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Sunday, 29 April 2012

One Problem Bible Passage

Ever since I believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there had always been one set of verses in Matthew's Gospel which I had found very disturbing. They read:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Matthew 7:21-23 KJV.

One Christian admitted that she found those verses disturbing, and I guess that the two of us represent the feelings of many sincere believers. The crunch of the problem lay in the fact that those standing outside were addressing him -Jesus Christ himself, not Buddha, Mohammad or one of the Hindu or pagan deities. Here we need to examine exactly what was going on here. For example, the people addressed were referring to him as Lord. And they were claiming to have done wonderful works (as the KJV puts it) in his name. In other words, they saw themselves as Christians and most likely attended church during their lifetimes. But the Lord replied, I never knew you!

I never knew you! There can be no possible worse indictment from God than those dreadful words. Please read this carefully. Here the Lord did not say, "I knew you when you were first converted, after that you fell away and I never knew you anymore since then." Instead, he said, "I never knew you (at all, throughout your entire life)." First of all, let's forget what religion often inserts here. It does not mean loss of salvation due to apostasy or not holding faithful. Instead, these guys were never saved in the first place. And secondly, these verses refute any idea that the believer can lose his salvation. Either one is eternally saved or not saved at all. There is no in-between. Think about this for a moment. If one was truly saved but later in life loses his salvation due to some sin, failing to overcome or not holding faithful, then for Jesus to say that he never knew him would be a downright lie - because he did know him, for a while at least. Therefore these verses are actually favourable to the doctrine of Eternal Security.

It is also easy to believe that these verses apply to all groups who teach some form of heresy, or their doctrines don't agree with those of your church or denomination. Groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, who deny the Trinity - or the Unitarians, who believes that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three manifestations of one single entity - or the Mormons with their idea that Adam was God - or the Churches of Christ who believe that baptism is essential to salvation - or the Seventh Day Adventist who insist on Saturday worship and the need to tithe one's income to be saved. That was how I used to understand these verses. Making sure that I was in the "right" denomination to be sure that I was "doing the will of the Father who is in Heaven" to ensure my salvation.

But now I no longer believe Jesus was saying any of this. Salvation is to do with the heart attitude towards God. If someone truly believes that Jesus Christ died for their sins, and call for his mercy, he is saved, no matter which group he belongs to or what they teach. God is merciful, and desires all to be saved, and will save all those who call on his name (Romans 10:13). It is up to the Holy Spirit within the person to guide him where to meet for worship, teaching and fellowship. A person may be a Roman Catholic and still be saved (I'm one myself). Likewise a Methodist is saved, even if he thinks that his salvation is not eternal. Even a Jehovah's Witness is saved if on one occasion, falls on his knees and asks God to save him.

And here we need to get to the heart on what Jesus was teaching here in Matthew 7:21-23. These guys excluded from Heaven were trusting in their own works. But the works they were defending were not humble works in showing goodness to others, such as giving a glass of water to a thirsty person. Rather, they were "spectacular" works, which seem to indicate showmanship, a sure guarantee for pride.

Now imagine yourself as an "average" Christian. You go to church each week, read the Bible and pray regularly. Your desire is to do God's will, mainly in thankfulness for God's mercy through Jesus Christ. But you have never performed a miracle. You have talked to others about Christ but never saw anyone taking an interest, let alone winning any souls. You feel that God is not using you, perhaps harbouring the idea that you're simply not good enough. Then this person comes along from the next town or county. He is so "spiritual" that not only can he win souls to Christ by the thousands, but he could walk in a fish restaurant or bar, resurrect the fish and give them Bibles to read! Compared to him, you feel like small fry indeed. YOU may feel that he is the lamp of God, but how does God see him? If anything, this guy could well indeed stand outside the door of Heaven and plead, "Lord, Lord, didn't I perform many wonderful works in your name?"

Or prophesying. That means you predict something and it come true. That too will bring adoration from the crowds. Nevertheless, you will be deemed a prophet, equal in status as any Old Testament prophet or New Testament apostle. During the 1990s, Methodist itinerant preacher, author and pastor David Pawson was seen by many Christians, including those from my church, as a prophet with equal status as Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel. When I declared that such a man was more of a false prophet, those who heard me say that were irritated.

Then there is that bit about casting out demons. This is a controversial issue. In Acts 19:13-16 some unbelieving Jews tried to rid a man of a demon but without success. Here is the story:

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day, the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.
Acts 19:13-16 NIV.

Examining this story, it does look as if these seven sons of Sceva were successful in this ministry, at least at first. But rather than bring people to the foot of the cross, their success swelled their pride. It was when they arrived at this particular house, full of confidence, that they came unstuck. None had ever suffered such public humiliation than they, as their torn clothes fell off and exposed their wounded bodies to public shame.

So, are miracles and wonderful works the products of evildoers? Not at all. Then why did Jesus accuse those excluded as being "workers of iniquity?" I believe the reason for this was their motives. These miracles were done to bolster their pride, based on their idea that they can work their own way to God and earn their salvation. They did not trust in Jesus crucified to atone for their sin. They trusted in themselves.

And this is the key to Jesus' words spoken in Matthew 7:21-23. Self-trust, bolstered by pride.

The purpose of miracles had always been to bring sinners to the foot of the cross. The ministry of Jesus Christ prior to his crucifixion, was to persuade Israel that he was the Messiah. John writes:

Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even if you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.
John 10:37-38.

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"
John 11:41-43.

After the Resurrection, Peter, on the day of Pentecost, preached to a large crowd of Jews, declaring Jesus Christ, and how they had him crucified, but God resurrected him back from the dead, and ascended to heaven, that all those who believed and be baptised in his name would receive remission of sins. To back their testimony, Peter healed a lame man (Acts 3). But it was not just for the benefit of the man healed. Instead the miracle was performed to open the opportunity to preach Jesus, calling all who witnessed the miracle to repent. In verse 17, Peter concluded his testimony with the words,

Now brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you - even Jesus.
Acts 3:17-20.

Miracles were always performed to bring people to repentance. It is God who gets the glory. And this is the reason why miracles are seldom performed at present. The danger of pride and self-worth. The want for publicity, for crowds of people to be in awe, for them to think that he is a great man of God. Somehow I can't help linking all this with the attitude of the Pharisees in Jesus' day. Being proud of one's own righteousness was the downfall of the Pharisees, who received the greatest rebuke from John the Baptist, Jesus Christ and later, from Stephen. At present, there are records of modern evangelists performing miracles or winning great crowds to God. In his sovereignty, God can use anyone as a vessel to demonstrate goodness and mercy which result in genuine repentance among some. But if the motives of the evangelist are based on pride, looking to his own powers, he will more likely to be barred from entry into Heaven.

This blog opened with the verses in Matthew being disturbing. They used to instill fear when I was a young Christian. Maybe my faith did not quite connect, or some sin got in the way, or I was following the wrong religion. The crunch words were,

He that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

"Doeth." This implied works, the way one performed, including what one believed and taught. Deliverance from this fear came through further reading of Scripture. In John 6:28 we read of the question put to Jesus:

What must we do to do the works God requires?

After being told that he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven, the most natural question one would ask was, "What must we do, then?"

And this is when Jesus answered that to do the will of the Father is to believe on the one he has sent. (John 6:29) Then they asked what miraculous sign would he give to prove his authenticity. We see here that miracles were always performed to encourage repentance. Miracles were never a kind of Divine Health Service, an idea which seems to be prevalent in many churches today.

We have no need to fear standing outside heaven's door and refused entry if we recognise ourselves as helpless sinners in need of a Saviour. The Lord Jesus will save all who come to him with this need - that without him we are helpless, and no work of any kind can bring us any closer to him. Instead, by recognising the Atonement made at the Cross, we call on him for mercy. God will save all who call on him.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Gay Issues? You're Were Right, Boris

Within the past week of writing, while many a chocolate Easter egg is still only part eaten or even intact, newspapers began to blaze out about an advert that was meant to be posted on London buses plying across the main city routes. For two weeks these words would have been blazoned across the world-famous red vehicles:


This ad was sponsored by two Christian groups - the Core Issues Trust and Anglican Mainstream. However, Boris Johnson, the current Mayor of London, blocked the ad from being posted. The fact that early next month Londoners will have the opportunity to either re-elect Johnson, or his main rival, Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London for the next term of office. As a matter of fact, the two main party leaders are heavily banking on the victory of their candidates. Conservative leader and current Prime Minister, David Cameron, is hoping that Johnson will win, while Labour Opposition leader, Ed Miliband, is relying on the victory of the socialist candidate. So we wonder exactly on Johnson's prime motive for the ban, whether it was to do with morality, a political vote-winner, or a bit of each.

The leader of Core Issues Trust, Mike Davidson, was aghast that, as he says, was unaware that censorship was in place, as the Advertising Standards Authority had originally passed the message for publicity. But here he is missing the point.

And the point missed by Davidson is the theme for this blog. And this may be a shock to any Christian reading this. But I believe that Boris Johnson was right in banning the ad from publicity. And this is coming from a committed Christian, who would desire all men everywhere to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

According to a poll conducted by the Daily Mail Newspaper, at the moment 65% agreed with Johnson's ban, while the remaining 35% disagreed, not so much for moral support, I guess, as for the right to exercise free speech. In other words, that Davidson had the legal right to express his opinion. But any reader can be assured that not a single homosexual or LGBT associate would have agreed with Davidson or any Christian group for that matter, it would have resulted in hostility against the faith altogether.

For example, the advert was the subject of the forum at a Gay Sports and Fitness website, which also has a section on spirituality. Checking the responses, hostility towards Christianity was inflamed and praise for Johnson's action encouraged. One commented that this kind of publicity against them causes a rise of suicides among Gays, with the usual enforcing of guilt, rejection, social isolation and loneliness. He then concluded his post with the words:
In other words, Christians are inadvertently murderers in my book.
In another post was written:
(I) guess the Christians just hate everyone as usual.
In the Daily Mail, one commented:
At least there's a cure for religion - it's called Education.

In the USA, Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps assembles his flock where ever there is a Gay Pride or festival, and even at the funeral of American servicemen who were killed in battle. Phelps makes sure that placards are held up high for all to see - all reading: God Hates Fags, God Will Judge America, and Homos will Burn in Hell, and so on. According to my knowledge, not only a single person was ever converted to Christ, but hostility spilled over into public ridicule. Phelps was the major contributor in bringing the Christian faith down to the level of laughing stock in the eyes of the LGBT. Cartoons such as the following may bring even a committed Christian to crack a smile - but it does contain a serious message:

There is nothing new in any of this. Those who advocate such advertisements are actually preaching the Law. And as Paul writes, that by the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20.) Yes,I believe that there are proper times to preach the Law, particularly to any unsaved person sitting in Church. But the purpose of preaching the law is always to convict the heart of sin and thereby prepare the ground, so to speak, to receive the gloriously good news of the Saviour Jesus Christ, who was crucified to atone for those sins, and was resurrected on the third day. The Law, summarised in the ten Commandments, was meant to lead the person to Christ, and it had no saving power of it own. Rather the Law condemns, and without any saving faith, the condemnation would eventually lead to hostility and atheism. Paul himself writes:

For if those who live by the law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:14-15.)

Wrath expressed here is twofold. First the Law brings the knowledge of sin. This resulting knowledge makes the sinner aware of the wrath of God, in turn, guilt leads to the sinner's hostility towards God, even denying his existence to cover his guilt. In the aforementioned Gay Fitness website, I have seen that the vast majority of homosexual men are hostile to God and the Christian faith. They are not afraid to express this hostility on their forums. The reason is always the same - constantly being told that homosexuality is wrong and Hell awaits those who practice it. This shocking sense of unfairness is further amplified by their belief that being Gay was from early childhood, often with the idea that such orientation originated from gestation in the womb. Adding to this is their awareness that other animal species having similar homosexual habits - but without the fear of Hell.

I am fully aware where all this is coming from. Reading through the Old Testament, one reads of the shocking apostasy repeated over and over by the whole nation of Israel. From almost immediately after crossing the Red Sea under the leadership of Moses, they quickly turned away from the true God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt to worship a golden calf. The sorry state continued, until at the time of the Prophet Jeremiah, their apostasy and hostility towards God had got to such a bad state, that the whole nation was first captured by the Assyrians to be led away to Assyria, then shortly afterwards, the remaining Jews were led away to Babylon, leaving their capital - Jerusalem, desolate. God himself knew this was set to happen. In Deuteronomy 28, Moses prophesied that the Jews were going to be subject to one particular nation (the Babylonians - verses 49-57) and then scattered across the globe (verses 64-68).

Israel was not able to keep the Law, and at the end the "wandering Jew" without a homeland was a byword to all other nations for nearly two thousand years. No one from any nation can keep the Law either. Nobody can keep the Law, for the Law condemns. Thus the advert on the London buses would have brought condemnation, not reformation as the ad would have implied. Because of this, the advert would have pushed more people into Hell, and saved no one at all. Furthermore, the advert would have brought the Christian faith and all the churches to disrepute, a self-righteous, hypocritical group committed to frowning on the Gay world, while bypassing the sins of others - not unlike the Pharisees of old.

The Law brings the knowledge of sin, and correctly used, meant to be a schoolmaster leading us to faith in Jesus Crucified. It is through faith in Christ alone that one is saved. And this so great salvation is free to all who believe. The heterosexual (straight) person and the homosexual (gay) person is saved in the exactly the same way - faith in Christ. I personally believe that the Gay person should not be told, "Stop that way of living or you will be judged." Nothing would crush his spirit and cause him to turn away from the faith as such a statement! Instead, the Gay and the Straight believer should be seen as saints, redeemed of the Lord, and loved equally by God. Both have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, and such it is up to God to work in their lives. Just as a devoted husband will do anything to please his wife, the object of his love, so likewise, the saint - whether gay or straight - will want to please God as best as he could. If that means quitting the gay lifestyle, then God will give him that power. It is not for us to tell him not to, unless he sincerely wants to know.

Every sinner, straight or gay, wants to be loved and accepted. To God there is no difference between the two - God loves them both equally and his wish is that both be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. We as Christians should not distinguish on the sexual orientation because God does not.

Well done Boris Johnson, for blocking that advert from being posted on London's buses. That action most likely had spared us from wiping our brow in embarrassment.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Our God Is Great!-How I Believed

Easter weekend 2012. This time of the year we remember the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion, and his Resurrection three days later. What love! What joy! That Christ loves us enough to take upon himself every sin we have, and will commit, upon himself. So we can be with him, our maker, in Heaven for ever!

It had to think hard before writing this article, but I guess, being Easter, I decided to take the risk and do something I was reluctant to do in the past - but felt it was something I always wanted to do for a long time - to open up and to reveal that no matter how dark our lives has been in the past, God is in control. God is sovereign, therefore I have nothing to fear what other people may think. God loves me as I am.

I flown the nest in 1976, then aged 23. To me, I thought that was old, because I had friends attending our church fellowship who had graduated from their universities and colleges, having left home at 18 years of age. I guess I envied their independence, to be free from the restricting house rules imposed by my Italian parents. Rules such as not to stay up too late. Then the want of the freedom to go out in the evenings to paint the town red, and not be asked either one of those dreadful questions:
Where have you been last night? Or What did you get up to last night? Or even, What time did you get home last night?

To be asked such questions in my early twenties while knowing that students younger than myself were greeted by an empty apartment or college room co-occupied by one or two fellow students really got up my goat! This might have been the start of my feelings of inferior complex, that I was not trusted by my parents for the reason, as I believed then, that I was rubbish at school. In fact, I clearly remember my Dad back then telling me in so many words that these students have proven worthy of their greater independence at a younger age. Massive arguments broke out as a result. In 1976 I found it a joy that I was given a bedsit accommodation by the Council which was the necessary launch pad to start out on a life of my own.

It was after a long while after moving out that I began to feel closer to my parents with a greater warmth. But being single, I still kept them at a distance. At least our loud disagreements began to be the thing of the past.

Being single, even on my own, had mixed blessings. True, I was able to stay up until two in the morning and no one would bat an eyelid. Ditto if I suddenly decided to go away for a couple of days, and in the 1980s, this was a frequent occasion. As a competitive triathlete, many a Saturday night was spent at a hotel in the location where the event would be staged early the following morning, as the Sunday roads would be considerably free of traffic. Then not to mention my backpacking days, where I traveled solo across Western Europe, then to Israel, Canada, the USA, Singapore and Australia. The things I can do as a single person. This is testimony that God had his protective hand on me by pure grace. I did not have to work to receive it.

But being single also had its downsides. I found relationships with the opposite sex very difficult, if not impossible. I lacked confidence, I had a speech impediment, I was into a manual occupation - something our middle-class church girls, as it looked, wouldn't be seen dead with. I was also a loner, not good with team work, and enjoyed reading rather than play footie with the boys (as many of my church friends of my age did).

But that is precisely where God stepped in. After conversion to Christ, one of my greatest joys is studying the Bible. I also poured into books written by trustworthy authors to help me get a better grips with the Bible. The end result was my love for Israel, the nation and its people, and the prophetic plans God has for them.

Then in 1998 I found Alex, my future wife. I was already 47 at the time. We married ten months later during the Autumn of 1999. My first daughter was born in 2001, three years later, my second daughter was born in 2004.

But in the months to follow, we found parenting very difficult. The Health Visitor (who calls at the home of every parents of newborns here in the UK for the first couple of months) noticed this and she was very concerned, and called Social Services. To cut a long story short, after months of assessments, it was decided that our two daughters were to be adopted.

We were devastated, and I felt shame and embarrassment. I only told my family and those at church. During one service, I broke down and wept aloud publicly. But my faith in God never wavered. In fact, if there was a time I felt that I desperately need God in my life, it was then. Although I hang my head in shame, I knew that my two daughters would be in a better environment at their adoptive parent's home, and better provided for than we could have provided.

One morning, while pouring through the prophet Jeremiah, I came across these verses:

This is what the Lord says:
"A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
for her children are no more."
This is what the LORD says:
"Restrain your voice from weeping
and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,"
declares the LORD.
"They will return from the land of the enemy.
For there is hope for your future,"
declares the LORD.
"Your children will return to their own land."

Jeremiah 31:15-17.

Of course, the literal meaning of this passage is that after all the Jews had been exiled from their homeland by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, God promises their safe return. But Matthew also quote part of this text as referral to the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod, after being let down by the Wise Men. Obviously, the grieving mothers in Bethlehem will never get their kids back - not in this life anyway.

But reading this myself, I strongly felt God speaking directly to me. I believed. One day, God will return my daughters "from the land of the enemy." The "enemy" are not the adoptive parents of my daughters - they are treating them well and they are well provided for. The "enemy" refers to the Social Worker who had them snatched out of their beds at three in the morning, with not a sliver of compassion or sympathy for my hysterical wife and grieving grandparents.

The loss of our children has been very grievous for both of us, but seven years on, I'm happy to tell you that Alex and I enjoy a strong, robust marriage. We are just two of us, living in the quietness of our home, while knowing that God is in full control. Knowledge of his sovereignty is the key to Eternal Security. Security in him in this life as well as the in the promise of the next.

But what was the basic cause of all this trauma? The assessments showed that we both have Asperger's Syndrome, or "assie." It is a form of Autism. Several mysteries are answered straight away. First the way my parents looked on and treated me while I was still at home (since married, my parents and I are now very close). Then why the girls at our church did not find me compatible. And the inability for team work, including footie with the boys. But what could be surprising result of the assessment is that I also have above-average IQ. Both my wife and I have "assie". This could be the truth behind our robust marriage, despite the loss of our daughters.

The key to this article is Romans 8:28, which reads:

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.

Let us quote the rest of the chapter, for want of such brilliant words:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What then, can we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring to any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is it that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There you have it. How great is our God!

Wishing you all a very happy Easter.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

God Is In Control

As I read the paper this morning, I came across a report that the boss of British Gas, Sam Laidlaw, scooping a £10,000,000 package last year (2011). This, according to the report, is enough to pay the fuel bill for both gas and electricity of an average family's budget for 7,500 years. And this comes while the rest of us have to tighten our financial belts as fuel prices are continuing to rise, with senior citizens in particular having to either "heat or eat", as household heating during the cold months of Winter becomes unaffordable. As an insult added to injury, so says the paper, he also gets £700 knocked off his annual fuel bill. So unfair but also so familiar.

We can think of a number of things which were cruelly unfair. At present, we are living in a country where the rich are getting richer in expense of the poor. On top of this, here in the UK, we have a Government which appears to deliver the message that they are for the rich, and even throw dinner parties for the nation's top business executives, while the disabled, such as those with Alzheimer's Disease, are pushed to take on unpaid menial jobs or risk losing their disability benefits. Among the disabled there is a high suicide rate caused mainly by uncertainty of the future.

History is filled with this kind of cruelty. During the World War II, some 6,000,000 Jews were needlessly slaughtered by the German Nazis alongside homosexuals and the mentally handicapped. In more recent years, we watched on TV the plight of thousands of African children falling ill and suffering premature deaths due to malnutrition.

During Boxing day 2004, many were swept away and towns destroyed by a tsunami, caused by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean, while also recently another earthquake flattened the city of Christchurch in New Zealand, making many homeless.

Aftermath of the Tsunami, 2004

So I can go on and on about both human and natural catastrophes. Or it could be as personal as being called into the Boss's office while under a mountain of debt, your car breaking down while on your daily commute to work, your business going into administration, receiving an unexpected bill or even finding a notice of divorce resting on the kitchen worktop as you walk into an empty house you normally call home.

Or as with me, about two years ago I lost two window cleaning customers, one after the other, in the same street, no fault of my own, and I went into panic. At first I was angry at one of my former client's stinginess in deciding to have his son clean their windows for nothing, while his neighbour had just bought a ladder - both having a nice house, two cars, ongoing career and so on. Then this gave way to having vivid imaginations of being jobless, handing my home back to the landlord, begging in the streets, of my wife and I slowly starving to death as we wonder around, homeless and penniless, even holding each other tightly as we lay down for the last time to die. I felt so sorry for myself that I let my imagination run wild. Imagination indeed, when I am the sole breadwinner and losing clientele after serving them so well, and with years of loyalty! I shared this with a close friend who worked at another town on the commercial side of the same nature of business, and we both laughed as he told me of a wealthy client who would spend millions of pounds to see the Grand Canyon, as he puts it, but screws up over an occasional one pound price rise! (For the American reader, a £1 is roughly equal to $1.60).

But among all the symptoms of a fallen world, both personal and global, one thing is certain - God is in control. Realising this was the reason why one of the first things I did after that dreadful double announcement was to pray, calling on the Lord. Life dishes out tough times for both the Christian believer and the unbeliever alike. For the Christian, this is part of the discipline process for the saint to learn to trust in God's sovereignty and to partake in his holiness. For the unbeliever, it should bring an occasion for repentance, and receive the salvation God offers. But often in the case of the latter, it result in the hardening of the heart, often with the idea that God sits on his throne in Heaven while doing nothing to help us poor mortals down here.

If I find myself in a discussion about Jesus Christ, one of the most classic questions they ask is: If God is so loving, then why is there so much suffering in this world? On one occasion, way back in 1979, in response to the above question, I asked: Do you believe that God himself had ever suffered? He couldn't answer. But here are some questions worth asking if you are sharing Jesus Christ with others and you are confronted with that question.

Do you believe that God has ever felt hunger and thirst?
Do you believe that God ever felt tired and fancy having a good night's sleep?
Do you believe that God had money stolen from him?
Do you believe that God felt betrayed?
Do you believe that people made promises to God and then turning against him?
Do you believe that God experienced rejection from the people he came to serve?
Do you believe that God wept over the death of a close friend?
Do you believe that God suffered temptation?
Do you believe that God suffered emotional anguish?
Do you believe that God suffered agonising pain?
Do you believe that if God did suffer excruciating pain, people around him taunted and teased him?
Do you believe that God died a shameful death as a criminal in public?

The one answer to all twelve questions is YES. God went through all these things, and more, including false accusation in a sham trial, through his Son Jesus Christ in whom the Father and the Holy Spirit dwelt. In other words, God knows exactly what suffering is all about, having gone through it all himself.

Yet the Lord Jesus kept his Father's commandments perfectly. Unlike us, he committed no sin. One of his greatest strengths was that he was secure in his Father's love. Another was that he already knew about his reward and he was looking forward to receiving. Secure in his Father's love. That was one of his vital strengths which saw him through all sufferings, yet he committed not one sin. There was no occasion of impatience, loss of temper, frustration, boredom, nor teasing people or getting his own way. Judas Iscariot, who was in charge of the purse, pilfered for his own use, but Jesus showed no signs of fearing impending hardship, for he trusted fully on his Father's provisions. Jesus knew perfectly well that no matter what the outcome would have been, God is in control.

And to you Christian, God is in much control now as he was in Jesus' day. That is something we need to continually remind ourselves when life gets hard or challenging. Many times I worry about the future, especially in my work. But knowing that God is in control allows me to get on with my job with peace of heart.

And God is fully in control in our salvation. Jesus said,
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one. John 10:27-30.

Then Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrote:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, neither anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39.

Both Jesus and Paul were emphatic on this point. If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, then you belong to him and you are eternally secure. ONCE SAVED ALWAYS SAVED! And why? Because God is in control. Now that is something to rejoice and be thankful for.

For Christians who believe that salvation can be lost if we don't hold faithful: Do you believe those verses stated above? These words are not mine, they are the Bible. Either those words are true or they are not true. And how can we be confident of God's love if there is small-print somewhere in the covenant? Either those words mean what they say or they don't.

For example: The Lord himself has promised that no one can pluck his sheep from his and his Father's hand. But some Christians believe that one can simply walk away from his hand, by his own choice. There was a discussion on this in our house-group back in 1994, following Spring Harvest, where Methodist David Pawson preached against eternal security. I stated that if you can walk out of his hand just like that, and be lost again, then you must be going somewhere, and following some one's lead or coaxing. Or simply find something more attractive than a relationship with God. If that was the case, then God is not in control, he is not sovereign, neither is he omnipotent nor omniscient. Worst of all, if the snake can coax a sheep away with such ease, then not only is Jesus Christ not a good shepherd, but we also need to question the love God is supposed to have for us. But the worst scenario is calling God a liar, for he spoke clearly through his Son and through Paul that he is in full control. The very idea of "holding faithful to the end" in order to be saved is the thin end of the dangerous wedge of Apostasy, as stated in my last blog.

Within the same house group discussion, I also brought up the issue of the Father giving us to the Son as a reward for dying for us on the cross. If again, our salvation is conditioned by staying faithful, then basically what it means that if a person is saved, then later loses his salvation, then the Father chose a "naff item" for his Son. This again shows the lack of foresight with the Father, a denial of his omniscience. Even we have better control in what we buy at the shops than the Father has in choosing a gift for his Son!

For Scripture proof, John 17 reads:
Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent...I have revealed (your name) to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you...I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.

John 17 is what the Lord prayed for - the eternal security of the believer, an agreement made between Father, Son and Holy Spirit that those already belonging to the Father would believe in the Son, and none would ever be lost. It is a good demonstration that God is in control.

But is this what some criticize as "Unconditional Election" advocated by many Calvinists? No, because predestination, as this is also called, is preceded by foreknowledge (Romans 8:29-30.) From eternity past, God in his omniscience, already knew who would believe the Gospel. Yes, we do have free choice. We can choose to accept or reject the Gospel. But God knew who will respond and from eternity past, predestined them. We don't understand these things, because our finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite mind of God. But it is taught. And we must accept and bow down to his revelation.

So next time you face a personal crisis, remember, God is in control.