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Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Moment a Ray of Light Shone

Wednesday of the past week was not untypical, at least for the last few weeks. Feeling depressed as I sat alone in the stationary train at a terminus platform of Reading Station, I watched as the carriage began to fill with other passengers. That is, except at my particular section, which consisted of two rows of triple seats facing each other, in which I remained a sole occupant. People passing through the central aisle seemed to glance at me sitting there, then quickly make up their minds to find other still-vacant seats elsewhere.

Am I imagining all this? Or is there a kind of negative aura surrounding my person in such a way that its affecting everyone who comes too close to its proximity? At last, a middle-age businessman, minus a tie, takes the seat directly opposite to where I was sitting, the two of us facing each other as the train began to pull out of its bay. A little way into the journey, as I looked out of the window towards the sky, he suddenly rose from his seat and moved to a vacant seat on the opposite side of the carriage without alighting at any scheduled stops.

Maybe the fellow has a preference for the more restricted airline seating arrangement fitted at the other side of the carriage. Or more disturbingly, could it be the energy generated by such a negative aura surrounding me to be strong enough to make this businessman decide to move away?

A state of depression. It was as if in the midst of deep darkness, imprisoned within the most gloomy chamber I can imagine. How strong and binding it was. Yet I wasn't even sure what was the cause of such emotions. I just couldn't put my finger on it. It seems that no amount of prayer or meditation can shift it. I was thinking whether I need counselling. Would talking to a stranger really unload my burdens? Yet it has been like this now for several weeks. It is as if something was slowly turning the screw, gradually intensifying the feelings of perpetual sadness, fear and trepidation. To the extent of impairing my judgement. As, for example, while fumbling about with this Blogger page on my laptop, I found myself staring at a prompt highlighted on the screen. I'm sure the prompt read, Comments awaiting moderation. Yes, I have a moderation system in place. This is not to dissuade any form of argument or disagreement with what I have written and posted. Rather, it is to keep off any input or contribution carrying links to other websites promoting product sales.

Seeing so many comments under the heading Comments Awaiting Moderation (so I thought), I clicked the Delete All prompt - then suddenly realised what I have just done. I have literally wiped out every comment that was ever posted on the page, probably numbering up to a thousand. It was a disaster, but one which occurred due to a befuddled judgement caused by constant depression. Not surprisingly, by that Wednesday evening such emotions reached near-panic stage.

We were watching Holby City (a soap based on a fictitious Bristol hospital) when I felt a need for both of us (Alex and myself) to pray, and to pray fervently. After the program ended, we both got down to prayer. Perhaps some 15-20 minutes into praying, a disturbance could be heard coming from one of our neighbours.

My heart fell.
"Someone has scored a goal!" I exclaimed, realising that the match between England and Croatia must have gone into extra time, it being rather late in the evening.

As the banging on the wall continued, I decided to put on some relaxing music to act as a background noise-shield for our praying. But after that incident, I couldn't pray anymore. I felt discouraged, and all I wanted to do was to bury my head into a corner of the sofa, which I actually did. But Alex kept on praying, asking God to help her husband find relief from his ongoing depression. She spent a considerable amount of time pleading to the Almighty on my behalf while the gentle music played. At last, after an undefined period, Alex ended her praying and asked if I can give her some refreshment.

I rose and walked into the kitchen and casually looked out of the window. I had to blink twice. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Those two houses on the opposite side of our street. For the last few weeks, giant English St. George flags were draped from the front bedroom windows. I stared at the properties. All the flags had gone! Suddenly it was as if a ray of light had pierced the darkness of my heart. Could it be? Yes, could it be...?

As I was preparing a snack for both of us, for the first time I began to feel my depression lift. But I was very cautious, reasoning to myself on why the flags were down if the World Cup Final is still a few days away. Could it be that such "underdogs" such as Croatia had knocked the mighty and proud Three Lions out of the tournament? Surely, this was too good to be true.

Until I checked the Internet. Sure indeed, the little nation of Croatia had eliminated England during extra time, and the timing of the deciding goal coincided with the disturbance heard from next door. The noise was not of cheering but of disappointment and frustration. By contrast, the depression which had me gripped in its power began to lose its hold, and with great surprise with the result, I began to feel a rush of relief, and for a first time after a long while, a sense of happiness.

The reader can be forgiven for wondering why I was so against England winning the World Cup. Simply this: with Italian origins, I felt threatened. And that despite earlier that evening, before kick-off, I actually posted a wish for England to do well on Facebook, as well as writing last week's blog in support. And there were other times when I spoke positively for our national team. But thinking back, I don't think my heart was in any of this well-wishing rhetoric. Rather it was done to save face if England made it into the Final and won. In other words, a form of self-preservation.

It was during the days following their 2-0 victory against Sweden in the Quarter-final when three words became apparent, according to Media outlets. Those words looking to be most appropriate are proud and arrogant. Over and over again, the phrase Football is coming home was constantly repeated as if a mantra. There was a high level of pride and optimism that the trophy will return home this time. And the semi-final against Croatia? Never mind about that. Croatia is a non-entity, we will wipe them out as easily as a cloth wiping water off a table. After all, what significance has such a small nation in a tournament of giants, with the Three Lions being the greatest giant of all? A giant which was motherland to history's greatest Empire, which remained ongoing for around four hundred years.

And also in a geographical sense, the motherland of the greatest Empire in history happens to be an island off the north coast of mainland Europe. This gives a mentality of isolation and with it the ability to rule from a distance, without the need for international borders which would encourage foreign invasion. The way I picture it, Britain is rather like a schoolmaster standing at a distance from all the young students, facing them and delivering his edict with full authority and a sense of unquestionable individual superiority, without a single student daring to butt in. As I see it, that's how the English have always perceived the rest of the world. One nation leads, the rest follow with subordination. Indeed, such source of pride is steeped in history.

And what pride! What optimism after defeating Sweden! It is as if such a tiny, insignificant nation such as Croatia had no relevance at all. An easy win. Yea! the Final, here we come! And return home with the trophy. Indeed. But God had other thoughts. As written in Scripture I happen to be reading by chance this morning:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9.

And again:

For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Matthew 23:12, also Luke 14:11.

Maybe Jesus had a foreknowledge of international football and all the self-exaltation and national glory-seeking which will go with it, even if it's two millennia after his time! Maybe England has a lesson here to learn, what it means to be humble. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word humble is defined as, having or showing a low estimate of one's own importance. Maybe, who knows, if England had such a characteristic on a national scale, chances that it would have won the Cup several times in its long half-century history of dwelling in the sporting wilderness.

Which leads to thinking. When France beat Belgium in its 2018 semi-final, its fans showed quite a high level of arrogance by causing crowd havoc in the streets of Paris. Could this mean that France will forfeit its chances of taking home the trophy - which would be for the second time since only 1998? Yes, that is possible. But hand-on-heart, I would prefer Croatia to win. At least in its short history, for them it will be the first Cup victory since October 1991, when this small country gained independence from former Yugoslavia.

But at the time of writing, I have just less than 24 hours to find out. If Croatia does win, who knows, perhaps there is further truth in God showing mercy to the weaker side. But if France win - well, God's thoughts and his ways are higher than ours, who can fathom them?

Whichever way the coin will fall, this I know: after prayer that Wednesday evening, a ray of light pierced through the darkness of my heart, and the heavy depression started to lift. I have to wait to see what happens in four years from now.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Comments - A Terrible Mistake I Made!!!

Dear all Blogger readers and followers who has commented on my posts,

BY MISTAKE I have deleted every comment published in all my posts by clicking a wrong key.

I have sent a request on feedback to the Blogger Administration asking whether all your comments can be restored.

Please note: This was a genuine mistake and there was no prejudice connected with the action.

Therefore I ask you with full sincerity to continue to comment on my posts.

Many thanks.

Frank E. Blasi

Saturday, 7 July 2018

The Real Meaning for Living...

There is one true story which occurred in the not-too-distant past. A couple who has been married for more than twenty years had drifted apart until the husband found himself in a relationship with an office colleague half his age. Pretty and youthful this office colleague happened to be, and full of vitality, such a growing relationship has settled in his mind that divorce from his longstanding wife was inevitable After all, compared to his new partner, she was gradually becoming thin and apparently weak. So he arrived home one evening and presented his divorce papers to her to sign.

She did not react to the news with any drama. It was as if she had already saw it coming. Instead, she will agree to sign the divorce procedure if he will first make a vow to carry her across the threshold every morning for a month, like he did on their wedding night, before he drives off to the office. He thought of this as burdensome, but reluctantly agreed to the deal.

And so the next morning he carried his wife through the front door before leaving for work. He thought of it as a nuisance but he was also surprised to see how his teenage children reacted with positive gestures. Morning after morning, as he carried his wife across the threshold, not only the act began to be less of a burden, but he began to enjoy it. He also realised that his kids were beginning to expect the gesture as a new normality and quickly became accustomed to watching it.

He began to feel the same affection revive towards her as when she was a young bride. Also, his feelings for his work colleague also began to wane until the day he explained to her that his love for his own wife was far more real than he imagined, therefore must bring this affair to an end. The husband grew more and more fond of his wife as he carried her through the threshold each morning, as he also watched his son and daughter both looking far happier as well as showing a rise in schoolwork performance and markings.

Even before the month has finally passed, the two sat on the sofa, looking into each other's eyes with love and affection, both knowing that their marriage had revived to full robustness, but the sadness in her eyes arousing his curiosity, he asked what the matter was.

"I did not want to tell you or want our children to know, but I have terminal cancer. I had it for the last couple of years, and whilst you were at work, I made frequent trips to both the doctor's office and hospital alike. After diagnosis and some treatment, they all agreed that there is no lasting cure."

Not long after this, she died, leaving behind her husband, son and daughter.

And that is a true story. Some of you readers may already be familiar with it. A video version of the story appeared on my Facebook wall earlier this year. It is a kind of story which sticks in the mind, never able to forget it. And it has made a big impression in my life, allowing me to reflect on the health of our own marriage and to improve on any necessary area.

Looking at the Biblical perspective, it looks to me that this is the purpose of all mankind, together with a love and spiritual devotion to God. It is a bit like a triune relationship - God, husband, wife. Not surprising in a way, for our Trinitarian God is also a God who is love, according to 1 John 4:7-8.

God is Love, not merely a source of love. For example, how the Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit! How the Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit! How the Holy Spirit loves the Father and the Son! The eternal Trinity had never needed an object for him to love, for his love is within himself.

And so with his initial Creation. After creating the heavens and the earth in six literal days, he formed Adam out of the ground - a supernatural occurrence which never happened ever again. Adam stood up and acknowledged God as his Creator. Not long after, God brought all land creatures for Adam to give names to. With every known species arriving in pairs for the naming ceremony, poor Adam began to realise that there was something seriously wrong.

Whilst every species consisted of a single pair, a male with a female mate, he saw that he was alone. He knew that he was never able to pair up with a horse, hippopotamus or even a monkey, yet he missed a mate for himself. At least God knew of Adam's problem. So he caused him to fall into a deep sleep, a kind of being under anesthesia, except without the gas or fluid administered. From Adam's side a rib was taken and from it he created a woman. When Adam eventually woke up after the completion of the operation and saw her, he became wildly excited, and with joy, exclaimed, 
At last! Flesh of my flesh and bones of my bones. She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
Genesis 2:18-25.

How the trio were happy in the Garden of Eden. That is, until curiosity had gotten the better of Eve in particular, over a certain tree planted in the middle of the garden. Strange in a way, had it been me, I would have been racing for the Tree of Life, and by eating its fruit, seal my immortality. But Eve had other ideas - her quest for power. And she knew where to get it, so she believed. Because there, a talking snake bade her to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. A talking snake? Yes, a talking snake, and neither Adam or Eve were taken aback on what they were witnessing. And why should I be so skeptical? Is it because I had never seen or heard a talking animal of any kind? Indeed it takes faith to believe in it, very much like that of the Meteor Crater in Arizona. I have never seen the meteor or its moment of impact as it struck the ground, but I have no qualms in believing that is exactly what happened. It is a matter of faith.

Meteor Crater, Arizona

The quest for power, an elevating from human to divinity by means of eating from this particular tree. Godhood! - the means of attaining knowledge which was at that moment still out of their reach, and once attained, to become like God himself. It is a form of evolution, to transform upward from one level to a higher plane. Their attempt to become like God resulted in exactly the opposite - a fall from perfection into a state of sin and death, demonstrating the serpent's deceit as the Edenic Lie. 

When they discovered that they had fallen rather than elevated, guilt set in and found themselves embarrassed by their nakedness, and in their duel attempt to make it up to God, they began to sew fig leaves together and to make aprons to cover their embarrassment. Then when God himself appeared in the garden, the couple realised that their aprons had no effect at all in making atonement. Therefore God, with total disregard of their aprons, had to slay an innocent animal substitute and, with its skin, clothe them himself before driving them out of the garden. But they also believed the Promise made by God to the serpent of the coming Seed of the Woman which will eventually slay the creature. It was by believing this revelation which turned Adam and Eve into saints, the acquittal from sin and God's own righteousness credited to their accounts by grace through faith in his revelation of a future Messiah (Genesis 3:15).

Although acquitted in their spirits, their bodies remain sinful and therefore still had to be driven out of the Garden and be permanently clothed. Furthermore, while their spirits after death may go to be with Christ, their bodies goes to the grave and remain there. This is quite easy to realise. For a start, nobody would leave his house entirely naked. Even in hot weather, the least one would wear is a pair of shorts and if going to a public area, a shirt too. Even the most devoted of Christian believers cannot`be out at a public square entirely naked - such embarrassment would be too much! The fact that no other species of animal wear clothing puts Darwin in a difficult situation here, even if the grave awaits both man and beast alike. Indeed, we all wear clothing - not so much to keep ourselves warm in cold weather but as a direct result of the Fall.

Here I'm not advocating myth or poetry. Rather, I'm narrating history. Actual real historic truth of the first chapters of the Bible. In other words, every historic account documented recorded in the Bible had happened. And it is in this matter of supernatural Creation, the Fall and the Flood where I will make a stand in a secular world of Lyell's Uniformitarianism and Darwin's Evolution. If anyone laughs or teases me, or the ultimate worst - to ignore me, I would not renege. For to deny the historicity of Adam and Eve as our first parents is to deny Christ and his Atonement made on the Cross. 

To believe in Evolution comes from this sense of pride and arrogance along with the avoidance from the belief in Judgement, as well as the belief in much of this type of learning elevating the student towards divinity which is in accordance with the Edenic Lie. The worst thing about all this is that such heresy is often preached from the church pulpit, leaving the preacher unaware that by such talk, he has denied Christ and advocated the Edenic Lie.  

Ah, pride of achievement - to be elevated into some form of divine realm. The Edenic lie lives on. While I'm writing this, I have just found out that in the World Cup tournament, England has beaten Sweden to make it into the semi-finals for the first time after 28 years. Actually, there is nothing wrong in any of that. It is a football contest, meant to be taken as entertainment, a leisure pursuit, something which everybody need for a distraction from day-to-day mundane and humdrum living. Personally, I prefer watching athletics, including the Triathlon. Such viewing is for me vicariously partaking in the sport which I actually competed in during my younger years. Nostalgia indeed. But why there is so much celebration over England's placing in the tournament while very little ado is made when Britain did well in the Olympics, I cannot say. Whether it's the World Cup or the Olympics, there is nothing wrong in winning a sporting contest, whether it's local or international.

As I wrote last week, if England does win the trophy, this - combined with Brexit - will lead to arrogance at its highest level, and that is what I find to be a threat. Winning an international football contest is one thing. Becoming arrogant is quite another. As I see it, this is one of the oddities of life. 

When two British brothers both won medals, one Gold, the other Bronze, in the 2012 London Olympic Triathlon, I was glad for them (the Silver went to a Spaniard). No sense of arrogance. Instead, this was one event I purposely took time off work to watch with thorough enjoyment. The joy of watching the Sporting Trinity of swimming, cycling and running - three disciplines in one race, was exuberant, as I recall more than thirty years earlier when I could be seen in the midst of all other triathletes competing in the event, whether in a mass-start as in the Olympic event, or through one-by-one pool feed as characteristic of smaller, inter-club events. This is what I believe is enjoying watching sport, especially those events I myself took part in.

Competing at a Triathlon, Winchester, 1987.

The World Cup patriotic spirit, as I see it, is very different from the joy of watching the Olympic Triathlon. For example, the English oft-used phrase, the Cup is coming home, is a misnomer for a start. Maybe not many realise this (I didn't either until this week), but when FIFA wanted the design for a new trophy after 1970 to replace the French Jules Rimet cup, won by England in 1966, various new designs were submitted. Among 53 applications, FIFA accepted one submitted by Italian artist Silvio Gazzaniga of two figures holding up a globe. It was manufactured near Milan in readiness for the 1974 World Cup, which was won by Germany. Therefore the proper home of the World Cup trophy is Italy, not England.

But I fear the English will not see it that way. To them, the Cup is coming home. As Guardian journalist Jonathan Agnew had written in his brilliant newspaper article, the English feel they have special rights to forever hold the Cup, as having held history's greatest empire, they proudly see themselves as superior to all other nations, a nation out to win every battle, whether it's a war or international football - and also ahead of the evolutionary scale.

The Edenic Lie once again at work here. By heck, will it ever diminish? 

It goes to show that the Bible is indeed historically accurate after all. And that is something to be well concerned about. Because if the Bible can be so accurate on the origins of humanity, could it be that what it says about the final destiny is also accurate when it comes to arrogance being a gateway to a lost eternity? Pretty heavy stuff!

Surely, life must be much better than Nationalism with its arrogant pride, which itself is a highway to Hell. It must have a far greater, a more meaningful purpose than either patriotism or international football can provide. Rather, God initial creation was a man and a woman to love God and each other, a triune set up. And for the Earth to be filled with beautiful people, all loving towards each other and all honouring the Great King. And one day this will come.

I really hope that that dear wife who died with cancer also had faith in Christ. And her husband and her children too, having faith in Christ. Because really, that was a heart-rending story. But it has also brought out the real reason - the only reason - why we are here:
To love God and to love our wives and our neighbour. Now that is living! 

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Come on England! Go for it!

Midway through the FIFA World Cup tournament, it's time for the knockout stages to begin, with England against Colombia this coming Tuesday (July 3rd). So with me, after many years of hostility towards any prospect of England ever winning the World Cup, as the blog title suggests, what has brought such a dramatic change of mind?

Could it be that Italy had failed to qualify? Amazing too that has happened, as I have not only recall the much-maligned Italy playing well within the midst of each tournament, but actually won the cup four times in its history (in 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006) which is second to the greatest number of wins achieved by Brazil, which was five times overall, including a penalty shoot-out against Italy in 1994, after a goalless draw, including thirty minutes of additional playing time. And that particular match was watched on a foreign TV set - complete with Arab commentary - alongside other volunteers at a Christian Conference Centre in Israel. But with Italy failing to qualify for this year's competition was not the cause of my change of mind. Rather it was something else.

By contrast with Brazil and Italy, England has won the cup only once in its history which, as we all know, was back in 1966, more than half a century, which within many born and died without ever a chance of witnessing an England win, or were too young back then to realise that their home team had just made history. 

But I do recall having a favourable disposition for England during my childhood and adolescent years, second in favour after Italy. Even though I was born in England and grew up here, I was taught by both my parents that I have a pure Italian bloodline, and all our family members were Italian, not English, although after legalisation, I have always referred myself as British when filling in any important document, whether civic or otherwise. 

How the English see themselves...

It was the influence of other people who eventually turned me against the idea of supporting England. And this may come as a surprise to anyone reading this, but the churches around here must share the blame. But even before my conversion to Christ towards the end of 1972, I have suffered sneering from British work colleagues for no other reason than having Italian origins. Sure enough, those who did taunt me were mainly disgruntled war veterans who fought "tooth and nail" for our freedom and democracy, yet felt little or no appreciation or thanks from my generation, the Baby-Boomers who were born into this world not long after the end of the War. Therefore to watch someone like me growing up and living off the fat of the land, and then innocently making known my origins, did not exactly endear myself to them.

But I can understand the plight of these veterans. They fought for the democratic freedom of this country against the threat of German Nazism and its potential takeover of Britain. Then following the end of the war there was several years of food rationing, something we juniors did not have to endure, far less worry about. Such former work colleagues are easily forgivable. But when I came across this church-going patriot during the mid-eighties, who is a few years younger than me, and whose sense of inferior complexity swelling his xenophobic English pride out of all proportions - well, that was something altogether different. 

How incredulous it might have seemed for such contrasting people such as him and myself to share in the same Body of Christ, but such as both of us being true Christian believers. But not long after getting to know him, he made clear to me that the English were a superior nation, above the rest of the world, and certainly above the Italians, and how proud he was of that! Also a strong advocate of the British stiff upper lip, he certainly viewed us Italians with a sense of cultural backwardness. 

Therefore, it did not take me long to realise that his train of thinking and emotions stemmed from a sense of social inferiority - having never entered university, nor having any qualifications from school, and remaining perpetually single, yet this former kitchen porter mixing freely with church-going graduates and watching one after another pair up to stand at the altar. Therefore whenever England played internationally and won, the look of gloating arrogance became unbearable, and if ever the time came for England to play against Italy - the thought of the latter losing to the former, it would not bear thinking about. Therefore this Christian played a major role towards the hostility I felt towards England, which wasn't edifying or faith-building at all.

Happy to say, now attending a different church, his continual absence has dulled any ill-feeling I might have had towards England. On top of that, he too is forgivable, and to forgive is not only obedience to Christ's teaching but also beneficial to all mental, physically and emotional wellbeing. If England is to win this tournament, I would no longer feel so threatened as I did during the 2014 World Cup, or during earlier World Cup contests. How could I ever forget 1998, when I fled to New York to deliberately miss the final, which was won by France, after England was already knocked out by Argentina even before I took off from Heathrow Airport?

Alas! Such fleeing abroad to escape the Cup Final is not quite so easy now, being a married man whose wife is partially disabled. But with my English rival settled in another church, I don't feel so threatened as I did before, and to a certain extent, able to wish the England team good luck. But this comes after remembering certain Scriptures with which I have been familiar for years. Such as Isaiah 40:15-17, which reads:

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust in the scales;
(God) weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.

When I posted this on Facebook, one friend commented that he doesn't sound like a good boss! Yet I cannot help read this as the appropriate rebuke to national pride. But to put the Scripture into its proper context, it is Lebanon which gives a clue to its meaning here. In Old Testament times, Lebanon boasted a forest of cedar trees covering the entire land, from which palaces were built and parts of the First Temple were constructed. It was also the source of firewood in abundance for sacrifices which were necessary for the covering of sins until the Crucifixion. Yet if Lebanon with its great abundance was still below par with its supplies, how less were all other nations? The context is to do with redemption, proving that absolutely no one was ever able to work himself up to God's satisfaction and earn Heaven after death.

Where salvation is concerned, every nation is worthless and less than nothing. By comparison, this is strikingly equivalent to the aprons of fig leaves Adam and Eve had made and wore immediately after the Fall. Despite its covering, those leaves still failed to enable them to stand before God, but instead they hid in a bush when they heard him approaching. When God was able to speak to them, he totally ignored their efforts and slew an innocent animal to provide the skins suitable to clothe them (Genesis 3). This involves only the work of God himself without man's help, and involves the shedding of blood of an innocent substitute, the forerunner of Christ's crucifixion.

Those aprons were a symbol of religion - a system of trying to attain reconciliation with God by self effort. It can take several forms, including a high sense of morality, but also through empire building - whether it was by means of the Tower of Babel, the Egyptian or Babylonian Empire or the British Empire, or any form of individual, family, tribal, or national achievement or glory. Indeed, any nation can excel in glory by comparison with other nations, but will never attain the holiness of God by its own efforts or self-promoting glory.

Which brings me to ask: Am I reading too much into the World Cup tournament? No, not really. The football competition is another way of seeking national glory, to stand head-and-shoulders above all other nations in the world by means of eleven men kicking a football across a field. Indeed, football is a religion, a means of worship into the heights of glory. Or in other words, like the Tower of Babel in the depths of history, an attempt to reach the heavens through the efforts of a team of players. 

The players themselves do the work, and if a victory is won by them, then the whole nation is glorified through them vicariously. There seems to be very little difference from the vicarious victory won by Jesus Christ through death by Crucifixion, Burial and Resurrection. There seems to be parallels between the England football team and Jesus Christ in the sense that both do the work on behalf of others, leading to glory for all - in one, for every Englishman glorified in winning the World Cup through the efforts of just eleven men playing on the field, for the other, every believer to receive glory through the work of atonement by Jesus Christ.

But there is a difference, maybe only one difference, but a major one at that. The Englishman's glory is temporary and will eventually fade, receding into memory, especially if England fails to win at the next contest. Neither does the Englishman's glory bring reconciliation with God or partake in his holiness. On the contrary, the glory awaiting every believer in Jesus Christ is eternal and will never ever fade or recede into memory. Furthermore, the death of every believer is defeated and is forever reconciled to God, eternal life is given, and made a partaker of his holiness.

Without the work of God to intervene, every nation is as dust, worthless and less than nothing as God sees them. Their struggle to attain glory through self effort or vicariously through means of a team of players, all is vanity, vanity of vanities, so wrote King Solomon in his book of Ecclesiastes. Therefore every Englishman (as well as everyone whose nationality are still in the World Cup contest) should think deeply, and consider that we are all dust and ashes whose breath of life in our nostrils is from God, who sustains us each day. We are the work of Divine Creation and we are not here by accident, neither a turn of luck on the evolutionary scale.

With this way of thinking, the football supporter is humbled, recognising the power and glory of God and therefore doing away with any feeling of superiority over those who had lost out in the contest. Apart from death itself, awareness of the glory of God is a great equaliser, it has that heart-cleansing power to eliminate arrogance and national pride and glory. With this in mind, I would like to bring to attention one marvel of Creation - the unique characteristics of the Earth. 

It was from a recent BBC programme, following our planet on its full orbit around the sun. Both my wife and I sat there feeling very humbled at the knowledge that our planet is tilted by 23.5 degrees from the orbital plane, giving us the seasons, which according to scientists, are essential to life, including a diversity of animal and plant species depending on the seasons for reproduction and sustenance. Furthermore, the orbit of the Earth around the Sun is not quite circular, nor is the Sun bang centre of its orbit, but rather elliptical, with the Sun nearer one end of the orbit (the perihelion) than the other end (the aphelion).

It seems ironic that the perihelion happens to occur around January 3rd, that is during our Winters here in the UK whilst the southern hemisphere, enjoying its Summer, also has the privilege of being closer to the Sun. On the contrary, around July 4th, at the height of our Summers, we are also furthest away from the Sun. And then I wonder why we have such lousy Summers here in England! But the truth, highlighted by the BBC, is that the Southern hemisphere is mostly ocean-covered, with just Australasia, Antarctica and South America being the three main continents down under. The result having far cooler and lousier Summers south of the Tropic of Capricorn, simply being a vast expanse of ocean, it takes much longer to heat up. If Southern Winters were on the peak of aphelion, chances are of a permanent Antarctic ice age. To me this was quite a revelation.

The position and gravitational moon is just right, causing solar eclipses as our satellite blocks out the sunlight and giving the impression that the Sun and Moon are exactly the same size. Then not to mention the tremendous effect tidal cycles have on marine life and climate. Finally, despite its eccentricity, the whole of our orbit lie within the Goldilocks zone, the only zone away from the Sun where water can retain its liquid form.

Although some of these facts I already knew from adolescence, the BBC unwittingly highlighted the very power and glory of God in his Creation. It caused me to humbly worship. Indeed, with knowledge of such revelation, the pride, strength and glory of every nation does appear as fine dust, worthless and less than nothing when compared to life giving and life-sustaining powers of Divine Creation!

But having said that, poor England, deprived of an international World Cup win for 52 years - go on, go for it, and bring the trophy home this time. I'll support you. But remember God and acknowledge him, for your very existence depends on him.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

A Lone Light Shines in the Darkness

I'm sure many go through times of darkness. What I mean is: Feeling terribly lonely, unloved, forgotten, isolated, even rejected or forsaken by God. And in the midst of grief, a tiny light shines. Perhaps like a pinpoint but nevertheless, light, whatever its intensity, has a way of dispelling darkness. 

Like within the past 48 hours when I had to call for an ambulance twice for my beloved wife Alex. The first time was a response for a very severe backache which no household medicine was able to alleviate. At A&E, although she was treated well by a friendly nurse who administered both Morphine and other painkillers, the doctor, who was apparently British, himself listened to what she had to say, then curtly dismissed her, telling her to go home and consult a neurologist if she wanted attention. 

And went home we did, by taxi, with my wife feeling very upset. Indeed, being a doctor at Accident & Emergency department of any hospital involves greater stress in dealing with a constant inflow of patients, but we felt that as a patient herself, Alex should have received a greater level of compassion. And I suppose this is what the first impression the NHS is about. It's not how decorative or level of aestheticism the hospital building looks, neither the sophistication of the technology found within. It is how the patient, such as my beloved, sees and perceives the attitude of its staff towards her, particularly from junior doctors. 

With her belief that she was "a nuisance patient" in the eyes of the medical staff, Alex spent the next day angry and upset, and without outright display of her feelings she spent most of her day sleeping, virtually immobile, and even falling unconscious. It was during this moment, in my failed attempt to wake her up, that I was gripped with a cold, naked fear. The terror of widowhood entered my mind, foolish this may look to the reader. Then again, with someone such as myself who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, these thoughts and feelings can be very real.  

Other thoughts entered my mind. Thoughts of the sheer unfairness of life with, together with the dread, also feeling gripped with jealousy of how one church member who is riding on a wave crest of blessing after blessing, thanks mainly to his university degree, and even boasting about it on Facebook. Alongside these thoughts and emotions lies the awareness of both of us feeling disliked and ostracised by a middle-class couple who also attend our church, and both actually adoring the said graduate. As I felt myself sinking lower and lower into the pit of hell, Alex slowly came to and whispered, Phone 111, before sinking back into sleep. 

The phone number 111 is for GP out-of-hours consultation with the NHS for non-emergency calls. Having dialled the emergency number the previous evening, dialling this number seems less distressing, but I felt a rush of relief to be told, after answering a series of questions on behalf of my wife, that they decided to dispatch an ambulance. After the paramedics arrived and accessed her, a discussion arose whether she should be taken back into hospital. They were keen to take her, I wasn't willing to return, but it was Alex, in her semi-conscious state, who made the final decision. So off we went - yet again.

At A&E, I found myself praying fervently beside her bed. I was calling on God the Father to first forgive us from any wrongdoing, then to break any adversary powers in the spirit realm which may be binding on my beloved, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I repeated the format over and over again, even with a sense of authority. Also included was a reference of the church couple who has ostracised us, in the name of the Lord Jesus, may their curses - if any were thrown at us by them - to be made totally ineffective. Not long after, Alex felt another highly intense pain coursing through the whole length of her backbone, intense enough to make her roar with suffering in the ward which brought the nurse running. With liquid Paracetamol fed into her bloodstream intravenously, her symptoms eased, and with Morphine also fed into her system in the same way, I watched her calm down to relaxation. 

Whilst in Hospital, this is how I looked.

A different doctor to the previous one arrived, who looks to be from the Middle East or from India. Far more compassionate than the last one, we talked. Fortunately, he knew the condition my wife was in, and he asked us why we desire her to be admitted for the night. When I answered that the suggestion was originally from the paramedics, as well as for further observation before returning home, he partially agreed. Then he went on to explain that in such a ward there are patients in distress, calling for the nurse, shouting, making noises, along with other factors which such a sordid atmosphere, would worsen Alex's condition, distressing her more. He then assured us that she would recover a lot quicker if we went home. We both agreed. We arrived home, again by taxi, at three in the morning, and happy to say that at present she's feeling better, although not yet fully out of the woods.

And so within this approximate 34-hour period of darkness and emotional distress, loneliness and feeling of apparent ostracism from local Christians, there was one beam of light, something of a lovely encouragement and of edifying quality. And it came from Uganda, in the heart of Africa. An email linked me to a letter written by a adolescent saying how much he and his family loved me. Yes, they loved me, even over thousands of miles distant.

With the risk of letting my left hand know what my right hand is doing, let me say that the family who once lived in poverty eventually became fully committed Christians. This was because of their alliance with a UK-based church organisation, Compassion, an offshoot of its parent charity Tearfund. Through Compassion, any Western Christian believer is encouraged to sponsor a child in the Third World, one child for each sponsor. The monthly payments, being by Standing Order made with the Bank, remains "invisible" in a sense that I don't have to keep doing it consciously. Therefore the payments remain ongoing for years, almost unaware, spanning the younger years of the recipient's life.

In return I receive letters written by the child, sometimes accompanied with his latest photo of himself, along with his full profile. He usually update on his education levels, his family, health and hobbies, and always included in the letter is a verse from the Bible which has been specifically helpful to him. A young child he was when I started sponsoring him, he is now a thriving teenager with a promising future. And he wrote that he loved me, an endearing message received in the midst of darkness. And this is not the first time either. Also in Uganda there is a university student and devout Christian who was also sponsored out of poverty by me during his childhood years. And like the present recipient, he too fondly keeps me in his memories.

To say that these African believers obey the Bible more seriously than our middle-class brothers seem to have an element of truth. One verse from the prophets come to mind here:
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoking flax he will not quench: he shall bring forth judgement unto truth.
Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20 AV.

I will direct this mainly to the aforementioned middle-class English couple who have a fetish for graduates and for posh people, but who dislikes me and refuses any kind of reconciliation. As with me, I have forgiven them in a sense that if they were to change their minds, I would be eager to welcome them and enjoy fellowship. This has always been my desire, as I believe this is the right way to godly living. But when the husband is walking alone, sees me approaching in the opposite direction, and grimace in silence as I smile a polite greeting, then this can have a dramatic effect on the emotions, especially in a moment of crisis (as mentioned in last week's blog post). 

And now it's the time of the World Cup international football tournament. Like the Olympics, it is held every four years, and once again I see the great hope building up among others for the chance of the resurrection of England's glory after beating Tunisia by two goals to one in last week's opening match. Together with Brexit, if England happen to win the Cup this time round, I dread the sheer pride, optimism and national glory which would cover the land. And with it, that look of gloating as they glance down at me, an Italian, someone who lovingly cares for his wife in pain. Yes, something similar to this has already happened from time to time in the past. All by self-effort isn't it? Or rather, the glory attained by the combined effort of eleven men kicking a football across a field. Suddenly we're on top of the world again, regardless of whether our national economy is strong or whether it's crashing to the ground and facing a recession. No matter. In international football, we are the champions!

Of course, there is no room for the bruised reed or the smoking flax. Break the reed, throw water on the flax - as long as they remain standing in the way of England's prospective glory, they both must be removed, trodden underfoot, and left by the wayside. I suppose that what comes to having a victory from self-effort and glory-seeking. And so as I watch fellow Christians allowing themselves to be sucked into the mire, I feel that I just can't go along with them. And I think there is an important reason.

And that is found within the whole of Psalm 144. Here we read about King David praising God for all war victories against his enemies whose forces posed a threat to the welfare of Israel. David was a superb warrior, but instead of glorifying himself or his kingdom, he gave all the credit to God for his victories. And here is where I believe is England's downfall. Glorifying themselves rather than glorifying God, despite the nation asserting itself as a Christian country. Since England won the Cup against Germany at Wembley in 1966, the national team has been wondering around the wilderness ever since, with its lowest point reached in 2014, when England failed to reach even the knockout stages. 

Scripture indicates that all the victory of all battles and contests are decided by God, rather than by mere human effort or glory. In Proverbs 21:31, for example, a few words written by King Solomon blows all mere human effort alone to pieces:
The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.

At the moment it does look as if England can win this time round. But if it does, let's not forget that it's by the sheer grace of God. And the whole of England should acknowledge this, therefore admitting the glory and sovereignty of God and us as the workman of his hands, which includes both team players and their supporters congratulating all other teams for partaking in the tournament, and especially the runners up, a reasoning which looks to me to be in the realm of Divine Creationism - acknowledging that we are all God creation, as opposed to Darwin's theory of Evolution by chance, by natural selection, and by the survival of the fittest. Especially the latter, as survival of the fittest seems to go hand-in-hand with victory through self-glorification, a prize achieved by total human endeavour, which includes exalting the strong and crushing the weak and the lame onto the wayside. 

I am the one who feels small, inadequate, ostracised, lonely in a big world where I find difficult to cope. Indeed, I feel like dust and ashes or a mere flea. And trying to care for a disabled wife whom I love dearly. Then someone comes along and gently lifts me up, without breaking a bruised reed or quenching of a smouldering flax. Indeed, I can call him a Christian, a word meaning little Christ, and with no doubt has the spirit of Christ. And which will exceed in righteousness by leaps and bounds over anyone who seeks the glory of England above the needs of the weak or needy.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

English Bible Written by Foreigners?

I sat up last week when the morning service announcements were read out at our church. For it was announced that at the evening service, this graduate, whom I will refer to as Charlie, will be giving a talk about Creation. I was alerted. Creation is right up my street, and I was already interested on what kind of opinion Charlie will have to share on it.

And so that evening I made a special effort to cycle to our church at North Ascot. But my misunderstanding on the time the service actually commences meant that I arrived more than thirty minutes early. This half hour was designated for pre-service coffee and cake refreshments, and having had tea at home earlier, it felt to me to be a good idea to take a stroll into the North Ascot residential estate for the threefold reason of digesting my last meal, doing some extra exercise, and killing excess time. Fortunately the weather was fair, dry and warm, appropriate in Southern England on a typical June Sunday.

Our church at North Ascot.

About fifty metres further along the sidewalk, another regular church member was approaching in the opposite direction. It was unusual for him to be alone, not having his wife accompany him was not the norm. As we were about to pass each other, I smiled up to him and bade good evening. Instead of acknowledging my greeting as any polite gentleman would do to someone he knew well, he grimaced as he held his silence and walked on towards the church building, as he would to anyone he doesn't like. As for me, to forgive plays an important role in my walk with God. Jesus taught it, even to the extent that if a brother sins as much as seven by seventy times, he must be forgiven that many times, even whether it's 77 or 490 times a day! (Matthew 18:21-22). Even when considering physical health alone, to forgive will spare the merciful person from a multitude of illnesses.

I approached the road junction at the middle of the residential estate, where I paused to look around. Indeed it was quite a posh area, a layout of privately-owned homes, inhabited by predominantly middle class residents. However, the quietness of the traffic-free streets was sad in a way but of no real surprise. Back in my boyhood days it would have been common to watch boys playing football or cricket (without allowing the ball to break a window), while the girls were out playing hopscotch, house or schools. Kid's voices echoed through the street, from time to time a scuffle would erupt, and occasionally a boy could be seen running or walking back home in tears. Such was the rough and tumble of growing up, the excess energy well and truly spent, and given little or no chance for obesity to set in.

But as I stood at the road junction on a typical early Summer Sunday tea-time, the stillness and the quietness of the estate had somehow gotten to me. Imagining every family sitting in front of the TV, their teenage sons shut in their own bedrooms and glued to the play station, Facebook or whatever, the well-known but unbiblical phrase The Englishman's Home is his Castle looks very appropriate in North Ascot. And much more so as I passed one residence as I made my way back to the church, what seems to be some argument taking place at the front door between a female householder and a caller.

The grimacing pedestrian I passed earlier lives on or near the estate. Very English, as I have known him for a number of years, he has a tendency to look up in awe to graduates but despises commoners who may hold different opinions. He has already condemned me to an eternity in Hell - not because of any possibility of deliberately rejecting Jesus Christ as Saviour, but because I am not in the middle-class academic realm, and therefore my own tendency to hug other men is seen by him as a transgression of Englishness.

Crazy, isn't it? In truth, I wish that the risen Jesus of Nazareth would materialise in front of me and give me a long embrace, his nail-scarred hands tapping gently on my back and giving it a gentle stroke as he showers me with love and affection. I guess I have to wait until the afterlife before I can have that experience. Instead, I belong to a church which within includes a few middle-class eccentrics and academic weirdos, who either cannot accept the Bible as literal history or finding difficulty in doing so. As was the case with Charlie, whom the grimacing pedestrian adores.

Charlie is quite an academic in his own right, whose graduation on Middle East political history has enabled him to write books on the subject, although at this point in time still awaiting publication. With myself believing him to be one of many patriots who voted for Britain to leave the EU, I also have an awareness of the possibility of him being a supporter and follower of Jacob Rees Mogg, sometimes addressed as Moggy, the posh Conservative politician and fanatic Brexit supporter and a patriot with an Etonian and Oxford University Alma Mater, and having a plum tone of voice to boot. Such an ideal Englishman adored by many within the Centre-Right wing political circles, and whose active Roman Catholic faith has attracted comments from his critics as one politician being disillusioned with his imaginary pixie in the sky.

With his academic and political standing established in my mind, I listened carefully to Charlie's preach, and as I have previously suspected, he did not take the first chapter of Genesis as literal history, but as a poetical form parallel to an ancient Mesopotamian tablet, the Enuma Elish, a Babylonian text very similar to the Gilgamesh Epic, also from Babylon, the latter I'm more familiar with. The Enuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Epic are both very similar in context in a sense that they both relate to Biblical events as recorded in Genesis, the first dealing with Creation whilst the latter is about Noah's Flood. Both were to do with warring gods, bickering deities who initiated Creation out of war and revenge rather than a demonstration of God's love and Creative powers. Furthermore, secular academics have placed the Gilgamesh Epic above Genesis in literature status, insisting that Genesis was copied from the Epic, therefore granting the Babylonian text as having greater authority than the Biblical narrative. Therefore it was of no surprise when Charlie placed the Enuma Elish at equal standing with the Bible as being poetical and non-historical in context.

Fragments of Enuma Elish tablet

The Enuma Elish was something new to me, and in a way I thank Charlie for opening up a wealth of knowledge at my disposal. Checking on the Internet, it looks as though Charlie composed his preach from author Pete Enns, who has written books on Biblical history, as well as blogs to the website Bio-Logos, a site centred on Theistic Evolution, or as they refer to as Evolutionary Creationism. One of Pete Enns' articles is about Enuma Elish, and it looked to have been the bedrock for Charlie's sermon.

I have had a good look through several articles presented in Bio-Logos, and I came to the realisation that this website is more approachable than Creation Ministries International website, the latter which tend to have a cutting edge with its articles and general presentation, as if constantly defending itself from heavy opposition and even mockery from the secular world. Creation Ministries International has always been highly critical of Bio-Logos for compromising with Darwin's theories, with no fewer than 550 articles one way or another firing criticism at the website.

But despite Bio-Logos more gentle approach to the reader, I cannot accept Theistic Evolution as a bedrock for Biblical Creationism, at least for one very important reason. That is, if Theistic Evolution is a reality, then Adam and Eve had parents, and maybe thousands of brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, and cousins too who all died natural deaths. If death was already at work among men before the fall, then that totally invalidates the Atonement made by Jesus Christ on the Cross, and also invalidates the Resurrection. That means that Christ is powerless to save us and our faith remains futile. Christ atoned for us because of the sin of our first parents, the sole head couple of all mankind. There is no alternative.

It is true that the course of creation as narrated in the first chapter of Genesis poses problems. For example, the land and the seas was created on the second day, the sun, moon and stars came to being on the fourth day, after all vegetation was created on the third day. Therefore where the source of light was from day one and how the dividing of day from night which occurred on the same day came to be, we are not told. But it is taught, and therefore to be accepted with faith. Later, God himself endorses and confirms the historicity of his literal six-day Creation to the Hebrews by ushering in the Sabbath day as the Fourth Commandment in the Decalogue, explaining a literal six-day creation followed by his rest on the seventh. I would go on to say that, after the completion of day six, the forces of Creation during those six days are not in force now. From day seven, which was in itself God's day of rest, the forces of creative power ended and it has not been in operation ever since to this day.

With the historicity of Genesis held to question, here is another opportunity to demonstrate the historicity of Holy Scripture by means of simple arithmetical calculations. In this case, there is another mystery which seemed to remain unexplained, and that is the mystery of Melchizedek, the king of Salem at the time of Abraham. Therefore, what does the writer of Hebrews mean when he says that this priest "is from everlasting to everlasting, without father or mother, he remains a priest forever."-? (Hebrews 7:3). Do we have two priests at work on our behalf, Melchizedek and Jesus Christ?

It was by coming across a Jewish quote about a Hebrew tradition saying that Melchizedek was actually Shem, the son of Noah, and of whom Noah blessed the Lord, the God of Shem (Genesis 9:26). So I decided to look into this. So with just pencil and paper, I was able to work out that two years after the Flood, Shem became the father of Arphaxad at the age of a hundred years (Genesis 11:10-26). In turn, Arphaxad became the father of Shelah at age 35 years. After this, Shelah became the father of Eber at thirty years of age (Eber is the original name from which the word Hebrew arose). And so right down to Abraham. By adding the ages of each father at his son's birth (and not their full age), Shem was already 390 years old when Abraham was born, and when the two met after rescuing Lot at the battle of the kings, Abraham was between 80-84 years of age, making Shem between 470-474 years of age. By the time Abraham died at the age of 175 years, Shem was 565 years old, and actually lived on for another 35 years until he himself died at age 600 years, according to Genesis 11:10, with the first 100 years already lived before the Flood.

This is where being without parents made sense to Abraham. After the Flood, Noah himself lived for a further 350 years after the Flood, making a total lifespan of 950 years - the first 600 years during the antediluvian age. When Noah died 350 years after the Flood, Abraham was already alive and he was already 60 years old. This was more than twenty years before Shem met Abraham to receive the tithe. The chances of Abraham ever meeting Noah, I guess, would have been very slim, if not at all, as Abraham did not travel that north. In fact, at 60, he was still in the Mesopotamian area, as he did not enter Canaan until 75 years old (Genesis 12:4-5). There would be no logical reason why Noah would have migrated from near Mount Ararat in present Eastern Turkey if, according to Scripture, he had planted a vineyard there. What I can make of it all, Shem being the same man as Melchizedek makes good sense and therefore re-enforces the historicity of the Bible, especially Genesis.

Which brings me to ask why, in the fifth chapter of Genesis, each patriarch, including Noah himself, was concluded with the words, and he died? For example:
When Seth lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh. And after he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived for 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether Seth lived for 912 years and he died. (5:6-8).

But in chapter 11:10-32, with a full list of post-diluvian patriarchs, not one was concluded with the words, and he died. By doing the reckoning as discussed above, it became clear that all the post-diluvian patriarchs were still alive during Abraham's lifetime. This may explain the difference between chapter five and chapter eleven, where in the latter, the words and he died does not appear.

By doing a little bit of calculating, I can verify the historicity of the Bible, and not relegated into the realm of myth or mere poetry. I think it is a grievous error to mythologise Genesis, or come to that, any part of the Bible. But so unfortunate it is, when Englishness has that knack of playing down the historicity of Holy Scripture in order to exalt himself on a national level, is to play the role of supremacy, even if it is possible, to exalt himself above God. As I have come across over and over again, the Englishman has a tendency to think of himself above all foreigners in all nationalistic, cultural and academic circles. It may not be done deliberately or openly, although there are far-right groups who do just that. Rather, it lies in the subconscious. The Englishman cannot help thinking the way he does. Although I cannot claim to be a mind-reader, these set of ideas seem to play well with the grimacing pedestrian's rudeness.

The Bible is not an English book. None of it was written by the English. Instead it was written by foreigners, almost entirely by Jews living in the Middle East, and then much later translated into English. Maybe, just a thought, if the English such as the grimacing pedestrian, had a far greater awe and reverential respect for the historicity and truthfulness of the Bible than the awe he has for a fellow academic, then who knows, Darwinism may not have got to where it is now.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Self Worth? The Three Zeroes...

When retired, there are things I could do midweek which I had no time for throughout my years as an earner. Such as sitting at table at the Santa Fe Coffee bar located within a bookstore at the newly-developed Town Centre shopping precinct, with a newspaper spread out in front. This week was of no exception. One afternoon, I took a fleeting glance at a fellow customer sitting two tables away, facing me. Then I dug into reading the newspaper when a young and rather pretty waitress from Eastern Europe (going by her accent) arrived at my table to deliver my order. She was smiling with politeness, which is part of her duty etiquette. When all the items were set in place, she quickly left.

Then she went over to the other table to deliver the other customer's order. A conversation struck up between the two and remained ongoing for what could be for up to ten minutes. I couldn't help feel a pang of jealousy as the conversation progressed, with the waitress apparently swooning at the fellow's charms. I had to look up. The man, about half my age, sported some facial hair and was wearing a business shirt unbuttoned at the neck and without a tie. I could see straightaway that he has a university degree. His facial features radiated high intelligence and a scholarly expression - a far cry from my own working class background as a retired Window Cleaner. On his table, beside the coffee mug was a small laptop - most likely that one gadget which fired up the waitress's admiration, as if a confirmation of the fellow's intelligent facial expression.

Within my feeling of jealousy, I was thankful for my present status as a well-established married man. By continuing to read the paper following the end of the conversation, I was able to allow my pangs of jealousy gradually melt away. But supposing I was still single? True enough, I have male friends close to my age who remain unmarried to this day. Some of then did attend uni, others did not. But I knew perfectly well that such awareness wouldn't have added a crumb of comfort to a far more intense feeling of jealousy at that coffee bar. Indeed, the waitress was pretty, wearing a top with a low neckline that would stimulate the desire of any red-blooded male. I have often wondered whether such women serving the public deliberately dress provocatively to attract male attention. 

Santa Fe Coffee Bar, Bracknell, UK - where I call regularly.

As with me, I married later in life, in my late forties. Before then, especially in my thirties and forties, the opposite gender never gave me a second look. Any potential relationship which could have started up, especially when I was in my twenties, quickly fizzled out, thanks to my speech impediment and accent, which had nothing to do with having a foreign background. Rather, it was the result of something I was totally unaware of until I was already married and a father of two daughters - Asperger's Syndrome (AS).

AS is something so subtle and so unlike any physical disease or illness. It affects far more boys than girls, and sufferers often have above-average intelligence. I have a good, long-standing friend with AS, whose IQ matches any member of Mensa, and also fluent in at least two languages. Although quite good-looking in facial features, as far as I'm aware, throughout his sixty years of life he remains single to this day, never having an ongoing relationship with a female. 

Going by what I have seen, I don't think he had ever suffered personal rejection either. Although just a guess, I wouldn't put it behind me that my friend's extraordinary high intelligence, his office career and middle class English background each played a role in personal absolution from teasing or verbal assault. Unlike me, as already shared in a previous blog,* the verbal and vitriolic bullying whilst serving as a volunteer in Israel during 1994 was the nadir of rejection, ridicule and assault - an experience my highly intelligent friend would not have suffered had he been where I was at that time. However, my time in Israel was by no means a unique experience. I was teased by two other young women, especially during my mid to late twenties, and in my previous church. Indeed, exactly like in Israel, this verbal assault came from those who professed to be Christians, and one was influenced by the other.

Whether those two were Christians remains debatable. One eventually married, but not long afterwards, they divorced. The other left our church after such a short time and was never seen again. But even to this day, a couple of young married women from our church seem to feel uncomfortable in my presence, as if my tone of voice, caused by AS, is something of an embarrassment to them. Fortunately, I'm far more acceptable by other men, and particularly by the students. And talking about the students - as one who scroll through Facebook on a frequent basis, they often appear photographed in suits and ties, even bow ties for the men and evening dress for the women. Not only as if having an obsession with middle class status, but from a very different planet to the one I grew up on.

If only they realise how fortunate they are! Out of school into college - sorry, university - and then into some high-flying office career with a respectable income. Quite unlike me back in 1968. The year I left school on a Friday and started work in a family-owned furniture factory soon after. And my first task? Yes, picking up the broom handle. And not allowed to forget that I was at the bottom rung of the ladder, the small fry, the lowest of the pecking order, and I was treated as such as I pushed the broom across the floor. Such lowness none of the students at our church will ever be unfortunate enough to experience or even suffer.

No posing outside college in suits and ties for me as a teenager, no evening ballroom entertainment or posh dinners with close friends. And with a self-worth which is close to zero, if not already there. The temptation for suicide came and went but fortunately with conversion towards the end of 1972, such temptations faded and I began to see everything in a new light. This included making good use of my single status instead of moaning about it. Rather, I turned it to my favour. With the experience of being a lowly dogsbody already under my belt and the mental toughness which grew out of it, I was able to fulfil my adolescent dreams with world travel, especially as a lone backpacker.

How our church students appear on Facebook - Stock photo.

However, self-worth seems to be in short supply whenever failure at school occur here in the UK. Television interviews relates well with young teenagers who fear for their future unless they pass their exams and get the grades. What amazes me is that unless they graduate and get their grades, there is absolutely no hope for their future. I can't help thinking: I left school with zilch, but half a century later I'm still here, and with a story or two to tell. According to statistics, in 2016 there were nearly 6,000 suicides committed here in the UK, 75% of these deaths were men, peaking at the age range of 40-44 years of age.** Could a lack of personal worthiness be the bottom cause of these statistics? When considering the numbers being roughly similar year in, year out, such events as a divorce notice posted by wives after their kids fly the nest, or loss of a job, or financial difficulties with debt piling sky-high, addiction to drugs, any of these could link to failure in life and a resulting loss of any self-worth.

Therefore it came as a surprise to me that what I had to share at our church's recent "open" meeting seemed to have uncovered hidden feelings among those listening. An open meeting is a Sunday service without the normal sermon, but instead anyone in the congregation can come to the front and share what God has given. The whole congregation always praising God with such positiveness each week and looking contented, I managed to stand at the front and lifted the lid on what was really going on on a day-to-day basis, away from the church building and away from all other Christians.

I shared on the struggle involved with caring for a physically disabled loved one. Sudden intense pains leading to the need to call the ambulance for a trip to hospital, where she is treated with Morphine and other strong painkillers before discharge and a taxi ride home, often in the small hours. These "downers" - as I call them, are imminent  - each one can occur suddenly at any moment. After watching my wife go down with severe pain whilst on a day trip to London on Easter Monday and ending up at a London hospital, I felt that our planned trip to France later this year on the Eurostar had to be cancelled, as we take the National Health service, which is free to all UK citizens at the point of use, for granted. In France, we may be landed with a bill of several thousand pounds for the same treatment. Also "living on a knife-edge" would spoil the enjoyment of any holiday.

Therefore I shared my failing faith, believing that God has let us down, and prayer was a waste of time and effort. After all, God had more important things to tend to. Why should he deviate from what he is doing just to fulfil our wishes? How worthless we really are! Why on earth should God be concerned about us? I then shared what Abraham, King David and the prophet Isaiah had each said about their own self-worth in comparison to God's glory.

These were three of the greatest men of God recorded in Scripture. Here they were, alive between four thousand and 2,700 years ago, and we not only know their names, their genealogy, and their jobs, but we also know what they said and what they got up to, along with their experiences in their lifetimes. Over thousands of years. Contrast this to deceased celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, David Bowie or Priscilla Black. I doubt that much will be known about them in fifty years from now, let alone what they actually said. And us commoners? Taking myself as an example, nobody would know of me less than half a century after my demise.

Abraham was considered a friend of God. But one day he found himself interceding for Sodom, because God was about to destroy that city along with its sister Gomorrah. As Abraham was pleading, he also felt that he was putting the Almighty's patience to the test, so he confessed that he is nothing more than dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27).

King David, who was still a Prince at the time, was being pursued by King Saul with his desire to take the young man's life. At one point David felt exasperated, asking a question: Who am I but a flea or a dead dog? (1 Samuel 24:14, 1 Samuel 26:20). I understand that the flea is the smallest living creature which can be seen with the naked eye - just. Furthermore, a dead dog left lying on the ground, and unless consumed by vultures and other scavengers, will eventually stink and become the food for maggots and other disgusting things. So much of his own self-worth before God!

The prophet Isaiah I consider another example. There he is standing at the Temple of God in Jerusalem, and the Almighty reveals himself to him, his glory filling the temple. Isaiah then cries out:
Woe is me. For I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Isaiah 6:5).

Along with the Apostle Paul, who wrote: For I know that in my flesh dwells no good thing...(Romans 7:18) - which corresponds well with the testimony of the other three witnesses. And before his conversion to Jesus Christ, Paul was an outstanding and dedicated Jewish scholar who also looked down upon all non-Jews and "sinners", yet his former religion is now considered as excrement compared to the glory of Christ living in him (Philippians 3:8).

This was the general trend I shared with Ascot Life Church during the open meeting. It must have had an impact. Before I returned to my seat, two men came up to me and started praying for me and my wife, and also praised God for my courage in revealing honesty, the truth of my spiritual heart condition. After the end of the service, one or two others came up to me and admitted that they often feel that way before God - that God has let them down or is too far away.

I am but dust and ashes. I am but a flea. And I have unclean lips. Without the Atonement made by Jesus Christ, these would be exactly a good description of myself as I stand before God. It is a dreadful truth but reality nevertheless. It's exactly the same as standing under the shadow of the Cross.

David Bowie (d. 2016) Would we still remember him after 50 years?

Under the shadow of the Cross, it no longer matters whether I voted for Brexit or to remain in the EU. Social class becomes irrelevant, as my occupation in relation to social status. All of these has lost all value or relevance. As with wealth. What use is it once we step off this planet? Or our high level of education. Would that add a single cubit to the afterlife? Like dry ash scattered by the breeze, a shrivelled leaf blown away by the wind, a dead dog's stinking corpse gradually eaten by maggots - what use is it campaigning for the sovereign of our country and the glory of England's future - if that what we really are before God?

Sometimes I question the wisdom of mankind - especially of my own countrymen. We sing for England's glory after Brexit, we also proclaim the salvation of our God through faith in Jesus Christ. But it seems, these are all cover ups of our own inadequacies, our lack of self-worth, regardless of what our education level or profession may be. Indeed, Sunday by Sunday, we may indeed hold our hands up in the air (but in reality we don't even do that - it's not British!) - but afterwards, when we are all alone at home or at work, we may ponder whether God is really with us, or are we after some ecstatic spiritual experience to boost ourselves up?

*For a more detailed account of this experience in Israel, click here.
** Office of National Statistics.