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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.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Post Holiday Blues? Look What's Coming!

This afternoon, after finishing my work early, as it was often the case on Fridays, I asked Alex my wife to bring out Charlie, the two-wheeled leather shopping bag, and decided to stock up while she engaged with defrosting the refrigerator (I know, it's a really old one, given to us by a mate of mine).

When Charlie was not where it was supposed to be, we searched the house top to bottom, and we were totally mystified over it's absence. We picked out every point in our memories and we sworn that I brought it home from our last shopping trip, on a Thursday, which happened to be on the same day our airplane touched down at London Gatwick Airport, concluding a fabulous week at Kos, one of the Greek Islands making up the Dodecanese.
(Of my last blog, 10th October, 2011).

On board a flight can be emotional

I decided to go ahead with the shopping without Charlie, and while at the superstore, I recall a trip made on Sunday, the day before returning to work, to buy a single but rather large carton of laundry powder. I wondered whether due to post holiday (vacation) blues, I had left the wheeled bag behind in the store. Embarrassingly, I asked the receptionist at the Customer Help Desk if they came across a stray wheeled piece of luggage, and she disappeared for a moment, only to re-appear with the object of such familiarity. My joy of re-uniting with what was really a long lost friend! Charlie, it's good to have you back home.

Post holiday blues. This is something I particularly suffer with. It is that feeling of melancholic emptiness after opening the front door of our home, immediately reminding us of the enthusiastic excitement I felt the moment we slammed the door shut to catch a train to the airport. In this melancholic state, my thinking and concentration becomes blurred, and I tend to become forgetful, hence the forgetting to collect Charlie from the superstore that Sunday afternoon.

Post holiday blues seemed to have no respect for the duration of the break. It seems that just one week away brings on the blues as much as one I took in 1997. Back then, as a single bachelor, I flew out from London to Singapore, spent five nights at a backpackers hostel before flying out to Australia, where for the next six weeks I always found someone to talk and socialise, which continued for a further three weeks in California. Exactly ten weeks after taking off at London Heathrow, the 'plane touched down on the same runway and a couple of hours later I turned the key of the lock on my apartment door, to face the still and sullen silence, after seventy evenings spent in social company with other travelers.

The feeling of emptiness reached to the point of despair, and I phoned a couple to ask if I can come round to their house, and spend some time with them. Fortunately they had some time to spare and together helped me to re-adjust to normal life.

Some major travel agencies, such as Trailfinders, an London agent where long-haul travelers booked their flights, had, I believe, a counselling room for those suffering from post holiday blues. I even read in a long haul travel magazine that the British Medical Association recognised this mental ailment and has offered therapy. Indeed, post holiday blues looks to be taken with a degree of seriousness.

That is why whenever I book a break, whether its just one week or a sabbatical ten weeks as in 1997, I always avoid what I personally call, "Touchdown Sunday, back to work Monday". Most of my friends can handle this sort of thing a lot easier. In fact, one church member seemed peeved that although I landed back in the UK early on a Thursday, I did not start work until Monday. I did wonder, and now I wished I had asked, whether having a desk job makes all the difference in his ability to return to work straight from the airport. Therefore I find a Wednesday-to-Wednesday booking to be the most ideal, and most of my oversea breaks, even as a lone backpacker, was normally a Wednesday departure. One rare exception was our two week honeymoon at a Greek island of Rhodes, when we took off on a Saturday (the day we wed) to arrive back home early on a Sunday morning. To compensate for this, I took the Monday off to buy new furniture for our apartment. It made resuming work on the Tuesday a lot easier.

Now I must add here that I don't dislike my work! The very fact that I have been self-employed for more than thirty years shows that I have a degree of enjoyment in my job as a domestic window cleaner. I believe what gets me down is that the greater part of my income goes to mundane living, paying the rent and the fuel bills, not to mention local and national income taxes. The thought of fuel company executives and shareholders pocketing my hard earned cash does make me feel inclined to wonder why I need to get up for work in the mornings.

But for one who has trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, there is great hope for the believer. Only this morning, during my daily Bible reads, I was pouring over Revelation chapters 21 and 22. In these two chapters, John was revelling at a vision he had of the New Jerusalem, which is to come down from God in heaven. It will be the destiny for every saint who lived from Adam to the end of history. A saint, by the way, is someone who believes in Jesus for salvation, and not someone canonised by the Catholic Church. Every true believer is a saint.

If you read these chapters, one would get an impression on the sheer beauty of the city. It lies foursquare, each side being up to 1,500 miles long, giving an area 2,250,000 square miles, a huge area, much larger than the whole of the UK and about half the size of the USA. This suggest that the population within is much higher than most people imagine. The city is built on twelve foundations each from a transparent precious stone, along with the walls, the buildings and the streets. Most important of all, the throne of God will be there, and it will illuminate the entire city. And everyone will be able to look God in the face and communicate. It is indeed a fascinating place to be!

And this is the eternal destiny for all believers. It will be a place of intense joy and happiness. There will no pain or sorrow, nor hunger or thirst, no debt or finance and for that matter, no tiredness or boredom. And all this because by dying on the cross, Jesus Christ made entry into this city possible for all believers. "Behold, the dwelling of God is with man" John writes. It is the reason why we are here. To know God, who made us for his own pleasure, and for us to partake in the strong love that has always existed between God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God's will was always to spend eternity with us, and after us falling into sin and separation, God did something to reconcile us back to himself. He sent Jesus Christ, his beloved Son and darling of his own heart, to die as a sacrifice on the Cross. Such love!

Our eternity will be in that strikingly beautiful city. That means that there will be no return ticket, no counting of days left to go, no apprehension of boarding the flight home, and no post holiday blues. It is a hope to look to, especially as one like me who suffers this mental ailment. So to the reader who is a believer in Jesus yet suffer the blues, think of these things and remind yourself what God has for you.

It might just make you return to work with a spring in your step.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Divine Mystery

Alex and I sat at the outdoor restaurant table well after sundown. In the middle stood a lit candle, which gave a soft orange light through the tinted glass holder. The sky above us was inky black, with countless stars shining brightly. The air was warm without being sticky, not a breath of wind stirred, and just a few feet away, the waves of the Mediterranean Sea lapped gently at the sand and shingle beach, making a continuous, almost melodic sound which combined with the gentle music drifting from a nearby speaker.

And as such, was the high point of a holiday (vacation) at the Greek island of Kos, from which we were able to see the distant lights of the Turkish resort of Bodrum several miles away, across the stretch of sea.

So were we celebrating anything? Indeed we were. Our twelfth Wedding Anniversary.

Perhaps I'll let you into a secret. I married quite late in life compared to the average age here in the UK. As such, our anniversaries means everything to us both. Of all twelve anniversaries, four of them we flew abroad - to Israel, Italy, the Greek Island of Rhodes and this time to Kos. Three other anniversaries were spent in Cornwall, the extreme South-West corner of the UK where palm trees and even banana bushes flourish. Two more were spent at a hotel in London, only thirty miles (48km) from our home. The rest spent either at home or a day in London. What determine our venue is not the state of our marriage at all, but our budget.

But this year we wanted to make an extra effort to make our twelfth special. Twelve means something special, particular to me. The twelve months of the year, the twelve hours on the clock, the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. It is a number divisible by two, three, four and six. More important, it was God himself who chose that number for both the nation of Israel and the foundations of the Church. Therefore if God, for his own pleasure, had chosen that number to fulfill his purpose, why not us to fulfill ours? In a nutshell, because of my late age on our wedding day, I vowed back then that for the rest of our lives our anniversaries will always be a holiday. But the most important reason for our anniversary holiday, whether at home or abroad, is for us to spend time together.

If you are single and reading this, you can if you wish, start solving your Rubic Cube, pick up a newspaper or (heaven forbid) go on to another website. But I bid you to read on instead, as I was single too, right up to the age of 47 years. So I would understand how you might feel. Many a time back then whenever a sermon was preached about marriage, I took that as a good opportunity for a spell of mid-morning forty winks!

But marriage in the real world is not about from one anniversary to the next. Our experience of it had taught us that it's a 100% commitment to each other. One rather unusual writing about marriage came from the pen of the apostle Paul. He wrote,

Husbands, love your wives...wives, submit to your husbands...
Ephesians 5:22, 25. Colossians 3:18-19.

This seems unusual in a way that one would have thought that both partners would be encouraged to love each other. I as a man am exhorted to love my wife. We men are by nature less emotional than women, maybe because we were created with the purpose of bread-winning to provide every need to our families. In turn, it is the woman who carries her offspring for the first nine months of the child's life, and therefore makes sense that she has a much broader array of emotion. For her to love her husband comes perfectly natural to her, but as men we have to work at it. In other words, we guys have to make an effort to love our wives.

Wives submitting to their husbands? By writing this blog, I feel that I'm putting myself at risk of becoming unpopular among female readers here. In this day and age, it looks as if it's anathema for a young female, fresh out of university, to think about being supported by a working husband holding down a job. Independent women, as I can see, is the culture of today, the 21st Century. It wasn't that long since I found myself watching a TV commercial of the carefree, independent career-minded woman driving away in her flashy Ferrari sports car after dumping her partner when he failed to meet her expectations. Perhaps with ads like this delivering such messages of attitude, little wonder that many a male, especially one who had struggled at school, feels that he has no sense of purpose or responsibility, and takes to drugs or become part of a gang culture, or merely mopes at home suffering insecurity or inferior complex.
Added to this, the high rate of divorce in the UK may indeed be put down to female independence in the home.

Husbands, love your wives. History seem to tell me that male dominance in the home, including domestic violence, were the seeds sown which sprouted feminism. Male leadership in the home is Biblical, but Paul emphasises love alongside leadership. Loving our wives takes effort. I, for one, have to make a conscious effort to be romantic to my wife, especially after coming home from work, slumping down in front of the TV, or nowadays, go online. I have found it a lot easier to catch up on the latest on Facebook than it is to walk into the kitchen while she is preparing the dinner, put my arms round her and ask, "What sort of a day did you have?"

But by making the effort, Alex appreciates this and in turn, finds it easier to submit. There also seem to be good evidence that by submitting to my leadership at home gives her a sense of security. By relying on me to provide, she remains free from worry on how is she to keep a roof over her head, nor dread another day under a stickler of a boss in the office. As a result of taking Paul's advice, I'm very happy to say that our marriage is strong and robust.

Another thing I must emphasise here. I have been told, especially by my mother, that the reason why many women work is because Dad's income was not enough to be the sole breadwinner. Mum had a point there, although her working hours were always part time in order to make sure my younger brother and I were properly looked after as children. She spent her time as a manual worker in a factory. It was solely to top up the home budget. There is a world of a difference between this and the ambitions of an independent, well-educated career/social climbing female.

I always saw that Mum was submissive to Dad, who did not object to her going out to work, even in his own mind he might have preferred her to stay at home. But I also saw Dad making a conscious effort to love her. Many times. Result? Their marriage is as strong as it was on their wedding day, which was sixty years earlier!

Husbands, love your wives. Wives, submit to your husbands. Why did Paul give this advice? For a stable, happy marriage? Yes, it was certainly for that. But there is more. The mystery of marriage is a figure - of the one between Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, and his Bride, the Church!

The New Testament often pictures the Church, meaning a worldwide group of true believers in Jesus Christ as Saviour, being betrothed to Christ in this present age. Many scholars believe that the actual marriage will take place in Heaven after the Rapture. But whatever the case might be, Jesus Christ loved the Church so much that he gave his own life for her salvation. This, I believe is how husbands should love their wives, ready to lay their lives for them. Humanly speaking, this is very difficult, if not impossible, as self-preservation is the most powerful force operating in every man. But being a believer in Jesus Christ and being filled with his Holy Spirit, this kind of love, known as agape in Greek, the highest form of love a person can have, can be achieved. The love Christ has for his church, that is, for every believer, is agape love.

With this kind of love shown to the wife by her husband, she would find that being submissive not just much easier but something she would be glad to be. My own experience in marriage seem to indicate that love and submission are the right responses to the man who loves her so much. It is the same attitude the Church has for her Head, Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul was right to liken Christ and his Church to that of a husband and wife relationship. There are many similarities.

But there are some differences too. I don't have any power to cleanse my wife from her sins, nor bring her to purification. These are things only Christ can do. Jesus Christ has that power to cleanse every believer from their sins, to present to himself a Bride which will be spotless and clean, fit for the King. And that is another reason why I believe in Once Saved Always Saved. The Bride will be presented to the Groom complete. For a believer to lose his salvation due to sin, falling away or lack of faithfulness would mean the severance of that Bride's body part (which is another figure Paul uses for the Church - different parts, one body). During our wedding ceremony in 1999, Alex walked into the church building dressed in a white wedding dress. Of course, it never crossed my mind as a waiting groom whether she had all her ten toes on her feet, or had she lost a couple during her transit to the wedding. Of course she had all ten toes! My bride walked into the building complete in herself, so will the Bride of Christ as well.

Christians have come up to me and quoting the parable of the Ten Virgins, found in Matthew 25:1-13 to prove that believers can lose their salvation and therefore be severed from the Bride of Christ. But those ten virgins were not the Bride of Christ. They were guests, most likely to become the Groom's harem, as was the custom in those days of Eastern aristocracy. But still neither of them would become his bride. The Bride was already in the house, and furthermore the central point of attention. When the Groom came out to bring the women in, there was no evidence that he asked where were the missing five. Instead he found five waiting and he invited them in. When the other five arrived, they found the door shut and the Groom was baffled on who these five women were, and dismissed them.

A parallel story is found in Matthew 22 1-14. Here Jesus gives a picture of a King (God the Father) inviting his guests in to celebrate his son's wedding feast. The Bride was about to marry her Groom and therefore, the centre of attention. The invited guests refused to attend. So the King sent out his servants to bring in all who were willing to attend. They were all guests. They did not make up the Bride of Christ.

Yet do these parables apply to us today? Yes, they do. The virgin's jars of oil and the wedding clothes each of the guests wore represented the righteousness of Christ. In the first parable, the five foolish virgins believed that they could enter the Kingdom riding on the backs of believers, without having the oil (Holy Spirit) for themselves. One cannot be saved on someone else's faith. On the same par, the one man at the wedding feast thought he could turn up in his own clothes, rather than in the clothes provided by the host for every guest. One cannot enter the Kingdom without being clothed with the righteousness of Christ.

But to keep the parables in their literal context, in both there was a definite difference between the bride and the guest. In this age, when Christ is calling the Bride for himself, every believer has been called and approved by God the Father, and given to his Son Jesus as a reward for his sacrifice on the cross. (See John 6:39,44; John 17:2,6,9,24.)

Every believer since the Crucifixion is part of the Bride of Christ, she of astonishing beauty and cleanliness, fit to be a wife of the King who loved her enough to lay down his life. And she will be both loving and in submission to the one who loves her so much. No ambitious independence there, apparently.

I love Alex my wife dearly. But would I be prepared to lay my life down for her?

With God all things are possible.