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Sunday, 29 January 2012

I Have Reserved For Myself 7,000...

Elijah was one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, alongside Abraham, Moses and King David. Under the reign of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel who were worshippers of Baal, one day on Mt Carmel, on the northern territory of Israel, Elijah challenged 450 prophets of Baal to call upon their god to miraculously ignite the sacrifice they had prepared, a young bull placed on Baal's altar, in front of a large crowd of people, mostly Israelites, who were unsure of who to worship - Yahweh, the God of Israel, to whom history so richly testifies of his presence, leadership and care for Jacob's children, along with the testimony of their miraculous delivery from their slavery in Egypt through the parting of the waters of the Red Sea - or to Baal, of whom there was no recorded history except the multitudes of infants burned alive through means of child sacrifice.

By the time of evening, after the prophets of Baal had called on their god to ignite their sacrifice and receiving no response, Elijah rebuilt the Altar to Yahweh, placing twelve stones, each for one of the twelve tribes of Israel, laid the bull over some wood and he even ordered water to be poured over the whole edifice, filling the trench which was dug around it. One prayer was all it took, and from the sky a ball of fire came down and not only ignited the sacrifice, but burned to crisp the corpse, the wood, the stones and dried up all the water in the trench. Two significant things happened here which proved that the fire was miraculous: First it burnt up the stones. By nature, rocks don't burn. If heat is applied to rocks, they would eventually melt and flow as an incandescent stream we call lava, the viscosity of the flow depending on the type of rock heated. Secondly, water quenches fire and does not burn at all. Therefore it had been suggested by some scholars whether petrol (gasoline) was used to soak into the sacrifice and the wood underneath it. The major setback with that idea was this would be accusing Elijah of cheating, and as such, thoroughly unfair to the 450 deceived prophets of Baal who were all slaughtered afterwards (See 1 Kings 18).

Another miracle was performed not long before this contest on Mount Carmel, although much less spectacular, but equally powerful. The raising of the son of the widow at Zarephath in Sidon, north of Israel. During a drought in Israel lasting for more than three years, this widow offered food and shelter to the prophet. Her only son became ill and died. Elijah bent over the boy's face and prayed three times, and the boy revived. Elijah was indeed a man of God, powerful enough for even the King of Israel, Ahab, to quail before him.

Elijah and the Widow's son at Zarephath

But Ahab's wife Jezebel did not take kindly to the slaughter of the 450 prophets of Baal. In fact, Ahab himself, who was at Mount Carmel and witnessed the contest, literally betrayed Elijah by telling her everything he had done, knowing full well how she would have responded. Jezebel vowed that unless Elijah was killed by the same hour the next day, let her god Baal do what he pleased with her.

This same Elijah, who demonstrated such powerful works of God in Israel, including raising a boy from the dead and soon afterwards, standing alone in a contest against a 450-strong opposition, was now running scared. Running for his life from just one angry woman! Oh dear, Elijah, where is your powerful God now? Was his arm so short that he couldn't save, or his ears so dull that he couldn't hear? Or was Elijah ready to throw in the towel, having had enough of his ministry and its constant opposition?

After some days, Elijah arrived at mount Horeb, (which I think is Mount Sinai) and dwelt in a cave there. It was there that God manifested his power to Elijah in the form of wind, an earthquake and fire, as in some kind of theatre show. But God's presence weren't in either of them. Instead he spoke to Elijah in a still small voice, asking the prophet what he was doing here. When Elijah felt defeated, all he could do was look at all the negatives in his ministry. Naturally introverted and prone to see the glass half empty rather than half full, his tirade was not untypical of his character:

I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I'm the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too. (Vs. 10, 14)

God did not reprove Elijah for his tirade. After all, with just one prayer, didn't he defeat 450 prophets? Here the wonderful grace of God is revealed. After telling him to assign Elisha to take his place and to anoint two other princes as Kings, including Jehu over Israel, he then declared:

Yet I reserve seven thousand (men) in Israel - all those knees who have not bowed down to Baal and all those mouths who have not kissed him. (1 Kings 19:18).

So important was that statement that Paul the Apostle quotes it in his letter to the Romans (Romans 11:2-4) and uses it to advocate an important argument: Did God reserve those men to himself because they chose not to bow to Baal? Or their refusal to bow to Baal was because God had already chosen them? It is interesting that Paul wrote "reserved" in the past tense, within the context that even in his day there was a remnant of Israel chosen by God to receive his grace, and not by their works. If the mercy of God was achieved by works, Paul insists, then the mercy would no more be by grace - Vs. 5,6.

Therefore we conclude that the reason these guys did not bow the knee to Baal was because they were restrained by the Holy Spirit in their lives, who had already put a much stronger love for Yahweh in their hearts as a result of having already received salvation. This salvation came by faith in the Promise, of that of the Messiah who was to come, to atone for their sin forever. It was the same faith through which they were redeemed as with our faith that we are saved by the grace of God. The only difference was that they looked forward to the coming Messiah; today we look back.

In the above verse, I have inserted the word men in brackets. This is backed by the KJV version of Romans 11:4 where the word appears in the context, which isn't in italics, indicating that the word men was in the Greek original, but was omitted in the NIV, where the quote was taken. What does this imply? I think this implies that a much greater number than 7,000 of Israelites at the time of Elijah were saved, if we include their families. Although we cannot give any accurate numeracy, if each family had two children, and their kids followed their parents example of faith, the numbers could have swelled to 28,000. But as families go, not every child will follow his father's faith. A good example of this was King Manasseh of Judah, who did not follow the faith of his father, King Hezekiah. But if Jewish families tended to be large during those days, with some of the children following their parents faith and others not, an estimate of 28-30 thousand Israelites who were saved at Elijah's generation, I think, is a fair bet.

I have always firmly believed that in every generation, there was always a remnant who were saved. Paul himself had indicated this, that there was a remnant in his day as they were in Elijah's day. So what about during church history? And the world today?

The Bible tells us that at the day of Pentecost, three thousand Jews were saved at once, from the result of the apostle's testimony. More and more Jews were added in the years to come. But as the number of Jewish converts began to wane, the apostles therefore turned to the Gentiles, with Paul and Barnabas becoming the two chief ministers of Gentile Christians, while Peter and James remained ministering to the Jews. By AD 313 Emperor Constantine merged the Christian Church with the State to become a State religion, with numbers rapidly growing as persecution ceased, the slow death of spiritual vitality, the introduction of pagan traditions brought in by members who were obliged by the State to become Christians without the initial regeneration of the heart, resulted in the birth of the Roman Catholic Church, with its head bishop in Rome.

The Church of Rome, Vatican City

With the spread of Roman Catholicism right across Europe, including the British Isles, the spiritual decline of the church resulted in the Dark Ages, when fear and superstition dominated, as a result of the church's sotorology (study of salvation) was centered on works rather than on grace, with an absolute submission to the Pope binding upon all.

The Dark Ages were when most people did not know anything about the grace of God, and the population totally ignorant of the Bible, it being unavailable to the laity. (The laity are church-goers not of the clergy.) It was during those days that the doctrine of Purgatory emerged, along with indulgences, which meant that terror of Purgatory had kept the people earning their indulgences by doing good works and paying the clergy massive fees to have themselves and their loved ones prayed out of Purgatory and entry into Heaven.

And yet, during the Dark Ages, there were a remnant of Christians who truly knew the Lord and were saved by grace through faith alone. These included the Vaudois, the Albigensis and the Waldenses, churches across the south of France and Switzerland who believed in faith in Christ alone brings salvation, going as far back as the Fourth Century, over a thousand years before Martin Luther and John Calvin brought the Reformation. These churches were persecuted by the Church of Rome. On one crusade, 60,000 men, women and children were slaughtered in the French town of Beziers, wiping out the entire population of true Christians under the instruction of Pope Innocent III in 1209. It is a sad thing to say, but this is history. As such, it is also certainly true that God keeps a remnant of true believers uninterrupted, in every generation as despite the persecution, these churches grew and flourished.

And what about today? Browsing the Internet, I have managed to collect some statistics on world Christianity.

The recent count have brought up a result of 2,084,509,000 professing Christians worldwide, making 32% of the global population, with about half of this being Roman Catholics. Another count resulted with 648 million evangelicals. However, I do believe that even among Roman Catholics, of whom Protestants had for so long denied being true Christians, there are some who found the mercy of God, even if they knew little of the Bible and much on tradition. The same is true with Protestants. There are saved Protestants and Protestants who are lost. But whatever the case would be, in this generation there are remnants who are saved, as it's been in every generation.

And what about countries where Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism dominate? Even in those places I believe that God would say that he has reserved for himself a remnant who has not bowed to Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism. The principle remains the same, unchanged throughout all history.

Yet God wants all men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel. All includes everybody and excludes nobody. For as Peter wrote, that it is not the will of God that anyone should perish, but all should come to repentance. Here we see the sovereignty of God and human choice, seemingly contradictory, yet working hand in hand. My inward desire is to see every single person saved. Every person. This include the greedy bankers in the City as well as the lonely female who is aging without any family support. God desires all to be saved, yet he would not force anyone against their will. Then again, Jesus did say that no man can come to him unless the Father draws him, and those who comes to him, Jesus will never throw out but will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44) When praying to his Father, Jesus thanked his Father in Heaven for giving them (his disciples) to him, for they were the Father's from the beginning (John 17).

How God can keep a remnant safe from eternity past yet at the same time command all men everywhere to repent and receive eternal life, is something our finite minds will never understand. But the Bible teaches it and we must accept it.

God is beyond understanding, beyond human reasoning. He is infinite, we are finite. And I'm so glad. For he is God, able to save to the uttermost. Something to feel secure and worthy of praise.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Other Five Fruits Of The Spirit

Last week we looked at the first three fruits of the Holy Spirit - Joy, Peace and Patience, together with Love, making up our emotional and spiritual relationship with God. These virtues could be viewed as passive, our direct standing with God as a result of being controlled by the infilling Holy Spirit. This week we look at the last five virtues, which are practical - how we treat other people around us, especially our Christian brothers and sisters.

Also in my last blog, I gave illustrations of two real life experiences - delays at an airport departure lounge, and being stuck in a supermarket checkout line by a fickle customer who was trying to redeem a few pence from a voucher. On both occasions I did not respond well. Take the airport delay incident. I was due to fly to Israel in 1993 to backpack the Holy Land for a couple of weeks when our airplane was found to have a technical fault - the hydraulic piping had sprung a leak, and had to be replaced with a new one before the plane can take off. This caused a six-hour delay which activated my panic button and I became very fidgety. Then I prayed for God to help me, and I became much calmer, felt peace and had patience. Nearby, some Orthodox Jews who were to share my flight were very serene and took the situation so calmly, that a couple of them slept through the ordeal. How come? Why as a Christian I had to pray while those Jews were naturally calm?

I think it was Jesus himself who gave an answer to this one. He said that it was not the righteous who needed a physician, but the sick. (See Mark 2:17.) I guess as an Italian, I panic very easily at the slightest threat or mishap, therefore I need the Holy Spirit far more than one who is naturally calm or have that British stoicism!

Now, supposing that during this long wait at the airport, someone cried out in despair, thinking that his vacation is already ruined. After all, that happened in 1978, but from someone sent back to the departure lounge as a result of an industrial dispute. Do I tease or mock this desperate person? Or more realistically, tell him to grow up? No, it's none of these things. The fruit of the Spirit is love, so I would do my best to make that person feel better. I talk to him, assuring him that we will take off soon and once we had arrived there, our delay will be quickly forgotten. One fruit of the Spirit here becomes manifest, kindness.

Then I offer to buy him a cup of coffee and perhaps a bar of chocolate or a cake at the nearby cafe, and he accepts, the fruit of goodness shines through. He opens up and we start talking, and he tells me why he is flying to Israel. He had suffered a bitter divorce and also having lost the custody of his children to their mother, he decided to visit Israel to see Masada, a hill fortress where a number of Jews in AD 70 decided on mass suicide rather than submit to their Roman oppressors, after reading so much about it in a novel. I respond with gentleness, refusing to pass any judgement, and when he begs me that the talk does not leave the table, faithfulness is the fruit of the spirit which would command loyalty.

By then I would feel love, joy, peace and patience, in fact I would have almost forgotten about the delay. He then asks me why I'm visiting Israel, and I answer that as a backpacker, I love the ancient archaeological sites and I feel a special affinity for the City of Jerusalem. Then, if the circumstance is right, I might explain that Jesus Christ was crucified at Jerusalem for the forgiveness of my sins.

The delay at the airport in 1993 was real, but of course the rest of the story was fabrication, but I have given it to point out that the fruit of the Spirit becomes manifest at certain, normally unfavourable situations. In the last blog, I gave the example of Peter, Paul and Silas, all three in prison. Peter was so secure in the love of Christ that his peace allowed him to sleep. Paul and Silas, being in each other's company manifested joy which caused them to sing praises to God, which convicted and saved the jailer and his family.

So taking a brief look at the remaining virtues:

Kindness. A lack of any form of cruelty, especially verbal. This includes teasing or mocking someone when they are in a difficult or adverse situation, or even to say that they don't have time or to declare that they have more important things to do. It also means showing a favour when others are opposed, or not have the time for. A good example of this is found in Mark 10:13-14 when some mothers came up to Jesus to ask to have their children blessed. The disciples scorned at what looked like a time-wasting request, but Jesus had the kindness to bless those children, despite what the disciples thought.

Goodness. The ability to give from the heart especially to someone who does not deserve it. The Italian word for good is bene, from which we have the English words benefit, benevolent, etc. Generally it the giving of good things which blesses the recipient. A good instruction of this is given by Paul, when he teaches: When your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he's thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Romans 12:20. Again, Jesus demonstrated this fruit of the Spirit when he miraculously fed the five thousand, some of them could well have bayed for his crucifixion later when Jesus was tried by Pilate.

Faithfulness. Believing what the other person or group of people has to say and staying loyal to them. This is quite opposite to deserting, gossipping, telling other of one's faults and as such, bringing that person to ridicule or to let him down, or to leave him in his dire situation. Moses remained faithful to the children of Israel, despite on many occasions the nation complained, moaned and were ready to desert him and flee back to Egypt. When Korah and his allies had persuaded the nation to question the leadership of Moses and Aaron, they then fell on their faces to plead for the whole nation, and punish only the conspirators (See Numbers 16:20-24.) Luke too, was faithful to Paul when he was in prison, after everyone else deserted him (2 Timothy 4:10-11).

Gentleness. I remember one house-group when we discussed this fruit of the Spirit, the general opinion of the leader was that many believed that gentleness was a lack of rugged masculinity. Having played rugby, the "he-man's game" we knew where he was coming from. We British have a history in loving to think of ourselves as a nation of conquerers, out to establish an Empire, to rule over others with force where necessary. And there are newspaper journalists even today lamenting over loss of Empire. Yet if there was a person with such gentleness, it was Jesus Christ himself, who the British say they follow as a national religion. He was particularly gentle with women, the woman at the well was one of them. He did not upbraid her for her sins, but rather, his gentleness won her heart to the point when she decided that this man must be a prophet. And he was gentle to the woman caught in the act of adultery. While the Pharisees were ready to stone her for her crime, all he said to her was, "Go, and sin no more." (John 8:11.) Yet no one could have been more masculine in human history as the Lord Jesus Christ. Another fine example of gentleness was with Peter, after delivery from prison, kept on knocking while those inside, who were praying for his release, were debating whether it was him or not. Peter's natural character was to have upbraided them for their slowness to believe and answer the door. Instead, when the door opened, Peter simply beckoned them to hold their peace, with the explanation of his deliverance (Acts 12:12-17.)

Self Control. The final virtue, this is the fruit of the Spirit which prevents a believer erupting into anger or other emotional turmoil, especially where self is directly involved. For example, if someone abuses you, how would you react? If by natural means, you retaliate or seek revenge, or even smack him in the mouth. But this fruit of the Spirit gives you the ability to return the insult with either a gentle reply or with nothing at all. One good example of this was when Jesus was slapped across the face by the soldiers just before the crucifixion, the mocking and the pressing of a crown of thorns on to his head. Jesus could have lashed out physically. He could have protested his innocence to Pilate. He could have even called down a legion of angels to slay them. Instead self control, allowed him to go to the cross without a fuss, most likely enough to convict many of their sins, and to declare, "Surely, this is the Son of God!" And I believe that self control is more than stoicism, the stiff upper lip or the bottling up of emotions. Self control involves returning evil with goodness, kindness and gentleness. It involves making sure that your enemy or adversity is fed and well looked after, a virtue that can only come from the Holy Spirit.

These are all the nine virtues which makes up the fruit of the Spirit. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control, to which there is no law. (N.I.V.) Each of these virtues is a strength to meet every need in one's walk with God and alongside others. I believe that the first four are connected vertically with our standing with God, the other five, horizontally with our relationship with other people. Therefore not only do I liken the Fruit of the Spirit as an orange with eight segments within a rind, but also to a cross, the Cross of Christ.

Galatians 5:16 (KJV) says, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh This is the key verse for all three articles in this mini-series.

Finally, God is willing for every believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I actually go further and say it is a command from God. But it is for believers only - those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. All he has to do is to ask, and God will fulfill his request.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Fruit Of The Spirit Is Joy, Peace, Patience...

Last week I wrote an article titled, "The Fruit Of The Spirit Is Love.." In it I likened the singular word "Fruit" Paul uses as one orange, within are eight segments, each segment representing a virtue - Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control, all eight tightly protected with a rind which forms the one fruit - love, I believe to be symbolised by the one orange fruit.

Love is the most important of virtues, because it is the very character of God himself. We have seen that God is love, the interaction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and his wish to share this interactive love with the pinnacle of all creation, mankind. The way of allowing this love to flow in us and through us to others is for the believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit, in other words, to be filled with God himself. With the Holy Spirit living within us, eight characteristics becomes manifest, the first one after love is Joy.

I recall 1978. That was the year I was about to take off from London Gatwick Airport for New York to spend a whole month backpacking the USA. But at the time of take off, at the start of August, there was a strike among French Air Traffic Controllers. That meant all flights into Europe from the British Isles were severely disrupted, delayed or cancelled. Therefore it was natural for me back then to feel apprehension on what to expect on arrival to the airport. This apprehension tempered my excitement of the coming adventure. Would I board the flight at all, let alone on time? Would I end up sleeping at the airport departure lounge? And with the knowledge that the Travel Insurance Policy which I carried did not cover industrial disputes in those days.

When I arrived at the airport to check in, the teller informed me that my flight was on schedule with take off on time. So at the boarding gate we were just about to file through to board the plane, when an announcement came through the speakers - addressed to the crowd of waiting passengers preparing to board at the very next gate. After spending the whole night at the departure lounge, they were told to return to the lounge from the gate. One young man about my age at the time, vented his frustration after seeing that his dream trip to Spain was ruined, after working so hard to save up for it throughout the year. As they filed back to the lounge, we boarded the plane. My spirits were up, despite feeling sorry for the frustrated young man who should have been at the Spanish Costa by then, after what had meant to be his first night at his hotel.

Suppose the tables had been turned, with the American Air Traffic Controllers being on strike instead of the French? Would I had been any better in handling the situation than the frustrated young man on the other flight? This was why I shared this story. It highlights that there is a difference between happiness and joy.

Happiness is a feelgood factor based on the current circumstance. Even though I was a Christian in 1978, I knew full well that I would not have been mature enough to handle the situation any better than the other guy. What I felt was happiness, because the plane I was on was about to take off on time. But joy is based on the knowledge and trust that God is in the situation, and being held up by an industrial dispute was foreseen by God, with the plan that all things work out for the good for those who love him, and are called according to his purpose. But to be joyful in such a frustrating situation is not natural. Let me emphasise this here: It is impossible to feel naturally joyful when your vacation is ruined or even spoiled by some body's idea of what looks to be greed and spitefulness. Let's be realistic. This sort of situation would make anyone feel like tearing at their hair in frustration!

But it is also a test on one's Christian maturity, on whether he is filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit within. Because the basis of joy is its partner-virtue, Peace which, I believe, that it was no accident that Paul lists Peace right after Joy, as the two go together. Then the third characteristic, Patience also provides the third strength for the other two to be manifest. So in this article we are looking at a group of three virtues that looks to be directly linked to the inner man, his spiritual state. If this is true, then the other five are to do on how one re-acts with others, and we shall look on those in the next blog. In all, one can conclude that the first three after love - joy, peace and patience are to do with our relationship with God. Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control seems to be all to do with our relationship with other people. Therefore we can conclude that the fruit of the Spirit also resembles the Cross, our vertical relationship with God together with our horizontal relationship with other people.

It would be impossible to nurture joy naturally while stuck at an airport. But I can relate a similar incident in 1993, also at London Gatwick, concerning my flight to Israel to do a little backpacking there for two weeks. Our flight was delayed for six hours due to a technical fault on the plane, and the replacement part was at the principal airport of London - Heathrow - a good few miles away, hence such a long delay. At first I panicked, but after silent prayer I felt at peace which was backed by being patient.

Yet close by, there was a group of Orthodox Jews who were also to board the same flight. Their dress mode stood them out in contrast to everybody else in the lounge. Yet among them there was not a ruffle of emotion. They looked serene, one or two even took the opportunity for a nap. So was my sense of peace supernatural? Indeed it was. Otherwise my reaction to the delay would have been similar to that of the young man back in 1978. After all, it was 1978 since I last disembarked from a plane, the intervening fifteen years were spent building up my window cleaning business.

Joy - the feelgood or happiness felt despite adverse circumstances. The best example of this found in the Bible is recorded in Acts 16:25. Here Paul and Silas were shackled in prison, without any guilty cause. Therefore not only were they locked in a cell but they were unable to walk around. In a situation like this one could be in near panic, or protesting his innocence. Instead they were singing their praise to God, within earshot of other prisoners. In fact so infectious were their joy, that the jailer and his family were saved.

Being two together in the same cell seemed to have enhanced their joy to the point of singing praises to God. Earlier, Peter too was locked up in a cell (Acts 12:1-10). Being alone, chained to two guards, one on each side together with two more at the door, Peter did not express his joy outwardly as Paul and Silas had done. But the fruit of peace and patience took his mind off the circumstance, and enjoyed a good sleep. A person in the throes of panic usually cannot rest, let alone sleep.

Peace - A feeling of contentment which is free from worry, anxiety, fear, stress or any other turbulent emotion. It can be likened to a very calm sea, with not a breath of wind to stir up the waves. This kind of peace can only be achieved with the full reassurance that one is forever secure in the love and sovereignty of God. That is one of the reasons why I believe in Once Saved Always Saved, and therefore a true believer is forever a child of God, redeemed. This kind of reassurance brings peace to the soul even in the most unjust and hostile circumstance. It was this sense of peace which allowed Peter to sleep. He knew that the worse Herod could have done to him was destroy the body and allow the apostle to go home to Heaven.

Patience - The ability to wait for something even during a long or unreasonable delay. This is a fruit of the Spirit which took a very long time to come to maturity in my soul. One of my besetting sins is at a supermarket checkout line. You perhaps are familiar with the story. You stand there waiting and waiting to be served, while the customer in front keeps on quibbling at the teller over a 10p (or say, a 15 cent) voucher. Eventually the teller calls on the store manager as arbiter, only to find that his delay in arrival is due to a more important discussion over the phone. In my case, it was the perfect opportunity for my emotions to rise to a full-blown rage. If there is an area in my life where the Holy Spirit needs to do a lot of work, it is at the supermarket checkout line. Wouldn't had been much better, say had I offered the customer some loose change and gently plead with that person to accept the money and move on? Not only would this diffuse the situation, but it would have been highly likely to have received thanks from those queuing behind me!

The circumstances of Peter, Paul and Silas were much worse than being stuck in a supermarket checkout line or airport departure lounge. Their very lives were at stake. But their peace and joy which enabled them to sleep or sing praises were interlinked with their patience. None of the three were fidgeting or watching the clock, wishing that whatever they were waiting for would be over and done quick.

Moses, was to my opinion, the greatest example of demonstrating patience. After leading the children of Israel out of Egypt by means of such miracles of God, Moses had to put up with forty years of baying from a whinging and complaining nation. Yet rather than taking vengeance at such ungratefulness, he always interceded when God himself came down to discipline and punish them for their unbelief.

Love, along with joy, peace and patience are fruits of the Holy Spirit which adds strength to every situation in one's walk with God. Jesus said to all believing on him only to ask their Father in Heaven for the Holy Spirit, and God is willing to fulfill their request. In other words, God is saying,
"You wish to be filled with my Spirit? Well, there you are, he is yours!"
(See Luke 11:13.)

He is the best gift anyone can receive.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Fruit Of The Spirit Is Love...

In this blog, along with those following, I like to look at the well known text, Galatians 5:22, which reads:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, against such things there is no law.

I included this verse of Scripture in my last blog, All Things Work Out For Good... published January 3rd, 2012. In this article, let's take a look on the first one love.

It is an interesting that Paul here writes "fruit" in the singular, and not in the plural, as he lists nine virtues here. This brings to my mind an image of an orange. An orange is one fruit, but once the rind is peeled, a number of segments are exposed, in this case, eight. Furthermore, each segment of the orange is complete in itself, each having its own skin, which means that all eight segments can be separated yet each remaining intact and without risk of any damage. But all together within the protection of the rind which covers them, it is one fruit, and to me the orange represent all which the eight segments represent - love.

An Orange cut in half reveals eight segments

First, let us point out that God is Love (1 John 4:8). That is more than saying that God has love. True pure love had always, and will always, exist between the three persons of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The other eight listed virtues are just all different characteristics of this one love. Because God has existed from eternity past in three persons, God is complete in himself. He never needed to be loved by anyone outside the Godhead, neither does he ever feel the need to love anyone. This is quite a contrast to the Allah of the Muslims or the Jehovah of the Watchtower, both being lonely entities in eternity past, before initiating Creation. Instead, the true God is all in all, perfect and complete. But it was his pleasure to share his love with creation, and that was the reason why God created the earth and put mankind on it, to reveal his love for him, for man to share in the love of the Trinity and at the same time, lovingly care for all other life on the planet and to have dominion over it. All of God's creation was perfect, including our first parents, Adam and Eve.

But when sin entered the world through Eve's deception and Adam's disobedience, a separation took place between God and mankind, and mankind has been struggling ever since, including attempting to get right with God by self effort, the basis of all what is called religion.

In my last post, I shared my experience of being terrified of Hell just after Christmas Day. I then examined the source of this fear and discovered that it was caused by God temporarily withdrawing his presence as part of his discipline to me as his son, to partake in his holiness. Not only is God being love, he is the source of all life. Therefore, for life to exist, God has to be present in order for the life to be sustained.

Death is the cessation of life. It is the result when God withdraws his presence entirely. When a saint, or true Christian believer dies, only his body ceases to live, and that is destined for the grave. His soul goes immediately to Heaven to be in the full presence of God. But when the unbelieving sinner dies, his soul is forever separated from the presence of the living God, who is love and perfect holiness. It is this separation and banishment from his presence which,I believe, defines Hell.

But while we are alive, every single person, even the unbeliever, enjoys the presence of God up to a certain degree in his life. Various Scripture teaches this. First, we have John 1:9 saying that the true light which shines in every man was coming into the world. Isaiah 49:6 also says that Christ will be a light to the gentiles. Also Romans 1:19-21 God has made his presence felt and seen through Creation, and verse 21 says that God is in them, that is, the unbelievers (KJV) or they knew God (NIV). In Romans 2:4 Paul writes that the goodness of God is with them, along with patience, riches and forbearance. The conscience is by means of distinguishing right from wrong, it is a guiding light from God and every person has it. But the best known verse is John 3:16 which says that God so loved the world. So every person alive has the presence of God in his life. I believe that alongside conscience and a level of light shone into the person, this also what sustains the heartbeat, the flow of the bloodstream, the digestive system and breathing (most of the time) and the magnificent immune system, protecting the body from disease-bearing foreign bugs. All these indicate the presence of God in the person, sustaining him, loving him, for the purpose of repentance, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation to God, and eternal life, which is the eternal presence of the Life-Giver. Therefore we can say that physical death is the complete withdrawal of God's presence, resulting in the cessation of bodily life.

A friend of mine once said to me that surely God could not have loved the Iraqi dictator, the late Saddam Hussein. I replied by quoting John 3:16, even when it was hard to imagine God loving such a person. But loved him he did, as with Adolf Hitler, Lenin, Joseph Stalin and other notorious dictators. God's grace was available to them during their lives as it is to us now.

And now let us go back to the creation of Adam and Eve. One of God's chief principles of the whole of Creation is for Christ, who himself is God, to have a people for himself, so intimate that these people are likened to a bride. When a person repents and believes in Jesus as Saviour, the presence of God in his life becomes more real, due to the re-birth of the man's spirit, the receiving of eternal life and becoming the home of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The saved person becomes a member of the church, which is the bride of Christ. And I think this is why there is both male and female. Of course, the idea of a couple in the biological sense is procreation, to produce children. But there is a mystical connection between the marriage of a man to a woman and of Jesus Christ and his Church. Therefore, marriage is a kind of figure, the husband
is the figure of Jesus Christ, the wife as his Church, the bride of Christ, a model of which God foresaw from eternity past.

But let me here say that there are many unmarried Christians in the churches, as there have always been. I myself have been an unmarried Christian for nearly 27 years. Paul the Apostle himself was unmarried, a rare occurrence in Jewish life, and yet he wrote a lot about marriage. Therefore does a single person become less of a member of the Bride of Christ than a married man? By no means! A single Christian is every bit a member of the Bride as the married.

But the husband represents Christ. Just as the Lord Jesus was the breadwinner by leading a perfect, sin-free life and so to speak, earned his right to lay down his life to redeem us, so I believe that the man was designed by God with the in-built trait for productivity and to provide for his wife and family. But more than that, a husband should love his wife and be devoted to her in the same way as Christ loves the church and is fully devoted to her. The rise in feminism and the woman's liberation movement was caused by, I believe, the man's lack of showing proper love to his wife. Many men were dominant, others had a way of making their wives feel inferior or subjective to them without receiving the love, devotion and protection they deserved. Here in the UK, it is considered wimpish or lacking masculinity to show emotion, other than the emotion of anger, considered by some as "a true masculine trait". In turn, British newspaper journalists praise the British stoicism and the stiff upper lip as being "proper masculine traits" but unfortunately had the potential in leading to an environment where there was lack of love and affection in the home.

According to the latest statistics, one in three marriages end in divorce here in the UK. Some years ago I watched a TV documentary on the rise of divorces in Britain. One couple was featured in the programme on why this particular middle-aged husband was cooling towards his wife of more than twenty years. After intensive interviewing, she finally admitted that she had been attending night college and studied for a qualification that would launch her into a career which would give her independence. Having been brought up to be the traditional breadwinner, he felt that her prospective independence had killed something in their once robust marriage. To be fair, it would have been worth asking whether he showed love and devotion to her. Or did he spend much of his leisure time in his own pursuits? In addition to this, there was a story carried in the Daily Mail only last week about one husband who was divorcing his wife because she was specific in placing her career above the needs of her husband. Then the female journalist who reported the incident basically called the man an idiot, lacking consideration for his wife's ambition to fulfill her own wishes. I was aghast! When I logged in on the next day to check over the article again in preparation to this blog, the Daily Mail had already deleted it from its website.

I thought I should add here for those who may conclude that I'm against equal rights for women. That is not true. All I'm saying is that both men and women have different roles, neither one superior or inferior to the other. The man, or husband is a figure of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is head of the Church (see Ephesians 5:22-24). Now here is a question: if the Church chooses to exist independently of Jesus Christ, his love or provisions, how would the Lord himself feel?

God had created Eve out of the man Adam, and it was specifically for her to be a helper meet for him. Despite what feminists might say, woman was to be a companion to her husband, to love and be submissive to him (see Ephesians 5:22-33). In turn, he would love her and be fully devoted to her well being. I believe that if husbands in the Western world had taken heed to this sound advice, feminism and "equal rights for women" would never had been thought of, simply because the wife who is secure in her husband's love would not even think otherwise.

Finally, 1 John 4:8 says that God is love.

So let us quote 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 where Paul speaks of the greatness and goodness of love. But here we substituted the word "God" in place of "love" and we came up with this result (from the NIV):

God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. He is not rude, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hope, always perseveres.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

All Things Work Out For Good...

I look out of the main window of our lounge, and watch the strong gale lashing heavy rain onto the window panes. As the deep area of a low pressure weather system drifts across the UK, I am just about housebound, not able to take out my equipment to start work on my domestic window cleaning business. Not that the job would be entirely impossible, but rather such an endeavour would arouse wrath from my clientele, who would be obliged to pay for the work done. So much for the first working day of 2012, a year that promises the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, both events looking so promising to be ablaze with pageantry glory.

The Christmas break is over, here in the UK it's the first day back at work for all of us who has a job. But for the benefit of our American readers, I need to add an explanation to the last twelve days of the winter break.

I understand that in the USA, there is just one day of holiday, Christmas Day itself. Then it back to work the next day, unless Christmas falls on a Friday or Saturday. Christmas 2011 fell on a Sunday, perhaps seen by some as the worst day of the week, as the next day is a normal Monday morning, ushering in an average five-day working week. Now to all American readers, if what I had written is inaccurate, please let me know on the comments forum below!

Here in the UK, businesses (other than Retail) shut up shop on Christmas Eve, and remain closed right through until the January 2nd, with Boxing Day (December 26th) also a holiday. Because both Christmas and New Year fell on a Sunday, Tuesday 27th was also a Bank Holiday, and so was Monday, January 2nd. This makes today, the 3rd, the day all businesses re-open. This long, annual winter break had been slammed by the Press for many years, particularly over the 2008/2009 holidays when both Christmas and New Year (also a Bank Holiday) fell on a Thursday, which meant that businesses could not be bothered to open for the one day Friday 2nd, therefore remained shut until Monday January 5th, 2009, twelve days from Christmas Day itself. No wonder newspapers on that year went to town with their blasting of the bosses' apparent apathy which was the major cause of loss to the British economy by billions of pounds.

So with such a long respite from working over the Christmas period, today I was eager to get back to business, after twelve days of reasonably dry weather. But what do I find after getting out of bed? Fierce winds and heavy rain. Certainly not window cleaning weather. And I'm not alone. I would not at all be surprised that not a few employers of construction projects and of other outdoor occupations had told their workers to stay at home. But energy bills still need to be paid, the bank expect the mortgage to be paid on time, the landlord will still demand his rent, groceries still need to be purchased. Then there are those dreaded credit card statements which will arrive, after going into overdrive with the presents and other Christmas festive goods. So by natural thinking, the timing of today's adverse weather could not be worse! So screamingly frustrating. It would be tempting to cry out:

O God! Why, why are you messing us about? Do you get a kick out of all this??? You could have sent the rain over the Christmas break. We had all twelve days of holiday!

That would be the natural thinking of an outdoor worker such as myself. Then to add to this, I watch my neighbour, dressed in suit and tie, climb into his car to make for the office, where he expects to do well. Meanwhile, in the City, bankers trade and make a killing, executives receive bumper bonuses, and in the papers, a report is published that our train fares have risen by over six percent, bad news for the daily commuter, yet alongside this, our Members of Parliament were claiming refunds from first class travel expenses due to a loophole in the Parliamentary regulations. Meanwhile, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (our Interior Revenue Service) went soft on big money-making corporations while small businesses were hit hard by the Taxman.

Isn't there a God at all? Or is God the God of the rich, the middle-class, the well educated and the well-to-do? Is God, if sovereign, so crushingly unfair? Tempting it can be for me to think this way, at least I know better. Actually, the Bible does not teach fairness, nor that life would be fair for everybody. Rather it has this to say to all believers:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28.

I could add that while Christmas was centred on the birth of Christ, in Luke's Gospel we read the Doxology, where Mary cries out in Elizabeth's presence that, God had scattered the proud in their inmost thoughts, brought down rulers from their thrones, but have lifted up the humble, had filled the hungry with good things, but have sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53).

In all things God works for the good of those who love him. No matter what sort of things life can throw at you, they are for the good. Yes, it's difficult to say that when you feel that you are suffering a day of clouds, passing through the deepest darkness, a sense of despair. Just after Christmas Day, I felt myself sinking into deep fear, the fear of Hell itself. I lay awake on the bed, literally trembling with terror and shaking all over. The fear kept going into Boxing Day, I suffered loss of appetite, I could hardly eat. I can identify with the writer of Psalm 88:

For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man without strength.
I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken me from my closest friends and you have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief.

While sitting next to my wife, and clinging on to her, I examined my fear and decided that an evil spirit had entered my soul late that evening, for the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, against there is no law - not terror! There and then I asked the Holy Spirit to fill me, and almost immediately the fear melted away and my appetite returned. But the fear came and went for the next couple of days, until the Wednesday, when I completed a stiff workout in the gym and was then bathing in the sauna. (Not very spiritual perhaps, but where in the Bible does it say "Thou shalt not Sauna. Thou shalt not take care of thy health"..?) Suddenly, while swimming, I was thinking of the Lord and of my salvation, I felt a tremendous surge of the Holy Spirit within me, and in my mind's eye, saw the Lord himself, in front of me, assuring me that I was his, and he mine. Soon afterwards, someone with me in the sauna mentioned that he reads the Bible from time to time. Immediately I blurted out excitedly, "Jesus Christ is my Saviour too!" It was after that I realised that if I confess him before men (there were three others in the sauna beside myself) then Jesus would confess me to the Father before the angels. It was a moment of sheer joy.

A typical Finnish Sauna

So what might have happened about midnight on Christmas Day? I think that God withdrew his presence. I believe it was an act of discipline in order for me to partake of his holiness. Lately before then I was becoming spiritually flabby, allowing sin to creep into my daily living, particulary over the Christmas festivities. But during the period of intense fear, I also felt a purification of my soul. And sharing my plight with the church elders I also found very helpful.

All things work out for the good of those who love God. Being disciplined by God is a good sign, a proof that you are his child. Furthermore, it would always be for the common good, so not to perish with the world.

The weather forecast looks better for tomorrow. I'm anticipating getting some work done at last.