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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

My wife and I had returned from a holiday (vacation) in Malta, to celebrate our 13th Wedding Anniversary. We loved this little southern Mediterranean island with its agreeable climate, warm weather, turquoise sea and a dramatic coastline with cliffs and spectacular caves. Furthermore, the Maltese seemed to have been much more cheerful and more laid back than the average Briton. Surely, much of this has to do with the warm weather.

Two attractions caught our attention. One was the Blue Lagoon, on the tiny island of Comino, just off the north coast of the much larger island of Malta. This partially enclosed area of sea was made beautifully turquoise by a sandy seabed.

The Blue Lagoon, Comino Island, Malta

Its beauty made it a popular tourist attraction despite lacking of any proper beaches. Snorkeling or swimming with goggles is highly recommended to avoid the occasional jellyfish, which can only be seen with proper underwater vision. Just a little above the lagoon, a trail offers great views of the attraction, such as the pic posted above, taken from the trail. Then we had the usual money-spinning paraphernalia: mobile kiosks who offered to fill our hungry stomachs for a rather exorbitant price!

But the top attraction, in my opinion, had to be the Blue Grotto, on the south side of Malta itself. It's a large cave penetrating into the cliff, which also boast a natural arch and a number of other caves. Fishermen in the area are doing a roaring trade escorting tourists like us to the Grotto for just a few euros for a thirty-minute trip. Inside the Grotto, chemicals of the rocks beneath turn the water into a glowing azure blue, as if there was a fluorescent light unit underwater.

Azure waters in the Blue Grotto.

During our visit the the Grotto, I was one of a minority of tourists to enjoy a swim inside the cave. It was such an exhilarating experience, no doubt, would stay with me for life. The azure waters was not cold but pleasant, its crystal clearness reminding me of that river flowing from the throne of God in Heaven. I hope you enjoy these pics. To me, this is just a foretaste of the eternal joy every believer in Jesus Christ as Saviour will experience in the presence of God forever.

Swimming in the azure blue waters in the Grotto was one of the highlights of the entire holiday!

The entire holiday was God's blessing to us, a demonstration of undeserved grace, goodness and mercy. But the most important aspect of the vacation was for Alex and I spending time together. Although here we appreciated the beauty and majesty of God in his creation, I believe that our relationship as husband and wife is more important to God, for this has eternal consequence, while even the most beautiful or aesthetic natural features of our planet are temporary and will come under judgement when our fallen world will be destroyed and re-created.

Our hotel room faced the street, where nearby a bar kept revellers drinking until two in the morning. As the laughter and guffaws echoed through otherwise an empty street relatively free of traffic, it was one of these evenings that due to a thirst, we bought a drink in the bar ourselves. Wading through the crowd, we saw two vacant seats at an outside table which was occupied by two men who were guffawing and sharing crude jokes with each other. I asked them if those seats were already taken, and when we received a negative answer, Alex and I settled at the same table with them.

We started chatting, and it soon became apparent that the bonding between my wife and myself impressed them. A saucy joke was cracked and all four of us broke into laughter. Then a little more seriously, one of them asked where and how we met. Now the crunch had come. Digging for courage, I told them quite openly that we met at our local church, then told them straight that Jesus Christ is my Saviour and Lord, and I felt my spirit lifted up. The rebuffs I was expecting didn't come. Instead they were hesitating as one of them said that we all should respect each other's beliefs. They explained to us that they had to go to a meeting in Valletta (capital of Malta) the next day for an important celebration. Due to their hesitating, it took a while for me to find out what this meeting was about.

Eventually, we were told that one of them will be promoted to a higher degree at the Masonic lodge. The conversation then carried on about Freemasonry and the efforts they put in to defend their group and the benefits it offered. Not once did I say a negative word against it.

That was the crux of it all. They feared judgement from us. I felt, rightly, that I was in no position to judge. But they did not realise that at first. Hence their hesitation to come straight out with it. This made me think about the life of Jesus Christ when he was here with us. He always went to a very similar place to the pub we sat at. There must have been revellers in his day, laughing, guffawing, telling crude jokes and sending waves of laughter. Those people were looked down upon by the scribes and the Pharisees, who referred to them as "the tax collectors and sinners." They were seen as "defiled" by many a Jew, even despised by the local fishermen for demanding a share of their catch, which was then sold and the proceeds went to the Romans, who ruled over their land at that time. Even the fishermen themselves were prone to obscene language. Peter was such a one. When challenged whether he was one of Jesus' followers, he "began to curse and swear, saying, I know not the man" (Matthew 26:74, Mark 14:71.)

On one occasion, Jesus was heading towards Matthew's house and according to Luke, (5:27-32) there was a crowd of publicans who most likely were revelling, telling crude jokes, teased one another and a frequent swear word thrown into the air. Yet Jesus made no hesitation to keep company with them, despite the protestations of the Pharisees. On such an occasion, he even went so far to say that they will enter the Kingdom of God before the religious.

Jesus' presence must have had an impact on them. They became very fond of him. It became a thin line to cross. They had only to believe that he was their Messiah, and they were saved. But for Jesus to win their hearts, he could not have judged them or shown condemnation, and perhaps most important of all, never looked down on them, nor displayed class discrimination, nor turned up his nose over their lack of academic achievements. Instead he loved them and invited them into his Kingdom. Peter and Matthew (or Levi) were two prime examples. Before Jesus came along, the two were sworn enemies, due to Levi's betrayal to the Romans and greater hardship imposed on the fishing trade. But not only did the love of Jesus turned their hostility to friendship and eventually to close brotherhood, but the cursing, swearing fisherman became the chief elder of the church in Jerusalem. Matthew, who most likely hung out with prostitutes (the meaning of "tax collectors and sinners") had the privilege to write his Gospel, which to this day revered as sacred Scripture, equal in inspiration to the writings of Moses. Such is the transforming power of God through love!

The love of Jesus and his friendship with sinners turned the world of his day upside down. Even after his Resurrection and Ascension, people of all classes were amazed at the wisdom and power of the apostles, exclaiming that they were ignorant and unlearned men. The Holy Spirit certainly had no problem with one so unschooled.

Gosh, how different is all this in the UK! Here, in the last few centuries, education played a major role in church leadership. It is a known fact that the gene pool for future leaders of the Anglican Church is to be found at Oxbridge, the two top universities in Britain, if not in the world. As far as I remember, the Archbishop of Canterbury, second only to the Queen, always had "Dr." as his title. For example, our present Archbishop is Dr. Rowan Williams, who has been serving from February 27th, 2003. It is very much a reflection of all our churches in the UK at present.

I used to watch a BBC programme, Last Man Standing, where a group of individuals travelled to different countries to contest in sports known only to the inhabitants. One of the contestants was a student theologian at Oxford University. Not only was he very academic, but he loved playing both rugby and cricket. He was a true-blue Tory-voting Englishman - highly educated, a good sportsman, self reserved, stiff upper lip, stoic and showing emotional restraint. A dynamic contrast to Peter and Matthew! But the very candidate all English church pastors and leaders would fall over themselves to have on their staff, deaconate, eldership or committee.

What amazes me is that if class and academics were so important to church leadership, then surely, England would have the most dynamic churches in the world, together with the highest percentage of the saved in the general population. Of course, how God would have coped with the likes of Peter and Matthew (among others) would be a small matter swept under the carpet. Nevertheless, with the rising tide of academic achievement, spiritual rebirth must follow suit.

Except it is nothing like that. Robert Darwin, for one, was a church minister. He wanted his son, Charles to follow in his footsteps. Instead, he had a far greater interest in biology. His theory of Evolution by Natural Selection paved the way for the greatest abandoning of belief in God the UK had ever suffered. On top of this, I have seen that the evaluation of a person by church elders was usually based on his academic standing rather than spiritual vitality. Within the last forty years, I have watched young graduates, who held to the belief in Evolution, take up leadership among the juniors and even housegroups.

That is a shame. Our church at Ascot is one good example of this cultural bias. A year or two ago, a group of our elders paid a visit to Royal Holloway, part of London University. The result that a group of students joining us every Sunday, swelling the congregation. In part, that is very good. It is an excellent idea that these undergraduates receive sound Bible teaching and fellowship which will guide them through life. I, for one, am all for students pouring into our church for their spiritual edification, teaching and for a closer walk with God. But while this was happening, the common man in the street remain unreached. Little or no effort is made to enter a rowdy pub and absorb the revelling, swearing, crude jokes, smut and whatever that seemed so ungodly in order to win them to the church and salvation in Christ.

Personally, I don't think it's snobbery. I believe it is fear. Fear of intimidation. Exactly the kind of fear felt by Peter and his friends at the time of the Resurrection. Only the Holy Spirit turned their fear to courage and strong love for their fellowman which brought on boldness.

I too felt reserved about confessing our church affiliation to those two guys at the bar. I had to dig into my soul for courage. So this blog is not a put down to the churches in England. Rather it is a plea to let the Holy Spirit fill our lives to love all in every class and academic strata.


  1. Hi Frank,
    glad you and your wife had such a nice holiday, my brother and his wife go every year to Malta and love it. Yes, Jesus didn't say to stay in a church building, He said 'Go into all the world'. My happiest times are out in the streets meeting people and, with my friend, speaking to people about Jesus. At one time, a few years back, my friend and myself believed that the Lord was telling us to go to this certain pub and take the guitar with us. We went there and the landlord invited us to sing our songs and read our poetry, which all spoke about the Lord, and we had a wonderful reception. Without love for people we are just clashing cymbals. We have empathy with them because we have 'been there, done that', and we can bring forth fishes after our own kind.

  2. Hey Frank, I really enjoyed reading this and am very pleased you and Alex had a wonderful holiday! You are certainly right about a nervousness about sharing about Faith in God.

    I would like to add that we do actively encourage and believe whole heartedly in reaching out into the community by being a part of the community by doing things like; drinking in the local pub or other things "outside of the church's building". I often enjoy a drink at the local with friends, or sit in the cafe over the road for a coffee/lunch, and know of others who do the same. I enjoy the vibe of that environment getting to know the locals of which I am one.
    So saying little or no effort is made is not really a true statement.
    You are however completely right in saying it is easier to stay in our comfort zones and courage is certainly needed, or more importantly the power of the Holy Spirit.
    Jesus command to GO is so clear, yet often we disobey this command, even though later it says in the same sentence "teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded"

    I take great encouragement from your blog post above and pray that others in ABC will step out and be bold, empowered by the Holy Spirit to confess who is Lord in their life, not being judgemental of other's beliefs.
    Keep up the good work in the knowledge that Jesus heart and passion is for all to be saved, guys in the pub, students at uni, single mums at home, the rich who think they need nothing, young and old. The good news of Jesus needs to be shouted loud so people don't miss how life changing it truly is! Oh how good it is to be a part of God's family, on His mission!!

  3. Seems like most churches have forgotten what Paul said in I Corinthains 1:26-29. "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence." We are too busy with our pride about how educated we appear.

  4. Wow! I love that story about you and your wife's encounter wit those men. I wonder if you made a lasting impact on them. Wouldn't it be cool to meet them again in the future to see where they are? I always think that when I meet people.
    Anyways, I thought it was interesting that you pointed out that they feared being judged by you. It's that way with sin. We are always inwardly condemned by our hearts so we live in a constant fear of judgement and guilt. It's so easy and I personally struggle with this. I know that Christ has died for my sins and that God remembers them no more. I am pure and spotless like Christ. But I still struggle with guilt. I tremble at people mentioning it. So I resonate with those guys. Christ offers an alternative to ignoring our guilt. He offers absolution. It's just so hard to accept because it almost doesn't feel fair. It makes me wonder why I keep sinning.

  5. This is a really good post Frank. I've never been to Malta but would love to go someday. I've been to Capri and Ischia off the coast of Italy and curiously enough on one of these islands, I can't remember which one, there is a blue grotto there as well. I was with a friend, and heard that it was 12 euros to GO to the Blue Grotto and a further 8 to actually go inside it! Seemed like the fishermen there have got their heads screwed on! Anyway, I just had a bottle of beer while I waited for my friend to return.

    We should never judge other people as Christians, but let's be honest about English (British) society; our whole system is based on judging other people; by how they talk, who they know, where they live, what food they eat, where they shop, what restaurant they eat in, what school they went to, and etc and etc. It is, if we are honest, tedious and pretentious and should in a modern country that claims to be a democracy irrelevant, but there it is. It's all a comedy of manners really. If you are a happy person, or grounded, these things should not matter a jot. I personally don't care whether my friends are posh or not, as long as they like me and I like them; all the rest is irrelevant really.

    It seems true that God often makes a point of picking people to serve Him, who in worldly terms look like losers, or the least important people in worldly terms, but like all of us have enormous potential. The God we serve is not at all concerned with social class, skin colour, ethnicity, or most things that so many human beings seem so pathetically obsessed by.

  6. I just wish to use this opportunity to thank you all for commenting.
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