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Friday, 30 December 2011

We Celebrated Christmas. Let Us Not Forget...

..the Jewish people.
This year, while we were celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, the Jews had a very similar holiday of their own - the Hanukkah. This is a eight-day holiday celebrated by the Jews to commemorate a miracle which took place in 165 BC, long after the last book of the Old testament, Malachi, was written. Therefore nothing of it was recorded in the Old Testament. But it is mentioned in the New Testament, in John 10:22 as "the Feast of Dedication, and it was winter."

Their Hanukkah, which means Dedication always begins on the 25th day of Kislev, on the Hebrew calender. Because their calender is based on lunar months, their dating varies from late November to late December on our Gregorian calender. This year, the 25th of Kislev coincided with the sunset of the 20th December, which meant that our Christmas day fell on their fifth day of their holiday.

So what is exactly the Hanukkah?

It was when the Temple in Jerusalem was re-dedicated to the God of Israel in 165BC. As part of this ceremony, a candle had to burn on the Altar for eight days. At the time, there was enough olive oil to fuel the candle for just one day. But the candle kept on burning for the whole eight-day duration despite the lack of the fuel supply, and this was considered a miracle from Heaven - a wonderful sign when considering that the Temple was desecrated three years earlier by the Greek Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168BC. This was when pigs were sacrificed at the Altar, which was, in turn, dedicated to the Greek God Zeus. Judaism was banned, as with male circumcision, and foods which was not Kosher were forced to be eaten by the Jewish population. A group of Jews, which became known as the Maccabees, revolted and successfully liberated the Jewish nation, which afterwards the Temple was re-dedicated.

Hanukkah had since then been celebrated by lighting one of each of the eight candles of the menorah, the Hanukkiya which actually has nine candles, the ninth, known as the Shamash is usually in the middle of the menorah, either higher or lower than the other eight candlesticks. Shamash is generally used for lighting up the others.

The Hanukkiya

On the first evening, the Shamash is lit with the first candle. They burn for half-hour into the night. The next night two candles are lit, and so it goes on until on the eighth evening when all eight are lit. The only exception is before sundown on the Friday, where the appropriate candle must be lit before sundown, and not on the Sabbath itself. Therefore often a longer candle is provided for this occasion.

Gifts are usually given to children, as well as to each other, particularly in the USA and in Israel, where the Jewish children don't feel left out where other children receive presents at Christmas. Also throughout the period, food cooked in olive oil is eaten, and a game known as Dreidel is played among family members. This consist of a four-sided spinning top, each side having a Hebrew letter printed on it. The letter which lands face up determines the action of the player who had thrown it, namely whether to add some coins in a central bowl, take all of the bowl's contents, or half of it, or not do anything at all. The player which has all the coins wins.

Unlike the Passover and other God-ordained Jewish festivals, there is no strict sabbath keeping with the Hanukkah festival. Work is permitted as during the rest of the year. But every Hanukkah festival will have a Sabbath within it, which is observed normally.

So we begin to see some striking parallels between Christmas and Hanukkah. Both are in winter, both involve lighting candles, both involve giving of presents, both involve cooking festival meals, both involve family games, both involve a period of days - Hanukkah has eight days, Christmas has twelve, and both involve allowing to work throughout the holidays. After all, it is vital for public services such as television broadcasting, the Police, hospitals etc. to be adequately staffed on Christmas day.

And furthermore, Christians are obliged to give honour to the Jews, as their own Christian faith was originally Jewish, and its launch was from none other than Jerusalem, the Jewish capital. Romans 15:27 reads:

For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.

If only Christians over the past two millennia realised this! Instead, the Roman Catholic Church, along with some Protestant churches as well, had persecuted the "Christ-killing Jews" - despite that the Lord Jesus himself said that no man can take his life from him, but he lays down his own life according to his Father's commandment. (See John 10:18.) One of church history's hall of fame greats was Martin Luther, a Catholic monk who one day read Romans 1:17 and realised that the just shall live by faith, launching the Reformation. Yet he was never freed from Rome's dislike of the Jews, referring to all their synagogues as "Synagogues of Satan" a reference taken from Revelation 2:9. Then not to mention the Nazis, and their leader, Adolf Hitler, who had six million Jews exterminated simply because he felt that the Jews were an "inferior" race to them.

Yet what really astonishes me are the two straightforward verses found in Genesis 12:2-3, which reads:

I will make you (Abraham) into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

With verses like these, one would think that the Jews would be the most popular nation on earth, with people showering blessings upon them and in turn be blessed themselves. How could it be so possible to be hated and cursed for so long, not only throughout the Christian age, but going back well into Old Testament history when the fledgling nation was troubled by the Canaanites, then later by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans and by the Arabs today?

Paul the Apostle never had any dislike for the Jews, especially being one himself. Rather, in Romans 9 he shows his feelings of distress over how his fellow countrymen can be so blinded from the truth of the Gospel, and was even willing to be severed from Christ if it meant many, if not all, of his fellow Jews believed and were saved. Paul had the right attitude, and so must we, who are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, even though the majority of us would not go as far as forfeiting our salvation for their sakes, nevertheless, our recognition for who they are and our fervent love for them and our desire to see them come to faith in their Messiah, must not cease among true Christians.

When I was backpacking Israel in 1993, I was walking through a street at Tel Aviv when I saw an Orthodox Jew trying without success to lift a laden trolley onto the sidewalk from the street. At his beckoning, I approached and together we lifted the trolley. He was so thankful as he dismissed me with a smile, that I walked along grinning from ear to ear with happiness! Later, during the vacation I felt God revealing to me much about Israel as a nation and the land he calls his own, and with everything fitting together, I could only gasp with awe at the inspiration of the Bible and the promises he made and kept, and will keep.

God had not forgotten his chosen people

Paul in his letter to the Romans, had written that the Jews were blinded from the reality of their Messiah Jesus in order that Gentiles, that is non-Jewish people, can believe the Gospel and be saved. He likened us to branches from a wild olive tree grafted in to the cultivated olive tree. He then warns us (non-Jews) not to become big-headed and arrogant after being recipients of God's mercy. Unfortunately, that has happened, and the Church's history had been tainted ever since, with many Popes having lived wicked lives and suffering horrible deaths, particularly of syphilis or even murdered by an angry mob, a jealous husband or anti-pope (a rival of the current Pope occupying the Throne of St Peter at the time.) Such a sorry state of the Church, the body of Christ, during the Dark Ages, could well be the link with their hatred of the Jews as "Christ-killers". In the Old Testament, for example, looking at the fate of the Canaanite kings at the time of Joshua and afterwards, Goliath during the reign of King Saul, Haman at the time of the Persian dominance over the Jewish Diaspora, and in modern times, Adolf Hitler, none had suffered such infamy and despicable deaths than they.

Their demise serves as a warning to us. God said to Abraham that anyone who curses him and his descendants (i.e. Israel) will himself be cursed. It is a matter not to be taken lightly. In turn, anyone who shows favour to the Jews, to the nation of Israel and Jerusalem in particular, will be blessed by God and enjoy his favour.

Contrary to the opinion of some Christians, God is not finished with the Jews on a national level. As I have mentioned already in previous blogs, there is a large quantity of passages in the Bible that prophesies that Israel will inhabit their own land of Canaan in the future, with Jerusalem as their capital city. When the Lord Jesus Christ returns to earth as King of kings and Lord of lords, he will enter the city of Jerusalem and there set up the throne of his father David. If you want reference, read Jeremiah chapters 30 to 33, and the last twelve chapters of Ezekiel. Also consider Romans 11:25-32, particularly verse 26, where Paul promises salvation to all of Israel in the future.

The Jews are the Lord's physical brethren and in a sense, our spiritual brethren. True enough, they are sadly blinded from the truth of the Gospel for our sakes, but this won't last for ever. One day, when all non-Jewish Christians are brought in, their veil will be removed and will all be saved.

May God bless you as you be a blessing to our Jewish brothers.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

I just like to wish all readers and followers of my blog a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year ahead.
And I thank you all for your comments and encouraging notes. May I ask you all to keep your comments coming in, and look out for many blogs, I hope that will come in the new year.
God bless,

Sunday, 11 December 2011

I Will Cause You To Walk In My Statutes

This article is the result of reading other postings on this website. With a huge number of readers and followers believing that a true saint can lose his salvation and be lost again, I came across this verse of Scripture, upon which I write this article.

I will cause you to walk in my statutes. Ezekiel 36:27.
This sentence just quoted was uttered by none other by God himself through the prophet Ezekiel. And he spoke this to the exiled Jews who were taken by the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar in 586BC.

But to put it in context, here is the more complete quotation:

For I will take you (the Jews) from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. (The land of Israel, or Erech Yisrael). Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take out the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements and do them.
And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:24-28 K.J.V..

This is one of several extraordinary prophecies found in the Old Testament. This one, along with Jeremiah 31:31-34, also quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12, are prophecies addressed to the sons of Israel who will dwell peacefully in their own land after the Return of Jesus Christ, who himself will sit at the throne of his father David in Jerusalem. So these prophecies are still unfulfilled at this time. It is true that many Jews have returned to their own land and Israel became a sovereign nation in 1948. But today the Jews dwell in unbelief, that is to say, not accepting the Christian Saviour Jesus Christ as their Messiah.

The Jews dwelling in their own land but still in unbelief.

I will cause you to walk in my statutes. This being the result of a new heart and a new spirit put within the person. What does this mean? It would mean that the new heart is a set of new desires and wishes, the longing to know God personally and to do his will. This also includes not wanting to sin, the desire to abstain from all that is evil. The new Spirit can only mean the Holy Spirit, who indwells every believer to guide him to the right way to please God.

And this is a good description of the Christian today, one who has been born again through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The true believer is given a new heart, a desire to know God personally and to please him. He is against the idea of sinning willfully. 1 John 3:9-10 says,

Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

So here we have two groups, the children of God and the children of the devil. History tells us that both can dwell in any church today, which is endorsed by Jesus himself when he gave the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30). When Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude wrote their letters, they were addressed to a church assembly or a group of church assemblies. Paul for one, wrote to the church in Rome, to the Church in Corinth, to the Churches in Galatia, to the Church in Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse and Thessalonica. All of these churches must have had some unbelievers within the assembly, as Paul often writes that they will partake in the resurrection if they remain in the faith, e.g. Colossians 1:22-23. Even to Timothy, Paul warns that there will be unbelievers mingling with the true saints under his pastoral leadership. Hebrews 6:4-6 tells of a person who partakes in the Holy Spirit yet if he still falls away, he would be "crucifying the Son of God all over again." When an unbeliever dwells with the saints, he receives all the goodness of the Holy Spirit within each individual and he is convicted of his sins. But if that person, especially from a Jewish background, decides that this Jesus Christ was not the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for, and returns to Temple sacrifices, then there is no more hope for him. This is because once his mind is made up, no persuasion can ever change his mind again. He cannot be brought back to repentance, and he leaves the church.

And this was exactly what John says:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 1 John 2:19.

Notice what John says here. Those who went out were unbelievers. They were never saved because they never believed in the first place, despite being made partakers of the Holy Spirit and tasting the good word of God. So this is what "falling away" is all about. Apostasy is not a believer becoming an unbeliever, but an unbeliever convicted of his sins by the Holy Spirit yet deciding that Jesus was not the Christ, therefore attempting to find salvation through means of another route, if bothering at all. Eventually they are the ones who drop out of the church.

So the apostle's letters were addressed to Christian churches, which have some unbelievers in them. Sooner or later, these people will manifest themselves by deserting the faith. Only those who persevere to the end are proved to be true saints and will be saved.

And that is what our salvation is all about. It is a gift, a gift from God given to every believer by grace through faith. It can be likened to a box full of good things: forgiveness of sins, a new heart, the Holy Spirit, communion with God, eternal life, adoption into God's family, already seated in Heaven, a Heavenly inheritance and perseverance. Yes, perseverance is as much as a gift of God as eternal life itself. This particular gift fulfills two purposes, (1)-it keeps our faith in God strong during the most trying times of our lives. And (2)-it has the power to separate the true saint from an unbeliever, especially when the lives of both of them are virtually identical for a time. I have personally watched those who I thought were devout Christians leave the church after turning against God himself and everything else spiritual. Trying to persuade them back to the faith was of no avail. They have gone forever. Just as Peter also writes, the sow has returned to wallow in the mud and the dog to its own vomit. Why did the pig return to wallow in the mire after it has been washed? Because it is a pig, and that is what pigs do. The context to this was that the apostate had returned to his sinful ways because he was a sinner, as all sinners do if they never underwent regeneration. (2 Peter 2:20-22).

There may be other verses which indicate that a true believer could fall from his secure position. 2 Peter 3:17 is one example, 1 Corinthians 4:4 is another. But are these verses threatening Hell? It really depends what is read into them. Only those who believe that one can lose his salvation would read damnation into these verses. I doubt very much that the writer had this in mind. A true saint's walk with God is not always peaches and cream, just as our walk with our natural fathers were not always tranquil! As my own case was proved, a true saint can have his faith shaken. I went through this myself. In one of my last blogs, Your Future Is In His Hands, (published November 27th, 2011) - I related an experience I had while I was a volunteer in Israel, back in 1994, where my faith was so low, that I near enough renounced it altogether, with the decision to go my own way, regardless of the consequence. But I didn't remain that way for long. You see, it wasn't God I was disappointed with, it was formal Christianity, established in an English setting, which had let me down. But from the moment God called me in his still small voice, I responded immediately. If there was a case of forever losing my salvation and passed the point of no return and be lost forever, that occasion would have been it.

It was impossible for me to hate God. Being angry with God, maybe yes. King David was angry with God for letting an ox stumble while carrying the Ark of the Covenant in a cart, which cost the life of one of the King's closest helpers. (See 2 Samuel 6:1-11). It is alright to be angry at God. Confessing one's anger and the cause of it is all part of one's relationship with God. After all, God would have known about the incident and the consequential anger long before it would ever occur, yet God still saved him at the point of repentance and faith. But for a believer to hate God would have been impossible, since the Holy Spirit dwells in him (Romans 8:15-16) and that no one who has the Holy Spirit can say, "Jesus be cursed." Rather, the believer is a child of God, adopted into his family forever. (See 1 Corinthians 12:3).

So the true believer has been adopted into God's family and is also a member of the Bride of Christ. When the bride walks up the aisle of a church, all her body parts are there. Some are hidden, others are on show. But when she presents herself to the groom, she is fully complete with every part functional, down to the last cell. The Bible also likens the church as the body of Christ, with every part fully functional in him.

So the true believer is a child of God, adopted into his family. God knew that such a person would become a believer from eternity past. So if God also already knew that one would lose his salvation sometime after he turned to Christ, would God have saved the person in the first place? At the Judgement, it is Christ himself who says,

I never knew you, depart from me, you who work iniquity. Matthew 7:23.

I never knew you. This does not sound like a once-saved person who had lost his salvation sometime afterwards. If that had been the case, then Christ wouldn't be telling the truth when proclaiming judgement, because there was a time in the man's life when Christ did know him. This verse therefore, indicates that either Jesus Christ knew him from eternity past, or never knew him at all. There is no halfway point here. It's either one or the other.

Then take a look at all the great saints in the Old Testament. Among all the named saints, from Abel right through to Malachi, there is not a single case of any losing their salvation and ended up in Hell. Could this be the result of eternal foreknowledge of God, and his ability to preserve the faith of every believer, even in Old Testament times? Can we really imagine that such men as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, along with others not named here, were in danger of losing their salvation? Didn't Jesus, on at least one occasion, declared to the Pharisees that they shall see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, along with all the prophets, sitting in the Kingdom of God, while they were shut out?

Sure, there are a couple of uncertainties. One of them was King Saul. There is a controversy whether his soul went to Heaven or Hell at his death. In this case I don't know, neither is it up to me to say. It totally depends whether God knew King Saul from eternity past or not, although I personally believe he did, if David's lamenting over him and his son Jonathan had any value attached to his grief. (2 Samuel 1). Such as the greatness of God's grace and mercy upon such a king who erred so deeply during his reign.

The other case was that of the unnamed prophet of God from Judah, who after rebuking King Jeroboam, disobeyed God when he was deceived by an old man to refresh himself and eat while on his journey home. Soon afterwards, he was slain by a lion (1 Kings 13). Did his soul went to Heaven at his death? Personally, I'm convinced that he did. Why? Because God knew him. He was a good example of what Paul had written to the church in Corinth. He wrote about anyone who abused the Lord's supper was slain, but his soul was saved, but as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15, 11:27-32).

So what must we do to be saved? First we must realise that each one of us have broken the Law, enshrined in the Ten Commandments. Have you ever looked at a woman with a lustful eye? Then you have already committed adultery with her in your heart. (Matthew 5:27-28). Likewise, he who hates his neighbour without a cause commits murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Also if you have ever lied, then you are guilty of being a false witness against your neighbour. Have you had a desire for somebody else's possession? Then you are guilty of coveting. Is the Lord your God the very first priority in your life, above absolutely everything else in you life? If not, then you are guilty of idolatry. Have you ever shouted, "Oh, for Christ's sake...!" Then you are guilty of blasphemy. Have you ever cursed your parents, or disrespect them? Then you are guilty of dishonouring your parents.

So we are guilty of breaking the Law of God as given in Exodus 20. If we have broken the Law, then we are guilty before God, and deserving of Judgement. Paul says that even if we have kept the Law perfectly, but stumble at just one point, we are guilty of all of it.

But the good news is, that Jesus Christ who died on the cross to atone for our shortcomings, is now able to cleanse us from our sins, forgive us fully and impart eternal life. This salvation being the imputation of Christ's sinless righteousness on our life's account. In other words, we are pronounced, "Not Guilty" by the righteousness of Christ in our lives. Furthermore, our body and soul becomes the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, who will dwell in us forever, giving us the desire and power to know God personally and to do his will. The very conviction of our sin, revealed by the Law, makes us want to run to Christ for mercy. Once safe in his arms no one in his right mind would want to be separated from him ever again.

This is the meaning of Once Saved Always Saved, which I wholeheartedly believe.

With such sovereign power of God, his love, grace and mercy, why doubt such a wonderful truth?

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Hats Off To Jesus - That's It For Another Year

December at last! After thirty days of November, here in the UK, which I think was the dreariest month of the year, with dark evenings drawing in and the weather getting cooler and wetter, I feel a better mood comes in with December. Winter Solstice, the end of the year, Christmas holidays, the world of snow, Christmas trees, tinsel, baubles, giant illuminated plastic Santa and coloured lights ablaze over city streets, knowing that children are getting excited for their presents, wallets are getting slimmer by the day as bank accounts diminish and the credit card goes into overdrive. Meanwhile, stockists of socks and neck-ties feel their eyes sparkle as wives and girlfriends enter their shops to keep their tills ringing.

And oh yes, people who had little time for anything spiritual throughout the rest of the year begin to turn "churchy". As Christmas carols begins to be sang, the pews begin to fill. The BBC's Christmas broadcast of Songs of Praise each year brings views of packed cathedrals, beautiful traditional carols and a wide TV audience.

There is something nice about a helpless baby in the crib. He does not pose a threat to the way we like to live our lives. An adult Jesus will be too demanding. A baby, on the other hand, is so cute. Everyone would like to hold the baby Jesus and cuddle him. He does not make any demands on anybody, doesn't he?

And the Christmas carols. Surely we all have our favourites. Although I like quite a number of traditional carols, my favourite is Come all ye Faithful. This song contain the verse which just about embrace the whole of the Christian creed in a nutshell. Here it is:

God of God
Light of Light
Lo he abhors not the virgin's womb
Very God
Begotten, not created;
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

This is such a beautiful song, the lyrics always touches my heart whenever the song is sung. But this is because the carol teaches the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, specifically to die a cruel death on the cross to atone for our sins. As someone once said, Christmas is all about Easter. But it seems to me that a much greater percent of the British population either do not fully link the birth of Jesus Christ to his death and resurrection or do not wish to, and how much less one's daily commitment to him? And statistics seem to bear this out, even if surveys cannot be made absolute cut-and-dry, they do give a fairly approximate guide with allowance for some variations.

In the UK, according to the Christian charity Tear Fund, with 10% of British people attending church on a weekly basis, only 7% of the total population say they are practicing Christians. In turn, 32,200,000, or 66% of the population say they have no connection with church at all throughout the year. The remaining 24% have a nominal connection with the church but don't attend regularly. All this is quite a contrast to the 43% of the British population who attended Christmas services in 2005, compared to the 45.7% who said they had no religion at all.

Furthermore, a graph shows that church attendance in the UK is constantly declining. By examining the chart representing those who profess the faith to those who don't, in 1983 those who called themselves Christian were the majority with 66% professing the faith, until recently, in June 2008 the number of non-believers overtook to become the new majority, by 2009 the number of non-believers stood at 51% to the professing 44%. The remaining 5% probably were not sure. The orange line represents the people of other faiths, such as Muslim, which stayed practically level throughout the 26 years the survey covered. (To study the illustration, you may have to bring the zoom to 200%.)

In the USA, statistics seem to indicate that 26% of the population attend church every week or more. States such a Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina top the bill with a staggering 58% of the state's population attending church regularly. In turn, New Hampshire and Vermont, in the New England area, has a lowest attendance of 24%. But by looking at the comparisons, it becomes immediately obvious that the Americans are much more keen on regular church attendance than the British. And yet, a recent news report says that the UK is one of the most generous countries in Europe, if not the world when it comes to giving to charities. Charity TV shows, such as the BBC annual Comic Relief and Children in Need entertainment shows has always raised millions of pounds from the viewing audience, in addition to private giving, the greater number of donations going to medical charities.

So here in the UK we see ourselves as a Christian country. We make a great festival of Christmas, so much so, that the image of a baby lying in a cattle feeding trough somehow gets lost in all the bright lights and tinsel glitter. We all love to celebrate Christmas. And I would dare to say that die-hard atheists such as Professor Richard Dawkins had every year pulled and snapped a Christmas cracker with his family members over a table laid with a succulent roast turkey with all its trimmings, followed by Christmas pudding set alight with Brandy and served with lashings of cream. Not to mention nuts, chocolates and all other festive niceties to add to the excitement in his children's eyes as they tore away the gaily-coloured wrapping to reveal their presents. Indeed, thanks to the Christian faith, even atheists can, and do enjoy the holiday.

And this is the point of this article. Although we love Christmas, we still want to keep the baby in the crib. In the crib is where we want the child to stay, because if we take him out of the crib, he'll start to grow up. And as he grows, he'll begin to say things we would not want to hear. Real horrible things like as; to be his disciple, we must take up the cross and follow him. And to add to this, the preference to him over everything we have, including our family and even our own lives. And the gritty discomfort we feel when he quotes from the Law of Moses. And whenever he quotes from the Law, we become aware of our own sins, and that is not nice. And those statements he comes out such as selling all that we have and give the proceeds to the poor and come follow me. Okay, we might be rich in Heaven one day but does this mean I have to wonder homeless through the cold, wet streets? After all, he did say that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, and that the servant is not greater than his master. Challenging stuff!!!

Yes, he did say also, on this very issue, that what's impossible with men is possible with God. Then that bit which really puncture our righteous pride. That is to trust in him brings eternal life, and this life is in the Son of God, and not of ourselves. So what are we left with? Nothing. For the Cross of Christ slays the old man stone dead. In other words, to live is Christ, and not of us. Little wonder that we want to keep the child in the crib, even to celebrate his birth every year. But stay in the crib he must.

But would Jesus Christ really want every follower to catch rheumatism, arthritis and a host of other ailments by tramping through the cold, wet, wind-blown streets? Well, there is absolutely no record of this ever happening, but history is filled with records of imprisonment, torture and death of saints who has answered his call. But with all of these martyrs, it would have been impossible for a single case to have happened unless God himself gives him the power. Because our self-preservation is the strongest instinct every person has, only the power of the Holy Spirit in the person would make his love and commitment to Christ even stronger than his natural instinct. So the central message for every true believer is this: Be filled with the Holy Spirit and let him both guide you and be rich in the knowledge of his word, which is gotten by reading the Bible with a believing heart. Only then would it become possible for your love for God and his Kingdom to dominate your life to the point of death.

After all, in Heaven one's joy is so full, so satisfying that it can be likened to a child's excitement on a Christmas morning, except that the excitement is eternal. There will be no unwanted presents, no burnt turkey, no family rows, no hangover from excess drinking, most important of all, no post-holiday blues to endure on the first day back at work.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Your Future Is In His Hands

You have it in your heart to please God all the time. Imagine yourself at worship during a church service. As the music plays, your hands are lifted up in the air, a symbol of your soaring heart as you focus on him who loved you enough to save you. Ah! A little bit of Heaven within you.

Then after the service is over, it is coffee and doughnuts at the back hall, sometimes referred to as "fellowship". Your patience is put to the test as you stand in line and wait to be served your coffee. The person being served talks and talks, and you watch as you see the steam rising from the pot diminish as the black coffee cools. Eventually it is your turn to be served and the milk jug runs dry. The server turns to the fridge and mutters,
"Oh no! So and so had forgotten to restock the milk!"

You decide to go without the refreshment at the same time you feel the crave for a hot, steaming mug of coffee in your stomach. Then a ten year old child runs towards you with a cup of orange juice as he plays a game of chase with another boy, accidentally jolts as he runs past, spilling his juice down your leg. Finally your temper snaps, and to the child you shout:

You decide to get in your car to drive home. Along the way, an incredibly stupid or blind driver cuts you up and you slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. The language pouring out of your mouth cannot be included here.

During the service, you were soaring the heights of holy devotion. Now at home you see yourself as a vessel of iniquity with the inability to pray, as you're still consumed by anger and frustration. You feel cut off from God and harbour the idea that if you were to die at that moment, it would be Hell, having lost your salvation, at least for the time being. So according to the teachings of your church which holds the "Arminian" view of constant faithfulness, human will and free choice. But if you calm down enough to pray, and confess your sin, then your salvation will be restored, providing that you have not gone beyond the point of no return, from where there is no more hope.

But here I wish to present a very different truth, which my long-term Christian experience seem to back up. Let me share an incident while I was a volunteer at a Christian Conference Centre, ran by the Church of England, in Israel, 1994.

If a volunteer offends, he or she was driven by car straight to the airport after a flight back to the UK was booked by the Centre's Director. Just previous to my arrival, two volunteers were escorted straight to the airport from the Centre. Their offence? The young man and woman fell in love and they were caught petting, to the offence of staff and other volunteers.

After two months of volunteering myself, a massive disagreement arose between me and several other volunteers, the differences of opinion having came to a head that evening. The Director decided that I should return to the UK. But he also commended on my work done at the Centre, and my commitment to the project. That was why I was not escorted to the airport. Instead I was given a sum of pocket money and allowed to remain in Israel until I was ready to fly home, with which I had to make my own flight booking. They escorted me as far as the local bus station, where I was "dumped" there.

I spent a full month at a small backpackers hostel within the Old City of Jerusalem. I was so devastated on what I saw was a miscarriage of justice. I did not believe that a better educated member should be treated with greater favouritism, hence the dispute. I was so fed up with Christianity altogether, I decided to renounce it all, and go my own way. To Hell with the consequences. Day after day, when the other backpackers went out for the day, I lay on the bed, contemplating. I lay face down, burying my face in the pillow.

But after a while, I began to hear, or should I say, feel, a still small voice calling within me, "Frank, Frank..." - Maybe not unlike that of Elijah who fled from the clutches of Jezebel feeling equally disillusioned after serving God so faithfully. (1 Kings 19:1-18).

I began to respond, calling on the name of the Lord. By the time I flew home at the end of the month, my faith was restored, but I still remained emotional devastated which gradually tapered off until I flew out to New York on the very first anniversary of my flight home from Israel.

Our future is in God's hands. Did you know that long before you were even born, God knew every single day of your life? He not only knew exactly how many days you will live, but he also knew when you first believed in Jesus, the time your heart soared to Heaven and he knew also of the coffee line up afterwards, the spill of juice down your leg and the careless driver, all before you were even conceived. He knew who your parents will be, where you will be born, and he knows exactly when you will be called home. Every single work, thought, belief and action were already written in his book before you ever existed. Likewise he also knew of my rise in faith, the fall and restoration in Israel, as well as, as I stood on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem, receiving a vision to fly to the USA the day before I flew home to the UK. It was something I had not anticipated, but God knew all along as I lay on that bed in the hostel.

And this is where I find prophecy so fascinating! The very first judgement God passed to Adam and Eve after the Fall contained a promise of the future Messiah (Genesis 3:15). Later, King David wrote a song which contained accurate and well detailed prophecy (Psalm 22). He described himself as hanging on a cross with a crowd of people staring up at him, mocking him, after having both is garments either given away to someone by casting lots, or cut up into four parts. In fact, David gave a vivid description of the Crucifixion a thousand years before it came into existence. Isaiah too, also gave a thorough description of a suffering servant who took upon himself the iniquity of many, so that they will be healed. (Isaiah 53).

Another astonishing prophecy is found in Zechariah, which reads:
I told them, "if you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, then keep it." So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.
And the Lord said to me, "Throw it to the potter"- the handsome price of which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord to the potter.
(Zechariah 11:12-13).

Here is the spot-on prophecy concerning Judas Iscariot, who received thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus Christ to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Afterwards he threw the money back into the Temple and went and hanged himself. The Council then used the money to buy a potters field, to bury the dead of foreigners. (Matthew 27:3-10). Certainly God knew exactly what Judas would get up to, some 460 years before he was even born.

The book of Daniel contains some prophecies of astonishing accuracy. One concerns the dating of the coming of Jesus, from the day a decree was sent out to rebuild Jerusalem after it was razed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 BC. Daniel received a divine vision that after the decree is made, seventy "weeks" will transpire before the land is fully restored after the Return of Christ. We understand that these "weeks" are actually seven years, not even days. If true, then what this Scripture is saying is that Israel shall continue without a king for a further 490 years after the decree to rebuild the city, about the duration the nation was a kingdom from the start of the reign of King Saul to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

The decree is detailed in the book of Nehemiah, who received it from the Persian King Artaxerxs in the twentieth year of his reign, or 445 BC. Daniel then records that from the decree, there will be seven "weeks" and sixty two "weeks". The seven weeks, or 49 years marks the end of the Old Testament canon, after the prophet Malachi finally puts down his quill. The remaining 62 "weeks" or 434 years was the period leading up to the cutting off of the Messiah, "but not for himself", but for the salvation of others. If we add 434 to 49, we get 483 years, which is seven years, or one "week" short of the initial 490 years as first given. From the decree given to Nehemiah in 445BC to the Crucifixion, there will be a time period when Israel will not be a kingdom, a duration when Israel was a kingdom from Saul to the destruction of Jerusalem. Read the whole of Daniel chapter 9, which also has the prophet's wonderful prayer of intercession. As for the remain one "week" of seven years, many scholars believe that this week will immediately precede the Second Coming of Christ. Seven years earlier, the Rapture of the Church to Heaven will begin the "week"- during which the future Antichrist will arise to reign over the world and trouble the Jews, until Christ arrives to rescue Israel from destruction and to sit on the throne of his father David.

Daniel also gives a graphic detail of the coming Greek empire from after his passing to the start of the Roman Empire, and the Jewish subjection under such cruel Greek masters who will desecrate the Temple in Jerusalem. (Daniel 11). The prophet even gives the detail of a future maiden who will be given to a rival king to secure his own kingdom. Scholars have identified her as Berenice, the daughter of Greek King of Egypt Ptolemy Philadelphus, who will give as wife to Antiochus Theos, King of Syria. (Daniel 11:5-6). But then, why did God foretell the actions of future Greek kings with such intimate detail? Because God also knew that the duration of the Greek Empire is the only period when the Bible will not be written. Malachi, the final penman of the Old Testament, wrote his book during the Persian Empire. Matthew, whose Gospel is the first book of the New Testament, was written, as with the whole of the New Testament, during the Roman Empire.

Yes, this this is getting rather academic. And on top of this, I only gave a small, but rather stunning set of prophecies. But I use these examples to demonstrate that we are all in the hands of God, especially to those who believe, or trust in Jesus Christ to save us from the penalty of our sins, to friendship with God.

It is because of this, the stunning accuracy of prophecy and the full foreknowledge, or omniscience of God, that I believe in the Perseverance of the Saints, or if you like, Once Saved always Saved. But after listening on You Tube and reading other people's articles on this issue, I tell you what Once Saved Always Saved does not mean. It does not mean:

I once asked Jesus Christ into my heart, and lo! I'm saved. I can do anything I want now because I won't be going to Hell. I can have my fill of sin, knowing that I will go to Heaven when I die.

If you think that the above statement is what being eternally saved is all about, then that's proof that you have never known what salvation really is, that you are still in your sins and you are not a child of God. Yet there are many "Arminian" Christians who think that is what we believe!

To be eternally saved is to have a new heart planted within you, a heart that wants to know God, wants to love him and who wants to be cleansed from sin and have no part in it. But we do still sin, and God says through John that if we confess our sins, he he faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Because of the new heart, created by God and planted within our souls, I don't believe that a true believer can ever fall away. His desire to know God and communicate with him just keeps on growing within him. I watched some people in our church grow in grace to such an extent, and one young man in particular, young enough to be my son, I fully support him as an elder in our fellowship, respecting his authority.

And if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, then I want you to be fully assured that everything that happens in your life, both good and bad, have all been foreseen by God. Nothing ever happens by chance or coincidence. And let me encourage you that your future is in his hands, a loving Father.

With his prophecies of such stunning accuracy, how can we not trust in him?

And would he really save you if he already knew that some time later you will lose your salvation? In the light of fulfilled prophecy, this does not make sense, does it?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Come On, Mate, You Can Do It...

While browsing the Daily Mail online, I came across an article written by one of the Mail's bloggers, Dominique Jackson. Her piece was about why in the last year the number of unemployed British young people, aged between 16 and 24 years old, rose to over a million (imperial million, i.e. 1,000,000) for the first time over many years. At the same time, in the past year, 181,000 overseas-born applicants successfully landed jobs here in the UK, which is equivalent to 490 each day.

The general opinion for this phenomenon is that those who have decided to stay out of work are better off on benefits, which means that they each receive from the taxpayer a higher income from the State than one would from a low-paid job. They protest on why should they get up early in the morning to work their socks off at such a dead-end job, and at the end of the day, actually be worse off, with a slimmer wallet.

Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Why work for less money? But this also highlight another attitude among the British unemployed, a lack of the work-ethic.

But it was writer Dominique Jackson who had revealed what might be considered the underlying motive. This is what she wrote, and I quote:

Urged by his parents, both mesmerised by the shibboleth of a University education, young Johnnie will eschew the lowly apprenticeship and fight for his right to a still coveted three years of further education...There remains a stubborn snobbery, in almost every sector of British society, about starting work on the shop floor.
(Emphasis mine.)

And yet, as the author also brought up, the now famous tycoon of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, did poorly at school due to dyslexia, and had never seen the inside of a University. Neither did Lord Alan Sugar, another successful businessman who built his empire from a market stall selling flowers in London. (Alan Sugar is the host of The Apprentice UK, our version of Donald Trump.) Really, as I have experienced, there is nothing wrong with shop floor work.

As I can testify. After leaving school in 1968 with absolutely no qualifications, my first three years of work were spent sweeping the floor each morning of two departments at a furniture-making factory. Additionally, in the wood finishing workshop, each week I had to clean out the two spray booths, the market stall-like structure with an extractor fan where lacquer and other finishes were sprayed on to the woodwork. This created an accumulation of fine white powder, which had to be cleared away. So I ended up literally covered from hair to shoes with this dust, as I poured it onto the bonfire some distance outside. That was my job, I never complained or objected. At least with the making of the teas, (a worker's custom here in the UK - the traditional tea break)- this was done by another adolescent in the cabinet-making department, who had to make tea each morning for the entire workforce, me included.

I personally believe that those years made the transformation from boyhood to manhood. Throughout that time, working in an all-male environment, I learned more smut and filthy talk in the first few weeks than from all my schooldays. And of course I was subjected to teasing. One occasion I was told to go down to the stores for a long weight. Thinking of some gadget essential for the job, I stood and waited...and waited. Then the penny dropped: A long wait! Well, look at it this way, at least I had a free respite without having to answer to the boss. And neither was I subjected to go out and buy a packet of holes, as one of my colleagues had to a few years earlier. Perhaps had I been sent out on such an errand, I might have returned with a packet of doughnuts, and enjoy a good nosh up in the men's restroom! But one very beneficial outcome from this work experience was that it made a man out of me.

In a sense, I never left the shop floor, even after more than 43 years of my working life. Only its nature had changed. I'm now self-employed, running a business cleaning windows at the homes of my clients, which I had been doing for over 31 years. The longevity of the business testifies that I must get some enjoyment and a sense of achievement from my work.

But I didn't stop there. During the last thirty-plus years I attended evening college voluntarily and acquired two G.C.E. "O" Levels, one in English language and the other in Geography. Alongside this, after confessing Jesus Christ to my all-male work colleagues at the furniture factory in 1973, my knowledge of the Bible began to take root and grow.
And may I add one interesting point to this saga. All I had at the time was a pocket New Testament, which was given to me some years earlier by the Gideons at school. When I took it in to work, so I could have a quick read during the break, our foreman looked at it with an element of fear. It also caused reaction from other employees, causing them to blaspheme as well as leading to hot discussions. How could such a little book have such an effect? A couple of months later in 1973, I terminated my employment at the furniture factory to take on a very different job as a pool lifeguard, having qualified in the months leading up to the change.

Later, in the early 1980s, I learned a little bit of computer programming at home, thanks to the good old Sinclair ZX81 home computer with just 1K of RAM, a shoebox cassette recorder for storing software, and a TV set with a spare channel! You see, by then, the church I was attending had attracted a group of young University graduates who worked at one particular computer programming company who moved into our town to trade in our area. During the mid 1970s I began to feel small and inferior in their presence. (See my blog, Alan Sugar at the Kerith? published June 28th, 2011.) The introduction of the ZX81 home computer with which I can actually learn to program was a great confidence booster! I actually believe that God was in this, opening a door to new knowledge, which rebounded in a better walk with God, Bible study and acceptance of my social status. But all this has never made me leave the shop floor, even when there were times I wished that I was able to. Yet I also knew that there was nothing wrong with manual work, unlike the thinking of many of today's younger Brits who believe that the shop floor is beneath them.

The ZX81 Home Computer, released onto the market in 1981

Then again there is a point when one wants to take on a particular vocation. One good example is a man I admire, South Today reporter Allan Sinclair.

On his South Today profile, he tells us that from boyhood he always wanted to be a journalist. But at age 14, he was told by the school careers adviser that he should pursue a trade in plumbing. I think Sinclair felt rather crushed. Why the advisor came up with such an idea we were not told, neither were we told if this student left school with any qualifications. But later in his life he worked as a journalist with various local newspapers before finally being hired by the BBC as a Regional News Reporter. Did he eschew an apprenticeship in plumbing because of snobbery? No, not at all. Journalism was his dream. And I believe that many, if not the majority, of worthwhile professions are held by those who had a passion for their vocation since their schooldays. This is a stark contrast to Johnnie, mentioned above, who only wanted to go to University to escape the dread of manual work he saw as something beneath him.

All this takes me to the Parable of the Talents, spoken by Jesus Christ in Matthew 25:14-30. Here, the Lord tells a story of a master who will be absent for a long time. Just before he goes, however, he chooses three of his servants and he gave one five talents, another he gave two, and the third he gave one talent. I do not know exactly how much a talent is worth, but I believe it to be several thousand pounds or dollars. He told each of them to use the money to trade and bring back a profit. The first two went straightaway to trade. But the third hid the money in the ground. Why did he do it?

I think it was because he felt that his master underestimated his ability, which made him feel resentful. In other words, the servant refused to believe in his master, while the other two believed in him. Now supposing that I was there, a fourth servant. I would approach the master and ask,
"What about me?"
"What about you?" He asks.
"You did not give me any money to trade with."
The master looks me up and down, and with his hand under his chin, mutters,
After a long pause, he disappears, then returns with a small bag.
"Try with this," he says. "Its a quarter of a talent, but let see what you can make of it."

Wheres today I would have no idea what to do with the money, since I have no experience in stocks and shares. But back in those days the servants knew exactly what to do. And I would be no different.

Straight away I invest the cash in two cattle, a bull and a cow, and some sheep, along with their food, especially mandrakes - which is an aphrodisiac. Then I let nature take its course. I also use the cowpats for fertiliser over a field, and invest in some wheat seed, as well as fodder for the animals.

Over a period of time, harvesting yields a bountiful crop which I sell to the markets. The older offspring of the cattle and sheep, after birthing another generation, I would also sell to the market. So it goes on until I have a full talent by the time the master returns.

The first servant invested his five talents to make five more, likewise the second servant turned his two talents into four, and both were richly rewarded. But the master passed a harsh judgement on the one who buried his one talent and had nothing more to show for it. Then, meekly and with fear of the same judgement passed to the third man who had the one talent, I say to him,
"Lord, you know the quarter talent you gave me? Well, er, I made it into one full talent."
The master's eyes widened and sparkled and a big smile spread across his face, from ear to ear.
"WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT!" He almost shouted. "Because you have been faithful over such a small thing, I will let you be responsible over bigger things. Enter into the joy of your Lord."

So the third man and I both yielded the same amount of money, a talent. But why such a contrast in the master's judgement? It was all because I believed in him, the other fellow did not.

And that's how God sees us. He does not evaluate by social status or level of education. Neither does he evaluate us on our nationality. He evaluates us whether we believe in him and of our availability to serve him. Whether one is a Minister of Parliament or Senator, a Doctor, Journalist, or for that matter, a cleaner or one who sweeps the streets, or clean windows, or empty the dustbins. God will always reward those who believe in Jesus.

If only young Johnnie knew that when his enthusiastic parents were being interviewed. Maybe their son would have readily accepted a "lowly apprenticeship" knowing that his main aim in life was to exalt and glorify God in throughout his life.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Why We Remember The Price Paid For Our Freedoms

This morning at Ascot Baptist Church I stood in solemn silence with the rest of the whole congregation for two minutes commencing at 11.00 precisely. Just like the rest of the nation. It was Remembrance Sunday, or Poppy Day, as we call it here in the UK. It is always the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day, marking the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice was signed by the Allies and Germany at Compiegne, France, marking the end of the Great War (World War 1). Armistice Day this year fell on a Friday, two days previously. This may be why some journalists, such as Daily Mail columnist Simon Heffer, believes that the two-minute silence should be observed on that precise moment, when all work should stop, all other activities cease, and even trains stop wherever they are. This, according to Heffer, will get every person's mind to remember the human sacrifices made for our freedoms, and not on a Sunday when much of the nation is slumped on the armchair.

Maybe I can understand how Heffer feels. Much to the credit of many, including employees at the Lloyds Bank in the City, together with a public gathering at Trafalgar Square along with a few Scottish veterans at a cenotaph at a remote area, as with many other locations across the nation, people stopped what they were doing to give a two minute silence of respect at exactly 11.00 on the Friday morning, and this, as far as I know, without any order or even a suggestion made by Government, Royalty or Church officials. Little wonder that Heffer feels that Remembrance Sunday is farcical and Armistice should be the day for remembering. For you, Heffer, the 2012 Armistice will fall on a Sunday, thanks to it being a leap year.

Images of World War II

In the Great War, between 1914 and 1918, an estimated 20,000,000 people, mostly in the military, died defending our freedoms. The casualty toll for World War II was much greater, with more than 16,000,000 of the Allied military dead, along with 45,000,000 of civilian deaths, giving a total of more than 61,000,000 casualties.

But our remembrance Sundays are not confined to the two World Wars. As we stood still this morning, our latest casualties who were killed in Afghanistan were also considered. At this point of writing, 385 of our British soldiers were killed defending our country, which is more than one soldier for each day of the year.

We sometime forget what a very fortunate generation we are! As we revel in our materialism, our high education and careers and our advance in Medicine and healthcare, along with the knowledge that we weren't, nor will we ever wear a military uniform, try to think of yourself as one barely out of your teens, out in a trench, across the Channel from home, on a freezing cold day. During a respite your heart pines for home, the nearness of your mother and perhaps girlfriend, or your wife is due to give birth and you know that you won't be around. Instead as the firing re-starts, bullets from the enemy frontline whistles within inches past your cheek. Your best mate right next to you is hit, and slowly dies. If he is lucky enough, he is ferried back to quarters. Otherwise he dies in the trench and left there for the duration of the shooting. Meanwhile, your crushing desire is to be anywhere but here.

In the Daily Mail newspaper, columnist Max Hastings gives a graphic account of one 17 year old serving on the battle-cruiser Hood in 1940. The youngster writes a letter to his mother begging those in the Admiralty to give her son a reprieve from the ship and offer him a shore job at Rosyth. He concludes his letter with the words:

You know, tell them you have got two sons away and that. Be sure to tell them my age. If only I could get off this ship it would not be so bad.

Not much later, in May 1941 the ship Hood went down with nearly all hands, including the lad who wrote to his mother a few months earlier. He was one of the 16,000,000 military casualties.

On the other hand, there is enough evidence to prove than many who voluntarily join the Forces, particularly in the present day, do so for want of adventure and a life of daring challenges of frontline warfare. In the same article, Hastings relates of two individuals who finds putting their own lives at risk very exhilarating, along with a report that nearly every front line soldier in Helmand was guiltily proud of the casualty rate which, according to them, "was six times higher than at Iraq" as they testify as the most dangerous and exhilarating game that had ever been invented. I wonder whether it was love and loyalty to Queen and Country which had motivated them to travel far from home to fight the Taliban, or was it a way to escape the crushingly dull, mundane day-to-day existence in the office, stuck with a dead-end desk job, and equally stuck in rush hour traffic every morning and evening. An offer of an alternate life in the Forces promises much, much more!

But whatever the motive, wherever it is to fulfill a duty to the country or seeking a dangerous thrill, sacrifices were, and are constantly made. The price to pay for our freedom from a foreign dictatorship such as Hitler, or freedom from terrorist attacks from such as the Taliban, is human life. And once a year we set two minutes of our lives to remember those whose lives were paid for our freedoms.

And it was while at church this morning that one of our elders, Dave Rogers, likened the sacrifices made by our fallen heroes to the one Sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on the cross also for our freedoms. But this freedom gotten for us by Jesus Christ is the eternal freedom from sin and death, to eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Here there will be fullness of joy, when we will partake in the everlasting love which had always existed between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All one need to do is to believe that the Cross of Christ will be effective and trust in its saving power.

When Jesus Christ hung on that cross, his motive was not a reluctant duty under obligation to a King or country like the teenager on board the battleship. Neither was it an exhilarating thrill seeking experience like it was to those two fighting in Afghanistan. Rather it was an act of love, the love God has for mankind, and a love which God allowed his Son to suffer and die as a once-for-all sacrifice to bring reconciliation between God and mankind.

And there are a multitude of martyrs who willingly gave their lives for the cause of the spread of the Gospel. Sure, we do have All Saints Day (1st November) but that is much more remembered for the evening before, Halloween, than for the day itself. At least for the better known martyrs, such as St. Peter, St. Paul and St. James, churches and even hospitals were named after them.

This issue has, to me, brought up the question: what are the spiritual state of those who died in warfare? Are they in Heaven? In Hell? Where is the poor soul of the teenager who drowned when the Hood went down?

Author Dave Hunt once wrote of an experience of standing at a large war cemetery in France, contemplating the souls of all those French soldiers who died in warfare. Hunt assumed that the vast majority of them are in Hell. With much sorrow and grief of heart, he then cried out in prayer, "Why, oh God, did you create man?"

But although I have much respect for this brilliant Bible scholar, whose books played a role in shaping my own Christian life, still I don't agree with all his assumption of the French soldiers. Yes, I agree that each person is saved by God by grace - undeserved mercy - through faith alone, and not by human grace or courage, neither by human sacrifice. But it is not for us to judge or decide who is in Heaven and who isn't. This matter is solely between the person's heart and God. Only God has that right to release or bind a person. In other words, there could be a lot more saved souls from that French cemetery than Hunt would speculate.

The same applies to our British fallen. We have no idea of the whereabouts of their souls. Only God knows. But we can be sure that these people died to defend our freedom. In a parallel sense, it was Jesus Christ who sacrificed his life for our freedom from sin. This is something always to remember and rejoice in, and hoping that by the grace and undeserving mercy of God, the souls of many fallen in warfare are now enjoying eternity basking in God's love and joy.

Now that is worth a poppy or two.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Rapture? It had already Occurred - Twice!

This article is a response to one of our fellow Bloggers who recently wrote an article on why he believes there will be no future Rapture of the Church, which if re-worded, would mean no translation from earth to heaven of all believers, both from the Old Testament and the New, all believers who lived and died in the past and all believers who will be alive at the time of the event. Since there is a forum of comments, mostly agreeing with the author, it looks to me that there is wide support.

Therefore I wish to present why I do believe in a future translation, or Rapture, of all Christian believers sometime in the future which only God knows. Unfortunately, there had been attempts by advocates to guess the date of this event, the failure of it happening on such dates bringing disrepute to the doctrine, both from Christians and atheists alike, and the likes of "The Rapture Generation" highlighted by the likes of Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye becoming the butt of ridicule.

The idea of the Rapture originated from Plymouth Brethren John Darby who developed the "Dispensation Theory" which is to say, that the Bible divides the whole of human history into seven time periods, each period emphasising a facet in God's dealing with mankind. Although I have already shown what these periods were, it is worth highlighting them here:

1. Innocence - From the Creation of Man to the Fall
2. Conscience - From the Expulsion to the Flood.
3. Human Government - From the Flood to the call of Abraham.
4. Promise - From Abraham to the Exodus.
5. The Law - From Mt Sinai to the Crucifixion.
6. Grace - From the Resurrection to the Second Coming of Christ.
7. Kingdom - From the Second Coming to the Last Judgement and end of history.

Although there are seven divisions of time listed here, each period known as a dispensation personally I believe that there is only one dispensation - the Dispensation of Grace. In other words, from the Fall of Man in the beginning, to the end of history, a person has always had his sins forgiven by the unmerited mercy of God, through faith alone. This was as much true with Abel and Enoch as well as with Moses at Mt Sinai and with all true Christian believers today. The whole of Hebrews chapter 11 emphasise this single dispensation of grace through faith alone.

However, looking at how the doctrine of Dispensationalism originated, its history here is very controversial! It was Jesuit Francisco Ribera who in 1590 defended the Papacy from Protestants accusing the Church as being the Beast of Revelation 17 with the Pope as Antichrist. This form of accusation began with Martin Luther and John Calvin and their followers, who came to the conclusion after reading and studying the Bible for themselves. So Jesuit Riberia, who of course, was a Roman Catholic, used the Bible to formulate that the Antichrist was not the Pope, but a politician who will rise to power near the end of human history - from his standpoint in time, far into the future. Ribera's associate, fellow Roman Catholic Cardinal Bellarmine, backed Ribera's research and conclusions.

It was Plymouth Brethren John Nelson Darby who turned to Ribera's thesis of the future Antichrist as the foundation to build his Dispensationalist theory, which includes a future Rapture of the Church. But this is why this makes the whole issue rather colourful. It occurred in the early 19th Century, a time when there was a heavy anti-Catholic sentiment among Protestants, something which was the result of Luther's and Calvin's conclusions reached in studying the Bible. The church structure in which Darby led and worshipped was against the clergy/laity division, against tradition, against the display of crosses and other works of art, against the liturgy, against the adoration of Mary and certainly against the Roman Catechism of worship and service format, along with the rejection of the Pope and his authority - all of these accepted as the mainstream of Catholic church structure. Therefore Darby's acceptance of Ribera's thesis of a future Antichrist and then using it as a foundation to build his own Dispensationalist structure would have been extremely ironic, being so unlikely if not impossible - unless Darby recognised a high level of Biblical truth within Ribera's works, which would come to the admission that God spoke through the Roman Catholic Jesuit, much maligned by the Protestants of the day.

John Nelson Darby

But although I recognise Darby, Scofield and even Ribera's works as valid, my advocacy of the Rapture is based on a very important issue, and it is this:-

If God has not finished with the nation of Israel, and he has future plans for the Jews, then the Rapture of the Church will occur. But If God had forever finished with Israel, and the Church had replaced Israel, then the Rapture need not occur.

There is an intrinsic relationship between Israel and the Rapture. Does God have plans for the Jews in a national sense, or not? If not, and the Church as replaced Israel (a thesis known as Replacement Theory) then we have no need to be concerned about a future Rapture. But even if the Replacement Theory is proved to be correct, the fact that two "Raptures" or translations, had already taken place in human history. I am, of course, referring to the translations of Enoch and Elijah, the only two men in the whole of history to be taken alive to Heaven. The case of Enoch is endorsed in the 11th chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (verse 5).

This may give a clue to the identity of the two witnesses narrated in Revelation chapter 11. These two will be killed by the future Antichrist after 42 months of ministry within the city of Jerusalem. One popular theory is that Moses will be one of the witnesses. I don't hold to that idea. The reason being would be that Moses would have to die twice, the first at the foot of Mount Nebo some 3,600 years ago, then again in the future at Jerusalem. No man had ever gone through such an ordeal, not even the Lord Jesus himself. Enoch qualifies as the ideal candidate, alongside Elijah, both have yet to experience physical death. But the point is: The Rapture is not beyond God's capabilities!

So why the Rapture? Well, let's go back to the beginning.

Because God loves mankind despite being sinful, he had chosen to give an area of land to Abraham, which is to be passed to Isaac and then Jacob, who was renamed Israel, the father of a new nation which will always bear his name. When the fledgling nation was in Egypt, they became slaves to Pharaoh, from whom God delivered through Moses. Later King Solomon son of David, built the first Temple on Mount Moriah, just north of the city of Jerusalem. With the completion of the Temple, God has made a conditional promise that there will always be a descendant to reign in the throne of his father David, as long as each King stays close to God and keep his Commandments. (1 Kings 9:1-9, 2 Chronicles 7:11-22).

But the condition was not met by either Solomon himself or by most of his subsequent kings. By 586BC King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon razed Jerusalem to the ground, destroying both the city and Temple while the exiles were carried off to Babylon. This was the end of Israel as a Kingdom, and it will not be restored until after the second coming of Christ.

Jeremiah the prophet lamented over the destruction of his beloved city, even to the extent of writing a canticle, The Lamentations of Jeremiah. But God gave him some reassurances that if a man can count all the stars in heaven, or disrupt the rotation of the Earth, then will God forever abandon Israel for all what they has done (Jeremiah 31, the whole chapter). In verses 33 and 34, after the nation had been restored and all the exiles and of the Diaspora had returned to the land God had given to Abraham, there is a promise that God will renew the heart of every Israelite across the whole nation. This has not happened yet. In fact, the regeneration of the heart can only come about through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ their Messiah. To this day, the vast majority of the Jews remains in unbelief.

Then there is a large chunk of Scripture that makes up the last twelve chapters of the book of Ezekiel. This section alone occupies 15 pages of my KJV Bible, compared with the whole of the first letter to the Corinthians, which occupies 13 pages, and the whole of Romans, which also occupies 13 pages. In other words, the last twelve chapters of Ezekiel is longer than any of the New Testament epistles. Yet these chapters, as seen by many Christians who advocate the Replacement Theory, are not only ignored, but the truthfulness of these chapters seemingly denied.

What do these chapters tell us? That God has sworn to protect and glorify his own name, and for his own name's sake, he will bring back all the children of Israel to their homeland. This was written soon after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and it does not fit in with the return of the exiles under Ezra and Nehemiah. This was because the vast majority of Jews remained where they were resettled, and were known as the Diaspora, still very much in force during the time of Pentecost of Acts 2.

Ezekiel chapters 36-39 gives the detail of all the Jews returning to their homeland. In 36:24-27 Ezekiel specifies the cleansing of each person's heart and the sprinkling of clean water, the removal of the heart of stone to be replaced with one of flesh. This is the regeneration, nationwide, of the heart which comes only through faith in Christ, confirming Jeremiah's prophecies. Along with the promise of heart cleansing, the restored nation will once more be a Kingdom, with Jesus himself as the King. (Ezekiel 37:21-25).

From chapter 40 onwards, Ezekiel gives a thorough description of a future Temple. Future from our own standpoint in time, because it does not fit with the Temple built by Ezra, which was embellished by Herod the Great before the birth of Christ. For a start, there will be no curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the structure, but a pair of beautifully panelled doors. Then in 43:1-7 we have the glory of the Lord enter the Temple from the east gate, his body parts (soles of his feet) described in verse 7, strongly indicating a risen and glorified Lord Jesus. This did not happen at the second Temple built by Ezra. Also, a river flows out of the Temple precinct to nourish the land of Judea and to sweeten the water of the Dead Sea, so that this presently desolate salt lake will become a habitation of fishes.

Then the priests who minister to the Lord will be the sons of Zadok, a descendant of Aaron. Now if this is all future from now, then it must be said that God has, and will preserve the descendants of Zadok, and it is well to say that Zadok's offspring are with us today! This is backed by the allotments given to all eleven tribes of Israel, something which never took place again after the Exile. Therefore it is safe to conclude that all twelve tribes of Israel are with us today, and only God knows which tribe every Jew belongs to.

Now, if we are to believe that there will be a future Temple to be built in Jerusalem, this present some massive problems. First of all, why should a Temple be built anyway? Did not Jesus Christ atone for all sin for all time? If so, then why the need for more sacrifices?

Now I will be honest here. I do not know why this Temple will be required. But this is a case of believing the Word of God, and submitting to what it says. If the Bible teaches that a future Temple will be built, then who am I to argue? This is a case where I must bow the knee, and my soul to yield to the authority of God's revelation. Trying to argue intellectually would be utterly foolish and bring no lasting fruit.

Then there is another big problem - the Islamic Dome of the Rock sitting spot on where the Temple will be. We know that in no way will the Arabs allow any Jews to lay their fingers on that mosque.

The Dome stood on Temple Mount for the last 600 years. As long as it stands, the Jews were not able to build the third Temple and offer sacrifices. I believe that God allowed this arrangement while the Bride of Christ, which is the Church, reaches its fulfilment. Only when the Church as reached the exact predetermined number will God allow the Temple to be built, and then come to rule the restored Kingdom of Israel from the Throne of David, which will be located within the Holy of Holies of the Temple itself.

When I spent a few months in Israel back in 1994, working as a volunteer at a Christian Conference Centre, I took the opportunity to look at a scale model of the Temple the Jewish people had in mind to build. The model was on public display within Jerusalem Old City, in the Jewish Quarter. There were a number of Orthodox Jews who were against the construction of the Temple but general public opinion seem to be highly favoured of the idea, hence the display.

But there were, and are, two obstacles blocking the project. One is the presence of the Church here on earth. It is to this, at present, where God is ministering, building a people for himself who will make up the Bride of Christ. When she is ready, she will be called up to heaven to marry her Groom. We call this calling to the wedding of the Lamb's Bride the "Rapture".

Then secondly, right on the site where the Temple needs to be built, stands the Islamic Dome of the Rock. This must be demolished, or at least relocated before any construction of the Jewish Temple can even begin. There is no way, at present, that the Arabs would even consider such an idea. Also, where at present, there is much disunity among themselves in the Muslim world, the very threat to the Dome of the Rock would quickly unite the entire Arab population to push Israel into the sea. It could even start a world war.

Therefore it must take an event of huge global proportions to get the Arabs to change their minds. This event is so terrifying, that global pandemonium will seize everyone still alive. The sudden disappearance of millions of people across the globe. The consequences of this will be so dreadful that countless multitudes will go insane due to unrestrained panic. The common explanation for this sudden phenomenon most likely to be an abduction of the human population by extraterrestrials to serve as slaves on another planet. Suddenly those who had remained behind are under the mercy of a power they have absolutely no control. Who will be next? Will more be snatched off this planet to populate another as slaves? It is then that a statesman will suddenly arise who will claim to be the intercessor between the remaining mankind and the alien power. The people will understand that they will be safe if they submit to this man. And he will instruct the Jews to demolish the Dome of the Rock to make way for the Temple, and not a single Arab will oppose him. His motive to build the Temple will be purely selfish. As he sees the construction taking place, this statesman anticipates the day he will stand at the imposing entrance and proclaim himself to be God! (See 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4.)

This, of course is just a scenario, but one that could be close to reality. But for Israel to take centre stage again, the Christian Church must be removed, and so it shall, to present herself as the glorious Bride, dressed in white and adorned for the Groom who will accept her as his own.

Maybe who knows, perhaps Ribera, Darby and Scofield did see something in the Bible after all, the restoration of Israel as a Kingdom once more.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Letter to Saul (Paul) of Tarsus

Dear brother Saul.
I recall the day you came all the way from Tarsus to visit us at the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem with your father, a fellow Pharisee and one of us, to be taught by us in preparation for your initiation into membership of the Council here in Jerusalem.

Let me say that I was impressed with your zeal for the traditions of the fathers, and you took a great liking to our brother Zerah, whose fiery devotion to our traditions remains unsurpassed to this day, and brother Saul, I was able to see very clearly that he was your role model and even in your youth you have every desire to be just like him.

But it was also brother Zerah's devotional zeal which, I'm very sad to say, made him the ringleader who successfully persuaded the crowd to have one man in particular, crucified, although according to my opinion, he was innocent of any wrongdoing and therefore not deserving to die at all. I have examined him myself by asking him questions during the night, so that we can discuss matters without any disturbance. Not only was his answers so graceful, but he also raised issues concerning the things of our spiritual standing with God, and not on what we do or the traditions we keep.

Then I also watched him do some amazing things, like bringing sight to a man born blind - on the Sabbath. This is when I became convinced that God was with him, for as the man who had received his sight himself testified, no man can give sight to the blind except God be with him. However, this enraged brother Zerah, who insisted that no one who claims to be God's prophet breaks the Sabbath. And he was right, of course.

But it was when this man brought a dead man back to life at a nearby village of Bethany that made such a miracle the last straw for brother Zerah. He actually believed that the whole of Israel will turn against the Sanhedrin to follow this one man, brother Jesus of Nazareth. It was then that brother Zerah stirred up a riot among the crowds to having him sentenced to death under the Roman procurator Pilate.

As brother Jesus of Nazareth hung on that cross, I heard him cry out, "ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

As I stood there, I began to mutter where he left off -

"Why are you so far in saving me,
so far from my words of groaning?"

Then I recall that which came to my mind, and I muttered:

"Many bulls surround me,
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions tearing their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I'm poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men have encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet,
and divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing."

I then also recall muttering under my breath:

"Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
and yet we consider him stricken by God,
smitten by him and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all."

Then I recall the words he himself spoke while we were alone that night:

"For God so loved the world
that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believes in him
should not perish
but have everlasting life..."

From that moment, brother Saul, I began to cry, publicly and without shame. His innocence shone so brightly, even in his sufferings, touched my heart. I just wept as I stood in front of that cross.

Then not long afterwards, we were in this large upper room in Jerusalem, a gathering of about 120 of us. What's more, there were women among us, including the mother of brother Jesus, some of her friends - and this Canaanite woman with her young daughter. A story goes that Jesus did not hesitate to heal her daughter of some...some infirmity. Now as you know, brother Saul, we Israelites, and particularly us Pharisees, have a rule that there must be no mixed-gender assembly in worship. At the Temple and at every synagogue, men assemble at one place, women at another. Furthermore, our wives were looked on as just our property, here to bear our offspring. This was endorsed in the last of the Ten Words, which says that one shall not covet his neighbours possessions, which includes his wife.

Then to be in the presence of a Gentile was an abomination, and contact with such a one would have defiled us. Let alone a Gentile woman like the one who sat next to me, who would have been the lowest of the low, and practically an abomination to any Pharisee. No Gentile would be allowed to enter a house of an Israelite, likewise, no Jew would enter a Gentile's house. We Jews are by nature very nationalistic. And even among us Jews, we as Pharisees looked upon the shepherds of sheep as pariahs, social underlings, along with the publicans, who had betrayed us by complying with the Romans in exhorting taxes to pay these Romans, and their cohorts, the sinners. We Pharisees stayed well away from these people, lest we become defiled by their presence.

But that day in the upper room, things were very different, and things will never be the same again. We all sat there each and everyone of us under a deep, heart-searching conviction. Conviction of our sin, our iniquities, our weaknesses, our shortcomings and failings. And our strong hold on our traditions, our religion, our nationality, our gender divide, our social classes - had all crumbled to dust and blown away like chaff in the wind. We were all in it together - all of us falling short of God's glory and the sudden realisation that we are all in need of his mercy, regardless of who we are.

That was why, brother Saul, I wept when I stood at the cross. The very innocence of this Jesus of Nazareth caused everything I hold dear to become as nothing, as I already explained.

Then as I sat in that room, the daughter of the Canaanite woman turned and cried out, "Mummy!" Her mother then broke down into tears and wept uncontrollably as I put my arm around her to give some comfort. This Jesus of Nazareth, who had shown her so much love as he healed her daughter, had pierced her soul, washing away what must have been a huge pile of sins, guilt and shame. Her home town was Tyre, way up north of Jerusalem, in the Phoenician province north of Galilee. After her daughter was healed, she decided to leave her home to search for this Jesus, but by the time they arrived here in Judea, this Jesus who she was seeking had already died.

She was homeless here in Judea, as no innkeeper would accommodate a Canaanite woman, so I took her in with her daughter until she was ready to return home to her house in Tyre.

Now, brother Saul, I am convinced that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah we were waiting for. Contrary to popular opinion, he did not come to defeat our Roman oppressors and liberate Israel. That sort of Messiah -King is he who our brother Zerah is waiting for and expecting. No, rather this Jesus of Nazareth had done something much more important. He came to liberate our hearts from sin and its guilt and has given us the capacity to serve and worship God from within our hearts, and not just from the tablets of stone which God formerly used when Israel was set free by Moses from the Egyptians.

Now, brother Saul. You are still young and you have yet much to learn. But you have this fiery zeal and enthusiasm for our traditions of the fathers. Your ambition is to keep the Law of Moses perfectly. Therefore Caiaphas, the High Priest had set you under the tutelage of brother Zerah, whose own zeal will in no doubt rub off on you. But let me warn you. If you mention this Jesus of Nazareth to brother Zerah, he will get cross with you and he will instruct that he was not the Messiah we were waiting for, as he did not set Israel free from our Roman oppressors. But I would also ask you, dear Saul, to consider everything I wrote here. This Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. And there is much talk of him rising from his grave three days after he died on the cross. If this is true, and I don't think there are any reasons for doubting, then it will be the same Jesus the Messiah of Nazareth who will one day return to reign as the true King of Israel, on the throne of his father David.

With much fatherly love,
your elder and brother in the Sanhedrin,


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Prophecy: God's most Powerful Tool - Ahem...

Leicester Square, in the heart of the "swinging" West End of London. Standing on a soapbox, a Christian evangelist was stumped by a group of Muslims who were asking him for proof on why his Jesus was greater than their prophet Mohammad. Checking out the situation while passing through, I felt my spirit rise to the level when I was no longer able to resist, and I called out loudly:
I then made haste to my destination, a bookshop geared to the likes of backpackers located close to Convent Garden, without looking back.

Jesus Christ has risen. This was the testimony given by the apostles to their listeners. The apostles were eyewitnesses to this event. It was the ultimate proof that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Jewish Messiah. But to add further backing, the apostles added proof from the writings of the Prophets. The very first sermon preached to a wide audience in Acts chapter 2 contained the prophecy of Joel and from King David, while Peter's testimony in chapter 3 contains quotes from Moses. These are prophecies focusing on Christ's first advent, or coming, which includes his death by crucifixion, his resurrection and the formation of the Church, here at the Temple in Jerusalem. The first miracle took place at the same location, the strengthening of the legs of a crippled beggar, to add further endorsement to the prophecies that this Jesus of Nazareth, whom they nailed to a tree, was the Christ, and by believing, receive eternal life.

In acts 4:25,26 Peter continues to quote King David, while in chapter 7, Stephen summarises the entire history of Israel right back to Abraham. The next chapter records Phillip and the Ethiopian who was in his chariot reading from the scroll of Isaiah. From the same scroll, Phillip proved to the Ethiopian that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, and the rider believed and was baptised at a nearby pond.

In Paul's ministry, he quotes from the prophets Isaiah, Habakkuk and the Psalms of King David to demonstrate to his fellow Jews that Jesus was their Messiah. And in every case it was to do with the first advent of Jesus Christ and believing to have their sins forgiven and receive eternal life.

When it came to the subject of the Second Advent, before his ascension to Heaven from the Mount of Olives, Jesus made it clear to his apostles that it was not for them to know the times and the seasons of his return (Acts 1). This applies to us to this day.

But what I have seen and heard about in the last forty-plus years was the rise of what I personally call Antichrist Mania. I believe that three main factors contribute to this rise:

1. The resettlement of the Jews in their original homeland since the Balfour Declaration of 1918, followed by the establishment of Israel as a sovereign nation from 1948 and the city of Jerusalem being made the Jewish capital in 1980, after some 2,500 years after being sacked by the Babylonians.

2. The occurrence of the two World Wars, the Great War commencing in 1914 and the second in 1939. Tying in with this is the misinterpretation of what Jesus called "This generation" as recorded in Matthew 24:34.

3. The dawning of a new Millennium.

Then there is the issue with the term Antichrist. The term first appears quite late in the Bible, in the first letter of John (2:18) which is near the end of the New Testament. When Martin Luther, John Calvin and their followers began to study the Bible for themselves, they eventually concluded that the Great Whore of Babylon of Revelation 17 was the Roman Catholic Church with the Pope as the Antichrist. This interpretation of Scripture grew within Protestantism, with many believing that the Catholic Church was counterfeit Christianity (see my blog, 25th September, 2011).

It was Jesuit Francisco Ribera who in 1590 wrote a thesis defending the Papacy by declaring that the Antichrist is a single person who will rule the world immediately before the end of human history. This idea was taken up by other scholars including Protestants such as Presbyterian minister Edward Irving and James Darby, who developed Ribera's idea into a theological theory known as Dispensationalism which simply means that human history is Biblical divided into seven time periods, each period emphasising a method in which God had, and will relate with mankind.

The fact that I favour the Dispensation theory brings up the question:
Did God speak to Jesuit Francisco Ribera, a member of a society formed by Ignatius Loyola who in turn, had an occultic vision of the Virgin Mary instructed him to destroy all Protestants? Would God enlighten such an individual with the truth of the Bible? Again, why wouldn't he? This is another case of the sovereign will of God, doing what he pleases, and not contained within man's reasoning. After all, the early Protestant movement would never had considered the possibility that the Lord would have chosen a Jesuit, - one who fights against anyone who holds the doctrines of salvation by grace through faith, without works - to reveal to him the secrets of the future. In short, Ribera may not have had a divine revelation. But there was a good chance that he did.

And other Protestants accepted Ribera's thesis, including Plymouth Brethren James Darby, followed by Cyrus Scofield, who published The Scofield Bible which became the focus of Dispensationalism, particularly taught at the Dallas Theological Seminar and reaching into many Protestant churches around the Western World.

With the idea of "Antichrist Mania" (as I call it) finding its roots as early as 1909, I wouldn't have been surprised that as the century wore on with the two World Wars, the formation of Israel as a sovereign nation and the dawn of a new millennium not far away, it only took a little imagination to infiltrate both the bookshelf and the wide screen with Antichrist propaganda.

The first to step out in this direction was author Ira Levin, who wrote the novel Rosemary's Baby (1967) - which was made into a blockbusting movie about a young married woman (Mia Farrow) who was raped by a demon and conceived, with the baby displaying cat's eyes, born on the 28th June, 1966 (6/66). As such, the new millennium would have dawned six months after his 33rd birthday, a good time and age to commence ruling the world!

The Omen was released to the wide screen in 1976. This movie was about a young boy, Damien Thorn (Harvey Stephens), whose mother was a jackal, and displaying evil supernatural power while under the care of his adopted father Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck). Young Damien was also timed to take rule at the start of the 21st Century.

Then evangelical Christian Hal Lindsey in 1970 wrote The Late Great Planet Earth and predicted that the future Antichrist would come to power in the early 1980s. He followed his publication with two follow ups: The 1980s Countdown to Armageddon and The Terminal Generation. All three of these books pushed the idea that the future Antichrist was alive and well at the time of writing and no Christian alive at the time would see the start of the 21st Century - the Rapture already having taken place by 1983.

At about the same time, Tim LaHaye wrote The Beginning of the End with which he had to borrow material from Lindsey's book, The Late Great Planet Earth to support his own arguments. LaHaye, however was concerned about "this generation" quoted by Jesus Christ himself in Matthew 24:34, after telling his disciples that "nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be famine, pestilences, earthquakes" and so forth. According to LaHaye, and no doubt, Lindsey as well, this "generation" who were alive to see both world wars were quickly dying out! LaHaye then tries to stretch the time scale by insisting that one only had to be a young child to remember his parents fighting in that 1914-1918 war.

Norman Robertson wrote, Understanding End Time Prophecy in 1989. He believes that the end time generation began in 1948, the year of the birth of the nation of Israel, and not 1914 as Lindsey and LaHaye taught. Even so, at the time of this writing, a baby born in that year would be 63 years old now, so there is still a chance for Jesus to return to earth during this generation, but he'll better hurry up! This generation is already on the wane, and the Lord said that this generation shall in no wise pass away until all these things come to pass.

But there are a few problems. If Jesus was talking about a future generation, then why did he say, "This generation," rather than "That generation." As one who adhered to the dispensationalist viewpoint, I have found this grammatical inconsistency something of a stumbling block. It was the crack which dulled the whole structure from ringing true. Yet with this belief, I felt that I had to wind things up fast, for I wouldn't be around much longer!

It wasn't until I came across another book, perhaps also classed within the "end of century Antichrist Mania" - written by Dave Hunt, How Close Are We? (1992) which solved the dilemma. Of all prophecy teachers, I have found Hunt to be the most sensible, authoritative, and absolutely dismisses any idea of dating prophecy. According to him, "This generation" does not mean a people living at a certain time in human history, as the language imply. It means instead, the Jews as a race of people having a particular characteristic. This changes the whole concept entirely. In this case Jesus was right. The Jew is as much with us now as in his day, and the Jew will continue to exist until the end of history.

With all this "Antichrist Mania" filling our Christian bookshelves and shown on the wide screen as horror movies, has this brought on an influx of new converts into our churches? Rather has this whole propaganda turned people off, thinking that all Christians are a bit nutty?

Let's take the Gay community. I have access into one of its websites, which on its forums there is a column set aside for spiritual issues. Through it, the vast majority of male homosexuals are against the Bible, what it teaches. They are fully aware of Leviticus 18:22 which forbids a man lying in bed with another man, and certainly against what they call "Organised religion" namely the Christian church. Surprisingly to me, the names of Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsey are very familiar to them, particularly with his book, The Late Great Planet Earth.

The situation is made a lot worse by leaders such as Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. He and his congregation gather in the street in front of a Gay parade with placards ablaze with "God Hate Fags" logos and "God Hates America" and so forth.

As such attitudes turns the average person away from Jesus Christ and from eternal life he has to offer, I feel that the "Antichrist Mania" has done the same. Why do I say this? Because all the things which Lindsey and LaHaye, and to a certain extent, by Norman Robertson had all written, had failed to come to pass. The Rapture hadn't occurred. 28 years after 1983, the year the Rapture should have occurred, we as Christians are still here. And eleven years into the 21st Century, Antichrist had not shown up.

Then there is the likes of atheists such as Richard Dawkins, to whom the name of Hal Lindsey is well familiar. Lindsey's failure of his prophecies coming true is just the fuel for Dawkins' fire of ridicule. Little wonder that delving into end time prophecy, instead of its original intention of bring people to Christ and filling our churches, had done the exact opposite. Dawkins is driving people out of the churches and Lindsey and his ilk had accelerated this process further, resulting of many perishing in Hell without hope.

Prophecy IS a powerful tool for evangelism. But it must be used in the same way the apostles used it. To prove that the Jesus who walked this planet, was crucified and rose from the grave, is the Christ who has laid his life for our redemption. There are many prophecies relating to Christ's first coming. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 are great examples, and there are plenty more. These are the prophecies we need to use when sharing Jesus Christ with others, as well as a rebuke to the likes of Islam's Mohammad.

Antichrist? Don't bother with him. He's not worth a single mention.