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Saturday, 17 August 2019

A Grueling, Fiery Stairway to Heaven?

Nachi Falls in southwest Japan is 133 metres high, making it the highest waterfall in the country. It tumbles down a forested cliff, giving the area a stunningly dramatical setting. Near its top, there is a villa of temples, making this area a centre of the Shinto faith. Alongside the waterfall, there is a 600-metre long stairway where once a year, a group of pilgrims has to ascend and descend the whole length of the stairway until the leader declares the stairway cleansed from any spiritual contamination which might have polluted it. 

Nachi Falls, Japan.

Pantheism is the central belief of the Shinto faith. That is, every object has a divine spirit, known as a Kami, whether it be a tree, a rock, or for this case a waterfall. And because of this particular cascade is the tallest in Japan, it's believed that this very work of nature has the chief of all Kami. Give this divinity what it asks for and the prosperity for the whole of Japan is guaranteed.

And so this young man, in his twenties and holding down a job as a Government clerk, each year he joins a group of pilgrims, each carrying a massive torch made of burning wood, up along the stairway and back, until the route is cleansed from all impurity. Each torchbearer has an assistant who walks alongside to keep the burning wood under control, using water if necessary. To add to all this, each torch is huge and heavy, nearly the weight of the carrier himself. Although the young man is fit and strong, after five round trips he begins to tire. For a brief moment, he is allowed to hand the huge torch to his assistant, but must take it up again and continue with his journey.

Five rounds, or return trips, of the pilgrimage, would have taken him 6,000 metres, but then the priest still hadn't declared the stairway cleansed. How many more rounds the lad has to do before such a welcoming message reaches his ears, we were not told. But I would not be too surprised that he could have covered as much as 10,800 metres, which is over six miles in nine return trips. It may or may not have been that long. Or it could have been even longer. It was all up to the discretion of the priest, who could vary the length of the pilgrimage year by year. At last, when the stairway is finally declared to be purified, an offering of Kami and thanksgiving is made to the waterfall, and Japan can be guaranteed another year of peace and prosperity.

At another location, this time, in the African State of Mali, the city of Djenne boasts one of the largest mosques in the world, which is built of mud. Therefore, after the annual rainy season, everyone on the town volunteers to facelift the whole edifice by applying fresh mud, which must be kept wet with a constant supply of water, over the entire building (with the supplying of the water done by the women.) The roof with its towering minarets must be given special attention. A special place in Heaven is reserved for whoever reaches the pinnacle of the tallest minaret, and so, before dawn, a group of young men literally race to climb the turret. The first to get to the top can begin his duty with a sense of triumph. One participant has run, climbed and won the race over and over again for the last few years. The promise of Paradise is held to him for another year.

However, everyone who contributes to the project will have a place in Paradise. Therefore it's of no surprise that everyone able does his bit. Normally the entire annual facelift is completed in a day. 

Grand Mosque, Djenne, Mali.

Then there is the Shaolin Temple in China, which includes a monastery. Here we are introduced to a Buddhist student, in his late teens, who is training to be a Warrior Monk. This includes an extremely complex martial art of Kung Fu. This lad had to train for many years before the great day he has to take a twofold test. The first is for him to demonstrate the skills of his Kung Fu training. This includes the Monkey Climb, where he had to balance himself on a pole very much like a monkey hanging from the branch of a tree. Except that in Kung Fu, the "branch" is an ordinary pole which is picked up and carried around like any other inanimate object. To pass the test, the student had to perform his moves with lightning speed and split-second accuracy.

The second part of the test was to recite his Scriptures off by heart. Texts from the Buddhist Pali Canon, for example, were picked out by pure random by the judges and had to be quoted by heart, without any referring to the book. It was equivalent to me being asked to quote verbally the whole chapter of Luke 18 or 1 Corinthians 5 by heart without looking at the New Testament. And he had to get every verse, every word, right. Then he is given judgement over the whole two-part test. Fortunately, he passed, which enabled him to become a full-time monk. Had he failed, he would have to wait three more years before retaking the test.

A Warrior Monk at Shaolin Temple, China.

These three are examples taken from a BBC documentary, Sacred Wonders, a series of just two episodes. I was intrigued by how such non-Christian religions have such demands for hard work and tests of physical and mental endurance to earn salvation or even worldly peace and prosperity. But there is this one nagging feeling I had when watching these programs, maybe two nagging feelings. One was the feeling of sorrow for these participants and their mental and spiritual enslavements to these works to attain salvation, whether it's heaven, nirvana or a good life here and now (probably followed by karma.) The other feeling was how weak, inadequate and mentally, spiritually and physically puny I felt when I compared myself to these three young men living around the world.

The Buddhist student, for example. If the two of us were standing in that courtyard face-to-face, he would floor me instantly! No matter how many gym workouts I might have had. No matter how hard and strong my barrel-shaped biceps might be, strength alone would be no match for this student young enough to be my grandson. And then after telling him that I have read and studied the Bible for the better part of half a century, he dared me to recite a chapter, any chapter, without peering into the book. With my own sense of idiocy enveloping me, I would have to kneel and beg for his understanding.

All this is a demonstration of single-hearted commitment to their faith, and especially when such faith demands endurance to breaking point and never shrinking back. Of the three, I have to admit that the Buddhist student had displayed the greatest demonstration of commitment, even if that test - if passed - was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove his worth for monkhood. As I see it, the other two candidates may not be so spectacular, but they have to endure such tests every year for the rest of their lives.

Do I see such levels of commitment among Western Christians, myself included? That's quite a point, that! After all, there is quite a difference between a true Christian who was martyred under a fuselage of flying stones under Caesar's orders or stretched helplessly on the Rack during the Inquisition, and that of a modern middle-class college graduate and regular church-goer admitting his belief in Theistic Evolution in order to save face before a sneering scoffer. 

It has made me wonder of the times I hesitated to make an outright confession of faith to an unbeliever when I felt a sudden wave of embarrassment. I still ask myself what has brought me to such a state? Is it from a sense of self-preservation, unsure how the unbeliever will react? Perhaps, but it was not always like this. I remember the 1970s in particular when I never hesitated to confess Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the risen Son of God. In a sense, I shook the whole of a precision engineering factory, both among the office staff in management and my colleagues on the shop floor alike. Back in those days, embarrassment wasn't an issue.

By looking at the lifestyles of these three young men, I try to get to the source of embarrassment. The first is the lack of a sense of assurance. And I say this as one who wholeheartedly believes in Eternal Security of the Believer. Could it be from the subconscious echo from Roman Catholic upbringing, when the presence of sins in my life has actually placed a block on my assurance? Or the teaching of some evangelicals who insist that we are not securely saved, but only conditionally, and salvation can be lost if those conditions aren't met? These churchgoers are known as Arminians, after a 16th Century Dutch theologian who taught such soteriology. We have a few of these people in our church at Ascot, despite our Elders' stance in Once Saved Always Saved. Indeed, I'm literally disliked by one Arminian couple who has already condemned me to Hell as an unrepentant sinner! That can be quite disturbing.

Tied to all this is this theory pushed as scientific fact and universally accepted - Darwin's Evolution. So certain is this in the minds of unbelievers (and many believers too) that for me to proclaim Divine Creation as both historical and scientific fact to an unbelieving world at times makes me feel like an idiot. 

To sum up: A lack of assurance from God and a fear of man's rejection of the Gospel has overtaken my commitment to evangelise my faith to outsiders.

Oh, do I need a new backbone! How I want to overcome this fear. Fear is bang opposite to faith. It's not a life I want to lead. And yet there are three sources where faith, I believe, can be gotten - through prayer, the Bible and church fellowship. All three are equally important and are used for building up of faith (known as edifying, from an Italian word Edificio - a building.) One of the wonders of church fellowship is the ability to get together with one of the Elders for a chat over coffee at Starbucks, or even a pub. I had a few of these and I find them so uplifting. To be loved, accepted without judgement by other believers is such a lovely thing, a sweet aroma drifting towards Heaven.

Then there's prayer. If I don't know what to pray about, which is often the case, then just by giving thanks for the temporary pleasures will often lead to intercession or to other topics. Temporary pleasures include marvelling at God's creation. I'm fortunate enough to live right next to some woods, and especially in the Summer, such can inspire thanksgiving. This along for my wife, our home, our holiday memories, our finances. Then along comes confession of sin and supplications - that is asking God for things, especially concerning our health.

And a thorough knowledge of the Bible mixed with faith is another of the three sources. For example, one well-known Arminian preacher once said:
There is not a hint of Once Saved Always Saved found anywhere in the New Testament.*

By studying the Bible and absorbing its goodness into the soul, I can point to at least three chapters where Eternal Security is hinted at - John 10, John 17 and Romans 8. And there are a lot more found elsewhere, even in the Old Testament. For example, in 1 Kings 19:18, we can read about how God has kept or reserved for himself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal. This is not a chicken-or-egg scenario. Those seven thousand men were saved due to the imputed righteousness of Christ into their souls, and not because they simply decided not to bow to Baal. As with us, the salvation came first, then the sanctification.

Or the case of Job, who declared that he will see his Daysman stand on the earth with his own eyes, even if his own skin has long decayed, Job 19:27. And in Isaiah 53, there is one set of prophecies about how the suffering of God's servant will justify many (imputed righteousness) while he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, and by his stripes, we are healed.

Together with Jeremiah's prophecies coupled with Ezekiel's about taking out the old heart of stone and replacing it with a new one of flesh, for his sake rather than ours, I can't help but read Eternal Security into these chapters. Above all, Arminianism denies the Omniscience of God, a divine characteristic these prophecies so well attest!

And that was why I felt sorry for those three young men - a Shinto, a Muslim and a Buddhist. Like the Jew, and despite their heroism, they have failed to attain the righteousness they were seeking, according to Romans 10:1-4. This is because they try to establish their own righteousness instead of accepting the imputed righteousness of Christ which is offered to all believers.

As for myself, it is my prayer that God will strengthen my backbone (metaphorically) and embolden me to share the love of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and at the same time, rebuke any belief in Evolution which destroys any credibility of the Gospel.

* David Pawson, Cambridge post-graduate Methodist and holder of a B.A. in theology, an itinerant preacher and pastored several churches.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Illnesses - The Real Cause...

What a pathetic sight we must have been! Here we were, at Frimley Park Hospital, in the leafy county of Surrey, which is renowned for its wealthy, well-to-do population, perhaps the English version of Beverly Hills in California, but far less eventful and with a gentler climate.

My wife was an excellent sprinter, who would have left me behind at the start line while dashing to the finish. In turn, my memory was filled with swimming, fast cycling, and running, the three-in-one endurance race known as the Triathlon, with myself being a member of Thames Valley Triathletes between 1985 and 1992 inclusive, with one year as a member of the club's committee, and also the editor of the club's semi-annual magazine, Triangle.

Half Marathon, 1986.

It was during those years of peak physical fitness when, of these three disciplines, cycling was the dominant one. This included the 300-mile 483 km Newcastle-to-Reading sponsored cycle in less than three days, with some from our club alongside members of the Reading Lions. This was the inspiration for the End-to-End cycling accomplished a year later in 1990. The real difference between the two separate trips was while the Newcastle-Reading ride was fast, the End-to-End, which was completed in eleven days, was tedious, due to carrying our own luggage on our bikes instead of having a service van as was the case of the other.

What more can I say when it comes to a hilly hike along the West Coast Path, also along the Hadrian's Wall trail from Carlisle to Newcastle, or those lovely trecks across the Lake District, including looking down from "the Throne of England" (Scafell Pike) - not to forget the Manhatten City Hike or the Grand Canyon trails from rim to river.

Memories, memories - are they a source of joy or a source of torment? And so I was thinking as I sat in a wheelchair whilst wheeled by a porter from one department to another. Feeling melancholic as I endured intense pain at the knee joint. After an X-ray, the doctor came back to me to say that I have arthritis.

This was quite a shock! I have always interpreted this ailment as "an old man's disease." Arthritis is when the cartilage at the joint between two bones has worn thin until the gap - in my case, between the femur and the tibia - becomes narrower until the two bones threaten to touch. So the doctor tells me.

I was very concerned! Is normal living over? Will I be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life? Will I suffer sharp knee pains until I can have surgery? And being an elective, non-life-threatening procedure, most likely having to wait months, only for the op to be cancelled on the day.

How did this happen? Well, it occurred while I was preparing to exercise in the gym. I was approaching the rowers when all of a sudden there was this unexpected sharp and intense pain. I leaned on a nearby elliptical, trying to steady myself. I found that I was unable to stand up, let alone walk. Eventually, one of the gym's instructors saw me in such a state and along with her colleague, I was examined and an ambulance was called. In front of all the other patents using gym equipment, I was wheelchaired out of the gym to board an ambulance waiting for me outside.

Was it a coincidence that my knee gave way on the same day when Alex my beloved happen to have an appointment at the same hospital to have a cyst treated? After my knee was X-rayed and diagnosed, I was free to go when my wife arrived at the outpatient's department, having been given a lift by the same gym instructor who dealt with me that morning. After her ailment was examined by a consultant, it was decided for treatment straight away. That is, after a two-hour wait for her to digest the lunch she just had as well as being at the back of the queue of patients, all in need of day surgery.

It was during this two-hour wait when I allowed thoughts to pass through my mind. I dreaded life in a wheelchair or of constant use of crutches. Especially as a carer myself, I cannot afford to be incapacitated. Here we were, husband and wife, each in a wheelchair, next to each other. One has already received a diagnosis with no treatment on the horizon, the other also diagnosed and actually waiting for treatment.

Where have we come since our wedding day very nearly two decades earlier? Life in a wheelchair or on crutches? No more swimming? No more gym? No more walking and no more cycling? No more this or no more of that? The very thought brought shivers. It was a moment of blasted hope, a dread, the loss of independence. For example, for the church, I would have to rely on the generosity of others to give me a lift every week instead of trusting in my own two-wheeled steed. I kept on thinking. It could have been a lot worse. 

I remember hearing or reading stories of auto-crashes. If the driver or passenger survives, then he's likely to suffer paralysis from the neck downwards. Whether it's from a car accident, or from an act of daring stupidity, for the spine to break at the neck is the worst possible injury one could ever suffer. Permanent paralysis of the whole body from the chin down. Only today I read in a newspaper about this noted golfer, in his mid-twenties, who was away on holiday. He was visiting a water theme park which featured fast and daring flumes. So he stood at the top of one and decided to slide headfirst. Apparently, at the splash pool, he hit the bottom with such force that he broke his neck. After he was rescued and hospitalised, he is now permanently paralysed.

I try to put myself in his shoes. Just moments earlier I was in good health, fully mobile, independent, happy and living a normal life. Then this happens. All of a sudden, in one fell swoop, I lose everything except my life. The agony, the terrifying prospect of life in a wheelchair, completely immobile, and in need of constant full-time care, including being spoon-fed like a baby. What dread this would be! Realising that never again would I enjoy the freedom of mobility and independence I took so much for granted. If only I could turn back the clock, even by just a few minutes! I would have altered my fate by sliding feet-first, or even descend the steps if those behind me would let me through.

It was by realising the reality of such injuries, whether it's the patient's fault or the result of somebody else's error or an act of stupidity, that has brought me to my senses. What I had was a knee injury due to a life of wear and tear. I was not at all paralysed. Compared to total paralysis, what I have is a minor ailment, one I might cope with on a better level. Yet, as I sat and waited for Alex to be called in, I couldn't help but think about how I have taken all my blessings for granted. The ability to see, to hear, to speak, to walk, to run, cycle, swim. The ability to use my arms for all manner of tasks, including eating. The ability to kick a ball. Also, I was always endowed with the ability to read and write as well as to work out mathematical problems. All these things I took for granted and hardly ever gave these things a second thought. I also looked back to my days of travel, when it was quite easy to arrive at the airport to take off for a far-away destination. If left immobile, I would cry out for a revival of those glorious days. Indeed, to put me in the place of the former golfer would have brought terror! 

Aloud enough for Alex to hear, I began to recite this:
The Lord is my shield and my strength, my rock, and a strong tower, into it the righteous run and they are saved.

I began to feel my spirit rise as I began to thank God for everything I have taken for granted. And then I began to edify Alex, not to allow her faith in her God to fail. After this, I rose and fully supported by a pair of crutches, I tried walking. Despite the feeling of discomfort, I was able to manage some steps - a big improvement from the gym that morning and a source of greater hope - that life will return to normal. Today, while this blog is written, I took breaks and found that I can walk a few steps entirely without the need for crutches and without discomfort.

This leads me to believe that life will return to normal, but knowing that I have arthritis, I am now aware that my knee can suffer again in the future. The pain is imminent, it can come suddenly, at any moment. Whether walking, cycling, in the gym or even in the swimming pool, or during a church service, or while sitting in a train, or as a passenger in a friend's car, my leg can convulse in sudden, sharp pain. If such pain can literally immobilise me, like it did in the gym, then the situation can be catastrophic!

Really, by comparison to others, I'm not an old man. I have a friend in church who is two years my senior, yet his health is enviable. Therefore, at this point, I would like to ask: What has led me to such a state, and for that matter, Alex's illnesses?

Here I'm talking about illnesses which have developed on a gradual basis rather than by an accident. According to one Christian doctor with a lifetime of experience, nearly all illnesses are caused by an upset mind.* This GP has named nearly a hundred illnesses which are linked by an upset mind harbouring negative emotions. Emotions such as fear, persistent worry, excess stress, prolonged anger and bitterness, along with unforgiveness, constantly bearing a grudge against the wrongdoer.

Diseases such as cancer, heart attacks, strokes, alimentary canal disorders, circulatory disorders, disorders of the genito-uninary system, and nervous disorders are just a few types of illness which can be caused by harbouring unhealthy emotions towards someone, a group of people or an unfavourable circumstance. This doctor points out that the two adrenal glands, each one sitting on each the two kidneys, are responsible for many illnesses, as these glands produce the hormone adrenaline. Normally, adrenaline is a life preserver when coping with alarm. For example, when under threat of danger, adrenaline triggers a sudden fight-or-flight response. One true story is that of an adolescent who was with his father under his car as he was maintaining it. Suddenly the jack gave way, and as the car threatened to crush the father underneath it, the lad, in fright, was able to lift the car so his dad can crawl out from under it.

When the lad tried to lift the car again under peaceful circumstances, he wasn't able to budge it whatsoever. Here, adrenaline had its proper purpose. It was to enable the lad to act in an emergency.

But negative emotions cause the two glands to constantly secrete adrenaline. Emotions such as fear, anxiety and anger are the chief negative emotions along with hatred and bitterness. This cause higher-than-normal amounts of the hormone to be constantly pumped into the bloodstream, which will eventually upset the delicately balanced systems which maintain the body's health.

But we don't have to rely on a book to see for ourselves. We have the experience. Take me for instance. For several years the Big Three was the main cause for fear and anxiety. The Big Three are Brexit, Alex's health, and Future Financial issues. By allowing myself to worry over these issues has allowed adrenaline to constantly infiltrate my bloodstream. This has accelerated the wearing down of the cartilage lining the knee joint, bringing arthritis at a comparatively early age. That was why only this morning, while I was hobbling to Starbucks on a pair of crutches, I was overtaken by a man walking without any aid and who looks to be in his seventies.

This was confirmed by a recent newspaper report that those with a pessimistic temperament are more likely to fall ill at an earlier age than the natural optimistic, and probably die earlier too. But really, I have to admit my lack of faith in God. As I see it, Brexit is more likely a judgement from God rather than redemption or blessing. This is due to the nationwide rejection of God and the dismissal of the historical truth of the Bible, to embrace a lie. Personally, a nation which rejects God is not likely to be blessed.

Hence my anxiety, leading to arthritis. And here, I'm not blameless. Rather, I need to nourish and strengthen my faith in God's goodness, which would give me peace during such turbulent times. Faith in God is the only hope which will hold out in these last days.

*S. I. McMillen M.D. None of these Diseases, 1966, 1980, Lakeland Paperbacks.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Education. Intelligence or Vanity?

It was a typical weekday cleaning windows under dull, drizzly weather, giving the air a melancholic feel, when the turn came to call at one particular house on a street of privately owned homes. This particular elderly gentleman had recently lost his wife to illness, cancer, I believe. He answered my knock on his door.

I can't understand why you're out here in this atrocious weather! I'm not sure about allowing you to work on a day like this, he said.

Cleaning windows on a damp, dreary Autumn day was not exactly like spending a day at a carnival on a warm Summer's day, or the excitement felt while boarding a long-haul flight for a Round-the-World backpacking trip. Rather, it was either this or watching my wife and myself go hungry and into debt. Therefore there was no surprise on his part for my feeling of irritableness.

Atrocious weather? This? I replied. Remember what happened in New Orleans. If wind and rain can literally wipe a city off the map, then that is atrocious weather! Not this - as I waved my hand around the moist-ridden air. The client relented and allowed me to proceed with the task at hand.

I was referring to Hurricane Katrina, which formed over the Atlantic Ocean on August 23rd 2005, and passed over New Orleans nearly a week later on the 29th, taking with it up to 1,836 lives as it swirled over the city at 175 mph. The talk I had with this English gentleman was just a few weeks later, and therefore still fresh on our minds.

The effects of Hurricane Katrina, August 2005.

I believe that after 37 years of manual work, that is from the day I left school in 1968 to that dismal day in 2005, I have toughened up to the point of looking at adversity or even at danger with a smile. Maybe that was why such a negative attitude from this elderly gentleman took me by surprise, especially if he was around during the War or even having fought in it. Then, having lost his beloved so recently after decades of happy marriage would make him feel emotionally vulnerable, wouldn't it? Indeed, on that day I should have been more sensitive to his point of view rather than constantly worrying about home finances, even if I was always the sole breadwinner.

This mental toughening up against the knocks life throws at us, maybe that was why, while onboard the United Airlines flight to New York from London in 1995, one of the air stewardesses gasped, and said how brave I was, after I have spoken to her about the excitement lying ahead as I make my way to California with a backpack over my shoulders. Her reaction had indeed taken me by surprise. However, it was during a normal day at work, standing on a sloping roof while cleaning a window above it, which tested my mettle, yet was part and parcel of my job from which I received no praise at all.

As such, media stories of students committing suicide have always been a puzzlement to me! The majority of students who commit suicide is male. However, the latest case is of this British female from Milton Keynes, who so recently fallen out of a light aircraft while flying over the forests of Madagascar. At first, I thought that she was a victim of a terrible accident involving the plane door flying open mid-air and sucking her out. But it turned out that she opened the door herself and jumped out, despite the attempted restraint by both the pilot and another passenger.

The student, who attended Cambridge University, was out on a project examining a rare species of crab when she suffered a panic attack. She contacted her parents back in the UK, and they either advised her to return home just three or four days into her month-long trip. Or they might have tried to encourage her to stay and finish her project. Apparently, a heated argument developed, which on one hand may be an indication that either she wanted to cut short her trip and return home, or on the other hand, she was unwilling to return home so soon. But either way, she then leapt to her death whilst flying from her venue to the international airport.

The whole scenario beggars belief! Here she was, a student at Cambridge University, meant to enjoy one of the greatest privileges life can offer - to study and train to be a scientist, and to work in a laboratory, which would have been the envy of one such as myself who had to scrape a living outside in the cold, wind and rain. 

Yet she was not alone. Far from it. Rather, it follows other stories of undergraduates committing suicide as well as many more suffering from mental illness of some sort. And as I have already mentioned, the majority of such cases is male, which fits in with the overall majority of suicides across the nation. Our culture strongly encourages, if not actually demand, that the British man must keep his emotions bottled up, to keep up the image of stoicism, making self-harm an easier option than talking to someone who could help. But in the case of undergraduates, whom I perceive as very fortunate to enter further education in the first place, I have to admit and ask: What's going on?

This sort of thing was totally unknown in my day when I had to push a broom across the factory shop floor and endure smut, quite a bit of teasing, even verbal bullying. Yet I never considered suicide, but, as I realised later, as part of a process to toughen me up in readiness to face a challenging world.

The light aircraft in flight during the jump.

But here I had to be honest. When I found myself at work as a machinist in a precision engineering company in the 1970s, I did have an eye of envy towards the adjoining office staff. Their smart dress commanded far greater respect from society. They were the ones who did well at school and passed both GCE 'O' Level and 'A' Level exams while still at school, and landed good jobs as a result, even without having to graduate. A university graduate holding a degree was, back in those days, someone to be revered. Maybe this trend of "degree inflation" which affected more recent years might have coincided with the rise of mental health issues and eventually suicide. In other words, a degree nowadays is hardly worth the paper it's printed on, so the media tell us. Could that, along with the eye-watering tuition fees, be the reason why this lovely young woman ended her life so dramatically?

It is from this greater respect and a keener interest given by society to graduates and those who hold careers in the profession which at this point I would like to ask: What do you think of this blog? Is it well written? If by chance, you think this and all my other blogs are well written, then this is a result of constant practice, backed by my enjoyment of reading. Yes, I did attend evening class to study the English Language GCE 'O' Level at a local college some years after leaving school, and I managed to scrape through with a pass. Yet this was enough for a foundation to build my writing skills on afterwards. Mainly by reading other people's work and using them as examples to build my own experience.

This was not done with any reluctance. I recall as a young boy sitting at a table and writing letters to my relatives living overseas. How I thoroughly enjoyed it. And unlike many in my class, I did not find writing a necessary burden one must bear while wearing school uniform. I find the ability to string words together, a wonderful privilege given to me by God, and left with a responsibility to nourish this God-given ability.

And here is a sorry truth. If I was a graduate myself, I would have had a much larger number of page views than I presently have. Instead, I know of several graduates belonging to local churches who don't read these blogs. They give various reasons for this - they don't have the time, they are too busy, they are irrelevant to them, it's not their style. But none would give the honest truth, and the honest truth is this: Reading my blogs will rock their egos. That is to say, I pose some kind of threat. After all, someone with my background is not supposed to create anything to this standard. Instead, I should know my place on the social and academic ladder and stay there, perhaps with a daily swig in the pub and mixing among fellow working-class mates, yet remaining in lifelong ignorance and never to be taken seriously by the middle classes.

It was once a temptation to add Dr in front of my name on this page, but then I decided against the idea. Not only would I be deceitful, but chances that even among readers whom I have never met, they would see that my writing is considerably amateurish for a doctor. But working on what God has already given me is still the right thing to do.

And trusting in God, I think, is the real foundation for success. I could take Frank Sinatra's song My Way and look back at my life before retirement and say that I did it my way. But I much prefer to say that I did it God's way. Sure enough, I have never seen the inside of a university, the only time I saw the inside of an office was as a client, I worked manually with my hands, much of that in the realm of cleaning, for nearly half a century. Yet I have travelled the world, I have partaken in long-distance cycling and triathlons, I was even a pool lifeguard for several months when I was twenty, perhaps perceived by some as a "glamorous" job and maybe being as close to a paramedic as the job allowed.

I want to be seen at the Judgement Seat of Christ as one who did it God's way. And one of the greatest tools for going God's way is a thorough knowledge of the Bible, laced with the filling of the Holy Spirit. That is why I have always insisted that Bible reading increases intelligence. I can testify that this has happened to me, and I can assure anyone who wishes to read the Bible with faith in his heart that this will happen to him also.

And a heart-belief in the Gospel. The Good News. That is, God had created our first parents in God's own image. Unfortunately, their mistake brought sin into their lives, and we have lived with sin in our lives ever since, which means eternal separation from God. God gave the Law to Israel, showing all of us exactly what a pure holy life is all about. The trouble is, nobody was ever able to keep the Law perfectly. Even if someone did keep the Law perfectly until he stumbled at just one minor point - that was it. He had broken the Law, and must now face Judgement.

But God, in both his love for us and for his glory, sent his Son Jesus Christ, a man entirely without sin, to atone for us by dying on a cross, he was buried, and three days later he was resurrected from the dead. It was this third issue - his Resurrection - which makes Christianity stand out from all other religions. No other religious founder or leader was ever resurrected. Instead, their bones are with us to this day. The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was proof that he is the Christ, the Jewish Messiah. Because of his Resurrection, he can give eternal life with God to all who believe, having atoned for sin on the cross.

Christ's own righteousness, his perfect life, is imputed to everyone who believes. That is, God sees each believer as he sees his only Son. That is why the concept of Eternal Security, or Once Saved Always Saved, is Biblical. No other religion teaches this. Only Biblical Christianity. 

Eternal Security of the Believer is a life-changing doctrine. While at Sainsbury's superstore, I was met by one female who attends our church at Ascot. When I related to her about my wife's breast cancer and the course of chemotherapy she is at present going through, she was rather surprised about our lion's share of bad things happening to us. I could have said something like, "yes I know, life is always bad, unfair. Woe is me, in my sorrow, I go to the grave."

But I didn't say that. Instead, I expressed my determination to keep going, to keep on looking after my beloved wife, and thanking God for the NHS. And I know as I take Alex into my arms and look lovingly into her eyes, everything will be okay, even in her illness, for God is with us and he will never leave or forsake us. Once saved Always Saved. This truth is a foundation stone for us to keep going, no matter how bad circumstances can get.

That poor, poor Cambridge student. She had an enviable life, with the ability to travel halfway around the world to Madagascar, she was studying in one of the world's top universities, in preparation to work in a laboratory or as a field scientist. It was a pair of shoes I would have jumped into with enthusiastic glee. Yet she is no longer with us. What a crying shame! Because she had never known the TRUE meaning of life, and a university degree gotten at Cambridge wasn't it.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Oh! We Never Learn From History.

A week when Summer really means Summer. At least here in the UK, when a heatwave pushes the temperature into the thirties Celcius, which is well into the nineties Farenheight. Young men go about topless, proudly displaying their bronze muscular torsos, most of the others wear loose tops, and a small minority go about in business suits and ties. 

Ah, a reminder of Singapore on a typical weekday in 1997. The crowded sidewalks of Orchard Street were populated with almost a monotonously-dressed crowd of young male office employees with white, open-neck shirts, yet quite a number also wore ties - in hot and humid 38-degree Celcius air. The same sort of fashion I also saw in 1993 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on the ushering of the Sabbath - a uniformly-dressed crowd of black pants and white, open-neck shirts and each male head topped with a black yarmulka, there were some older men also wearing ties in the warm evening. Indeed, in my mind, as the tie is perceived as of very English origin, I have wondered whether the 144 years of British colonial rule over Singapore and the thirty-year British Mandate over Palestine had the same effect on the indigenous dress sense.

Meanwhile, a London-bound Eurostar train breaks down just outside Brussels, and our own train companies cancelling a third of all its services, especially here in the South where the temperature is at its peak, thanks to the threat of rail heat-expansion and buckling. Not to worry. With the threat of airline pilots and airport ground staff's looming strikes throwing cold water on the joys of those thousands anticipating their holidays overseas, indeed, Britain is heading for a golden future under the administration of our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Oh, the optimism! Like the human pride being the motive for the building of a city with the Tower of Babel so to reach into the heavens. Er, no. God had other plans and all was left was a stump of masonry rising as a low mound from the valley floor. A lot more recently, the floating glory of the British Empire, the Titanic, a ship which was the very zenith of Empire, and it was also said that not even God was able to sink, yet went down on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 15th April 1912. All by being struck by a huge lump of frozen water.

And how could I forget reading about the great Babylonian Empire of ancient times? What majestic power it had over the Jews during the fifth century BC! A kingdom of grand royalty, power and glory, which boasted the best military force in the world at the time, under which the Jews were a captive minor subordinate. Yet this great empire is no more, it has been extinct for the last 2,500 years, yet the Jew lives on, flourishing to this day. Therefore I had a sense of reverential respect as I watched a crowd of Orthodox Jews who were singing, dancing and praying at the Western Wall one Friday evening in 1993. How I revelled in the experience. Then a year later, in 1994, I found myself standing amid a thick crowd of Jews at Jaffa Street, out on a political protest against their Government giving consent to a Palestinian issue concerning East Jerusalem.

As I stood within the courtyard fronting the Wall, I became an object of disdain by one Jewish family who was standing nearby. I was bothered by their scowl, so I asked a passing young Jewish man to ask the family if there is a problem. There was. I was carrying my camera strapped over my shoulder on their Sabbath. To them, I was "working" even if I couldn't take any more pictures due to the post-sunset darkness. Or the time I watched a group of devout Jews throwing a few stones at a nearby TV cameraman for filming on the Sabbath. Indeed, Babylon, with its optimistic greatness, glory and power, is long gone, but among the Jews to this day, laws and judiciary customs go right back to the time of the Exodus, which long preceded the rise of Babylon.

History tells us that we learn nothing from history!

The reason for all these downfalls of pride, ambition and optimism is not difficult to understand. They are all opposed to walking in humbleness before God.

Jews crowd the Western Wall,  taken 1994.

As for me, I agree with the most devout of Brexiteers for a safe and secure place to live. I too want to continue to live out my days free from any threat of war, disease or starvation. I too, wish to see laws established to protect each citizen from being victims of crime and fraud, to see laws set up against computer hacking which could clear the victim's bank account without consent, a form of wrongdoing from which I was close to being a victim myself just recently.

But what I don't agree on is this want of an independent, sovereign State based on national pride and optimism for a "golden future" as that promised by Johnson and his supporters. In other words, for Britain to become a latter-day Babylon - an empire built on human and nationalistic greatness. The spin-off from that attitude is a nationwide snobbery shown towards foreigners. The quest for imperialism, that sense of arrogance and the smug superiority on full display towards the indigenous of the colonised land. Of course, this worldview has been thriving throughout history, including the Darwinian philosophy of the rise of the "master race" of Nazi ideology, with its resulting Holocaust slaying millions of "inferior races" such as Jews, gipsies, and other races which did not match their ideal for an advanced society.

Christians who are well acquainted with the Bible would rate the Babylonian Empire as a desperately wicked kingdom, especially when their forces killed and captured other states and nations, such as Egypt and Tyre and of course, Israel with its capital, Jerusalem, the City of David. Such a glorious city was razed to the ground in 586 BC and its inhabitants, including its king, was led away to Babylon. It was there where the Jews began to settle at their new home, a phenomenon which led to the rise of the Diaspora, still very much active during the days of Jesus Christ and the setting for the birth of various churches.

Although long extinct, the Babylonians had far greater respect for the Jews than the modern-day Nazis. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II, actually promoted a Jew to be Prime Minister, the second greatest individual of the Empire, after the king himself. Furthermore, three more Jews were also promoted to be the PM's assistants. Indeed, the lives of these men had a big impact on the empire, just like another Jew, Joseph, who was known to weep aloud in public along with all his hugging and embracing of other men, yet single-handedly rescued the whole of ancient Egypt from a severe, seven-year famine.

Joseph, along with Abraham, Moses, King David, and others had that one special ingredient which made them truly great. Their faith in God and their humbleness in walking before him. That what made them great, rather than imperialistic power. There is a world of a difference between a man like Joseph and Adolf Hitler. Joseph knew his standing before God. Like his ancestor Abraham, he saw himself as dust and ashes compared to God's holiness, just as David perceived himself as a flea, the smallest creature seen with the naked eye, or a dead leaf blown away by the wind.

By contrast, Adolf Hitler exalted himself, as did his predecessor Haman. The latter was promoted to a Persian Prime Minister by its king in the 4th century BC but was later hanged in public shame, after exalting himself above the Jews, and his plan to initiate his version of the Holocaust. Likewise, Adolf Hitler committed suicide, and despite his racial superiority resting on Darwinian principles, he went down defeated and suffered the worst kind of humiliation imposed on any national leader.

Fortunately, Boris Johnson is not at all like Adolf Hitler! His goal is merely to take Britain out of the European Union, so the United Kindom will enjoy independent sovereignty afterwards. On principle, there is nothing wrong with that. The UK has the means to enjoy the blessing of God as a sovereign nation providing two conditions are met:

1. To humble itself before God and allowing to see how it stands before God's holiness. This includes national repentance, a repudiation of Darwinism in favour of Divine Creation, to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation and to walk humbly before God. And humbleness towards God cannot accommodate snobbery or any sense of national, racial or ethnic superiority.

2. Respect for the Jew, with Israel seen as God's representative earthly nation, and as such, God's deputy for the world. This includes the recognition that when Jesus returns, he will set up his reign on the throne of his father David in Jerusalem, and not at Buckingham Palace in London!

But I doubt whether any of this would happen. That is the reason why I'm pessimistic over Brexit. The nation if far from national repentance. Rather, it's looking to pride in its sovereignty, self-confidence, optimism and self-glorification. And with Darwin's evolutionary theory as a bedrock for all philosophies and academic knowledge, rather than to acknowledge God and his creative powers, he will be tossed aside into the bin of myth, along with any concept of Intelligent Design. As evolution continues to be pumped out to the public from the TV and radio, along with newspapers, magazines and textbooks, this theory will be so ingrained in the psyche that any idea of a Creator God will be held up for public ridicule.

I don't believe Britain will ever become like Nazi Germany of the 20th century. Nevertheless, the idea of eugenics had its origins here in England. Charles Darwin supported it. But it was his cousin Francis Galton who actively promoted it. The Germans picked up the idea and put it into practice years afterwards.

Here in England, eugenics is alive and well! It's practised every day here in Britain. I'm talking about elective abortion and the encouragement by doctors for all fetuses conceived with Down's Syndrome, spina-bifida, or any other abnormality, to be aborted. Willfully forgetting that this fetus is already a human being who will one day contribute well to society, as it's already demonstrated.

As I see the day of Brexit approaching (on Halloween - is this an omen?) I try to take the divine worldview rather than a human one. And this does not leave me with much optimism.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Hope of Answered Prayer?

Any regular reader of this blogger page has most likely read last week's post. It was about making a hasty decision during a moment of mental and emotional weakness to mistakenly open a bank credit account. 

Just to recap:

After making an online purchase, the Bank contacted me over the phone that my account was targeted by a fraudster. Immediately I jumped on my trusty bicycle and pedalled into town. At the Bank, the fraud was verified as having occurred. Although the immediate problem was quickly resolved, I was emotionally wretched. And the advisor who fixed the problem then homed in on my vulnerability by launching a sales pitch of the wonders of having a credit account, with which I would be protected from any future fraudulent transactions. After quite a bit of computer keyboard tapping, a foolscap was printed out on which I signed at the bottom. It was soon afterwards I was handed the Terms and Conditions on a document thick enough to impress any civil servant.

But within the many wording, towards the back was a small paragraph informing me that I had an opt-out clause to close the account, which comes into force for two weeks after receiving the card, which itself took up to a week for it to arrive.

While I was walking along the High Street, I immediately began to regret what I have done - to offer myself as a slave to my new master, one who would have control over our joint bank account, willingly lending us money, followed by a demand to pay back with interest. In other words, to be in constant debt, something I have carefully avoided for nearly two decades.

I found myself praying in the street. I wasn't conscious of anyone looking on, neither did I care less if I had attracted anyone's attention. I made my way to Costas. There in the coffee bar, I sat alone at a small table, a large cappuccino in front of me, my face buried in both my palms, praying. Confessing to God of my error, my mistake in making such a rash decision. Praying for release from the burden. It was after arriving home and having read the Terms and Conditions, was when I discovered the opt-out clause. On the same day my card had arrived, I turned up at the Bank and cancelled the Agreement and closed the account. Oh, what relief! 

Again at Costas, I sat with another cappuccino. I was thanking God and praising Him this time. I looked out from the shopfront window. The world looked far more cheerful, like a spring in the step. Although the scene was as it always been, with passing pedestrians populating the traffic-free thoroughfare - singles, couples, families, groups, an occasional dog perhaps, yet there was this liberating feel about the environment. The sense of joy. The sense of freedom, like an ex-convict released from prison and heading home.

Today, the final letter had arrived from the Bank, confirming that my account is now closed and with instructions to destroy the card. Up to the present I have kept the card for use for any possible reference or correspondence. But now, what pleasure it was when I took a pair of scissors and cut the card up into four pieces! 

Exactly like I did nearly two decades ago. I cut up the old credit card then. But the reason for this was slightly different. My beloved was pregnant with our first daughter. I did not want her to grow up in a household ridden with debt. Such an environment would not be ideal for any of our children. Therefore my wife and I agreed that if we need anything, whether it's groceries, a household utensil or piece of furniture, or a holiday abroad, we will always make sure we had enough to pay for it before purchase.

I believe that my opinion on this matter is Biblical. For example, Proverbs 22:7 says,

The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is a slave of the lender.

Also Proverbs 22:26-27:

Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?

And Romans 13:8:

Owe no one anything except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

This is one of the benefits for a believer in Jesus Christ. It's impossible to live a perfect life, without making mistakes or bad decisions. But God is so willing to forgive and to make restoration for any error made. This reminds me of an old soap powder advert that used to be shown on TV. It featured a mother warmly welcoming her son back home with his shirt smeared with mud after some rough play outside. All smiles and not a single scolding, the soiled shirt was put into a washing machine and hey presto, it comes out not only clean but with incandescent whiteness. The boy puts it back on and then dashes back outside to resume his game with his mates.

Whether all mothers are as patient and so understanding as this one was, I cannot say. But at least back in those days, boys were boys. Rough play was part and parcel of growing up, to prepare them for the tough world as adults. It's a good likeness to Christian living. To take the knocks life throws at us. And indeed we can return to our Heavenly Father with mud on our shirts, our knees grazed, a bruise on our arm, and not only would he cleanse the shirt to the level of incandescence, but also heal our injuries too. I have wondered whether the old soap powder ad was a good illustration for the struggling Christian.

If only.

Some prayers are answered quickly, often with human cooperation, such as the rectifying of the credit account decision. Yet others seem to hit a brick wall. The case of my wife's health is a case in point. Prayer upon prayer has been offered for her healing and restoration. Not only from me but from my inlaws, along with members of our fellowship, including our Elders. We have been praying for years but have never seen her restored to her youthful health, the sprinting athlete who I met, married and had children. Instead, I have watched her health slowly deteriorate over the years, first with backache, then with spells of seizure, then immobilisation which confines her to a wheelchair while outdoors, and now with breast cancer too, which required a mastectomy and ongoing chemotherapy. Where is God in all this?

Yet an incident occurred this week while I was out with a friend and church elder. When I arrived home, I found my beloved in a seizure with her arm shaking involuntarily. Unable to wake her, I had no other option than to dial 999. She was rushed to Frimley Park Hospital where previously she had her mastectomy. At A&E, she was treated with Diazepam to calm her involuntary movement and also with antibiotics to eliminate any threat of infection which, due to her chemo treatment, could turn septic, therefore life-threatening. She was kept in overnight to be seen by the Oncology team on the next day. It was discovered that a hard plastic securing clip fixed onto her percutaneous catheter was irritating the skin surrounding where the tube enters her body through her affected arm. It was the continuous and rather intense pain which led to her seizure.

The hard-plastic clip was replaced with one made with a softer material. It made all the difference and she was allowed to go home. Yet the Consultant wasn't fully satisfied with her condition. He wanted us to return for a scan to ensure there is no blood clotting around her catheter. However, when the scan was carried out the day after, a clot was located, which means she has to take a dose of Dalteparin Sodium subcutaneously each day for the next three months. That means that during those weeks it's up to me to give my beloved her daily injection.

Although there are times when God is so far away when it comes to Alex's health, I can't help sensing that finding her in a seizure after arriving home was an act of God's presence and mercy. Because, if the clot was to dislodge and flow freely through her bloodstream and even enter her coronary artery, she could suffer from cardiac arrest. This, of course, is just a guess on my part, but one based on true stories I heard of very similar causes of death.

If all this is true, then God has always been with us during the whole experience dating back to 2012 (when her periodic backache started to escalate). The fact that God doesn't heal by the one command will always remain a mystery, even though Jesus told his disciples to heal the sick as part of the Great Commission, after his Resurrection. But this I have come to realise: God answers prayer if following his will and not necessarily ours.

Looking back over the last few years, I have come to realise that caring for my wife is indeed part of Christian growth, which involves character-building. The timing of all this coincides well with retirement from paid work as a self-employed window cleaner. The truth is - there is no such thing as Christian retirement. I'm here to serve the Lord until the day I'm called home. Learning to look after and taking care of my disabled wife has added a lot of good to my Christian experience, just as 35 years of cleaning windows had taught me quite a bit about interpersonal relationships with the customer, and the will of God in putting my clientele's welfare above my own. And that applied especially to the senior citizen, quite a few I had on my rounds.

Learning to be patient and gentle is part of God's will for me. And those two fruits of the Spirit were certainly no part of my raw character which blighted my youth. For example, when I started my window cleaning business in the late Summer of 1980, I was focussed on money and enterprise, to first survive, then to make a profit, to do well, rather than seek the best of the customer's welfare.

But God is benevolent in character and he is always willing to bless us. Therefore, whenever I was planning a holiday, especially a long-haul backpacking trip, I was always praying, especially against these potential obstacles:
Airline strike,
Unexpected expense,
A threat to personal safety.

Yet between 1973 (when I first travelled as a Christian believer) to this day, God has always answered my prayers before departure. Except on just one occasion. That was in 2013, after making a booking for our anniversary break in Crete, one of the Greek islands I hadn't been to, but keen to visit. Instead, Alex went down with complete immobilisation, and our GP had her referred to Royal Berkshire Hospital, where she stayed as an inpatient for four whole months between August and November. This covered our 14th anniversary, where I spent our special day sitting beside her hospital bed.

A devastating loss at the time, yet God used that experience to show me that my love and commitment to my beloved wife comes way before any holiday pleasure. It has helped me to learn that travel is by no means be-all and end-all. Rather, our marriage has that claim.

With a wheelchair purchased in January of 2014, I knew that life from then on will be totally different from what I'm used to. Yet concerning travel, God has a way to still bless us, providing we appreciate what he gives us and receive it with thankfulness. This includes two Eurostar trips to Paris, one trip to Brussels, which was also on the Eurostar, a trip north to the Lake District, also to North Wales, and a couple of trips to Bournemouth and Swanage. I can be very grateful indeed that she hadn't suffered any pain or seizures while we were in France or Belgium, but suffered one whilst on the train returning home from Llundudno Junction last year.

God answers prayer. But not always how we would wish. He blessed us with travel experiences. He delivered me from a bad decision made. But he never heard my cry for Alex's restoration to full health. That was because he uses such experiences to fulfil his will in our lives.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Chips are Down? There is Hope.

Ever made a decision and then immediately regret it? And before you can do anything about it, the cogs of the machinery begins to rotate, and there is absolutely no power to stop it. And that's how it looks.

And taking up a new banking agreement can be one of those regrettable decisions. It all begins with an unexpected phone call with a voice saying that my account might have been targeted by a fraudster. It's that living nightmare I have seen on TV documentaries such as Watchdog or Panorama. Immediately I put the phone down without saying a word and mounted my bicycle for a trip to town.

At my bank, I was fortunate that the advisor was free and wasn't dealing with any other customer. When I told him of my situation, he then led me into an office within a more experienced advisor sat. She investigated the rumour, and it was true, my account was targeted, following an online purchase. She then disabled the current account card, and I then received a new one within a few days. That should have been it, simple and straightforward. But instead, she went into a sales-patter mode about a promise of better protection if I took on a credit scheme. Feeling vulnerable, I signed the agreement. Moments later I had discovered that I have opened a credit card account.

The last time I held a credit card account was in the year 2000. Soon after discovering that my wife was pregnant with our first daughter, I made a phone call to the issuers, asking them to close my account while I paid off the last of what was still owing. I then cut the card into two halves and that was it - finito - after two decades of debt.

There was a time when the credit card stood in good stead, especially during my travels. Like the time when I wanted to make a booking at the Hosteling International Backpackers at Santa Monica, California. They would only accept a booking by credit card. Fortunately, I was able to pay in cash at arrival. Or when the Queen's birthday came around at the most awkward moment after running out of cash whilst at Hervey Bay in New South Wales. When the Queen's birthday comes around, Australia as a whole shuts down, leaving my thick wad of Traveler's Cheques temporarily unusable. I still had to pay for my stay at the hostel. My credit card came to the rescue.

Both of these incidents took place in 1997. Life was very different back then, without the Internet. Each month a paper statement dropped through the door. Funny, coming to think of it, they call it a statement, when really it's a bill, like an energy bill or a phone bill. But it meant a monthly visit to the bank or enclosing in an envelope provided, together with a cheque, and posted. But the debt lingered on and on as interest was piled on top. Unless I paid in full like you would have had to with American Express, or Diners Club, I was never debt-free during those twenty years.

I look back on such experiences with mixed feelings. It was good to be bailed out from a tough situation, especially while overseas, but the burden of being in debt hung over my head like a raincloud. Therefore, when it came to giving advice to a couple of upcoming nuptials by request at our church, one of my main points was don't open a credit account, and stay free of debt. I also added, to buy only within their means. If you cannot afford it, don't buy unless you are prepared to save up for it. I said this to two young Christian men shortly before they married. I think this is good wisdom, especially with the cost of holidays. To find a credit statement covering the airfare and hotel bill lying on the floor among the mail after arriving home from the airport can be debilitating, especially if it's back to work the very next day.

Therefore, it was at a moment of weakness when I fell for the sales pitch and allowed the bank to open a credit account. But in this modern tech age, the prospects look much dire than it did before. It's all to do with Internet banking, an idea I have always shrunk from. (After all, I am a pensioner and we oldies generally don't gel with money-handling technology behind our backs, do we?) I had little option but to call upon God for help while walking along the High Street - and back at home also read the terms and conditions, itself taking quite a number of pages. I eventually discovered that I'm in a "grace period" the two weeks within if I change my mind, I can close the account. I did precisely that, along with the need to cancel the newly-created direct-debit account.

At this stage, whether I'm now out of the woods, or still having my foot caught in one of the ferns growing among the trees, I have to wait and see. Furthermore, my beloved was also afraid - afraid for me, whether all this credit card scenario would have on my health. It gave much of an opportunity to reflect together.

When Alex asked why God allowed all these - the credit card agreement, her poor health with the latest on her breast cancer, my own life with heart failure - I had to sit beside her and think. And to reassure her.

I thought about our financial security, which I believe, is very different from the accumulation of wealth. Without a doubt, even the keenest of saints desire some sort of security, especially in finances, the desire to be free of debt, to be able to keep a roof over his head, adequate clothing, to put food on the table, and to enjoy such niceties such as an annual holiday, to buy toys for the kids, and to own a car as a useful commodity. Surely, we all want this. It's perfectly natural, so human. And as Jesus once reassured, our Father in heaven knows all this. He is not reluctant to meet all our needs.

However, by contrast, these fraudsters, for example, wish to accumulate wealth out of greed. They are not bothered about leaving another individual, a couple or a family in financial ruin just so the perpetrators can go out and buy that coveted Lamborghini to show off to his neighbours and arouse envy. It's that attitude, that greed which stirs anger in me, the sense of injustice.

Someone had already said to me that if I am without sin, then I should cast the first stone. Fair enough. But if the fraudsters were to target his bank account, clearing it out altogether, how would he feel? Having a hump? Or would he jump with joy, knowing that he is "persecuted" for the cause of Christ? 

In my talk with Alex, I came to the conclusion that it's better to suffer heavy losses - even to the extent of being stripped bare, and go to heaven - than it is to accumulate much wealth, live a life of luxury and end up in hell. That's was what I said to her.

This reminds me of Job, an Old Testament nomad who was stripped of all his wealth by bandits, lost all but one offspring in a terrible accident and became so ill that we came within an inch of death. He ended up with his breath so foul that even his wife couldn't remain any longer in his tent. Yet it was she who loudly declared that he should curse God and die (Job 2:7-10). To which he replied,
You are acting like a foolish woman! 

His integrity is what I admire about this man. His faith in God remained unmoved, even to the point when he declared, 

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he shall stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.
I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27.

Here he was basically advocating eternal security - he didn't condition his eternal state with any 'ifs' or 'buts', nor, "I must remain faithful lest I lose my salvation". Instead, he declared to his three doubting friends that he will see God! By referring to his Redeemer as standing upon the earth demonstrates his Resurrection from the dead, after an everlasting atonement has been made.

Lately, I have delved into Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In the first two chapters of that letter, the author demonstrates both the special love of God for all believers, which he couples with the sovereignty and omniscience of God. Not that God loves some people and not others. True enough, God so loved the world in a paternal sense he has for all his creation (John 3:16). But to all believers, God is their special Father.

The breaking down of the barrier between the Jew and the Gentile is what excited Paul, along with the drawing together of all from near and far away alike, as from the kingdom of darkness into God's Kingdom of light. This breaking down of the barriers I found so edifying. That means the dissolving of all international, racial and class barriers, the uniting of the three into one man whose head is Jesus Christ himself. 

This is a tonic I so much need in such a materialistic world, where institutions such as banks will strive to make a profit from the customer, and living at present in a political turmoil where their want for national isolation from Europe eclipses the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ regardless of ethnic origins. If ever there is a need for such a drastic psychological turnaround, Psalm 139 reveals how God regards every individual, and how each person was carefully knit together in the womb. And how many days a person shall live is already determined, long before conception.

Neither is any individual ever hidden from God. He may rise into the sky (airline and rocket aviation?) and sure enough, he is there. He might make his bed deep into the depths of the ocean (deep-sea submersibles?) and God will be waiting for him there. If he was to go to the far side of the sea (long haul flights?) - yes, God will greet him there as well.

(Actually, it's fascinating how a 3,000-year-old prophecy about advanced science and engineering can be so easily discerned by any modern reader). 

But the point is: God is always near. He is near each Christian believer. In fact, God lives within every Christian believer. As for the unbeliever, God is always near. So near, in fact, that one only has to believe in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the risen Christ, and from his mouth confess this, acknowledging his status as Lord, and he will be saved (Romans 10:9-13). God will give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks (Luke 11:11-13) without the need for self-reformation beforehand.

Just lying on the bed next to my beloved wife and saying those things to her in the quietness of the night have helped in dispelling her fears and anxieties. Indeed, banks may find schemes to drain us financially, quite legally too, and watching her poor health is indeed debilitating, but knowing that God loves us and that he is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent is a source of comfort and reassurance for both of us. 

Saturday, 6 July 2019

The Invisible Shield...

Rub a dub dub,  
Three men in a tub.
An adulterer,
A fox hunter,
And an NHS destroyer.
Each of the three peered over the edge,
To see the moon in the calm water.
"Quick!" exclaimed the NHS destroyer. "Fetch the net!"
The adulterer throws his net into the water,
Hoping to bring up the moon,
Rather like an omelette in a frying pan.
But the moon shatters into many moving pieces,
While the net is raised empty!
Ah!" says the fox hunter,
"If you two had supported my blood sport,
by now you would have the moon resting in the tub!"


And so our news media are obsessed with three potential candidates for 10 Downing Street: Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and the possibility of Nigel Farage, at present, the leader of the recently-formed Brexit Party, whose one of his manifesto items is to replace the National Health Service with American-style private health insurance. All three have much relevance here in the UK, but other than within the mainland continent of Europe and America, these politicians are most likely unheard of in countries outside the European Union or North America.

Therefore, when my very good friend Dr Andrew Milnthorpe posted yet another of his pro-Brexit status on Facebook, in return, I made up the above ditty as a reply comment, with only a slight modification to the original. Although it was meant to be jest, by looking more deeply into it, I began to realise that the capturing of the moon's reflection in the water was as realistic as the optimistic, utopian idea of a sovereign post-Brexit Britain without the need for God.

As things stand at the moment, it does look as if Boris Johnson is the front runner. But as with all political polls, they can be as unpredictable as the English weather. However, with Jeremy Hunt this week announcing his support for the lifting of the ban against fox hunting, his angering of the public and his loss of vital support from his followers, all this has indeed placed Johnson further ahead in the race to become Prime Minister.

A country without the need for God is relevant here. We live in a country of which Constitution was, and still meant to be, based on the Christian Gospel. But the fact that the nation is prepared to accept as its leader a man who married and divorced twice and is at present sleeping with a woman half his age, shows how far this nation has strayed from its Christian foundation. What with the discrediting of the Bible, the emptying of traditional churches, together with the rise of elective abortions, the permitting of gay marriage, all stemming from a universal belief of Darwin's evolutionary theories. Very much like the possibility of catching a reflection in a net from the surface of the water, I can't see any real optimism about Britain's future post-Brexit glory. 

And so arguments on whether we leave the EU with or without a deal by Autumn rages on. From such unsure promises, newspapers are making a mint, news bulletins are watched intensely, the BBC receives criticism for its Remain-leaning bias. All this while so thankfully appreciating the existence of the National Health Service.  

What with modern living with freedom from war and supplied with so many commodities for a comfortable, labour free existence, with both food and water on tap. After all, it's much easier to go on a short trip by car to the local supermarket to buy a tin of beef stew, than it is to go out hunting in the vain hope of finding a wild rabbit to blast with shotgun pellets before skinning and then spending hours cooking it!

Yet despite such comfortable living, there is an epidemic of mental illness, a rise in suicides among men in particular, and a rise in knife crime. I try to imagine a parent, a brother or sister, of someone who had just been stabbed while walking along the street, a case of mistaken identity or an unsolved dispute, or even to ease boredom. Or for a husband to watch his beloved wife's life slowly ebb away while cancer takes over. The agony! The sorrow! The emotional torment hearing his wife say how much she loves him, how much she adores him, and he was her only world, as she takes her final breath and closes her eyes forever. For him, nobody had loved him as she did. Nobody has ever valued him so highly as she did, no not even his parents or other family members.

He stands over her as she lies lifeless on her deathbed. He buries his face into her chest and cries and cries aloud, his free-flowing tears shed without hindrance. Through his mind, his memories are alive and active. How they first met are as fresh as if happened just yesterday. Their wedding, their honeymoon as they strolled together on a foreign beach late in the night, their candlelight dinners. The joys of marriage along with its share of hardships and trials. Yet watching their love for each other grow and never ceasing.

This is no make-up story. More than likely this has repeated over and over again throughout history. Moreover, I know two men personally who have both lost their wives through illness. One of them tells of how he watched his beloved slowly waste away before finally passing on to be greeted in the arms of the Lord Jesus.

And that was what my friend Paul said to me after a Sunday service at Ascot Life Church:
A hundred years ago, that would have been it. Death from cancer would have been inevitable.

He was referring to my wife's recently diagnosed breast cancer.

And thanks to the National Health Service, her life was saved, literally. By having her cancerous breast removed, a procedure known as a mastectomy. After our recent visit, which was for an assessment, she was advised to have chemotherapy. I felt aghast! I visualised her beautiful long hair falling away and her need for a wig. Furthermore, chemo would result in the weakening of her immune system, leaving her more prone to infection, perhaps with more intense backache, headaches and fits, and other symptoms connected with her neurotic disorder. This along with constant feelings of tiredness, the draining of her energy.

The benefits of chemo are to ensure that all her cancer cells are eliminated from her body. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee immunity from a recurrence of her cancer. All it does is reduce the chance of a recurrence. We were left with a choice, but the Consultant assured us that the benefits will outweigh the risks.

All this time, I had to allay her fears, the chief fear was her mistaken belief that my love for her would eventually fade. I assured her that through the grace of God, this would never happen, as my love, through His power, will be forever. However, this does not prevent the fears, the anxieties afflicting my own soul, visions of her dying, even the terrors of Hell. Feeling of we're all alone, with no one caring for us, leaving us to face our own problems with no support. These are, of course, all lies. Lies from the Adversary.

Fortunately, the Bible provides an antidote against all these fears and anxieties. It's found in Ephesians 6:11-20, a part which reads:

Therefore put on the full armour of God, so then, when the day of evil comes, you are able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness which comes from the gospel of peace. 
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Verses 13-17 NIV.

I can imagine the apostle Paul in prison, writing this letter to the church in Ephesus. Standing nearby on guard was a Roman soldier. He saw that the armoury which the soldier was wearing stood as a good symbol for the spiritual battle which afflicts every true Christian believer.

One of the items the soldier was holding was the shield. This particular item of armour took the brunt of the enemy's firey arrows. The other held was the sword, the only offensive weapon. As this represents the Word of God, a thorough knowledge of the Bible is essential, hence I tend to encourage a Christian, especially a young one, to read his Bible daily.

Having said that, going by my own experience, I have not held the shield too well. By harbouring feelings of doubt and fear over the future, especially my wife's future, I guess I have allowed the "fiery darts of the evil one " to penetrate into my soul. Doubt is the opposite of faith. But why do I doubt so easily?

Perhaps it's to do with my introverted temperament, a trait inherited from my late father, who was also introverted, unlike my mother and brother who are both outgoing extroverts. There is nothing wrong with being introverted! Such can, and does, bring many benefits to society, especially in the arts, in aesthetics, in writing, photography, paintings, design, etc. There were many who were devoted to God who was introverted. Name an Old Testament prophet and you have identified another introvert. Moses was one, as was Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. New Testament introverts included the Apostle John, and Thomas as well, along with the likelihood of Barnabas and Mark. However, the introvert's main weakness is that he sees the glass as half empty, and takes a negative view of the world.

But not to leave out the more extroverted, who sees the glass as half-full and accept everything in the world in a more positive light. Simon Peter was an extrovert, as was the Apostle Paul. It was mainly through Paul that the Gospel has spread throughout the Gentile Roman Empire, while Peter ministered to the Jews, including the Diaspora, who lived at that time right across the Middle East, including Egypt.

I need to take up the shield of faith. I need it badly! And wield the sword, the Word of God, to counter lies entering my mind. As for the belt of truth, the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth to atone for us, his burial, and his Resurrection from the dead are all historical facts. Attached to the belt of truth is the breastplate of righteousness, the imputed righteousness of Christ to all believers of the Truth. I need to be assured in the mind of my own salvation, hence the helmet. And finally, I can walk, meeting other people to spread the Gospel of peace to all who hears it and believe, hence the footwear.

A Roman soldier ready for battle

The shield is an invisible one. In fact, the whole armour is invisible, being spiritual and fighting a spiritual battle rather than a physical one. But despite my own shortcomings, one thing I'm aware of, that is, this spiritual armour is real. It's the reality of the Christian life, a necessity to counter the lies, the doubts and the fears the Adversary will throw at us.

When I visited Disneyland in the past, I did encounter Mickey Mouse and Pluto the dog. But I was aware that this wasn't a real mouse, nor the dog a real dog. They were men, actual human beings, each dressed in a costume. But here I was allowed to indulge in make-believe.

Rather like believing in Britain will prosper to its sovereign glory without the need for God after Brexit. If only my fellow Christian brothers realise that keeping God well away from human affairs is the key to a nation's downfall.

Or else, our politicians can master the art of retrieving the reflection of the moon from the lake after all.