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Monday, 24 September 2012

Just One Look...

When writing articles for this website, the idea behind the composition is to edify the faith of the reader as well as providing a level of enjoyment. Therefore I felt the need to delete the original article of the same title because I felt afterwards that it was too critical and negative. So this is the re-written version, which I hope would benefit your faith.

So what do I mean by Just One Look?
It is taken from the story recorded in Numbers 21:4-9.

The passage records the journey the Israelites were making as they relocated from one place to another, often over a distance of many miles. These journeys involve packing all possessions and collapsing the tent, then transport the load on the back of a large beast such as an ox or bullock. When the destination was reached, then the tent was pitched and home was set up once again. The constant collapsing and re-setting of their tents caused the nation to grumble against Moses, who they saw as a wretched nuisance who can't seem to stay put and settle down. Their constant grumbling had tested God's patience, and therefore he sent poisonous snakes which bite proved fatal. As one after another fell dead, the rest became desperate, and cried out to Moses to intervene. He was then instructed to make a serpent of brass, and set it up upon a pole. Anyone who was bitten by a snake just had to look at the brazen snake Moses had set up and he was healed from the poison and his life was spared.

Therefore the apostle John believed that the story was so important, that he made sure that the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus was recorded. Here, Jesus explained to Nicodemus that just as Moses lifted up the brass serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man will also be lifted up upon the Cross, drawing all men to himself. Anyone who looks at the Cross with the eye of faith will be saved. In other words, just as it took just one look for the Israelite to be healed from the snake bite, so likewise, it would take just one look for the sinner to be delivered from eternal death and receive salvation (John 3:14-15.)

So it takes just one look and the sinner receives salvation. Little wonder then that this is the true Gospel, a word that simply means Good News. It is tremendously good news indeed. Of course, the physical cross of Christ is no longer standing. It was taken down shortly after our Saviour died. But the way we see the Cross is through the eye of faith. In other words, to believe.

Is this easy believe-ism? Perhaps, but it's the Gospel. How long does a look take? A few seconds? A minute? Then the sinner is saved forever? Seems too good to be true, doesn't it? But it is true.

When a sinner looks at the Cross by faith, the actual looking may indeed take a moment, but has eternal consequence. The simple reason for this is that there is a rebirth of the spirit, often known as being born from above. The believer then becomes home of the indwelling Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promise that he will abide forever (John 14:16) as well as adopted into God's family.

This is the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer, who is now regarded as a saint, not a sinner. Just as Jesus Christ himself committed no sin when he was alive on Earth, so the saint is seen by God as obeying all the commandments - even if this does not look to be the case in his day to day life. This is because Jesus Christ has obeyed all the commandments, therefore fulfilling them. As the saint is in Christ, so the commandments are fulfilled in the believer.

One striking example of this is at the Church of Corinth, which we know about through Paul's two letters addressed to them. Paul greeted them warmly as saints. To the apostle, each member of the church in Corinth had looked upon the Cross with an eye of faith. Yet we read about them boasting that they are wiser than anybody else, along with a case of a man sleeping with his stepmother, gluttony at the Communion Table, arguments over eating meat, cases of fornication, disputes over marriage, a man taking a fellow believer to Court, men wearing long hair (that is bad!) denial of the Resurrection and the threat of the church splitting into four directions. Yet despite their catalogue of failures, they were saved.

We could also consider the church in Ephesus, where some members had a problem with anger, the church in Colosse, where they were wondering whether Jesus was who he claimed to be, and to the churches in Galatia, whose members were slipping back into legalism. But Paul never threatened any of them with eternal fire. Premature or early physical death, yes - particularly to those in Corinth. But not eternal death. Why was this? Because when one is born from above, he becomes a child of God, adopted into his family and his body becomes a residence of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised he will abide forever.

God is Almighty. And one of the characteristics of being Almighty is omniscience. In other words, God knew me long before I was even conceived. He knew exactly how many days they will be in my entire life. So far I have more than 21,915 (and hoping to reach 22,000 in less than three months!) He also knew when I trusted in Jesus Christ and he also foreknew every work I would ever do after salvation, both good and bad. But furthermore, you and I are gifts to the Son given by the Father for laying down his life (John 17.) We are his rewards. If we could lose our salvation after we were born from above, as many insist, it would prove how weak God's sovereignty really is, along with a complete denial of his omniscience and omnipotence. In other words, not only does he not know what's going to happen next, but neither is he powerful enough to prevent one of his own ending up as a child of the Devil once again.

This is where the idea of Eternal Security of the Believer comes in. It is not based on our deeds, but entirely on the Almighty power and character of God. And it is all down to one look, just one look at the Cross of Christ, and so one passes from death to life. Eternal life. Life in Christ.

Sunday, 16 September 2012


Since today is my birthday, rather than post my normal prose blog, I thought of posting a poem instead, if you can call it that. It is of my own creation, something I wrote and had published in our church magazine some twenty years ago, when I lived alone as a single individual, and had apprehensions of reaching old age among the world's loneliest men...

The poem is called, Satisfaction.

As I count each penny at the superstore,
My small income restricting what I eat,
I walk into a neighbour's house,
To see a table spread with abundance,
With hunger, I pray,
"Lord, help me find satisfaction in You."

As I walk along the street,
Looking at smart homes,
Each with two or three fast cars,
I ponder on my tiny apartment,
And cry,
"Lord, help me find satisfaction in You."

I walk up the hill,
Pushing my bicycle,
A puncture in the back tyre,
I watch Porches and Jaguar cars whizz past,
I Pray,
"Lord, help me find satisfaction in You."

I compete in a cross-country foot race,
And I come last, well almost,
I stand in a large hall,
Within the rostrum stood,
And loud cheers as the winner receive his trophy.
I quietly pray,
"Lord, help me find satisfaction in You."

England had just won a major tournament,
The crowds cried, "England! England!"
St George flags forming a sea of red on white,
As a lone Italian I cry,
"Lord, help me find satisfaction in You."

I congratulate a friend,
He has landed a job of his dreams,
Big income, secure future,
All becuse he has a degree,
I think,
"Lord, help me find satifaction in You."

Then one day a man in a wheelchair comes my way,
Born this way he never walked,
He was hungry,
So I cooked him a meal.
He was thirsty,
So I gave him some orange juice to drink.

His face was radiant, his eyes sparkled,
I felt my heart burn within as we talked.
He told me of the wonderful place he was going,
Where he would fly!
And said that he will see me there too.
I exclaimed,
"Lord, I have found satisfaction in you!"

Some time later I saw the Grim Reaper approach,
His skull grinning,
He swung his sickle,
And I went down,
To breathe my last.

In Heaven I saw Him on his throne.
Thousands upon thousands worshipping,
He rose and walked towards me,
I thought, "Oh dear!"
I remember the times I disobeyed Him,
The times I failed Him, neglected Him,
I trembled at the admonishment he was about to deliver,
The rebuke over my rubbish spiritual life.

But as he lowered his head,
And put his mouth to my ear,
He whispered,
"My friend, I have found satisfaction in you."

For any readers born on the 16th September, I too wish you a happy birthday.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Paralympic Glory - With Boos!

In my last blog, I wrote about the disabled scientist Stephen Hawking encouraging all the athletes to reach for the stars during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games. This had been the most successful games ever, with as many as 1,440,000 spectators attending the athletic stadium alone, with 80,000 watching each of the eighteen sessions spread over nine days, where up to 1,100 athletes competed at the 166 medal events. Add to this, 80,000 had attended the opening ceremony, and the same number will be expected to fill the stadium to full capacity for the closing ceremony taking place this evening, making a total of 1,600,000 spectators for the athletic stadium alone. And this does not include the many more watching all the other events live, including the swimming, cycling - both track and road - and team sports such as wheelchair basketball and rugby.

Last week, I took an afternoon off work to watch on TV the men's track cycling held at the velodrome. Personally, I prefer watching road cycling, but I could not help letting my emotion rise at the magnificent performance put in by these athletes. Two of them were leg amputees who can only pedal with a single leg. Too bad that at the time I did not note down who these riders were or the countries they represented, but the ability to pedal the specifically adapted bicycle to such a terrific speed has put me to shame - one as able-bodied who completed in triathlons which feature road cycling, back in the 1980s.

But the title of greatest Paralympic of all so far, surely, will go to British champion of the T54 category, David Weir. This athlete who has massive shoulders and barrel-shaped biceps to compensate both legs incapacitated, won Gold at the 800 metres, the 1500m, the 5000m and today, the Marathon, in the racing wheelchair like the one pictured above. Such athletes have certainly reached for the stars indeed, and according to a street survey conducted by Sky News, the Games have raised society's respect for the disabled, with one person declaring that the Government now need to deal with the needs of the disabled in general with a greater sense of empathy and compassion.

If this person's view of our Government is nationally universal, this could be the reason of the booing from the 80,000-strong crowd who filled the stadium on Monday, September 3rd. This was when our second most important politician after the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, arrived to present medals to the three winning athletes of the men's 400m, of the category T38 - athletes with cerebral palsy. When his name was announced, just about the entire stadium booed.

Newspapers went into overdrive on why this had happened. What I found remarkable were the two opposing reasons for the booing. According to the Daily Mirror, the reason for the huge unpopularity was due to the severe scrutiny every disabled claimant has to undergo in order to receive incapacity benefits. One of the Games sponsors was ATOS, a French firm contracted by the present Government to undertake the scrutiny. This resulted in many disabled claimants forced off benefits to take on employment. Although at first this may sound reasonable, according to Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton, these are low paid jobs more suited to able-bodied workers if such work can be found. Rather, such firms are either going out of existence or refusing to hire such employees. The end result, according to her report, is the rise of suicides among the disabled whose futures were thrown into confusion.

On the other side of the debate board, Daily Mail reporter Tom Utley has defended the Chancellor, declaring that he had sympathy for the beleaguered politician after being so humiliated by such a baying crowd. Utley reasoned that the majority of the crowd were probably foreigners or those who did not realise who Osborne was, and simply joined the growing chorus of boos started by a militant few who had issues with the Government.

I have grave doubts on Utley's opinion. I wouldn't mind betting that almost the entire crowd were British, many from the Home Counties. They were certainly not ignorant of Osborne. Rather, I tend to see an arrogant attitude in this columnist who accuses the crowd to what adds up to being ignorant hooligans, out to find an excuse in putting down the politician simply because they did not want to be left out from the pleasure of the taunting started by a few.

Whatever the reason behind the booing, in general George Osborne is disliked, accused of being snooty, out of touch and lacking both empathy and compassion, particularly for the disabled and most likely also the lower working classes. After being privately educated, Osborne attended Madgalen College in Oxford, where he was also a member of the Bullington Club, an elitist organisation with a questionable reputation.

Bullington Club member George Osborne

And it this what strikes me, the irony of it all!

Britain is world renowned for its class system. No matter how questionable such a system is, the British population loves to talk or read about it, and either exalt or talk it down. One prime example is during Sunday evening TV drama. These are normally period films depicting social class, snootiness, and imperialism at its peak. The day before the closing ceremony of the Paralympics were to begin, the Daily Mail Weekend TV guide had on its front cover the snapshot of the immaculately dressed upper/middle class couple, Matthew Crawley and his fiancee Mary Crawley, of the new series of Downton Abbey. The feature extended to the first sixteen pages of the magazine, such priorities such a drama series was given. The show, based in the early 1900s, is about the stormy romances and shady dealings within an aristocratic family who are clearly separate from the downstairs servants.

The Crawleys from the TV drama Downton Abbey. Englishness at it peak.

They usually have a quasi "Christian" attitude on which they claim that they are in God's complete will due to their nationalism - the William Blake's Jerusalem in which England is God's unique country, and by submission to the King, who is the intermediate between the Almighty and his green and pleasant land, the only way that God's will is fulfilled is to spread the Empire by fighting, conquering and subduing. Yet the very plot of the drama has brought in a massive audience. The Brits love a scandal among the aristocracy - the unfaithfulness, betrayal, adultery, deception - all under the umbrella of fierce snobbery, snootiness and imperialistic patriotism. Such is the popularity of Sunday evening TV viewing. And the verdict given of Chancellor Osborne at the Paralympics.

All in the past now? Actually, I have Christian friends who are a few years younger than me, who still uphold the class system and lament over the loss of Empire! And not forgetting newspaper journalists, particularly of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and other "Tory" newspapers, who still grieve the loss of Empire and uphold the rights of the privileged. Utley's article say it all. The generation of the Crawleys continue on, without any signs of phasing out.

So it makes me wonder how all this can be reconciled with the idea of an itinerant Jew with his twelve sandal-shod followers, some just working class fishermen. Not only these were the founders of the Christian faith, but this Jew taught his disciples to spread the message of salvation through faith in him, and also taught compassion to the poor and to heal the sick, and to bring hope to the lost, to the disadvantaged and those on the wayside. In one of my blogs, about the rich man and Lazarus, it was Lazarus who ended up in Abraham's presence. Unlike the wishes of the Crawleys, and with the impression I have gotten, also unlike the wishes of our "Tory" Government, the rich man did not get any honour when his time came, as was expected.

Our Paralympians deserves great honour and respect. Their dedication, guts and sheer determination to win had brought them the distinction they so richly deserve.

But empathy and compassion are even greater virtues, because these bestow life and hope to those who don't have hope. And these should be found in those who claim Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Stephen Hawking Praises Human Effort

As with the opening ceremony of the Olympics, Alex and I watched the opening of the Paralympics, another thrilling party held at the same London 2012 stadium. The guest star of this ceremony was (now retired) Professor Stephen Hawking, of Cambridge University. Here is one brilliant mind imprisoned in a body paralysed by Amyotrophic Lateral Disease, a form of Motor Neurone Disease, first diagnosed in 1964 when he was only 22 years old, and while studying for a doctorate degree at Cambridge.

Professor Stephen Hawking

During the Paralympics, Hawking gave a speech which fitted perfectly the tremendous effort and training put in by the athletes, all with some kind of disability, whether it was an amputated limb, a birth impairment or mental disability. The professor likened the determination of the athlete to the same determination the academic had contributed to the rise and advance of scientific knowledge, with Britain itself being the chief founding nation, hence the speech delivered while the games were hosted here, making his speech so appropriate.

Britain has a lot to be proud about with its academic achievements. For example, the invention of the steam engine, leading to the mobility of the "horseless chariot" - resulting of the rise of the railways, the industrial revolution and the advance of medicine all having taken place here. Even the Internet has its origins here in the UK, as featured in the opening of the Olympics. And not forgetting two prominent scientists and authors who were to revolutionise our understanding of our origins and that of our planet itself. The first of these two was Scottish Geologist Charles Lyell, author of his book, Principles of Geology. In it, Lyell proposed a theory known as Uniformitarianism, an idea rising from his observation of the stratified rock layers, each layer laid by water over a long period of time, and the type of fossils each rock layer contained determining the age of the rock. As such, from these rock layers, the Geological Time Scale was worked out, with the earliest signs of life appearing some 2,000,000,000 years ago.

The other great scientist who was born and grew up here was none other than Charles Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species. He was the more famous of the two, and unlike that of Lyell, Darwin's name is spoken in every household, and he is upheld as Messiah of Evolution by such atheists as Richard Dawkins. Darwin based much of his research on Lyell's book, and the Theory of Evolution began to take its place in the academic world. Through these two Charlies, Britain was to play a leading role in turning people away from the truth of the Bible and the credibility of the Christian faith.

Basing his speech on our academic achievement, Hawking encouraged us to reach for the stars, so to speak, in human endeavour and effort, and never give up. Neither let any bias or prejudice from the ignorant discourage us. Primarily, his exhortation was addressed to the athletes, encouraging then never to let their disabilities hamper or to get in the way of their determination and progress. And this can be applied to all of us, particularly in schooling and higher education. If possible, why not go for the doctorate degree, like he did despite his degrading health, and reach for the stars? After all, his discipline, alongside mathematics, is on how the Universe originated, without the need for a God to get in the way of its evolution.

In short, reaching for the stars and reaching for Heaven is basically one and the same thing - by human endeavour and something to be proud of. After all, like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking is an atheist who has dismissed any possibility of an afterlife, but without Dawkins' aggressive take on this issue.

Reaching for the stars, or as in this case, the moon.

What a contrast all this is to the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ! The very word "salvation" itself depicts a rescue of someone by another. Sure, Hawking does have a point about academic achievement and endeavouring to train hard to win a Paralympic gold. But winning a gold medal through human effort is one thing, trying to pull himself out from the bottom of a deep pit by clutching his own hair is quite another!

Our nation, and England in particular, as I was born and grew up in England, relish on the pride of its own achievements. Being of Italian parents, therefore Italian through and through, together with a mild mental retardation as a boy, complete with an odd accent to my speech, had made it difficult for me to blend in with my fellow countrymen. Not only did I fail at school to near disaster level but I had to endure classroom and playground bullying. If I tried reporting this to the staff, the one-size-fits-all response was, "Don't tell tales!" Little wonder I had to keep all my sorrows bottled up. Bullying, mostly verbal, continued during my first years at work until I was about twenty, when I found another job as a poolside lifeguard in 1973.

The verbal abuse mainly centred around my nationality. The times my accent was mimicked, and even nicknamed "Spaghetti" or "Spaghetti face" are too numerous to count, as being called a dimwit for failing at school and "puny" for not performing at team sports. I believe that any ambition I might have had was all but destroyed.

I had, in my twenties, become antagonistic against the British social class system, which I believe, lay behind the abuse. As explained in one of my blogs, Alan Sugar at the Kerith? - even as a Christian adult, I felt an air of prejudice. And this is felt to this day. At Ascot, back in 1997, I gave a short talk touching on the Second Advent of Christ. After the service, I was told by one listener that during the discourse, a couple sitting behind was muttering on how could I know anything, I'm just a window cleaner after all. (For readers outside the UK, domestic window cleaning is a well established British trade, where the need for the ladder is off-putting to many residents, hence they are happy for someone to clean their windows for a payment, the source of income.)

At present, the son of a London professor has blocked me on Facebook, because I asked him to connect to my profile, after watching this young lad grow up, then leave our church to attend University. The reason given for the blocking, was that I disregarded Englishness in its true form and "he was uncomfortable," meaning that I showed too much affectionate emotion during his youth. I was aghast in discovering his website, that he had posted videos pertaining to the occult. With such attitudes, and there are quite a few among unbelievers displaying exactly the same attitude towards me to this day, little wonder I have a degree of delusion over our culture which is full of praise for the strong, the well-schooled, the academic, the wealthy, the sporting celebrity and the successful, yet also have a disdain towards those, like me with no deliberate fault of my own, who don't quite fit in.

Just as with the case of blind former Health Secretary David Blunkett. After reserving his seat at the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympics, he was refused admission by "a jobsworth" because of his guide dog, Corby. Another seat, at a wind-swept area next to a gantry, was instead assigned to him and his dog. This was almost as bad as forty years earlier, when a pub landlord refused his admission to his bar because of the presence of his guide dog Ruby, an incident which caused sensation among newspapers the next day.

But in this blog, am I asking for pity? No, by no means! Because, the whole of this article is not about "poor little me," but how great is the love of God.

As a one-time evolutionist and a highly-strung young individual, God knew me from eternity past, long before I was even born. So my Heavenly Father knew that way back in 1973, I put faith in Jesus Christ. I have written enough here that in this world, I am a nobody, but in the eyes of God, I am a trophy of grace. All I had to do was believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I was welcomed into his family. And not an ounce of self effort, not a single penny paid towards the cost of the gift. Jesus Christ paid for my salvation, all I had to do was take it. Absolutely free. None of me, all of Jesus Christ, who loved me enough to die on the cross for me. And dare to say, that throughout my difficult first twenty years of life, God was with me all the time, from the moment of conception, waiting for me to turn to his beloved Son.

Stephen Hawking was absolutely right. The disabled athletes deserves heaps of praise for their outstanding endeavour and self effort, commitment to their training with absolute determination to overcome their disabilities. Their winning medals are well deserved and worthy of praise and my admiration.  But as for salvation, there is nothing I can do about it, but believe. God alone can rescue.

How I wish for God to rescue Stephen Hawking!