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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Tut Tut, Naughty

Herodias was ambitious. She was fed up of her husband Philip's domineering attitude. Always had to be submissive to him as Tetrarch, or governor of Ituraea, a region north-east of Israel bordered on the west by the River Jordan, an area occupied by Syria today. To the west of the Jordan River was Galilee, which included the west coast of the Lake of Tiberias, governed by Philip's half brother, recently divorced Herod Antipas, and apparently childless. These two brothers were the sons of Herod the Great, who not only governed the whole of Israel and Judah, but he refurbished the Temple in Jerusalem, and also built a shrine enclosing the sealed entrance of the Cave of Machpelah close to the town of Hebron (see my blog The Stone Bible, 1st February, 2011) - before he died following the slaughter of the Innocents in 4BC.
Where her husband Philip was authoritative over his own household, Herod Antipas had a much more malleable character, a personality she can wind around her little finger. So after a massive bust up, she left her husband, and taking her beautiful daughter, settled into Herod's palace.
For some reason historians cannot seem to agree on, Philip could not gainsay his half brother. Instead he remained at his palace alone and defeated. Soon after, Herodias married Herod and began to rule over his house as well as over the region of Galilee.
Then John the Baptist called out to them as they passed by in their chariot, saying that it was unlawful to marry someone else wife while her husband was still alive.
Herodias was furious! How dare this itinerant preacher tell her what was right and what was wrong. She ordered Herod to arrest him and thrown into the palace prison, to await execution. At least Herodias succeeded in having John silenced, if not her conscience.
I suppose Herod would have wanted a super injunction if the law courts were able to hand it out in those days. Herod rather liked John, and was willing to have him talk in his presence. He certainly would not have wanted the general population outside muttering and tut-tutting over his misdeed. He felt guilty and exposed. But unfortunately, his conviction of wrongdoing failed to result in a conversion. Had it, Herod would have sent Herodias packing, and he himself making a journey to Jerusalem to sacrifice a sin offering at the Temple.
I guess this is the outcome of State religion, in force in Israel up to the Crucifixion. God through Moses had set up this State religion - with the Law, detailed instructions on how to live, along with animal sacrifices and a special set form of worship. These applied to every Israelite, regardless of whether the person wanted to love or honour God or not. It was a disastrous failure. God himself knew this from even before such a covenant was ratified. The Law and state religion does not save, rather, it condemns. It causes one to judge another, and to compare one person's character and actions with another, even if nobody is actually "white" (having a spotless character), if someone else is "black", then even if the one judging is "grey", in front of the "black" person, he'll appear as "white".
That was how State religion was lived out in at the time of Herod, John the Baptist, the Pharisees and soon after, Jesus Christ himself.
The Pharisees were so notorious in judging and finding fault in others that both John and Jesus denounced them for their hypocrisy.
Finding fault, judging and making comparisons gives the person doing these things a sense of superiority, or a sense of self righteousness, with a deceptive idea of reaching Heaven after death by self effort.
It was easy for Israel as a whole to exalt itself on a national level, this sense of moral and spiritual superiority. During the time of Christ, no Jewish person would enter a house of a non-Jew, or Gentile, no Gentile was to enter the Temple area of Jerusalem, and they were made to stay away from the Jewish home.
Even the Apostle Peter, leader of the early Church, had difficulty in direct communication with the Gentiles. With the case of the Roman Centurion Cornelious, Peter had to have a special vision from above before he was convinced that the Roman men who arrived were sent by God. And even at Cornelious' house, Peter said that it was an abomination for a Jew to enter a house of a non-Jew. Charming! Cornelious could have shown him the door.
Even some time later, while Peter was at last settling down to dine with Gentile Christians, he suddenly rose and left the room when news of Jewish believers from James were about to arrive. Paul had to rebuke him, and he did so in public too.
On the national level, England seemed to have taken over from Israel in morality and national superiority. No greater proof of this than William Blake's poem Jerusalem which asks whether the feet of Jesus Christ once trod this green and pleasant land. Despite that there is no historical truth that he ever set foot here, this did not stop the poem from being put to music in 1916 by Sir Hubert Parry to create a patriotic hymn sung as an alternative to the National Anthem.

William Blake

Jerusalem is still sung at sports venues, particularly at Rugby matches, at the Ladies Institute, and at the wedding service of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, in front of a worldwide audience of around two billion viewers. In Parliament there was a debate whether Jerusalem would become the official anthem for England, but nothing of this had so far been declared.
The statement, Our God is the God of England, I actually heard right here at Ascot Baptist Church during the early 1990s. I was the only one who disputed the statement. Most of the others in church at the time seemed to have accepted.
Jeremy Paxman backs this up in his book, The English - A Portrait of a People. In it, Paxman interviews performer George Formby, to which he replied that Englishness is very deep spirit of St. George. The idea of St George is to fight against evil. (P.81)
Paxman discusses how the English believed that they were a covenanted people of God which began to peak in the 18th Century, in very similar pattern to ancient Israel. Sir Edward Hine, for example, in 1879 delivered a lecture in Chelsea advocating the crackpot belief that Britain was Israel (literal bloodline) and America was the lost tribe of Manasseh, arriving into the British Isles centuries after the "Ten Lost Tribes" were led away to Assyria as told in the Old Testament.
The nation as a whole now rejects this idea, but still hold to its form. In my schooldays morning assembly always had a Christian element, and that's despite the rise in atheism, particularly among the boys. I have seen over the years the decline in the belief in God, let alone commitment, yet upholding its Christian roots and morals. Very much like ancient Israel.
One example I would like to quote here is the case of Donald McGill, (1875-1962) an artist who designed the saucy postcards sold at British seaside resorts. In 1953 he had his entire stock confiscated from a shop at Ryde, Isle of Wight, the result of churchy bureaucrats who wanted to keep control of public morality. In 1954 he appeared in Court and was fined £50, a lot of money in those days. He escaped prison by a narrow margin. But soon after, his saucy postcard business began to flourish across the nation. The public found those cards amusing, and refused to have their morals controlled. And the attempted ban did not result in any conversions to Jesus Christ as Saviour either.

Into more modern times, I can name three married celebrities who each betrayed their wives by sleeping with their mistresses. Each of the three attempted to hide their misdeeds by getting an injunction from the Law Courts. This means that they have their privacy protected from the Media. In other words, they can err without the public knowing anything about it.
These were public figures. One was the BBC correspondent Andrew Marr, who actually asked for his injunction to be lifted. In 2003, Andrew Marr traveled to the Galapagos Islands to advocate Charles Darwin for the BBC Greatest Briton of All Time competition, which by public voting, was won by Winston Churchill.
The second was Royal Bank of Scotland boss Fred Goodwin, who slept with a work colleague, and it is thought by many that this misdeed was connected to the banking crisis which brought along the credit crisis and eventual Recession in 2010.
But the most dramatic was the case of Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs, who ordered an injunction after betraying his wife Stacey to sleep with Imogen Thomas. The injunction was a failure due to the many Twitter posts revealing the footballer's identity. When Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming revealed the footballer's identity to the House of Commons, Speaker John Bercow rebuked him, saying that Giggs' privacy should be respected.
But to me who don't follow football, where Ryan Giggs would have remained an relative unknown, except for those into football, now has become infamous across the nation. It was so unnecessary. For news of adultery among celebrities means little to us now. Giggs should have realised that the nation hardly tut tuts any more.

Andrew Marr, fan of Charles Darwin

Yet journalists such as the Daily Mail columnist Amanda Platell still advocates Britain as a cultural superior nation due to its Christian heritage, despite its departure from anything Biblical or spiritual. In this weekend's paper she criticized First Lady Michelle Obama who, with her President husband Barak, was visiting Britain, and was giving an emotional talk to some students at a London girls school about "Triumph over Adversity". Platell responded with these words:
Perhaps someone should have explained to the First Lady that this is Britain and we don't tend to go for all that schmaltzy, heart on the sleeve drivel.
Wow, I wonder how many people reading this turned to Jesus Christ for salvation?
Now let me get real here. There is only one message all Christians should deliver. That is to repent and believe in Jesus Christ and be saved from separation from God and eternity in Hell. There is no other way to Heaven other than trusting Christ and him crucified.
Enough of this idea that just because one is British or English and was baptised in a church as a baby, one can work his way to Heaven. And don't be deceived by the sight of coffins containing war casualties passing through Wootten Basset after their heroic deaths in Afghanistan. Unless they were converted to Jesus Christ while still alive, they would now be in Hell. War death does not save one's soul.
When in Athens, Paul looked at all the pagan altars surrounding him, most if not all had occult influence. But instead of lobbying the Government to have them demolished, as we would probably have done, he just heralded the Gospel of Christ. It was the same when the Apostle was at Ephesus. He did not talk against the Temple of Diana which dominated the city. He just preached the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and faith in him for salvation.
It is not the adulterous acts committed by celebrities that sends them to Hell, it's not trusting in the Saviour. Lobbying against an occult shop about to open in the High Stret will be of no benefit whatsoever. Rather, such actions would cause Christians to be seen as miserable fun-spoilers, and further alienate the unbeliever from the local church.
We as Christians now have only one message: Repent and be baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall receive remission of sins.
Who knows. If Herod Antipas heard such a message, he might have repented after all. Poor John. He told the governor that this act was wrong and he paid with his life.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Whoops! Not This Time...

Judgement is coming on May 21st, 2011. The Bible guarantees it!
That was the cry of one Californian evangelist, 89 year old Harold Camping, who by means of his followers across the United States, invested millions of dollars in billboards declaring that the Rapture of all Christian believers will take place at 6.00pm Pacific Time on Saturday May 21st. This announcement did not remain an isolated incident restrained within a few streets of a city, but rather spread right across the USA and even crossed the Atlantic to reach us here in the UK. As the radio broadcast was boldly made while I was at the gym, I would not be surprised that it was also broadcast across the Pacific Ocean to reach Australia and New Zealand too. After all, the Rapture is an event of such geographic magnitude, it had to be broadcast worldwide.
So how did this evangelist arrive at the conclusion that May 21st, 2011 was to be the day? By doing some math by deciphering certain "hidden codes" found in the Bible. This has reminded me of the time, not that long ago, when some Jewish scholars have found the name of Adolf Hitler by deciphering the codes, they say, were found in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, which forecasted the end of the world then.
Yet all this despite what Jesus Christ himself had plainly said just before he was crucified:-

No-one knows the day nor the hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father...Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. Matthew 24:36,42.

But what is exactly the Rapture? It has become quite a common word used these days. Even Richard Dawkins used it in his book, The God Delusion.
There are two passages in the New Testament which seem to teach it, both of these texts were part of Paul's letters, one to the church in Corinth and the other to the church in Thessaloniki. They describe the sudden disappearance of Christian believes to heaven, first the dead in Christ rising followed by the living, "in the twinkling of an eye" which indicates suddenness. Here are the two passages.:-

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead shall be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
"Where, O death, is your victory?
"Where, O death, is your sting?!

1 Corinthians 15:51-55.

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede them who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself shall come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
I Thessalonians 4:13-18.


There are those, like myself, who believe that this event, known as the Rapture or the Translation, will occur sometime in the future, but nobody knows when. They believe that the Lord has deliberately withheld the date, to make the event always imminent, so believers should expect it to occur even in their lifetimes. This encourages the believer to "keep watch", just as Jesus himself exhorted.
There are other Christians who do not believe in the coming Rapture. Among those there are some who say that the Rapture was coined up by Jesuits Ribera and Bellarmine in 1591, after the Council of Trent. Their aim was to protect the Pope from the Protestant accusation of being the Antichrist, predicted is yet to come, in the Bible.
But which ever the case may be, now that it is at present Sunday morning of the 22nd, and not as much as a sneeze had taken place, it is of my opinion that Harold Camping has done a serious disservice to both the Bible and the Christian faith.
We are living in the days where the historicity and truthfulness of the Bible is constantly being attacked by both evolutionary scientists and atheists, and by general secularism, particularly here in the U.K.- where it has one of the lowest church attendance in population density in Europe. In other words, Christians are being made to look foolish.
This plays right into the hands of atheists. In the USA, I read online, that they were already planning parties to revel in such foolishness.
I can imagine right now Richard Dawkins smirking at the non-event, knowing full well that his scientific theories will triumph after all. And he will draw more and more disciples, eventually turning the majority in this nation into an anti-God and with a strong unbelief attitude.

Richard Dawkins

Dating prophecy is not new but it is dangerous in a way that first, it weakens the testimony of the Christian faith and makes it all the more unappealing to the unbelieving population. Secondly there is a serious loss of creditability to the one who made it, if his prediction did not come to pass by the date he had set.
Californian Bible scholar Hal Lindsey was a case in point. One of his books was The Late Great Planet Earth in which he believed that the future Antichrist was alive and feeding his soul with quests for power and knowledge as he wrote and published his book in 1970. He also believed that Armageddon would take place around 1990. Later he released another book, The 1980s Countdown To Armageddon, in which he documents on the rise of the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal, overtaking that of the United States, making the USSR a dangerous and threatening world power, with its sole aim of turning the whole planet Communist, especially the United States. That was before the collapse of Communism in the 1980s itself. So far, in 2011 we are still here. And it is my opinion that Lindsey had lost a lot of creditability, especially among the U.S. Senate, where I once read that The Late Great Planet Earth was taken notice of by them.
Then again, back in the 19th Century, a small organisation which was to call itself Zion's Watchtower Society formed in New York in between 1870 and 1875 under the tutelage of Pastor Charles Taze Russell. It began to expand across America very rapidly, and their members, Jehovah's Witnesses, won converts across the Atlantic. In fact, according to William Schnell, in his book 30 Years A Watch-tower Slave, the world was meant to end in 1914. When the Great War broke out that year, fulfilling Jesus' prediction of "Nation rising against nation" the Watchtower Society gained enough creditability to win over the population of Germany to the extent of becoming the State religion, which was only thwarted by the outbreak of World War II.
According to Schnell, the end of the world was postponed until 1924, the year the Kingdom of Christ was meant to begin. When nothing supernatural occurred, the Society re-interpreted Scripture to predict that 1924 was the beginning of "The Last Generation", mentioned by Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:34. Calculating that a generation was to last 40 years, the Battle of Armageddon should have taken place in 1964. It was after this that the "movable prophecy" teachings of the Watch-tower were put on the back shelf in order for the organisation not to crumble.
Dating prophecy in regard of when the world will end is forbidden in the Bible. Such attempts makes the Bible and the Christian faith appear ridiculous. It does not give God any glory, rather it turns agnostics in to atheists, it causes atheists themselves to smirk with satisfaction, and most seriously, it keeps many from trusting the Lord Jesus Christ to save them and receiving eternal life God gives to all who believe in him.
We as Christians need to watch and wait for his coming, which remains an ongoing process generation after generation. The formation of the state of Israel in 1948 gives a clue that the End Times is soon, according to many Bible scholars. But dating prophecy is wrong and no one, Christian, secular or of another religion should attempt at it.

Sunday, 8 May 2011


Sitting at the cafeteria at Coral Reef Water World, close to my home, I was at a state of half-slumber after a gym workout and sauna session. Then I suddenly perked up, as if someone had tapped me on the back of the head.
In sauntered one off-duty staff member, who made his way to the buffet to queue up with the other customers for some refreshments.
This bodybuilder actually worked in the kitchen of the very buffet he was waiting at. In a few years he could have a superb, Truly-Ripped physique, if he steers his weight training gym workouts in the right direction alongside a proper, high protein diet.
My emotion started to rise. As I put out my hand to reach his, he took it, and I held it tightly. After a short conversation, all I could say was,
I've been to Santa Monica as well.
For instead of the characteristic blue uniform which distinguishes every Coral Reef staff from the public, he sauntered in wearing a black tee shirt with the lettering blazing across his chest:

Santa Monica

Why the emotion? Because seeing his tee shirt image brought back memories of this Californian resort which is actually a district of Los Angeles.
There were questions I would have wanted to ask this guy. Did he go as a backpacker? If so, did he stay at the superb H.I. Santa Monica Backpackers Hostel on 2nd Street, close to the famous pier? The same place where I stayed in 1995 and 1997? Did he stroll though 3rd Street Parade, a traffic-free avenue with bushes trimmed to look like Dinosaurs proudly showing off to the crowds? And did he wander through the excellent indoor shopping mall with a wide choice of attractive eateries? And did he stroll to the end of the pier to watch the sunset while the gulls encircle the air above, and then occasionally perch on one of the safety barrier posts, along with a pelican on another? How I would have loved to hear his stories.
But the more I got to know this fellow, the less convinced that he had ever set foot on the Californian coastline. As many of these working men, as opposed to gap-year students, he would have much preferred to fly out for a break in such places as Iberia with a group of mates to what really amount to a glorified boozing session. And the tee-shirt? Either somebody else brought it back as a present, or it was bought at a fashion boutique in the West End or even at a nearby town of Reading.
And that's what seem to be the experience I have seen of Britons traveling overseas. In groups. And booze, plenty of it. I'm not talking about escorted tours here. Rather, I'm referring to an informal group of mates flying out to have a good time. In a group, each feels safe in the company of others. Whether someone falls ill, or drank too much and is sick on the sidewalk, or has picked up a bug from the hotel pool, or suffered a bout of diarrhea, or for that matter had his wallet or bank cards pick-pocketed, in a group there is that assuring feeling that with such support, a crisis overseas is minimal and one can ride it much better in company.
It is very different to what I call travel.
When I say travel, I mean TRAVEL!
One term I came across while browsing an American website, was the word vagabond. It simply means to travel aimlessly, without too much planning, or even no planning at all. It describes a lone backpacker. A lone backpacker is vulnerable to anything that goes amiss. There is no support from others. Just a piece of paper called an insurance policy making him believe that he has peace of mind.
If you click on this page, December 2010, one of my articles, on being single, describes some of my experiences as a "vagabond", along with a later article, Jerusalem which detail some extraordinary experiences as a lone backpacker in the Middle East.
But this sort of travel does carry risks which are not felt so badly by those who travel in a group, whether escorted or informal. These are my experiences:
1976 - Catching a bug while in Israel. I was down with a fever for three days in bed at a home of an Arab family who offered hospitality.
1981 - Having all my travelers cheques pick-pocketed while standing in a packed train on route to Florence from Pisa. When I arrived at Florence, I came across this pensione, a hotel with shared, dormitory-style bedrooms. There was a bed available and I took it. Later that day I noticed all my money gone, and it could not have happened on the worse moment, Friday evening, after all the banks closed for the weekend. So instead of "living it up" in this artistic city, I spent more than an hour feeling very foolish at a police waiting room to register the loss, a necessity before I would be eligible for a refund from the bank.

Florence, Italy

When I told the hotel proprietor of my plight, she was kind enough to give me a panettino for prima colazione, at a hotel which don't normally serve breakfast to its guests, and she gave me a few lire to buy something to eat during the day. Such was a weekend which I had absolutely nothing to live on until the Monday, when I had the bank refund, after which together with the hotel tariff, I had to pay for the bread and repay the loan. Was I pleased to board the train for Viareggio, a random stop on the west coast of Italy.
1995 - I would think that booking a hostel in New York City would have been easy-peasy. After all, it was September, the kids were back at school, the students had returned home. So after being told over the phone that there were no places left, after arriving in New York, I went from one hostel to another, until I came across this seedy hotel on 8th Avenue and West 52nd Street. I had already knew of this hotel, I had spent a night there soon after landing at J.F.K. Airport that evening in 1978, after a good search around.
As before, I looked out across the avenue at a deli, closed for the night, as I was unable to sleep at one in the morning. Outside, a group of young Afro-Caribbeans were having a brawl, their loud voices carried through the street. In my room, the floor was populated with cockroaches scurrying across and under the bed.
Yet I was happy. Another adventure as a vagabond was about to begin, including sleeping at the Huckleberry Hostel in the suburb of St Louis, Missouri, where there were dead 'roaches in the food pigeonholes and a live mouse scurrying across the kitchen. And yet I made friends with someone who gave me a spare Greyhound map of the USA.
It was that same hostel which had toilet cubicles fronted by those Old West Saloon double swing doors. So the embarrassment I felt answering a call of nature and risking having other people looking straight in!!! Door-less loo cubicles I also came across in the San Diego area. Maybe the discomfort I felt in using them shows that I'm very British after all.
And the year 2000. That's when Alex, my wife and I decided to celebrate our first wedding anniversary by doing perhaps the last backpacking holiday in Israel. She was 18 weeks pregnant with our first daughter Rosina when we touched down at Lod Airport. Two days later, we began to make a bus journey from Tiberias to Haifa, then on to our hotel in Ishfya, some miles away on top of the Mt Carmel ridge, which separated the port of Haifa from the Mediterranean coastline.

My wife at Eilat, Israel

What I didn't realise as we arrived at the bus depot in Haifa was that the Rosh HaShannah or the Jewish New Year was about to start, and with just about the whole of Israel shutting down, the city was like a ghost town. The only form of transport still running were taxis.
As if to echo Florence of 1981, we were absolutely penny-less. But this time not as a victim of a pickpocket, but from my own lack of foresight to visit a bank while we still had the chance. Stuck with a wedge of useless travel cheques, Alex and I made our way across the city, and began the long ascent up the stairs passing through narrow alleyways as we slowly made it to the summit of Mount Carmel, allowing us a terrific view of the coastline below us. But with heavy rucksacks and an unborn child to boot, we made our way along the road which was meant to take us to Ishfya, eventually.
When we realised we still had a long way to go, we sat on a roadside bench, my face in my hands, in despair. Not so much for myself, since I had spent many nights away from home under the stars. But I was concerned for my wife and her condition.
Soon a taxi pulled up in front of us and the driver leaned out and asked in English where we want to go.
"To Stella Carmel in Ishfya! But we have no money on us whatsoever!"
"Get in!" The driver ordered as he got out to open the trunk to accommodate our luggage.
Inside the car, the driver actually gave us ten shekels! He then explained that he pastored a church nearby, and could not pass by two stranded travelers without lending a hand.
Backpacking. There is something about it which no group travel can match.
There are highlights in the experience, like from the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, after a day's hiking, looking up at the magnificent display of stars in the clear night sky, seeing thousands of stars I was never able to see from above the UK! Or likewise in Australia, looking up at the Southern Cross, directly overhead. And snorkeling above the corals of the Great Barrier Reef. But the most astonishing moment was in 1997, when the Greyhound bus I was on took a service stop between Townsville and Cannonvale, on the East Australian Pacific Highway linking Cairns with Brisbane and Sydney. As I sat alone at a table at the cafeteria, another bus pulled in for the same reason, and its passengers lined up at the buffet counter. Presently, while meditating, a voice calls out:
I looked up. I was alone, over 10,000 miles from home. Nobody knew me here. As such, I did not recognise the stranger standing right next to me.
"Yes, I'm Frank, but who are you?"
"You don't remember? I gave you the spare map of the USA in St Louise two years ago. Remember? That dingy hostel?
Yes, I remember that well. Backpacking - or Vagabond. With all its high points, it is an unforgettable experience.
But it's coping with the low points which turns travel into a real, true-to-life adventure.
Oh well, I guess it's off to the boozer...