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.
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.