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Saturday, 15 February 2020

An Astonishing Contrast?

Put two men together and anything can happen, whether in the world of politics, sport, comedy, starting and running a business or even on theological issues. Comedy? Much of that form of entertainment have thrived on just putting two men together in front of the camera. Steptoe and Son, Morecambe and Wise, Only Fools and Horses, even Till Death Us Do Part (rivalry between father and son-in-law). Talking about Steptoe and Son, based on an elderly widowed father, owner of a rag-and-bone business which was prevalent in the early half of the 20th Century, with his only son who remains unmarried well into adulthood. 

In one episode, Albert Steptoe, the father, had to mind his manners when his son Harold had a new luxury double bed installed in readiness to bring home his girlfriend, to whom he was trying hard to keep up a good impression. However, this bed was unique. Instead of the normal springs with straw, hair or cotton filling, Harold's brand-new mattress is the new-fangled type which is filled with water. During the son's absence and in an act of clumsiness, the father accidentally stabs the mattress with a dagger, creating a surface pool. Frantically, he attempts to patch up the damage and ensures that the water bed was well made and ready for use before the son returns home.

Of course, later that night as expected, there was pandemonium as soon as the couple got into bed! The patch was unable to hold the water in, and the combined weight of the two bodies upon the water pressure causes a fountain or geyser to erupt from the gash under the bedclothes. No doubt, the maiden was unimpressed as the raging son ended up chasing his father out of the house.

Harold Steptoe and his Dad, Albert, 1960s Comedy Hit.

It's little wonder that British comedy remains unrivalled as it's exported to be broadcast worldwide. But even with this, imagine another two men elsewhere, each in their own homes, who both have watched the same show on television. One roars with laughter, while the other thanks God for allowing the sin of fornication to be averted, even in a funny way, but still frowns over the son's lack of respect in not giving proper honour to his father. For the latter viewer, the fact that father and son were roles both played by Wilfred Brambell and Harry Corbett respectively after a long series of takes and retakes under a signed contract, yet still fail to wash. Let's face it, I for one would feel far more comfortable in the presence of the first viewer rather than with the second one. Indeed, both viewers watched the same comedy, yet each went away with a different and contrasting perspective.

And I write this after two rather contrasting sermons, yet on the same theme, both occurring only last Sunday. Amazing enough, both preachers bore the name Simon, who I will call Simon A and Simon B. And I must emphasise here, both spoke the truth from the Bible. Both were right in what they had to say, but my emotional reaction to each one was different.

It was one of those rare Sundays when Storm Ciara hit the UK and the galeforce winds and driving rain kept me at home, deterred from the weekly four-mile cycle ride from home to church, and another same-distance ride back home. Therefore, instead, I listened to the recorded video of the preach by Simon A - twice. His text was taken from Romans 9, especially from verse 15:

I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.

Is this unfair? Does God prefer some people above others? Does God love some people but not others? Indeed, how does God feel about me? Does he even love another Christian more than he loves me? Surely, I know better than to ask such questions after nearly fifty years of Bible study! Then Simon A gives the analogy from Genesis which concerns the family of Isaac, Abraham's son. This fellow himself had two sons, twins actually. The firstborn was Esau, and Jacob was born soon afterwards. Yet, even before their births, God himself assured their mother, Rebekah, that the older will serve the younger. Jacob was the son of the Promise rather than his older brother.

Then this verse:

Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. Romans 9:13.

Did God really hate Esau? How would a newly-converted Christian take to this? Or an interested inquirer? God actually hating Esau? And how would this go down with readers who are new to the Bible? My own experience bears this out. When I was a newly-converted Christian back in 1974, in church, I sat next to another young fellow who was greatly distressed by this verse, and he cried out for me to help him. With my knowledge of Scripture still in its fledgeling stage, I tried to explain what I thought, (over 46 years, I can't remember what I actually said to him) and he came around, feeling greatly relieved. He finally realised that God indeed loves him dearly.

The quote which Paul used in Romans was taken from Malachi 1:2-3, which is the last book of the Old Testament. Going by verse three, it becomes obvious that the quote was referring to Esau's descendants, the nation of Edom. Also, in the shortest book of the Old Testament, Obadiah, God's displeasure in Edom is well explained. This nation gloated over the fate of Israel and Judah as they were taken into captivity, and rejoiced over their demise, while they, the Edomites, held their heads up in pride. Yet God must have still loved them, after all, they're still people made in His own image.

A Crowd at a Concert. Does God love them all?

This is demonstrated by a rather obscure yet wonderful promise that Edom, along with her sister-nations Moab and Ammon, will be delivered from all oppression towards the end of history, according to Daniel 11:41. Since all this is still future from today's time frame, descendants from these three nations must have existed alongside us right up to this day and will continue to exist. This is far from the hatred by God enforced by national annihilation. Rather, Christ died for them too.

Simon A admits that this election process looks to be so unfair, with smacks of hyper-Calvinism. Although true Biblically, I still cannot deny that throughout the day I felt ill-at-ease. God choosing who to save, allowing the rest to remain in rebellion against him as they all rush towards a lost eternity. When I consider all the Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, along with all cult members - Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, etc, along with many nominal Roman Catholics, non-committed Anglicans, etc, not to say agnostics, atheists, and so on and on, families with small children, the victims of Third World war and starvation, little children dying of illness in their mother's arms - this idea of Elective Salvation, which is the main feature of Hyper-Calvinism, without the other side of the issue, just does not sit well with me.

It's indeed easy to say that we're all sinners and therefore God's Elect is in itself an act of mercy. Yes, that is true. We all fall short of the glory of God and there is no one alive who has never sinned, for without his grace we all stand condemned. But to translate this to day-to-day living is, well, not quite so easy! Especially in consideration of all the staff working in the NHS, who has, out of compassion, have made great efforts in preserving our lives as husband and wife, Alex's from breast cancer which otherwise would have been fatal, and me from a possible fatal cardiac failure.

Instead, I watch a Muslim youth die of illness or shot dead in battle, or a Hindu infant die of malnutrition whilst in the arms of his weeping mother, and at the same time watch a well-educated, middle-class English Christian pursue his career with astonishing success while raising his family to the point when their children, who are also Christians, reach college age. Not to mention a nice house and garden and a front driveway on which two, maybe three, cars remain parked, itself a symbol of prosperity.

A group of Christian students from a nearby university pose together for Facebook dressed in dinner jackets, tails and bow ties, whilst down the road, a member of a drug gang is fatally stabbed. Even within the church, any church, a graduate will always be the preferred one to preach from the front, although indeed, there are exceptions now and again. One Christian man prays for England to win the World Cup while an unbeliever languishes in jail, contemplating suicide.

Elective salvation. It looks to me living here in England that God has a preference for middle-class, well-educated candidates.

Thank goodness that's not true at all!

Because there is the other side to elective salvation argument, the truth that the light of Jesus Christ shining into the heart of everyone born into the world, according to John 1:4, 9. Paul endorses this truth by insisting that although these unbelievers knew God, they did not glorify him nor give him thanks, because they continue to push away the truth despite that his existence is revealed through his entire creation, thus with everything he has made, the light of his existence still reside in the unbeliever's heart, Romans 1:18-23.

Thus, the other side of Simon A's argument is that salvation is open to everybody. Thus he is patient, not willing for anyone to perish but for all to come to repentance, because God now calls all men everywhere to repent, that is to change their minds concerning Jesus of Nazareth being the Christ, as demonstrated by rising physically from the dead.

And so, after not turning up at Ascot Life Church because of the storm, I message my friend Andrew Milnthorpe to ask him whether he'll be at the Kerith Community Church that evening, so I can join him in worship and listen to what Simon B has to say in his preach.

His theme was about God's love amid failure. He reminds us that everyone experience failure in one way or another, but the reality of God's love shining like the sun on a clear day is just the tonic needed to get through the peaks and troughs of life. This got me thinking of the medics who has treated both of us and their commitment to keeping the treatment ongoing. The revealing of God's love, yes even to them, as God so loved the world, not just his elect.

It's the universal love of God which motivates me to give towards those in need whenever I feel it's right, to have hope when the chips are down, for my beloved to attend radiotherapy sessions twenty miles away every day for three weeks. It's the universal love of God for all men which makes the world much brighter, less judgemental, less hostile despite the present political upheaval here in the UK and elsewhere. Faith, Love and Hope is in a way a trinity of lovers, each of the three virtues walking arm-in-arm, blessing the good in this fallen world and a reflection of God's character.

Kerith Community Church, Bracknell.

Simon B's preach is the answer to Simon A's sermon that same morning. It does not contradict each other, rather they are complementary. While the first, although true, got me to do some thinking, the second was needed, and it came just at the right time, to put everything in proper perspective. I left the Kerith Centre edified and in a better mood.

As for Albert and Harold Steptoe, indeed, one has a choice - either to judge their sinful behaviour, especially in bringing a girlfriend in for the night, or recognise all this as acting by paid actors who signed a contract with the broadcasters to make us laugh.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

A Killer Question Asked At Oxford.

After alighting from the train at Oxford Station and exiting onto the street outside, had someone approached to ask me whether I arrived onboard an interstellar spaceship, I would have considered this to be quite a valid question. Because indeed, from the moment of arrival, I sensed this historic, academic-centred city was on a different planet from the one I lived on. For the first time in my life, I was about to enter the Sutro Room, located upstairs in the heart of Trinity College, one of many institutions of the University of Oxford.

This is a result of an advert posted on Facebook by the Oxford Forum for an hour-long debate between a Christian and an Atheist on the question of whether morality without religion is bankrupt. The Christian representative taking part was Professor Keith Ward, someone who looks to be around my age or older. Ward would be discussing his views with the Atheist Alexander O'Connor, a minor celebrity under the username of Cosmic Skeptic, whose 125 YouTube videos have attracted 25,299,347 views by February 7th, 2020, along with 308,000 subscribers, after just seven years of self-broadcasting on the Internet.

O'Connor's typical YouTube video prompt.

After giving a positive response to the advert, I felt a surge of excitement over the prospect of seeing O'Connor in the flesh, after watching so many of his videos. I suppose this is a hint of celebrity-worship, despite that not ever appearing on television (as far as I'm aware) or on film, I rate him as a minor celebrity. But to be known by almost 25,300,000 people around the world is indeed something. But furthermore, what I really wanted was to speak to him personally, to testify to him that this Jesus of Nazareth is the risen Christ.

I arrived at Oxford early, purposely to allow for any train delay hampering the journey. Therefore, about forty minutes before the debate was due to begin, I approached the superintendent's office just inside the college gate for confirmation of the meeting. After some searching, his computer revealed that there is a meeting at the Sutro Room right at this moment. Commencing at 3.00pm and due to finish at 6.00pm, the superintendent was rather nonplussed. He had the keys to the venue right there with him and therefore cannot be anyone present in that chamber. Therefore, under his suggestion, I took a stroll down Broad Street and looked around the magnificent public library which was nearby.

Perhaps I was asking too much. I had no idea what this Sutro Room looked like. I imagined it to be a theatre-like auditorium seating hundreds of people. I imagined the debate being watched by all of us from a distance before the two debaters vanish backstage, their celebrity-status snobbery keeping them from talking to us as "ordinary" individuals. 

Trinity College, where our beloved Englishman, Etonian and ardent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg resided as a student, was about to become familiar. As I returned to the entrance from the library, some students were lingering just inside. The superintendent, remembering me, suggested to one of the students to lead me to the venue. We chatted happily until we arrived at the far side of the building from the entrance and led me through a door and up a flight of stairs. I was surprised by the small size of the panelled room, no bigger than a school classroom. About 25 chairs were already arranged, theatre-style, and my emotions were overwhelmed in being in the very heart of Oxford University yet at the same time, also with the small size of the room, giving a far closer intimacy with the debaters.

I was the first guest to arrive, about fifteen minutes before the start. Only two or three other people were already there, setting everything up, including O'Connor himself and one who will be monitoring the debate. I had the privilege to introduce myself and expressed my commitment to Christ.

By seeing him in the flesh, I was taken back by his youthful good looks and his slim, athletic build for a man in his early twenties, as well as his high intelligence, knowledge and intellectual abilities. But what surprised me most was his height. He was taller than me by several centimetres, something not so noticeable in his videos. I also found him to be very likeable.

The room was filled almost entirely with male students, with a few females. The small room was packed with, I would estimate, to be between fifty to sixty people, with some spilling out through the open door. Undergrads, postgrads, all casually dressed, including the two debaters. It was almost difficult to believe that if 41.1% of Trinity College students come from state schools (grammar schools, I assume) then the remaining 58.9% are from public schools such as Eton, Harrow and Winchester. Yet as I looked around the crowd, most of them sitting and standing behind me, it was impossible to tell whether this audience is representative of the overall statistic.

Prof Keith Ward opened the debate. His reasoning that morality without religion is bankrupt. He then went on about Theism is the setting for moral values such as love and compassion and knowledge of the love of such a Being would stimulate love and respect for others. He then quoted Emmanuel Kant, who said that morality was impossible without belief in God. He also discussed that opponents of gays and their lifestyles were not necessarily religious. Many secularists also oppose homosexuality. Prof Ward then goes on to say that humanism is anti-religious, and atheism lacks the resource to make morality workable.

The debate, with Keith Ward, left, and Alex O'Connor, right.

O'Connor's side of the argument is in question form: Is morality without religion bankrupt? His answer is No, morality can still exist and work well without the need for religion (as advocated by the likes of both Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens). He then takes aim for the Bible being insulting to modern morality, especially in the Old Testament. If there is a God, then he must be looking in horror at deeds done under religion. The religious attitude towards gays is one striking example, the put-down of such people by the religious, making them feel rejected, isolated, subject to violence and suicidal. O'Connor also insists that it's quite possible to believe in Evolution and practice religion too, although how the two can exist harmoniously side-by-side, he even admits, remains a mystery. In all, if God is the source of all good, then good must also exist outside of God. To which Prof Keith Ward explained that God is eternal, and if so, good is also eternal.

As the debate progressed, I feel like bursting! My heartbeat felt rapid as emotions rose. Throughout the entire debate not once was the name of Jesus Christ mentioned. I wanted to shout about the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that no man can be justified by God through his own morality, but I also knew that if I had disturbed the gentle flow of the debate, there would be no uproar as in Paul the apostle's time. Oh no, of course not! This is not the 1st Century Middle East. This is modern England, and furthermore, Oxford, the home of English gentry. Had I caused a disturbance, one or two students would be asked by the coordinator to quietly escort me out. 

It was after the conference was over, and the chance to partake in the ten-minute question time was denied from me by the monitor. It was after declaring the meeting closed that I had that moment alone with Alex O'Connor, and after posing for photos, I then proceeded what was in my mind:

Alex, I said, It's a real privilege to talk to you like this. I have watched many of your videos and I'm impressed. I'm aware that you believe in Evolution, and therefore, I'm aware that if death preceded Adam and Eve, if they ever existed at all, then Jesus could never have atoned for us and my faith would be in vain, for the crucifixion was precisely for Adam's fall. Then again, I'm aware you are studying all this.
Well then -
Do you believe that Charles Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, by using Darwin's theory, used the theory of Natural Selection to coin up eugenics, and this was taken by the German Nazis to use for the Holocaust, the slaying of six million Jews? In other words, by denying all religion, Hitler was amoral?

It was difficult to hear O'Connor's answer due to the surrounding babble, but I did hear of his denial that the holocaust had anything to do with Hitler's sense of morality. Rather, he might have hinted at having a religious conviction. I then shook his hand and departed, to head back to the station. Indeed, I was by no means the first to leave, much of the room was already empty by the time I left.

Any historian would be aware that Adolf Hitler was born a Roman Catholic and his mother was a practising catholic. But from adolescence onwards, he not only renounced his religion but hated it. Later, when he came into power, Adolf Hitler began to assemble heads of the Nazi Party into his Cabinet. These included Dr Josef Mengele - Darwin's "Angel of Death", Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler - Darwinist and mass murderer, Dr Joseph Goebbles who was the Darwinist father of the Holocaust, Hermann Goring, Reinhard Heydrich - a fervent anti-Christian Holocaust mastermind, Dr Alfred Rosenberg - "the scribe of the new gospel" of Darwinism, and Julius Streicher - an anti-Catholic Darwinist and Hitler's mentor.*

These men were all former Roman Catholics who renounced their religious faith mainly during their university years. There all agreed as one man, that Natural Selection needs a helping hand on the social side, just as Charles Darwin's book is properly titled:

On the Origin Of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (emphasis mine).

Going by his title, Darwin hinted at one race of humans being in favour over other races. It was his cousin, Francis Galton, who seized the opportunity to apply this to eugenics, or social evolution, in the name of Science. It wasn't long before the German Nazis had gotten round to using Galton's thesis in the Holocaust to eradicate all "weaker, inferior Jewish and Slavonic races, along with cretins, homosexuals and the physically deformed" in order for the "strong, superior German Ayran race" to breed and thrive. This ethic was diametrically opposed to Christianity and both Galton and the Nazis knew it. Darwin himself also knew that his theories strongly opposes the Christian faith, hence a delay in the publication of his book for a number of years.

Alex O'Connor aka CosmicSkeptic is a likeable student of theology at the University of Oxford. He has shown great intelligence and knowledgeable intellect for a man of his age. But I'm sad to say that he is catastrophically wrong in insisting that morality isn't bankrupt without religion, especially the Christian faith. History has proved otherwise.

So far, his videos have more than 25 million views and have attracted 308,000 subscribers! That's one size of an audience which calls for a blog such as this. He is also a public speaker, delivering talks to audiences filling large lecture rooms alongside any other established professor or lecturer.

How I long to spend some private time with Alex O'Connor, especially over coffee at a Starbucks or Costa Coffee. To tell him that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting people's sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19.) the wonderful truth of Imputed Righteousness for every believer, that is, for God the Father to see you in the same way as he sees his Son. A biblical doctrine which the Catholic Church has failed to teach for sixteen long centuries and a doctrine anathematised at the Council of Trent between 1545 and 1563. Thus salvation by works of Pennance had replaced salvation by grace through faith alone and portrays a false, truculent God who looks at every sin committed instead of each believer being a citizen of Heaven.

No wonder O'Connor hates God, just as I once hated him myself when I was a teenage Catholic. As did Hitler and all his motley Nazi crew. But now, I have a heart for the Catholic Church, as I have a heart for O'Connor and his ilk. Longing for all to be reconciled to God through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If Alex O'Connor was to agree for me to meet with him at Oxford, I'll be more than happy to board a train to arrive at a pre-arranged venue. It would be a privilege.

*Jerry Bergman, Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview, 2012, Joshua Press.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Brexit, A Modern-Day Edenic Lie?

Only yesterday a tradesman called at our home to inspect and upgrade our smoke alarm system. As with most two-storey homes, we have two smoke alarms, one downstairs in the hallway, outside the kitchen door, the other upstairs above the landing, outside the bathroom door. I can understand the downstairs location. Cooking can be a risky business, and a slip up could cause the contents of the saucepan or frying pan to burn or smoulder, with thick smoke rising from the stove which would set off the alarm to screaming mode. 

But how a fire can start within a bathtub or shower unit is a bit of a mystery. Whether scalding my foot as I attempt to enter a bathtub of overheated water would set off the upstairs alarm or not, no doubt the makers of these gadgets had seen the wisdom to have such an instalment.

Can a bathroom generate smoke? Stock photo.

But it's not the gadgets in focus here but rather the tradesman who called by appointment. His broken English, as he introduced himself, quickly gave the game away. Another "foreign immigrant" stealing a job from an indigenous white Englishman who is left to live off Jobseeker's Allowance. Indeed, how terrible the European Union (EU) was to allow immigrants to invade our Sceptred Isles! The tradesman might have glimpsed into our kitchen whilst servicing the smoke detector and not realise that its excellent decor was also the work of non-indigenous foreigners, who also installed a new row of kitchen cupboards as part of their work schedule.

And the tradesman calls on the same day the UK leaves the EU. It was an apt reminder that the result of the 2016 referendum was due to the annoying fact that Britain was swamped by immigrants. Never mind that the total percentage of all immigrants into the UK was only 14% in 2018, the percentage from the EU is only a fraction of this, a mere 6%.

This added that it was the UK and not the EU who encouraged immigration, especially under Tony Blair's Government. And allowing them to live for six months without a job also was our idea, not the EU's. And then all the domestic problems, the kind which can afflict any nation: the wealth gap for starters, then the ailing NHS - which was brought about by our own austerity and the rise of the ageing British population, and not by immigrants, nor the EU. The decline of British industry came about mainly under Thatcher's Government and such resulting redundancy and the rise of crime is of our making and not from EU membership. Terrorism did not arise from EU membership either. Rather it was from the radical Muslims from the Middle East which isn't allied with the EU.*

But xenophobia against European immigration, Poles mainly, which was the main thrust to leave. After the result was declared on the next day, there was a sudden spike of racist and xenophobic violence thrown towards foreigners, again, mainly towards Poles but also to Asians too, who were not from the EU. These incidents were physical as well as verbal, making the reality of Brexit a massive disappointment to these citizens, encouraging them to uproot and return to their homeland with a bitter taste of British experience lingering in their mouths as well as giving the English a bad reputation. Hmm. Very Christian indeed!

Alongside the grudge against foreigners, the other reason why we voted to leave was to regain our independence and sovereignty. Ah, sovereignty. As one Facebook friend wrote about the newly-gained freedom, how wonderful it is to be free from the domain of the world's worst crooks. World's worst crooks? I thought they were locked up at Alcatraz Prison, an island jailhouse surrounded by the Pacific inlet of San Francisco Bay. Oh, wait! The prison closed down in March 1963. That is 32 years before I visited the site as a backpacking tourist in 1995. With a further 25 years leading up to the present day, 57 years is too long for the likes of Al Capone to settle in Brussels as a member of the European Parliament. Therefore, if my friend's evaluation of these members is correct, then we can only assume that at least one MEP is Capone's grandson.

Alcatraz housed Al Capone and other notorious criminals.

Having visited the EU Museum in Brussels only last year with my beloved wife, I find it strange that there seems to be a total ignorance on why the EEC, the forerunner of the EU, formed in the first place when Europe was still recovering from the ravages of war, and never again want any more of such a world conflict. The result is freedom of movement between countries, free international trade, a universal currency, and the ability for anyone to settle in a different country, including Brits settling abroad and continentals settling here, as well as a deterrent against another outbreak of a global war, certainly has made these "world's worst crooks" look like saints by comparison. Al Capone, you're forgiven!

This national pride (no humility?) national independence (from God?) and national sovereignty (never submit to God or to another nation or empire?) - are the threefold promise constantly put out by Leave supporters. Really, it's not about the strength or weakness of the Economy. It's all about national pride, independence and sovereignty. And a promise to rise in power sometime in the future? This long-sought imperial mentality? According to my experience in life, there is much said about "The Noble Englishman" being right at the top of Darwin's evolutionary chain. According to the Media, that's is what Brexit is all about, isn't it?

Promises of national glory. Prospects of a golden economic future. I can't help but hear the leaves on the trees of history shaking as if blowing in the wind, the flapping of the pages in the Bible. After all, isn't Brexit the very heart and soul of the fallen human psyche? These words continue to echo across a long, long period:

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die.
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Genesis 3:5.

If I can see a parallel between the Edenic Lie which led to the entry of sin and death to all men - and future national glory, then it's either a spiritual discernment I have or I'm insane or unrealistic. To be proud to be English, as it has been said to me, seems to imply shame of belonging to any other nationality, indicating an admission of superiority as a Noble Englishman. Indeed, that's what Brexit want to aim for, isn't it? National superiority?

I mourn over this. I just couldn't celebrate, whether at home or at Parliament Square with Nigel Farage exalting himself, while Big Ben remains stubbornly quiet, refusing even one bong, and no fireworks either. In fact, at the stroke of 23.00 hours on January 31st 2020, there was only one firework let off from a neighbour two doors away from our home. It was one of those fireworks which threw one explosive star after another into the air after just one igniting of the touchpaper. And that was it. Nothing at all resembling Bonfire Night or even New Year. Yet even Alex and I went briefly to the window to watch it.

Then the ensuring quietness of the night. The sense of normality lasting into dawn, but as Tony Blackburn's Sounds of the Sixties on Radio 2 attempting to bring cheer into our bedroom, I could still sense a death, the passing of something. A sense of isolation. A new beginning? It felt more like a horrible death. Furthermore, on the very same day when we were about to leave the EU, there was also news about how the coronavirus from China had already entered England within two patients, up north in Yorkshire. A very ominous timing indeed!

The world turns. The sun rises, the gentle wind sways the finer branches of the still-leafless trees of Winter, magpies continue to nest, elsewhere, rivers continue to flow, the waves of the sea continue to lap along the beach, clouds drift across the sky. On a more global scale, the Gulf Stream just keeps on flowing, bring warmer waters from the Carribean Sea, across the Atlantic Ocean, to give us milder Winters, whilst Canada and parts of the USA lay under a blanket of snow. And we continue breathing, wondering what has the future have in store for us.

Despite the continuous daily activity of the entire natural order which I could see, hear, and having awareness of, there is this other bad feeling in the air alongside the mournful sorrow. That is the sense of gloating of the Leaver's victory over us Remainers who had lost the original vote and is believed by them that through our ministers at Westminster, we tried our best to overturn Brexit (even if I wasn't involved.) That snooty look down the nose from the likes of Etonian Jacob Rees-Mogg, that smug attitude from other supporters, even from among churchgoers, the laughing and scornful tease from the street mob, shouting down the EU and its supporters in a derisory manner, making us feel small and maybe even embarrassed at their presence.

A pro-Brexit march in London.

And such awful titles such as Remoaner and Remainiac, the latter coined by disgraced Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins, one of Alan Sugar's The Apprentice fired candidates, who referred to all Remainers and Londoners alike as being barely distinguishable from the apeman, well behind on the evolutionary scale. Indeed, the Noble Englishman is definitely not a supporter of the EU!

And then there are my fellow brothers in Christ whom I know well. By their support of Brexit by some of them, including my closest friends, I had gotten the impression that Matthew 6:33 actually has Jesus giving the instruction:

But seek first your nation's sovereignty and its glory, and all these things will be added to you.

I'm aware of the seriousness of such tampering with God's Word. But if going by John's cry right at the end of the whole Bible, it's worth considering what the priorities of a believer's life should be.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33.
And John cries out:

He who testifies of these things, says, "Yes, I'm coming soon."
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen. Revelation 22:20-21.

The ushering of God's Kingdom. A Kingdom of peace and righteousness, and with the Curse of the Edenic Lie at last lifted from all Creation. Now that's the hope for optimism and nothing else which falls short should even be considered, especially if it causes so much pain, division and controversy.

*The Guardian newspaper, February 1st, 2020.  

Saturday, 25 January 2020

A Prayer of Despair - And Hope.

The armchair felt very comfortable as I felt myself sinking into it at this particular branch of Costa Coffee located just inside the doors of the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford. It was so soothing, after two turbulent days when nothing went right for both my wife and myself.

Costa Coffee at Royal Surrey Hospital, Guildford.

Having no car of our own, the threat of exorbitant taxi fees emptying our joint bank account, and the sheer awkwardness of train travel to Guildford from Bracknell with a wheelchair and platform change at Wokingham, the only option left was the NHS Transport service to cover the twenty miles from door to door. A brilliant idea on paper, as there are plenty of infirm senior citizens who would need this mode of transport. But on the first day, after we had received more than one phone call from them that they will arrive to collect her in good time, Alex sat at the kitchen window looking out at the unusually quiet and deserted cul-de-sac without seeing even a pussy-cat sniffing around to add some life to the environment.

I managed to get hold of their office phone number and after some effort, succeeded in getting through to them, only to receive an apology and an explanation that one of their drivers had phoned up sick. As such, we were left stuck at home and the radiotherapy department had to cancel her appointment and a new one made for the next day. The let-down caused Alex to develop chest pains, so sharp and severe that she insisted on a 999 call. Next to no time, an ambulance whisked her away, alone, to Frimley Park Hospital, while I waited for the right time to cycle to my own appointment at Heatherwood Hospital in Ascot for a cardiac assessment. She didn't arrive home until late that evening, tired, and a taxi fare out of pocket.

The next day, the NHS transport service arrived in good time. But after waiting at the radiotherapy department, her severe chest pains returned just as she was called in. The staff were alarmed and insisted that she be sent to A&E for a CT scan to find the cause of the pain, resulting in a second cancellation of her radiotherapy appointment. One possibility is that she has a blood clot in her lung, which would require an overnight stay in the hospital to initiate proper treatment. It was during the five-hour wait at A&E for her scan when we agreed for her to remain in the waiting room, as her call was imminent, and I went just outside, into the Costa Coffee cafe, and sunk into the comfortable armchair with a large Cappuccino and croissant on the table in front.

And a time for prayer.

Rather than moaning over our lot, I first gave thanks to God for everything we have, including each other. Then I expressed my longing for a far greater presence of God in our lives, to feel the love of Jesus embracing us, and our desire for a more intimate relationship with God, as well for a strengthening of my weak faith. Although in my heart I felt particularly at peace with him, I went into a tirade about the global threat of this coronavirus, with the UK a sitting duck for a pandemic invasion of the pathogen. Then I pleaded with God that if we become infected, then let us die together in each other's arms. Our lives are committed in his hands. Let the virus kill as together at the same time. I was able to visualise us as a couple lying on the bed in a tight embrace - dead. 

O, come quickly, Lord Jesus! Redeem and restore your beautiful, beautiful Creation!

It was a moment when I couldn't care whether I drew attention or not. And that despite the instruction to enter the closet and close the door behind me and pray to my Father, and my Father, seeing me pray in secret, will reward me (Matthew 6:6). Really, at that moment I couldn't care less about what other people were thinking. If they thought I was a bit of a nutter, so be it. I just wanted to be in the embracing arms of Jesus, right there and then. At least a third appointment for the same radiotherapy has already been made for next week. Third time lucky, perhaps?

We were hardly home from the hospital when going through a daily browse on Facebook when a flame-coloured box scrolled onto the screen from below. On the coloured background and in large white lettering this message read:

You're absolutely free to reject God's mercy whilst you're alive.
You're absolutely (sic) won't be free to escape God's judgement in hell.

This was a direct quote from an online friend who was with us at Ascot Life Church but since left to join a smaller, more local fellowship. Yes, Biblically and theologically speaking, he's absolutely right. Reject God's mercy and it's a lost eternity. But this kind of loveless warning is from a typical Arminian* whose faith for a believer is merely to escape eternal punishment rather than enjoy a love-relationship with God.

I have been contacted via Facebook by the pastor of this local fellowship, who asked for online friendship and I was happy to oblige. He looks to be a charismatic whose main brunt of his ministry is to heal people of both physical and mental illnesses. Did he find out about the ailments both of us were suffering? Is he trying to persuade us to join his group, or at least to have a look around? However, I have reservations. I have seen this sort of thing before, more than once. Starting as a small home group, rather than new converts being made, these leaders tend to persuade regular church-going Christians to "try out" the new group and if they like it, to join as permanent members. One late Elder once said to me that this practice is known as "sheep-stealing".

One of these home groups I became involved during the mid-seventies was led by a Pentecostal pastor, married and with a young son, who had a dispute with the church he was in, and decided "to start my own fellowship" at his home, into which a handful from different churches met. One of his main preach was about how easy a believer can lose his salvation, using the classic Hebrews 6:4-6 as his text. At first, its growth was successful, and the group eventually moved into a small chapel near the town centre, where it continued to grow, that is until its founder slept with another man's wife and afterwards was defrocked by the rest of the congregation before he disappeared, never to be seen or heard of again. Since then, this church remains a shadow of its former self with just a small number meeting. It too had an emphasis on healing.

The second occasion, in the 1980s, concerned another church member who had a falling out with his Elders. Proclaiming himself to be an apostle, this married couple also met in their own home, drawing in a few other members, including myself, from different churches. Another member who happen to be also from Bracknell Baptist and being the only one who had a guitar, thus providing the only source of worship music, declared his belief in Once Saved Always Saved. Immediately a discussion got underway, with the apostle, his wife, and another member, refuting such an idea and insisting that salvation was conditional on ongoing faithfulness. With myself deciding to stay quiet, the wife eventually lost her temper and shouted at the member not to contradict her husband. The turbulent atmosphere in the room was the beginning of the end to this group, which disbanded a short while after.

Whether this local fellowship has followed this same kind of sheep-stealing as the other two groups did, I cannot be certain. But that isn't what's bothering me. Rather, what bothers me is that bold Facebook poster which popped up whilst scrolling. Although Biblically true, nevertheless, I found the attitude behind the message very disturbing. It was as if written in anger or frustration and entirely without love. And what was it to prompt him to write such a poster? If it was to frighten people to commit themselves to God, then no, that's not true Christianity. Rather, such an attitude has levelled his group to any cult, on the exact level of Jehovah's Witnesses or any other Arminian-based group.

As Charles Spurgeon once said,
No one should talk about hell without having tears in his eyes.
He was absolutely right. Whenever I think of hell, I too feel for the lost around me. Indeed, I want my heart to reflect God's feelings concerning the afterlife when he says that he is patient, and he is not willing that anyone should perish but all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Or again, that God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Hell was initially prepared for the Devil and his angels, and it wasn't intended for humans. Indeed, these threats are the sort of messages which would drive the unbeliever into the arms of Charles Darwin instead of into the arms of Jesus Christ.

The Lord wants to draw all men to himself, as if like a courtship. Just as with a groom and bride, likewise, the Church is or will be, the Bride of Christ. I have never known a boyfriend threatening a potential girlfriend to go out with him! She would run a mile if he tried.

In Genesis chapter 24 there is a beautiful story which reflects the love of the Father to his Son and the role of the Holy Spirit. Abraham gives an order to an unnamed servant to go to his own kinsmen to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant was cautious enough to ask his master what if the potential candidate refuses to return with him. Abraham then answers that he would be free from any responsibility. No threat, no punishment.

And off the servant goes. Thoroughly loyal to his master, he makes sure that the beautiful Rebekah is the one. When he perceives that she was, he then barters with her family for her to return with him. She was willing, and so she returns with him to Abraham's camp. There his son Isaac takes delight in her straight away and the two married that same evening. What a picture this is, of Christ, the Son of God, and the Church, the Bride of Christ! It is the Holy Spirit who shines a light into every man (John 1:9, 16:8-11) to draw him to Christ in a husband/wife love relationship. As for conviction of sin, that's the work of the Holy Spirit, and he knows when and how to apply this without using threats.

I'll be truthful here. My beloved may not be quite the long-haired, slim pretty girl I married two decades ago. Instead, due to her recent chemotherapy, she has lost her hair and gained weight. But to me, she will always be beautiful, the apple of my eye, the unity of soul and spirit. I will continue to love her to bits. Once married always married. I think this is a wise and true saying.

Therefore whenever she's in pain, then I'm in pain. her poor health causes me to live daily on a knife-edge, and visits to the hospital so frequent, I'm beginning to wonder just when we can stay away for a longer period. But by this experience, we have learnt a lot. And I thank God for us being together and trust him for our future.

*Arminian: A Christian believer who embrace the teachings of 16th Century Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, who has repudiated the theology of imputed righteousness of Christ into the believer's account, for forfeitable salvation which can be lost if the believer's faith fails.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

From Sun-Seeker To Backpacker.

The late Harry and Glynis were customers who became good friends during the 1990s and through into the 2010s, as I was the only Window Cleaner whom they had trusted and relied on after they were let down by my predecessors. As retired pensioners themselves with just one unmarried son, a company executive who had spent time working in Germany before being posted at various locations across the UK by the same employer, these two seemed content to have me sit outside in their back garden as I was offered a cup of traditional English tea and a plate of cheese sandwiches.

It was not long after returning home from Los Angeles, after being away for ten weeks backpacking the globe, calling at Singapore, Australia and California, - the Travel Triathlon, as I affectionately call it, the conversation about sun-seekers began as I relaxed for a short break from working, sipping the refreshing tea. 

This was some time after Harry had shared with me of his travel adventures as a student during the 60's, backpacking across Germany, and staying at their Jugendherberge with their traditional morning duties, that I realised that the greater strictness and regimental atmosphere of Youth Hosteling was already a thing of the past by the time I headed for the airport in the 90s. Nowadays, we don't call them Youth Hostels anymore, but Backpackers Hostels, or simply Backpackers, with no morning duties, lest they all went out of business due to the resulting market decline. With Australian hostels still in the process of reform during 1997, at one provincial hostel, I was given a choice of "Dollar or Duty". I chose to pay the extra dollar for each night I spent there. After all, I wasn't one of the poorer city-slum kids who was "to learn about the countryside" for which hosteling was originally intended and often used by overnight school trips. We have come a long way since Harry's student days.

Typical Youth Hostel dormitory. Stock photo.

Our conversation turned towards sun-seekers, which he assumed I was one. I reminded them that there is a big difference between a sun-seeker and a backpacker. I went on to explain tongue-in-cheek that many a sun-seeker fly out to the Spanish Costa, and to spend the afternoon sunbathing on the beach, then its the bar, where he spends much of the night talking about football, football, football, and more football, until he drags his way back to the hotel at three in the morning, perhaps unable to avoid regurgitating his alcohol-drenched vomit on the sidewalk kerb, before slumping on his bed with uninterrupted sleep, only to wake up at twelve midday to head back to the beach to repeat the process all over again. The sun-seeker makes sure that the bar he visits is actually an English-style pub which accepts the Pound Stirling after thinking that the Peseta is Spanish for potato.  

The conversation was light-hearted but I knew that Harry and Glynis had both got the hint, as an experienced backpacker himself, Harry could not dispute.

And it's that time of the year again when in the past, the High Street travel agents would have been crowded, busy booking these Summer breaks to escape the dismal August when the kids are off from school while the wind and rain sweep across the UK. Nowadays anyone can book their annual holiday via the internet. But psychologically speaking, to look forward to the Summer after the Christmas break is over and yet to face a bleak Winter ahead is a great panacea. But I wonder, with the uncertainty of Brexit looming, how many are confident enough to fly to the Spanish Costa without any border-control bureaucracy at the airports hampering their journeys - to discover that they cannot enter a European country without a visa, and neither have one. Or to fall ill abroad and discover that the much-valid European Health Insurance Card is now completely useless, and therefore facing an unexpected hospital bill totalling thousands of pounds.

It goes to show how well God has blessed me by keeping me as a singleton for so many years - I was already 47 years old when I finally married. At present, with all this talk about climate change, the carbon footprint, the diminishing of the rainforests, and the extinction of species, along with the resounding echo of 9/11, it's a far cry from the carefree days of long-haul travel. As I write, Australia is literally on fire, with the authorities fighting a losing battle to contain the forest flames. And the sense of guilt if I board a long-haul flight, my selfish desires versus conscience as the idea of leaving another carbon footprint will be disturbing as I add that bit of extra stress to the natural environment. Indeed, I thank God dearly for allowing me to fly out to Australia when the times were good and tourism there, still in its fledgeling stage, was relatively cheap.

If only Alex and I were in good health! With train travel, there is not such a big footprint, although there will always be that ultra-political correct guru who will insist that trains are powered by coal-fired power stations, thus leaving a carbon footprint after all. But how could I forget those magnificent train journeys across Europe, from London to Sicily through France, and other trips through Belgium to Germany and Holland? The Calais-Milan route via Lille and Basel took me through some of the most splendid Alpine scenery with mountains and lakes making the train journey a dream come true. With the Folkstone-Calais ferry crossing to complete the route from London, travel of the early 1980s was indeed a real adventure. And how I long to do it all over again. 

Swiss Railways, I travelled by train through here in 1981 & 1982.

How is it that a typical English August is usually wet and windy rather than hot and sunny? Being an island just off the north coast of mainland Europe, it faces the moisture-laden Atlantic winds on one side and the North Sea on the other. And with the Jet Stream having a preference to drift south of the UK during that month, the resulting lousy British Summers gave rise to the package holiday culture, once the preserve for the rich and for the Chosen Few, to be the second-largest UK industry after Defence, even if tourism does not have the flavour of proper industry.

When I was single, after 1972, I never gave the package holiday another look. That was after my very first trip abroad without my parents. I was nineteen at the time and it was before I became a Christian believer. Although what I said to Harry that day was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, actually there was a lot of truth in what I said to him.

When my college mate and I flew to the Costa Brava just south of the Pyrenees, this was my first ever trip out of the UK without my parents. It was also my first flight ever and I felt nervous over it, as my parents had never seen the inside of an aeroplane. Each day we sunbathed on the beach. Then the nightlife when I got completely drunk with the cheap wine they sold there. As I crept back to the hotel, alone, with my mate already there waiting for me, one morning I found myself waking up after sleeping in the bathtub in alcohol-induced vomit. It was not long before I became a byword of the hotel staff, whilst my college mate, who has a much stronger character than I did, and stayed incredibly calm. He was able to contain my behaviour and to hold me steady until I sobered up, ready for another day on the beach. Such as the case of my mate marrying not long after whilst I was dumped by my girlfriend just four months earlier.

What a difference a conversion to Jesus as Saviour, just a few months after that Spanish incident, has made! My perception of travel changed completely from sun-seeking to backpacking. It was just a year later when I found myself walking alone through the ruins of Pompeii, followed by a hike to the summit of Mt. Vesuvio, and looking inside the deep dormant crater. This was a far more exciting adventure than any seaside package holiday, which involved learning ancient history and volcanism, as well as in this, and in years to come, train and bus travel from town to town and experiencing off-the-street room requests at a hotel whichever town I arrived at, as hosteling didn't become part of me until 1985. 

I once read a saying that the full beauty of Creation cannot be perceived with Christless eyes. I believe there's an element of truth in that saying. During the Spring of 1973, alone in the house while thunder was rolling outside, just by reading the first three chapters of Genesis became a revelation from God, as if he was standing right there in front of me and offering a choice - to believe in his Word or to believe in Evolution. There was no "halfway house" (that is, Theistic Evolution.) I had to belive either one or the other. I suddenly knew which side I was on!

To believe in a literal six-day Creation has opened my eyes to the beauty of this world, the recognition of the Almighty power of God in everything he has made. This may affect each individual differently, but for me, there is an intricate link between realising the reality of Divine Creation and backpacking. One primary example of this is when I stood on the rim of Vesuvio's crater and recognising this as a tool for God's judgement on such wicked towns like Pompeii and Herculaneum nearly two millennia previously. Such thoughts and ideas would never have come to mind just a year earlier in 1972 whilst drunk in the bathtub of a Spanish hotel.

It's through the eyes of Jesus Christ from which I can see and appreciate the beauty of tropical vegetation which cannot thrive here in the UK (except under glass). Thus, to look at a row of Traveller's Palms of Singapore brought a spring to my step, as the coconut palms so abundant at Miami Beach, or the unique palms thriving on the roadside of San Diego, the Mangroves of Queensland and NSW, as well as the ground-shaking thundering of Niagara Falls, the rocky shapes at Blue Mountains National Park, and not to mention the dramatic glory of the Grand Canyon. And last but certainly not least, I stood on the rim of an active Mt Etna volcano in 1982, feeling the black basalt ground shaking beneath me as the steam exploded from the vents inside the crater. With God's help and direction, I have seen and experienced all these things which involve backpacking travel.

At the rim of the crater, Mt Etna, taken 1982. 

As I lay in my own vomit inside that bathtub, how could I possibly imagine that within four years, in 1976, I would be standing on the summit of the Mount of Olives, looking down at the wonderful panorama of Jerusalem Old City with its golden Dome of the Rock directly in front, and the New City seen in the background? Would I ever imagine walking through both the ancient and medieval streets of the Old City? Or wade through the confines of a tunnel dug around 701 BC? Or to kneel in front of the 14-prong star marking the site of Christ's birth? Or gaze across the Sea of Galilee? Or float on the waters of the Dead Sea? Such is the exciting adventures of backpacking along with the social side found in many hostels. 

Yet that is the difference between looking at our natural world with Christless eyes and seeing the beauty of this world through the eyes of Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Stiff Upper Lip, Cause for RUIN?

It wasn't that long ago when I was in the men's locker room, feeling heavy-hearted with a sullen face to show for it as I was getting ready for the gym. A team of other guys was also there, preparing, so I believe, for their five-a-side. But these were not young athletes making up the team but a group of older, middle-aged men. And two or three of them were in a discussion about a McDonald's beefburger bun, with one of the men complaining about how the top half of the bun crumbling (or something similar happening to it) making the bun more difficult or awkward to eat.

One suggestion came from his companion:
Why not ask them to stick the burger between two bottoms?

I broke into a grin as my spirits were suddenly lifted. As I made my way out of the locker room for the gym, I gestured a thank you to the stranger, my anticipation of collecting an injury halfway through a workout having dissipated.

Thank goodness this kind of saucy British humour hasn't yet sunk to the seafloor, at least not entirely, having been close to drowning by the tsunami of political correctness. The locker room was the ideal environment where Prince Harry would have felt at home. The ambiguous meaning of the two bottoms would have sent this Jack-the-Lad Royal guffawing in amusement.

Prince Harry after winning a polo match.

As a Christian believer, I find nothing offensive about such humour. It has no swear words and it's free of smut. This gag, for example, was on the exact level of those saucy postcards which were so abundant at every British seaside resort, bringing laughter not only to the buyer and recipient alike but also to brighten the day for any postal worker who earned his living shifting through the mail daily.

Indeed, what has happened to those postcards? I haven't seen them for years. Alongside that, I wish you were here of holiday free spirit which was often written at the back of those postcards to assure the recipient that the sender really was having a good time. The change in Harry's personality since he married Meghan seems to be a reflection of this dying British humour which was once a hallmark of the nation.

And so the Media brings Harry and Meghan to the centre of attention within the last few days. And I read The Daily Mail columnist Piers Morgan's vitriol demonisation of Harry's mixed-race wife, blaming her for the couple's decision to go out alone without first discussing such a move with the Queen and the rest of her family. So cutting was Morgan's criticism of Meghan that even Lord Sugar of the BBC programme The Apprentice had asked him whether his lambasting is really his racist attitude disguised as moral criticism and royalist fervour.

And that's the truth which must be faced. Alongside the humour which we Brits are so renowned for, among those from the Far Right, racism isn't that far below the surface. Of course, the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence way back in April 1993 will never be forgotten but remains indelible within our minds for the rest of our lives, along with the "institutional racism" within the Metropolitan Police which blocked the killers from having the book thrown at them. And more recently at football matches, "monkey noises" made by spectators at black players have brought distress on the pitch, with one match close to midplay abandonment.

And reading some of The Daily Mail's comment forums to do with Meghan Markle, I have seen racial bias aimed at her. Therefore it comes as no surprise when Piers Morgan's vitriol is aimed at her rather than him if racial bias has anything to do with his attitude.

But here I want to put everything in perspective. Yes, I feel sorry for the Queen. I believe her specific order not to go public until all is agreed should have been honoured. What a shock to hear such news for the first time via television. It goes to show that we are all people, including all members of the Royal Family, with thoughts and emotions. And of no surprise, as that's how God made us, with the ability to feel, regardless of the British stiff upper lip culture Britain is renowned for. 

Another reason for feeling sorry for the Queen. She could be under public pressure to slim down the Royal Family to only those members who are direct heirs to the Throne, that is, by mother-to-son, father-to-son, etc, without involving uncles or aunts. Or, in other words: Elizabeth - Charles - William - George in line for the throne, but omitting Harry, Andrew, and Edward and their children. As such, Archie, Harry's son, will also be excluded. The Queen may have been reluctant to do this, but still felt that it was her duty to listen to the nation's opinion. Harry and Meghan might have gotten the hint earlier last year, not long after their wedding. If such a hint was dropped, then it comes with little surprise that Meghan in particular wishes for her husband and herself to go independent.

A "slimmed down" Royalty? By national demand?

Talking about the stiff upper lip dominating Buckingham Palace, I have three books in my possession and in the past year, I have read them all. One is Chavs by Owen Jones, the second, Stiff Upper Lip by Alexander Renton, and the third is Posh Boys - How English Public Schools Ruin Britain, by Robert Verkaik (emphasis his.) While Jones concentrates on the demeanour of the working class by the shutting down of heavy industry, especially during Margaret Thatcher's reign in Parliament during the 1980s, the other two authors concentrate on the Public School system. Renton himself was a boarder in both Ashdown Preparatory and Eton College before taking on the post of Journalist for The Independent and The London Evening Standard newspapers.

Renton uses his own experiences to highlight the beatings, fagging (obeying the demeaning orders of an older pupil), cold baths, vile food, paedophile teachers, along with hypocrisy and cronyism which, although loved by some of the alumni, to most other students, including the author himself, can all add up to psychological damage. In turn, Verkaik concentrates on the history of the Public School system, emphasising that its origins were to give an education to the poor and ignorant without payment of a high fee - before such schools were taken over by the rich and the aristocratic as one way to set themselves apart from the lower classes through payment of astronomical fees. He then stresses how one from a Public School is paid a higher income and enjoy greater privileges in employment and social standing than one from a State Comprehensive - even if they have identical jobs.

As statistic go, only 7% of the British population attended Public School. Yet despite this number, this dominates all male members of the Royal Family. Prince Philip attended Gordonstoun School in Scotland, along with his three sons, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. When Prince William was born, it was decided that a break with tradition was due, and both William and Harry attended Eton College instead. It is said that both Edward and Harry were struggling students, with Edward needed some outside help to achieve his exam passes. That means any genuinely bright student attending a comprehensive would have out-performed these two Royals.

A student from a comprehensive may have four A*Levels, another student from a Public School may leave with just three A Levels but it will always be the public school student who will be given preference at Oxbridge and enjoy greater perks at work as well as landing plummier jobs such as starring in an acting career. Yet when I read the biography of Prince Charles' early life more than twenty years ago, I was astounded by the sheer misery he had experienced at Gordonstoun, particularly on his homesickness and the constant want for his mother's love. Instead, she was engaged in duties abroad as a Royal as well as elsewhere in the UK and he felt he was dumped to get him off their backs.

After reading Renton's book, Stiff Upper Lip, I became convinced that Charles' misery at Gordonstoun was the bedrock for his shaky marriage with Princess Diana, even if reading his biography may have lent a hint as well. He could not stomach her emotional mother-like attitude, especially towards Third World indigenous children suffering hunger and the effects of war. She was loved by the British public to a greater degree than her emotionally-crippled husband. In turn, she was longing for her husband to open up and allow his emotion of love to flow towards her. But it could never have happened. Gordonstoun made sure of that.

And that, I believe, is the kind of stifling atmosphere Meghan Markle found herself confined to. As an American, this stiff upper lip culture of Buckingham Palace was too much for her. So indeed, unlike Piers Morgan's scathing words thrown at her, I tend to feel more sympathetic. But furthermore, I'm sad for the two of them. I would hate to see their HRH title stripped from them, also no longer receiving grants from Prince Charles and the loss of other benefits as Royals. Also, I pity the Queen too, especially after going through so soon with her favourite son Andrew, who was involved in a friendship with a rich paedophile, and that also for the need to "slim down" the Firm, apparently, by public demand. For someone who is in her nineties and with an ailing husband to look after, such sources of stress aren't called for.

Personally, I wish God's blessing for all members of the Firm, Harry and Meghan included. And the only true source of blessing is to know Jesus Christ personally as Saviour. Although my good friend Andrew Milnthorpe has reminded me before now that the Queen has genuine faith in Christ, and I accept this as true, I do wonder whether the rest of her family share this faith. The Public School-enforced emotional restraint among all members making this so frustratingly unsure! However, I have doubts whether Meghan is saved and I question Harry too. If they aren't and neither is Charles, this goes to show that the stiff upper lip is a blockage preventing the Gospel being spread, even among family members. Furthermore, if Renton's testimony is to be believed and Verkaik's knowledge of the system is to be taken as true, then the Public School is very unlikely to be a hotbed for successful Christian conversion. Rather, it stands in the way.

Prince Charles with his father at Gordonstoun

And by thinking of all this, I do ask myself whether people can see Christ living in me. I have been a believer for nearly half a century, yet I have a brother who, until lately, has been a sworn atheist, after feeling delusional about the Roman Catholic Church in which he grew up. At present, he is more of an agnostic than atheist yet he does respect my faith. My two nieces also have respect for my faith but had so far not converted them, although my younger niece and I went to the Kerith Centre for morning Sunday service more than once. Although one or two might have crossed over the line as a result of my testimony, I long that people could see Christ in me more clearly.

This whole shenanigan within the Firm brings a shameful epoch in British history but I cannot say that the British Public School system is free from blame. 

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Looking Ahead - Good or Bad?

I have heard that this decade is already referred to as the Roaring Twenties - and that despite at this time of writing, we're only four days into it! The original Roaring Twenties was the decade between 1920-1929, nicely slotted in between two World Wars, and it was a time of economic growth and construction prosperity following the ravishes of the Great War. This time, however, rather than recover from global warfare, we are about to experience "oceans of opportunities as one invigorated nation with optimistic promises of a Golden Age of economic prosperity" post-Brexit, after four decades chained to Brussels, that cruel and wicked master of the European Union which was guilty of robbing the English of its sovereignty, identity and independence.

We pray for success? Will Brexit deliver?

Although from 1930 onwards, there was still eight-to-nine years of peace before World War II broke out in 1939. During those years, Adolf Hitler was already rising to power, becoming Chancellor from 1933 until becoming Fuhrer just a year later, in 1934. But it was from 1921 onwards that he became the leader of the Nazi Party, still in its fledgeling stage back then. Thus it can be said that during the Roaring Twenties, rumbling earthquakes were heard and felt which eventually climaxed in an explosive volcanic eruption in the form of the second great war breaking out.

While I write this, Brexit hasn't yet occurred. It's still more than three weeks away - if our current Prime Minister keeps his promise to "Get Brexit Done" by the end of January 2020, as he assured us during his election manifesto. Yet the earth is already shaking and rumbles of thunder already can be heard, so the newspapers like to forewarn us. I'm referring to the missile strike under the orders of US President Donald Trump to annihilate General Qassem Soleimani, Iran's chief military commander, while in his car exiting Bagdad Airport after a flight from Syria. An incident which took place successfully within the last couple of days.

Fearing retaliation from Iran, an online heading from The Daily Mail of Friday, January 3rd, warned of the "likelihood of World War Three," as Iran's revenge attacks on the West could involve Israel, Russia and China as well as Europe and the States. Oh, dear! It doesn't look as if there is an intermission period to enjoy the promised "oceans of opportunities" in the same way as The Roaring Twenties did a hundred years earlier. Instead, it's time to hide in the bunkers. Hatchets down! The Third Rock from the Sun is about to fry! So much for Boris Johnson's optimism!

This "snowflake generation" must have squealed loud enough for the newspaper to modify its output by the day after, as I read the actual paper itself whilst sipping at a Starbucks Cappucino this morning. Perhaps the reporters had to modify after a long forum of complaint trailed the original article, basically calling the journalist a scaremongering idiot. And the forum had an occasional contribution in words such as:- Don't worry, snowflakes. World War Three isn't going to happen. As today's paper has put it, there is no evidence that China or Russia will get involved, although Israel could still turn on Iran if the latter aimed its weaponry towards this tiny Jewish nation.

Therefore, rather than being a global conflict forewarned only yesterday, this time the national newspaper assured us that Iran's retaliation - if it decides to retaliate - will result in a local conflict, very much like that of the Falklands War of the eighties or the Gulf War of the nineties. This time, British troops may not be involved in this latest conflict between Iran and the USA.

Whew! That's a relief! Thank you, Daily Mail. At last, we can savour the "oceans of opportunities" post-Brexit. As one who voted to remain in the European Union, and having to endure nonsense words such as Remoaner and Remainiac as well, (I'm surprised that no one has thought about Remidiot also, but still, someone might already have done) - I have arrived at the expectation that the English majority will prove me wrong, and end up sailing, or even swimming, in the "oceans of opportunities" and enjoying all the benefits. Indeed, if I was proved wrong all this time, I will admit it.

And so here we are, with our Christmas decorations still up albeit they will come down tomorrow (Sunday 5th) unless I feel lazy, as I usually do on a typical Sunday afternoon, stuffed with roast chicken thighs and vegetables, after a four-mile cycling trip to Ascot Life Church and back. Indeed, I'll be glad when this silly season is over. Glum office staff journeying to work, congested roads, cancelled and delayed trains, bins filled with thrown-out Christmas trees, cold weather, all shops open and trading, ditto with the banks, and the kids back at school. And oh yes, as I would forget: the opening of Parliament, with Brexit being on the top of the agenda. What a couple of weeks this has been.

And television. Funny in a way, that all programme schedules go so awry during public holidays. Yet there have been some enjoyable movies such as the adult version of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol, shown in three parts, each evening leading up to and including Christmas Eve. And Eastenders? I know, to some of the more "spiritual" Christians around, only the "worldly" would sink low enough to watch such a soap. Never mind that the soap is bereft of swear words usually spoken among the real-world working classes, on Christmas Day we watched the explosive rage of a jealous husband of his wife who was impregnated by a handsome young man eight months previously. Indeed, lessons can be learned here on why God had commanded not to commit adultery. By honouring this commandment with obedience would have saved everyone involved from tons of anger, heartache and fear.

Then the three nature documentaries, Earth's Tropical Islands, narrated by actor David Harewood. Each covered three islands close to the Equator: Madagascar, Borneo and Hawaii. To me, this was a fascinating series depicting the vast array of species not found on any of the continents or islands outside the Tropical zone. But there were two inclusions which I found to be very sad, distressing, really. The first one covers about the last 10-15 minutes of the hour-long episode and details the precious rainforest being decimated for palm-oil farming, with vast areas of rainforest gone, along with the extinction of species and climate change. The sort of documentary put out by the BBC pierces exactly where it hurts, bringing up anger or sadness against these greedy capitalists who put profit before the natural environment and the welfare of its inhabitants.

The second source of distress came from the words evolution, evolutionary and evolved. Harewood used these words very frequently throughout his narration, without a chance for Creationism to even find a niche in the hour-long discourse. And so the English population watching these programmes lap it all up, without giving a moment's thought. It's interesting too, that it was at the same time when The Daily Mail newspaper had published a pie graph of the increase of Islam here in England alone and a decline of Christianity. There is an estimated 3,092,000 Muslims in England during 2016, which makes up 5.6% of the population (against 4.7% in 2011.) Jews, Buddhists and Shieks share 2.9% of the population while those who profess to be Christian makes up 56.6% (59.6% in 2011). This leaves 34.9% of English people who says they have no religion or any faith at all.

Of course, there is a big difference between professing to be Christians and being a true believer in the Death, Burial and bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ which engenders trust in Him for salvation. According to one survey done more than twenty years ago, the percentage of true believers here in England could be as little as 2%, although that might have changed since then.

Committed Creationists are convinced that the knowledge of Evolution destroys the faith of the potential believer in Jesus Christ. They believe that higher education, whether at university or college, has the potential to destroy the faith of many when Evolution is directly taught or even referred to positively. The reason for this is quite straightforward. If a six-day supernatural Creation had not taken place, then the Crucifixion either had no power to save and it's completely meaningless, or that if Adam and Eve were descendants of apelike ancestors who all died, then death was not caused by Adam's sin and therefore the Crucifixion and Resurrection would have been entirely bereft of any saving power. In fact, if Evolution, involving death before Adam is true, then there would be no risen Jesus Christ and no salvation.

I wish that more and more people are saved. And as such, Creationism plays a big role in evangelism. One good example of this was when Paul the apostle approached a group of Greeks in Athens. He says:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not dwell in temples built by hands...From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
Acts 17:24, 26.

Paul knew that the six-day Creation is true and that Adam is the father of all men, and hence because Adam sinned, we are all sinners and subject to death because of sin, Christ, by rising physically from the dead, has defeated death and became the Firstfruit of the Resurrection. Because we are born naturally in Adam, we will die. But every believer who is in Christ, then he will live forever because of the Resurrection of Christ three days after his crucifixion. Creation and the Gospel are intrinsically linked. One cannot be true without the other.

That is why I long for a literal six-day Creation to be taught by a guest speaker at our Sunday services at Ascot Life Church. I was told by one Elder that Creation is not relevant for our church. But I disagree. Strongly disagree. Creation is not only relevant but an absolute necessity for the divine life which our fellowship is so committed to. And to believe in a six-day literal creation as narrated in the first chapter of Genesis nullifies an ancient Babylonian document, the Emuna Elish from being on the same level of authority as the Biblical record, as advocated at our church in the Summer of 2018, or the reason for the neutralisation of Theistic Evolution, embraced by most, if not all, university graduates filling most English churches.

One good friend of mine, Dave and his wife will be settling in Canada later in the Spring. Their mission will be to set up churches at a particular location. This is where I would strongly encourage the truth about a divine six-day Creation, the Fall, and Noah's Deluge to be taught as historical fact and how such Biblical truths makes up the foundation stone on which the Gospel can be verified as historical fact. One can't do without the other.

Will you feel embarrassed to advocate such truths as history in a modern, science-oriented world? Do you feel afraid to be cast aside, ignored, or even teased? Are you afraid that preaching Divine Creation will put people off from receiving the Gospel? Then this is worthy of consideration: At Athens, back then the capital of the academic world and the ancient equivalent of the present Oxbridge, Paul included Creation with his Gospel message. But he drew only a few followers. He wasn't very successful. Apparently, the response in Athens to Paul's revelation of Creation was so poor, that he wasn't even able to set up a church there, so it seems.

Jesus himself, he endorsed the historicity of Genesis (for example, Matthew 19:4-5, 24:37-39, Luke 17:28-32). But he came unto his own, and his own received him not. John 1:11. He might have endorsed the truth of Genesis, but that was no guarantee of wide acceptance.

Who knows, there might well be World War Three. But most likely not, at least not on a global scale. But in deciding for the coming decade, I do believe that reliable speakers from Creation Ministries International should be invited into our church as a guest speaker, along with the Kerith Centre receiving such a guest speaker to enforce the truth of the Biblical record to those sitting on the fence.