (Acts 16:30-31). And there are others, but the theme remains the same: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.

And the idea of forgiveness of sins, receiving forensic acquittal, and to have the righteousness of Christ imputed into one's account - that is the greatest gift from God anyone can receive. And it's eternal. An eternal free gift, and not given on the basis of probation depending on the recipient's post-conversion worthiness, or else it isn't a true gift, but more of a reward for the recipient's works.

Many good and sincere Christians, when asked how I could be saved, responds with a statement like this: Turn from your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. That sounds spiritual, correct and fully orthodox. But by reading all the above testimonies, especially by the apostles, the words, Turn or repent from your sins does not seem to appear in their answers, but simply to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God. True enough, Paul did write a commendation to the church at Thessalonica that they had turned from idols to serve the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9), but as I see it, it was more of changing religion rather than dealing with general sin prior to conversion. Just as the three thousand Jews did under Peter's ministry. They changed from Judaism to Jesus Christ.

The shepherds were not told to turn from their sins. Instead, they received an announcement that their Christ was born and the baby can be found in a manger. That was all. They saw, believed and were saved. The thief on the cross wasn't told to turn from his sins either. He was already aware of his guilt. Instead, after recognising Jesus as the Christ, he asked him to be remembered when he enters his kingdom (therefore believing he will rise again). He was saved there and then. God is indeed willing to hand out his gifts, and not just for Christmas either.

And that was one of my problems which can still arise from time to time - a warped perception of God through Roman Catholic upbringing. Every Catholic is taught a to regularly confess his sins and to do penance in order to have his past sins forgiven, leaving the board only momentary clean before another sin is committed to stain it. To be set free from such a slave-driving master is easier said than done. Because I have been through this, I do have feelings of compassion for Roman Catholics in general. In a sense, they are my former brothers in the faith, and I long to see them come to the realisation that the Son of God has already set them free. If only they believe that forensic acquittal and the imputation of Christ's righteousness is available to them instead of working, working, working to earn Heaven after death, with a lifelong uncertainty of their state in the afterlife, I'm sure they would be far keener to serve God.

No wonder that many a Catholic end up as determined atheists, or more accurately, God haters. I know. I was one of them. There was a time that I hated God. I hated him because of my warped view of him. I had a perverted view of God gotten by thinking that he is constantly looking at my sin and shaking his head at any thought of me entering Heaven after my time is up.

And this perverse view of God, I'm wondering: Could this be behind the general falling away from the faith, to embrace Darwinism? Could this be the dreadful truth which lies under nationalism and its offspring, Brexit? If God is perceived as one constantly looking at your sins instead of seeing you as one in Jesus Christ, then it's difficult, indeed, very difficult to love and serve God. No wonder such a philosophy is the gateway to religious liberalism, and eventually atheism where the Bible as the Word of God is denied, along with its historicity. Religious liberalism also denies the Virgin Birth and the physical Resurrection of Christ. Instead, it embraces evolution and denies that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone.

It does look as if the general morality of the world is declining, just as the knowledge of God is in decline. But I tend to believe that throughout history, the general morality of the world was always in decline or in a low state. After all, since the Reformation in the 16th Century, the slave trade was in full swing throughout the 17th to the mid 19th Century, and with it, prostitution was seen as normal, with brothels touting for business found in every major city and town. Or at sea, piracy was rife, with the Pirates of the Caribbean being most famous, but also at Penzance and other oceanic areas around the globe. On land, anyone travelling was always wary of the highwayman, who would readily kill if his robbery attempt does not go right. And let's face it, during the days of the Wild West, would it be safe to live if even a slight dispute is settled by a shootout to the death?

Indeed, even the Dark and Middle Ages, approximately between the 5th and the 15th centuries, corruption within the Church was rife. The late Dave Hunt, in his book, A Woman Rides the Beast, a copy which I have, wrote that the most horrific monsters ever to walk this Earth were the popes during that period of time. Within that realm, prostitution, adultery, murder, simony, high taxes, antisemitism, and forced rule over nations and their kings were all rife. With the Inquisition, the history of Church leadership was indeed dire. But that should come as no surprise when the main theological standing was about God constantly looking at their sins instead of seeing them in the same way as he sees his Son.



The forgiveness of all sins - past, present and future, the forensic acquittal, the imputation of Christ's righteousness, the adoption into God's family as the Bride of Christ, having God the Father seeing us in the same way as he sees Jesus, along with Eternal Security of the Believer (Once Saved Always Saved), are all divine truths which ought to draw the believer into a loving relationship with his God.

But dilute or remove these truths, leaving God to see only our sins, then little wonder the world is in such a mess, a very stormy sea with waves tossing at great heights. And which no Christmas present can appease.


Saturday, 1 December 2018

Is My God Too Small?

I am now too afraid to travel.

Yes, you have read that right. I'm talking about travel, whether over a long distance across the UK or even abroad with my wife Alex. Or a more local trip alone by train across thirty miles to London or even just twelve miles to Reading. Indeed, what has happened within the last few years, and especially within the last six to twelve months? After all, as my regular readers are aware, I love to reminisce on my past journeys, whether it's a cycling trip to the coast, walking through the Medieval and Roman streets of Jerusalem Old City, Hiking the Grand Canyon or snorkelling over the Great Barrier Reef. Or how could I omit such an unforgettable moment when I stood at the foot of a waterfall as it cascades within the midst of a rainforest of Blue Mountains National Park?

One of several waterfalls I saw Down Under, 1997.


But now the very thought of travel is sending shivers down my spine. What is it which has transformed a spirited adventurer into a mass of quivering jelly?

Fear.

But fear of what? A heightened chance of harm? Being mugged and robbed? Even stabbed in the back? Or falling ill due to a bug or even a snake bite? Or breaking a bone in an accident? A need for hospital treatment while abroad? No, it's none of these. I was prepared to face such risks during my backpacking days, and praise to God, I managed to get off very lightly. Rather, it's the worsening of my wife's illness, despite her dependence on strong painkillers. 

Like the time a couple of weeks ago, when I was having a Cappuccino at Costa Coffee at our hometown of Bracknell. The mobile phone rang. It was a distress call from my wife, urging me to come home quickly. Fortunately, I was just a twenty-minute bike ride away from home. Once home, I found her on the sofa, her phone next to her, and unable to move. I managed to administer the medicines which were out of her reach, and by adjusting her position, successfully brought her out of her crisis without the need of an ambulance. But supposing I was in Reading or London when the phone call came through? With the need for train travel, there was no way I could arrive home in good time. There was no other alternative but for her to dial for Emergency Services Ambulance.

Sounds simple? Until she realises that she cannot get up to open the door for them. Yes, what then? The trouble is, there is no need for any kind of prompt to trigger such an attack. It is always imminent. And that is made worse by the fact that it is just us two living together. We have no offspring old enough to take action if their mother was to suffer an episode whilst I'm out. This is the terrible result of our society's brutal attitude towards a parent or both parents suffering from Asperger's Syndrome. This is a mental condition when the sufferer finds group socialisation difficult but has an obsession with a particular interest, maybe two or even three. Can you tell what my principal obsessions are? However, in our case, both of us are sufferers. And because of this, we lost our daughters through State intervention, to be adopted into another family.

Our eldest daughter is about to come of age. Unless she is enrolled for a university, she would have been a useful asset to our home. Even so, our second daughter, also being a teenager, would also have been very helpful in such a crisis. Our third daughter, although not yet a teen, would have still been old enough to contact Emergency Services. No doubt, the loss of our family through means of knowledge by the "experts" is a real and terrible loss indeed. Furthermore, such academia held by these professionals was originally written by psychiatrists and psychologists who have engaged in the Occult and held occultic connotations. I believe that to destroy a family without a proper justifiable reason is a wicked thing to do. I never believed that Asperger's Syndrome has any cause for our children to be taken. After all, history would reveal many parents with Asperger's and other disabilities who had successfully raised their children. 

I firmly believe that the loss of our beloved daughters for adoption, together with our being on the autism spectrum has been the dual-cause for my wife's illness. Back in 2013, she spent as long as four months as an inpatient at Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, after a series of gradually developing periods of a backache had finally taken away her capacity to stand upright and walk. Four months in hospital with the appropriate treatment has only partially restored her mobility to where a wheelchair is necessary for all outdoor trips. A now severe muscle-tightening backache comes and goes, and this is often caused by a physical jolt, the shaking of a vehicle such as a bus or a train, or by negative thought patterns, or even if she is in a happier mood.

Fortunately, I'm not ignorant of this issue, for I have studied it in a book written by a Christian doctor.* Formerly known as Psychosomatic Illness (meaning upset mind-sick body), it is easy for me to relate her present condition to the tragedy of losing our beloved daughters. Therefore it came as no surprise to me that after reading of the possibility of short supplies of medicine after Brexit as well as a possible takeover of the National Health Service by American private companies, the sheer anxiety she felt afterwards, resulted in a major episode where she not only suffered a severe backache but the tightening of her neck muscles causing a possibility of asphyxiation and her lips began to turn blueish. There was no other choice. The ambulance was called, which arrived promptly, as her threat of asphyxiation has put her as a First Grade category patient.

We spent much of a sleepless night in A&E. By the small hours, she was well enough to return home. I didn't get into bed until five o'clock in the morning. The following evening a friend called over the phone. Although an Arminian, he does have a genuine care for our welfare. He then kept rabbitting on about our overwhelming concerns about the news and current affairs. How are our concerns about the aftermath of Brexit has, according to him, obscured God from the reality of our lives? Simply because God is never acknowledged in the news. According to him, it's not enough to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and so I must keep on exercising my faith to experience any fullness of God. After several minutes of uninterrupted talk, I finally hinted for him to wind down. He seemed disappointed as if he had failed to edify me, and I put the phone down.

In other words, to him, salvation must be maintained by works. The snag with such a worldview is that the Arminian Christian can be prone to judging another person or group of people. In my case, my obsession with news about Brexit shows that according to my friend, I have little or no faith in God.

But could he be wrong, or misinformed?

Because while we were in the hospital, I leaned over Alex's gurney and prayed hard, saying that God is my refuge and strength, my rock, my fortress and a strong tower, into which the righteous run into and are safe. (Proverbs 18:10). I was convinced. It takes an occasion like this one to realise the powerful truth in those words. Before I thought about them, I was feeling very low, depressed and wallowing in self-pity. But when I declared aloud those words from my heart, over and over again, the depression lifted, and I felt far more hopeful.

The strong tower illustration is a good one for the name of God. During ancient times, the Canaanites, as well as Israel, had built walled cities which includes a thick-walled tower with a small doorway. When the city was under threat by an invading enemy army, the people of that city fled into the tower, and they were safe.

A tower in ancient Jericho, visited June 1976.


I do wonder, however, where is God in all this. Perhaps my friend over the phone has a point. I'm constantly living on a knife edge. I panic if her medicine runs low. There was even a case over two years ago when a female GP suggested for her to come off one of her main daily pills. When she arrived home, Alex burst into tears, leaving me to call on the prescription secretary at our surgery to explain that to come off this particular medicine would revive some of her previous symptoms, mainly of involuntary convulsions and further back pain as a direct result. The GP had not only rescinded on her intention but left our surgery altogether for another location, and my wife's medication continues as always. When I shared this with another church friend, he eventually asked me,
Where is your faith in God?

Oh, so easy for a man who is financially secure, has a healthy wife and healthy grown-up children. But for someone such as myself who had lost all three of his precious daughters for adoption, and to have his beloved so much younger, suffering a neurotic disorder which has no apparent cure - well, to have faith can be a little more challenging!

Therefore, if I were to say, as any spiritual-minded Christian would say - that I have full joy in the Lord - well, I wouldn't be telling the whole truth, would I? There are times when I literally tremble with fear of the future, like a boat which had lost its rudder, drifting aimlessly and without direction in the vast ocean. Then to hear on the news that a no-deal Brexit could jeopardise our medical supplies. Just thinking about Alex walking into a pharmacy for a renewed prescription, but instead receive an apology, causes me to tremble with fear. It really does. While all this is going on, there are Christians - yes, Christians, the ones who attend church each Sunday, who are also jumping up and down in rage over our Prime Minister's latest deal with the EU, bidding us to write letters to our MPs to vote down the deal in the Commons, and to go for a no-deal exit from the European Union.

Maybe my friend over the phone was right after all. It does look as though I am not the only one who lacks faith in God. It seems like most hard-core Brexiteers have no faith in him either, or else they wouldn't protest so loudly as they do. And it seems to them that leaving the European Union is far more important to them than the idea of Heaven and Hell, and for the sheer vanity of life under the sun as so well expressed by King Solomon. We are going to die. We are all going to die. There is no way of escaping this truth. Isn't it much more important to be concerned about other people's eternal state than to fuss over the sovereignty of England?

I could ask: Is my God too small? Is your God too small? Even Isaiah was faced with the dilemma:
Behold, The Lord's hand is not shortened, that he cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that he cannot hear...
Isaiah 59:1.

But the prophet answers his own question by listing the multitude of sins committed by the faithless. And really, none of us is less guilty. But seeing us in such a state, he sends his Son to make atonement for our own helplessness. And as the later verses of that same chapter foretells, this same Jesus will come again to rescue all believers and set up his throne in Jerusalem. Israel will then be the true sovereign nation, not England, which itself will be subjected to Israel. Brexiteers, do take note!

Jerusalem, 1994. One day England will be subject to its rule.


These are great promises we both can look forward to. But as I admit, at this moment it does feel as if God is too small, and his arm too short and his ears too dull to take any action. Yet history is filled with Christians who have suffered, imprisoned, and died for defending the truth of the Gospel. Maybe that's it. If I suffer the affliction of the body, my faith in God could well remain strong. But to watch my wife suffer an incurable neurotic illness afflicting her beyond any form of control, well that is another matter.

I need to grasp that well-known verse written by Paul to the Romans:
And we know that all things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28.

That means Alex's neurotic ailment and my care for her both play an important role in working for the good for us who loves God or wants to love him. Too often, the reality of life, the stormy ocean of the political world, huge tsunami-like waves battering the ship, and threatening to sink it, makes us forget that God has only to speak, and the waters will flee away, or as Jesus spoke to the storm over the Sea of Galilee, and the air had immediately become calm and the water smooth. Just by a command from God's mouth. The same can apply to our situation.

But instead, he allows these episodes to happen. Not because his arm is too short, but because these are lessons for us to learn to trust in him for physical as well as spiritual life and salvation of the soul. Chances are that God will not heal us on this side of the grave. But until we step over that line and enter into glory, God will use these experiences to make us a more Godly couple, strengthening our marriage bond and made partakers of his holiness.
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*Doctor S. I. McMillen, M.D. None of these Diseases, 1963, 1980, Lakeland Publications.