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Sunday, 29 December 2013

God or Satan?

Throughout this week off work, I had plenty of opportunities to browse the Internet during the days when I was not with the rest of my family during Christmas and Boxing Days. And believe me, there were times when I felt that experience have taught me never to expect edification from a computer screen! Why do I type in such a statement? Because all I seem to come across is continuous slanging between websites supporting their own views.
 
Now don't get me wrong. What I'm referring here are websites created by various church pastors, teachers, college professors, mainstream speakers, and so on, and not any of the blog writers on this site, a number of whom I am a keen follower. If you are looking for sound Christian output, then the website well to avoid is You-Tube, some of the so called "Christian" video stuff found therein had all but destroyed my faith. For example, there is one site written by an American pastor who believes in Once Saved Always Saved, yet who has denounced John Calvin, Martin Luther, James Arminius, Scofield, and others as having advocated the works of the Devil, and had placed them more likely in Hell than in Heaven. He also insists that only the King James version of the Holy Bible is the true Word of God, to him all other more modern English translations are fraudulent.


 
Under one of his articles, in which he says that about 600,000,000 die each year across the globe, up to 99% goes to Hell, there is a link to a terrifying You-Tube video of departing souls screaming as they fall into this fiery pit. Although only about eighty seconds long, watching it has made me tremble all over with anxiety from head to foot. Whether there may be any truth in this view of the afterlife, is a matter of opinion. But in this video, it looked to me that no consideration was taken on how one lived his life before death, whether he was a dedicated charity worker who brought relief to the suffering of others, or an atheist who was also a multiple murderer. There was also no distinction whether the deceased had ever heard the Gospel in his lifetime, or heard but rejected it. This video also seems to me that it had not taken into consideration what the Bible teaches on Judgement: that every person, great or small, shall be judged according to his works, that is, what he has done in life. In other words, there seems to be an indication in the Bible of a grading of intensity in eternal punishment according to sins committed in one's life - surely, a little old lady who had never deliberately harmed anyone would not be graded the same as Adolf Hitler, who used his powers to have six million Jews slain, along with the mentally handicapped and others with various weaknesses.

Then, also earlier this year, I watched another video on You-Tube, of a sermon delivered by Californian preacher Paul Washer, to a large congregation of teenage church-goers. Rather than exhorting them to revel in the love of God as believers in Jesus Christ, he outrightly warned these young people that the vast majority of them will go to Hell when they die, as they do not take the Lordship of Christ seriously enough. This is a very worrying thought. If I was one of the teenagers sitting there and listening to such stuff, I would be wondering just how much commitment is required before I'm assured of my salvation. And also the time of life not long after puberty, when strong sexual curiosity and desires would pour a sense of guilt and spiritual failure or frustration into my soul. With an ethic like this, little wonder many teenagers abandon their churches every year. If ever there was a teaching that seems to make God out to be a sadistic bully, it is the heresy of Lordship Salvation. Heresy, because I found no edification in this teaching.
 
On the other side of the debate board are what we call the Arminians, those who believe that one can be saved by believing the Gospel, but afterwards, the believer must "hold out faithful" or he is in danger of losing his salvation and ending up in Hell. In short, God's grace backed by human choice and effort. By going on the Internet, I have found websites from this group slanging at those who believe in eternal security of the believer, also condemning them to Hell.
 
One of Britain's most popular advocates of this view is Methodist pastor, preacher and author, David Pawson, known in all evangelical churches across the nation. One of his main reasons for saying that many saints will end up in Hell, is to do with marriage and divorce, something I find very disturbing. Now let's bring this idea closer to home. Before I married Alex, she admitted that she slept with a previous boyfriend. Yet I loved her enough to accept her as she was and married her. Now, according to Pawson, all these years we have lived in perpetual adultery, and therefore, it stands to reason that both of us will be candidates for Hell. It does not matter how much we love each other, how much we have devoted ourselves to each other, how faithful we have been to each other, Pawson's version of Jesus Christ makes him out to be something of a cruel beast, who insisted that any man who puts away his wife causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Matthew 5:32). So of course, it reasons that by marrying a woman who is not a virgin means a lost eternity for both partners, as it is assumed that when a female loses her virginity, a lifelong covenant was made with only the initial mate. What Pawson does not seem to mention so much is what Jesus also said a few verses earlier; that if only one has to look at a woman with a lustful eye, he has committed adultery with her already in his heart (v.28).

David Pawson
 
The Lord's statement in Matthew 5:28 changes everything, I would say, the entire sermon. What Jesus was teaching was the sheer impossibility of trying to find life with God by keeping the Law, as Paul wrote in some of his letters; that if a perfect Law-keeper stumbles at just one point, he has broken the Law altogether, and is subject to judgement. But further complications on this matter is found in the Old Testament. A fellow named Salmon, a descendant of Abraham through Judah, married Rahab the prostitute of the Canaanite tribe of Jebusites. In 2 Samuel 12:8, it was God himself who "gave your master's wives into your arms" - ten in all, I believe. And it was God who commanded the prophet Hosea to marry an unfaithful prostitute and to love her and take care of her. If these guys were still saved and went to Heaven after death, then according to Pawson, it's eternal death for the same actions since the coming of Christ who was meant to atone for our sins.
 
Something is seriously wrong here! How unfortunate for us to have met and married after Jesus Christ came and died. We would have been better off living during Old Testament times instead, if such a great author as David Pawson was to be taken seriously. After all, I could have married ten wives, one of them a prostitute at least, another nicked from a distressed husband, perhaps divorcing another, and still have gone to Heaven after death. Despite holding a M.A. in Theology, Pawson's analysis on who will live or perish falls disastrously short of what the Bible says - whose need to either obey the whole Law perfectly, or perish; or receive judicial acquittal - the forgiveness of  all our sins, past, present, and future - through faith in Christ alone.

Yet authors such as Pawson are reverently held by many Christians as virtually infallible, including members of our church in Ascot. This is what's rotten about our obsession with class - if I was to present my views which conflict with the views of a graduate or professor, then my views will always be turned down or discarded in favour of the other, regardless of how much of dangerous heresy may be present in the professor's teaching. Holding a Master of Arts makes all the difference!

Over the years, and in 2013 in particular, I have carefully thought about and analysed whether material from the Internet were really from God or from Satan. And I have learnt, over time, that if the output builds my faith, brings me closer to the Lord, or cause my heart to feel a level of comfort, even rejoicing, and heightened my sense to worship - then I can be assured that the material was God sent. But if the material sends shivers down my spine, stirs fear, shuts down appetite, and causes my body to tremble, or even just bring doubt, then I can be certain that the material was Satanic. Images of Hell on the Internet are certainly Satanic, for they brings anxiety, fear, or even terror, emotions which God would never bestow on a person.

But one can argue that these images were created and posted online in order to convict of sin and feel the need for Christ. UTTER RUBBISH! The Holy Spirit does not use or even need such tactics. If for several thousand years they weren't needed then, why does he need them now? As with me, and I think, every other true believer as well, if the Holy Spirit needs to point out a sin in my life, then he would do it in a manner which makes me want to willingly repent. For example, suppose I was financially hard up and trying to make ends meet. By invitation, I'm with a group of friends out having a slap-up meal at a restaurant. All my mates are unbelievers, but all of them know that I am a devoted Christian, and have spoken about Jesus with a hope that some would believe. Then at the end of the evening, after we paid our restaurant bills, I then dip into the plate of generous tips meant for the staff, and pocketed some of the money. I might have got away with it had I not caught the eye of one of my mates gazing steadily at me.



Embarrassed, I return the money to the plate left on the table, but it was too late. In guilt and shame, I knew that my testimony is forever ruined. To him, my faith is dead and my religion useless. Alone, I sit in the train and ponder over the terrible letdown of my faith. To those mates, my faith is forever nullified, no amount of talk could ever convince them. Knowing that I have dishonoured the Lord in public, I resolve in my heart never to commit such an act ever again, and ask for forgiveness. From then on, the thought of pilfering becomes so offensive that the idea becomes repulsive. Although this is just a story, in real life I have seen and heard church-goers utter expletives in heated discussions, and I can't help feel the lack of value in that person's faith. Could this be the reason why God is so hot on holiness for all believers? Such exhortations to holiness is so that one's testimony of Jesus Christ remains standing among unbelievers, and not for the believer to "stay saved."

Yet the debate flies across one side of the board to the other, perhaps very much the same as a ball in a tennis court. Videos of Hell are posted, fear and anxiety builds up, and I start to doubt whether there is any love in God's heart. As millions of departed souls scream as they are thrown into Hell, all my  enjoyment of being in company of other people evaporates, leaving me with a burden that I must evangelise to them, or God might hold me accountable for letting them all perish. As I sat at table on Christmas Day, I watch my elderly parents having a good time, my atheist brother as host, and other guests, one boasted of his atheism. I sat there with my wife, with mixed emotions. The atheistic guest told us of his experience with children so crippled and deformed with illness, along with a high percentage of infant mortality, that he had pondered on how God could exist and do nothing to these blighted children. And I believe that "terror evangelism" turn more people off the idea of God than to convert. Surely, any listener can discern the motives of the preacher, and if he detects fear, he'll just turn away more hardened in his unbelief.

Then lately, I have read an online article posted by Richard Murray, a criminal defence attorney who also hold Masters of Practical Theology. Not being that trusting towards well-educated men, I read his article with caution, and which I had to read over again before I began to catch the gist in what he was saying. Basically he was saying that God is a God of love who does not send anyone to Hell, but desires that all have a relationship with him. Hell is for the Devil and his angels, not for man. But to put it all in a nutshell: every form of death, destruction, judgement and punishment, illness, killings, earthquakes, tsunamis etc, etc, were and are from Satan, according to Murray, and not from God, who in Christ, wishes to save lives, give eternal life, have life more abundantly, enjoy good health, and so on. Then on Facebook, in which the link to the article appears, I wrote a comment asking about the destruction of Korah and his followers, found in Numbers 16. After all, I asked, wasn't it God who appeared at the Tabernacle soon after the rebellion? And wasn't it Moses who spoke and the earth opened up to swallow them? The reply came back saying that because Korah and his mates had pushed away any protection God had offered them, Satan filled their hearts, and as they swallowed Satan, Satan swallowed them. And according to Murray, anyone who deliberately keep God out of their lives will be taken by Satan.

This article written by Murray may be the liberating agency I much need after growing up to believe in the wrath of God, and staying with the difficulty believing in the love of God all throughout my life.

Wishing you all a happy New Year.

 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Reminiscience (Picture Blog)

As Christmas is only a few days away, I thought this time of posting my story in pictures rather than go into the normal wordy discussion.
 
Enjoy.
 

In my last blog, I discussed how a lifeguard rescued me out of difficulties in the summer of 1966. My original intention was to post a vintage pic of the swimming pool where I went to everyday in that year. Well, here it is, library photo taken in 1970 not long before closure and demolition in the mid 70s to make way for a residential estate. The fountain was removed in the late 1960s.



Six years later, in 1972, I joined the Reading Life Saving club which still meets here at Arthur Hill Baths, where I qualified as a Lifeguard by Christmas of that year.
 

 
How I looked in the summer of 1972, then aged 19, just before joining the Life Saving Club.
 

 
This is the good old furniture factory, A.G. Clarke & Sons, where I worked between 1968, after leaving school, to 1973 when I was offered a full time post as a poolside lifeguard in Reading. In this factory, I was meant to learn the full skills of a wood finisher. Much of my time instead was that of a dogsbody, as all school-leavers were in those days. The firm went out of business in the early 1980s and the building demolished soon afterwards, to make way for an office block.
 

 
By 1976, travel as a backpacker was well underway, with the first of four visits to the Middle East, the other three visits were in 1993, then a year later in 1994, as a volunteer at a Christian Conference Centre near Haifa, and once again in the year 2000 with my wife Alex. The above pic was taken inside Hezekiah's Tunnel, under the site of the City of David, Jerusalem, in 1976.
 
More pics of Israel:

 
On the Ramparts Walk, Jerusalem Old City, 1993.
 
 
Israel's most famous icon, the Wailing Wall, taken in 1994.
 
The trips to Israel were not all about pilgrimage, education or worship, but fun too. Nothing better than a thorough soaking under the hot summer sunshine! So, in 1993, just wearing a shirt over a pair of swimming trunks, I stood under the waterfall of En Gedi...

 
When young prince David hid in one of these caves to hide from the wrath of King Saul, he and his men must have had a great holiday!

 
Wet! Wet! Wet! Great stuff!
 
Back home, I attended Bracknell Baptist Church between 1975 and 1989, when this building was demolished in the 1990s to make way for the present Kerith Centre:

 
Between 1981 and 1986, I was a member of the Friday evening Hospital Radio crew, where I presented an hour's entertainment to the inpatients at Heatherwood Hospital, Ascot, which was a thriving NHS general hospital before Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley ripped out its guts in the mid to late 1980s, leaving only a shadow of what it used to be...
 
 
And yes, I do wear a tie at some occasions. Reminiscence of my schooldays.
 
During the five years as a hospital radio presenter, I did a bit of running - half marathons mainly, but triathlons as well. This was after finishing the 1986 Half Marathon to raise funds for Radio Heatherwood:

As one who loves backpacking, I did not neglect destinations here in the UK. In 1992, a best mate and I did a bit of Fell walking in the Lake District in Cumbria, in the north of England. So the August weather was typical - a fierce gale with driven rain on the summit of Helvellyn, one of the higher peaks in the national park:

 
Although I'm not averse to the cold, (well perhaps a little!) - give me warmth and sunshine any day. North America offered this, along with backpacking adventures too. Like this occasion in 1977:
 

This was taken at a bridge over Niagara Falls, where it crosses the Canadian/American border. I believe things had changed since then, making such photography unlikely. But my all time favourite American destination can only be the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, where in 1995 I hiked from South Rim to the Colorado River at the bottom:



Then this unforgettable experience of Zoroaster Butt dominating the evening river scene:
 

 
By contrast, Cactus grows naturally at Scottsdale, near Phoenix, South Arizona:
 

 
Then Southern California: San Diego, taken 1997:
 
 
Actually, the above is La Jolla, just north of San Diego. Here is the city harbour:

 
And I couldn't resist this one: perfect stone balancing - and before you ask - no, I did not do this:
 
 
 
And this one is now a treasure, taken before the 9/11 disaster, in 1998:
 
 
Then the Round-the-World trip completed in 1997, again as a lone backpacker, visiting Singapore, Australia and California, or the Travel Triathlon, as I call it. This is of Singapore;

 
The Merlion at Santosa Island is fantastic:

 
Then the coral cays off the Australian coast of north Queensland. I'm about to snorkel over the reef at Low Isles. The shirt is required to deter sunburn while in the water: 

 
This is a classic one at Cairns:

 
Mangroves! How I was fascinated with this vegetation, so foreign to the UK:

 
Then the dramatic nature of Blue Mountains N.P. near Sydney, means more to me than most man-made structures:

 
But we leave Australia with one of the most famous views; of nature and man blending to form this scene at Sydney Harbour:

 
Then Alex, then my girlfriend, started courting, while at my late forties I was rapidly gaining weight.

 
Our Wedding day, October 1999.

 
After this I went on a vigorous weight loss programme, which included a about-turn in eating habits, daily floor exercises, weekly visits to the gym and going out for a run with a friend. After three years of a changed lifestyle, I lost nearly five stone, and so managed to keep my weight off to this day.
 

 
And finally:

 
ALEX AND I WISH EVERY READER AND FOLLOWER OF THIS BLOGPAGE, A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR.
GOD BLESS YOU ALL! 
 
 

Sunday, 15 December 2013

In Need To Be Rescued

It was Summer of 1966. I, as a thirteen year old schoolboy, went every day to the local swimming pool while both my parents were at work, and my younger brother was looked after by a neighbour. The pool was outdoor, therefore subject to the British weather. However, 1966 brought quite a warm Summer, if I recall, allowing me to attend every weekday.
 
The attraction was more than just a pool. There was also a children's pool, and between it and the main one was a fountain, where kids of my age often sat on the ledge as if designed for the purpose and allowed the water to cascade over our heads. The flat roof of the changing room building served as a sun deck, which one had to be sixteen or over to sunbathe there, but younger kids, like myself often went up and played a game of chase. At times the grumpy site manager, whose permanent residence was also within the grounds and next to the cafeteria, threw out kids who were most disruptive and ordering them to go home. Fortunately I was not one of them. On the other side of the main pool from the changing room there was a large lawn where bathers had their picnics under the warm sunshine, and sunbathed in between swims.
 
Being outdoor, the pool was closed to the public from September or October through to April. When it opened in the Spring, our school P.E. lessons were held at the pool. However, it was when I was already thirteen years of age that for the first time I began to swim tentatively, quite late for an individual, as other children as young as eight years were already able to swim at the primary school I attended previously.

It was during the school holidays of 1966 when a lifeguard by the name of Tony was temporarily employed by the manager. Being such a short term contract, even back then I guessed that he was an undergraduate on a break from his studies. Day after day he kept on pacing around the busy pool wearing a white tracksuit top with the logo LIFEGUARD emblazoned across his back in three-inch high blue lettering. He had a calm, introverted temperament which made him not only approachable, but subject to teasing by a few of the boys, including myself. I guess there was something of high quality about this man who wore spectacles: enviable, an instinctive feeling that he was very intelligent, well educated, yet when it comes to the water, a slim, fit and superb rescuing machine whose swimming and first aid abilities were well above what we could imagine.

It was one afternoon that I was in the pool, and struggling to finish the length I had tried to complete. I have completed laps in the pool already, but normally right next to the edge where I can grab hold of, if I experienced difficulty. But on this occasion I was right in the middle, and I had arrived at the deep end when something happened, possibly hit by an unexpected wave, and unable to feel the bottom with my feet, began to go under.

How fortunate it was that Tony had suspected my weakness in the water and decided to keep watch over my progress. While I was struggling, he stooped down, and while still on land, attempted to reach me with his outstretched arm. But I was out of his reach by up to a metre, leaving him with no other option but to leap in, wrap his arm around my chest and tow me to the edge. Once back on land, a small crowd of admirers gathered around him as he stripped off his wet tracksuit top. Also, surprisingly, a crowd of inquirers gathered around me too. As Tony afterwards re-appeared in a plain tee-shirt, I felt it was time for me to go home - early.

I did not return to the pool until a full week afterwards, as I stayed at home in full shame and embarrassment. My shame was heightened by the teasing remarks I threw at him, out of jealousy, before the incident. I dreaded going back to the pool, but at the end I drew up enough courage to go. I was very much relieved to find that Tony was absent - in fact it wasn't long before two other lifeguards were employed to replace him. To this day - over 47 years - I had never found out whether his disappearance was due to his contract expiring, or whether he had a hunch about my embarrassment in his presence, so decided to leave early. I never ever saw Tony again. His apparent mid-holiday leaving is a curiosity that will never be solved.

But the rescue had a big impact in the years to follow. During my spare time I practised swimming to strengthen my stroke action. By 1972, I joined a Life-Saving Club which was held at an indoor pool in Reading - possibly the same venue Tony trained so many years earlier, as speaking to other lifeguards, all testifying to the same venue.

Arthur Hill Baths in Reading, where I qualified as a lifeguard in 1972

I was successful in achieving the Bronze Medallion by Christmas 1972. Back then this was the qualifying award which enabled me to be a lifeguard at any poolside in the country. I took advantage of the qualification. I became a pool lifeguard in Reading for the Summer months of 1973, just a short while after becoming a Christian in that same year. Literally speaking, I was on the same par as Tony previously - except that I had to wear a plain but distinctive tee-shirt without the coveted logo across the back, at the time it was something I really wanted!

It took me 47 years for me to come out with this story. Why such shame and embarrassment arising over getting into trouble in a swimming pool? Or can this sort of thing be seen from a different perspective - the acknowledging that anyone can get into a serious situation and in need to be rescued by another? What is the difference between a weak swimmer unintentionally getting into difficulties and that of a hiker, or a group of hikers, becoming marooned on a mountain due to a sudden change of weather? In my case the lifeguard had the correct perspective of my condition in the water, therefore he kept a close watch. It did not come as a surprise to him when I got unstuck - it was as though he was half expecting it to happen. Yet when a group of hikers becomes marooned on a mountain trail, they have to wait there until a helicopter arrives - a rescue which is much more dramatic - and costly too! -than a distressed swimmer in a supervised pool.

But being rescued by a lifeguard had dramatically changed everything - from a mocking schoolboy to a stronger swimmer and eventually a lifeguard myself. And guess what? As a lifeguard, I too became a target of teasing boys during public swimming sessions. History repeating itself.

Then there is the case of Simon Peter in the New Testament. An experienced fisherman, the nightly hauling of the nets heavy with fish had developed his upper arms into bulging muscles. He knew much about life on the open water. He knew what to do during a storm when his boat was tossed about out on the turbulent lake. Totally opposite to Tony, Simon's temperament was fully extrovert, and he had his way in keeping his tongue wagging even at times when it was not called for. For example, his excitable but thoughtless talk landed the strongest rebuke Jesus could deliver, even calling him "Satan!" His constant need to say something called for God the Father to rebuke him on top of a mountain. And his non-stop chatter in his Galilean accent betrayed him as he warmed his hands at the enemy's fire. Yet despite his wagging tongue, Peter was a strong swimmer, something his profession most likely demanded. One morning, after the Resurrection of Christ, while out in the boat, he impulsively dived into the lake to swim to Jesus, who had breakfast prepared for him and his fellow fishermen.

Dawn at the Sea of Galilee - where Peter swam to his Divine Lifeguard

But Peter's failure as a swimmer and falling into a panic - and of Jesus as a divine lifeguard, has to be on an earlier occasion when they were out at sea. It was a stormy night, and as the boat tossed about in the rough waters, they see Jesus walking towards them, his clothing blowing in the wind. All the disciples, fishermen and all, were terrified that they were seeing a ghost. When Jesus assured them that it was he, and not a ghost, Peter stepped out of the boat towards Jesus, after the Lord encouraged him to also walk on the water. He walked a little way when a wave most likely struck his legs. Immediately he panicked, and he began to sink. "Lord, save me!" He yelled, and Jesus took hold of his hand and pulled him up. Still holding tight to Jesus, Peter made his way back to the boat, relieved but most likely ashamed and embarrassed in front of the other eleven - a strong, experienced fisherman at that (Matthew 14:22-33.)

As with me, Peter's panic and rescue had a big impact on his life. As I too became a lifeguard several years later, after his distress, Peter himself began to pluck other men from their sins through the power of the Holy Spirit within him. Jesus Christ is our Saviour, and also our lifeguard. I recall several incidents throughout life, particularly as a young child on the road, where I came through an accident and survived, even if I spent several weeks at a children's hospital.

But the issue is this: we all need to be rescued from our sins, and that includes Tony, as well as Simon Peter and myself. I hope that Tony, the 1966 lifeguard, had himself grasped the hand of the risen Lord and allowed himself to be rescued from his troubled state. Tony is one I'll never forget, neither will I ever forget the outdoor swimming pool, which closed in the 1970s and was demolished to make way for a new residential estate. But back then, for Tony to save me was an act of duty; for Christ to save me was an act of love.

****************************************************************

Addendum

While this blog was being prepared, it was my intention to include a vintage photo of the outdoor pool where I swam as a schoolboy in the 1960s. The Archives has a rare photo of the location in the public library, but a fault in the scanning has delayed obtaining a copy until later in the week. If successful, this blog will be re-posted with the pic included, as well as a keepsake for my own albums. Look out for the updated title in Facebook or Twitter. Or just return to this blog later in the week.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Reflections

By the grace of God, this should be the final blog I write while sitting alone in our house. Because on Monday 9th December, Alex my wife should return home from a four-month stay in hospital. This had been a result of a total loss of ability to stand up and walk in August, shortly after returning home from a camping holiday at the Jurassic Coast resort of Swanage in Dorset. At last, she is able to stand up and walk unaided, albeit only for a short distance. After returning home, a visitor from the Department of Occupational Therapy will monitor her for the following six weeks, to ensure that she becomes physically stronger and live a normal independent life, and the therapist will be there if Alex were to suffer a relapse.
 
Really, these last four months were a time of testing, particularly with faith, patience, and emotions. If anything, it was my emotions which were more dynamic than the most gut-wrenching roller-coaster ride ever thought of. There were times when I lay in bed in the middle of the night haunted by uncertainty of the future and as a result, gripped with fear. Also while in bed, I turned towards the vacant space where my wife should be which ensured the feeling of loneliness. Those where the times I cried out to God, and also to ponder; why us? Strange as it felt, day to day living while she was confined to hospital had brought in reminiscence of my bachelor days spanning from 1976 to 1999. But as I wrote in one of my previous blogs - No, It's Not The Same, (November 2013) - there was various differences between a life as a committed single person and that of a husband whose wife is ill in hospital. But not all was negative. There were times I enjoyed the solitariness of being alone at home during the day, even if it was for just a few hours once a week - Saturday mornings. Then those daily trips to hospital as each time I anticipated being close to Alex and cuddling up to her while sitting beside her bed, and watching her very gradually making progress towards recovery.

But there were the downsides. As our home town does not have a hospital, we rely on the nearest one in Reading, a city eleven miles down the track. Since I don't drive but rely on public transport, delayed trains were the bane of these daily trips! Not too bad when the weather was warm during late Summer, but as soon as the chilly Autumn breeze started to blow a draught along the platform, along with the rain too, that was when train punctuality would have been a morale-booster. Then there were the three weeks when Alex was at the specialist John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where I could only visit her for three evenings a week - Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, due to both time and financial pressures. This involved a change of trains at Reading station, and the return journey home was a real headache, believe me! Because of the Autumn leaf fall on the line, Southwest Trains had this brilliant idea of changing the timetable so that departure times out of Reading to my home town were a few minutes earlier. That means, after the express from Oxford pulls into Reading, I make a dash to the appropriate platform to see my connecting train pull out towards the dark horizon yonder. This happened with nearly all the return journeys from Oxford.

Reading Station

But the afternoon spent with Alex in a single-bed ward at Oxford made these harassing journeys worthwhile. Here we had privacy, away from other patients, as in a conventional ward. It was a return, although momentary by comparison, to near-normal married life where we could relate to each other without being constantly watched or overheard.

As I reflect, something I often do, I feel so fortunate to have someone such as Alex for a wife. Although I'm aware that any reader who is single may not feel too elated over this, I have to admit that being married is such a blessing from God. Surely, going back to the dawn of history, God must have been aware of the anguish that Adam must have felt as he gave names to all the beasts which walked by, everyone of them with a mate. Adam most likely had thought:
"Gordon Bennett! With these guys all paired up, why the heck am I all alone, by myself? I can't marry a hippo, can I?"
When God created Eve by removing a rib from Adam's side under divine amnesia, and brought her to him, he exclaimed, (Wow! This at last) is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh...
God must have smiled as he watched Adam's excitement over his companion who was to be a help meet for him. The four months we spent apart had brought this fact home. I can't help feeling in my spirit that there is something mystical about marriage, the uniting of the souls to become one. When one goes away, as in this case to hospital, there is that gaping hole within that cannot be filled, although trusting in and taking comfort from Jesus Christ does go a long way. It has helped me through this time of separation, giving me hope.

It has also gave me opportunity to reflect on the whole of my life. For example, I can thank the Lord that I was born in a free country, and not under a Communist regime or in a Third World nation where starvation and disease prevails. Neither was I born to grow up to fight in a war, such was the case of my late uncle, who was a prisoner in a Japanese war camp. But having said that, my biggest regret was failing at school, and disastrously so. The school tie culture and myself were no mix. Even back in the sixties it was admitted that Secondary Modern was a polite term for academic trash bin, for those who had failed the eleven-plus exams, and were to pursue a vocational rather than academic course of life, much to the disdain of my parents. Therefore my childhood ideals of becoming a doctor or journalist were never realised, instead I had to suffer humiliation as a dogsbody at a furniture factory for five years, and from 1980 I have been a self-employed labourer (window cleaning) ever since.



However, being self-employed has its credentials, the main one is trusting in the goodness and faithfulness of God, since I don't have a boss or company committee to fall back on when things go wrong. Working for myself also involves setting my own hours, its flexibility setting me free from that awful noise of the factory starting horn or klaxon. On top of this, I have developed good relations with many of my clients, some I have known for the past thirty years. And it through God's grace, I believe, that the business is going from strength to strength.

From being self employed arose my experiences in travel, and I, for one, am surprised that after being such a failure at school, God had given me the ability to travel solo as a backpacker. And the greatest privilege God can bestow on one as such as myself, was to go and visit Israel and Jerusalem in particular. Jerusalem had always been very special to me, it was here where God chose to put his name, and where Jesus Christ died on the cross to atone for our sins, and it was here Jesus rose from the dead physically, the very first person to do so in all of human history. And the first church ever formed took place in Jerusalem. Furthermore, this insignificant looking city is referred to by Jesus as the City of the Great King, a title bestowed on no other location on this planet. I believe it was a wonderful gesture from the Lord to be so familiar with it.


Jerusalem Old City from Jaffa Gate, 1993.

Then that moment when I stood at the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Arizona in 1995, looking up at the night sky as the Colorado River flowed nearby. Never in all my life had I seen such a startling display of stars, totally unseen from the UK. Across the sky, a faint band of the Milky Way could be discerned, which is totally invisible from where I live. This reminded me of when God spoke to Abraham, encouraging him to look up into the night sky and try and count the stars. (Genesis 15:5-6)-
"So shall your descendants be." God promised to the one who, at the time was still childless. When I consider that the latitude of the Grand Canyon isn't much different from where Abraham was standing in the Middle East, what the patriarch and I both must have seen above our heads couldn't have been any different.

I have a Christian friend whose I.Q. is high enough for membership of Mensa, and has a keen interest in astronomy. While he was talking about this to a group we were in, I couldn't help asking him if he had ever looked up at the Southern Cross constellation. He admitted that he never had, for he did not have the experience of long-haul travel. There were times when I stood alone at an Australian beach late at night, looking up at the Southern Cross, along with the Milky Way streaking across the sky. On top of this, I have admired the mangrove trees covering the shoreline, partly submerged at high tide, with just the upper branches above the surface. I have wondered at the diverse tropical and Mediterranean vegetation which cannot flourish naturally here in the UK, and I have also gasped at the marine life through a snorkel mask at the Great Barrier Reef, the Red Sea, and also at Lanzarote.

What can I say for all this? The knowing of how wonderful God really is, both in the beauty of his creation and his love for someone so undeserving as myself. Here am I, a failure at school, a lifelong labourer, of the lower social class, often looked down upon or ignored by others, a wife I adore ill in hospital for weeks on end - yet having known and experienced the love of God, in his creation, among other believers and in my own life experience. I can fully testify that God is for us, and not against us, and whoever shall delight in him shall fulfil the desires of his heart.

Finally, let me say a big thanks to all readers of this page who had prayed for my wife to recover, and has given moral support on this website. As she comes home at last, I will not forget your goodness shown here.

God bless you all. 

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Being Second Best

Jacob, according to what I have heard in the pulpit, was a Mummy's boy. He was the son of Rebekah, wife of Isaac, who himself was the son of Abraham, making Jacob the grandson of Abraham. Jacob had a twin brother Esau who was first to be born, making him the heir of his father's estate. Isaac admired his older son Esau for his muscular body, hairy chest and manly traits, including his ability and willingness to hunt for game, therefore becoming the breadwinner of the family, including the servants.
 
Jacob, in turn stayed at home and helped Mother with the cooking and domestic chores. Rebekah wanted her favourite son to inherit his father's estate, so she devised a plan for the younger son to deceive his father Isaac, who chose this particular day to bless Esau, and to confirm that he and his descendants will not only inherit his father's estate, but become a God-blessed special nation to dominate the middle East. So Jacob entered Isaac's tent wearing a furry garment which felt just like Esau's neck and chest, and after eating his favourite venison prepared by his wife, the blind, elderly father blessed his younger son Jacob, believing that he was Esau, despite his sense of hearing was telling him otherwise.

Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a mess of pottage
 
When the older brother returned after a successful hunt, he discovered how his sibling had stolen his blessing, and in a rage promised to slay him. When his mother found out about this, she sent her younger son off to stay with her brother Laban several days walk away, probably in what is now Iraq. She never saw her favourite son again, for she died before he had a chance to return. Such was the price for favouritism and deception.
 
At Laban's estate, Jacob fell in love with his uncle's younger daughter, Rachel. She was beautiful and ravishing. Jacob promised to work for his uncle for seven years before he can marry her. When the wedding day arrived and the marriage consummated, he discovered that he had married Leah, Laban's older daughter. Jacob was furious at such deception, but had promised to see out the wedding week with Leah before marrying Rachel and working for his uncle for another seven years.
 
Poor Leah! The NIV Bible says that although Rachel was beautiful, Leah had weak eyes, probably referring to sloping eyelids which made her look more like "Plain Jane" - which failed to turn Jacob's eye, let alone attract his attention. Throughout those first seven years, Leah was totally ignored by Jacob while courting and petting Rachel and giving her all his attention, along with all the support from her father and all who were present. I have wondered how Leah must have felt as her sister enjoyed such courtship. The crushing feeling of rejection must have got to her, and she probably sat in her tent weeping alone quietly, so nobody was aware of her grief.
 
Even after marriage, Leah felt that her husband did not love her at all, but used her merely for breeding, while he lavished love and attention to her sister. When her firstborn son Reuben came into the world, her first hope was that Jacob would give her more affection. He didn't. Instead he spent far more nights in Rachel's tent, with the desire for her to conceive and provide for him a male heir, while Leah spent her time tending to Reuben. Eventually, in a desperate attempt to win her husband's affection and failing, Leah became the mother of six sons, which made up half of the nation of Israel, including Levi, her third son, who became the father (ancestor) of Moses and the tribe of Levitical priests, and her fourth son Judah, who became the father of King David and of Jesus Christ himself.
 
It was later that Rachel eventually conceived the first of her two sons, Joseph, who became his father's favourite son and heir to his estate, symbolised by the coat of many colours which enraged his brothers. They eventually sold Joseph as a slave to a passing caravan heading for Egypt. Jacob, in turn, believed that his favourite son was killed by a wild beast. He spent the rest of his life in sheer misery, looking at mud all the time and suffering bouts of depression.
 
I relate the whole of this story in condensed form for those not familiar with the Bible or the importance of Israel in human history. The story looks to expose the dire consequence of favouritism and the resulting devastation such feelings of rejection or being second best can bring. Yet having a preference for one person or group of people over another is the core of human nature. And apparently God's nature, too. After all, it was God who inspired Noah to favour his son Shem above his other two sons: Ham and Japheth. Also God chose Abraham above his brothers Nahor and Haran to make a special covenant with him. Then there is the better known case of God loving Jacob but hating his brother Esau, as Paul the apostle so succinctly writes in his letter to the Romans (9:13). But this "hate" is not the human emotion of distain, or desire for revenge or vengeance, but more akin of loving someone with less intensity than another, and that is always for the benefit of others. For example, God made a covenant with Abraham above his brothers Haran and Nahor. Yet Haran was the father of Lot, who the apostle Peter called a righteous man, indicating that he was brought up in a godly way by his father and mother. And Nahor was the grandfather of Laban and Rebekah, and the great grandfather of Leah and Rachel, all or part of Nahor's house became the founding family of the nation of Israel. Yet God made the covenant only with Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob.
 
What I have seen and experienced in church life, it looks to me that even God seem to favour the English middle classes to fill the auditorium every Sunday. I have seen that the vast majority of church-goers in the UK are well-educated professionals who will always vote Tory during polling day, and a large number of them live within the commuter belt in the leafy-posh Southern county of Surrey. They are a vivid contrast to the inner city gang world of the uneducated, unemployed, drug-dealing, knife-carrying State benefit recipients, whose territories are no-go areas for those who are not gang members. If a rival gang member is murdered over some drug feud, then its a lost eternity in Hell and damnation. When a middle class Christian professional dies, it is Heavenly bliss for him. Indeed, it looks as though God does show favouritism, so it seems.




So we are not any different. Suppose you were a letting agency, and there is a spare apartment for rent. Who would you give the keys to? The tattooed guy with the design showing through the wide V-neck of his shirt-less jumper and his breath smelling of alcohol, tobacco or even cocaine? Or would you hand the keys to the gent dressed in a business suit and tie, who will be shortly starting work in the area? Even I must honestly admit; if I was in the same situation as that agency, I know full well who I would hand the keys over. It's simply human nature.

Yet this sort of thing had been going on for decades. During the 1950s and '60s, if you were a coloured immigrant looking for accommodation and a job, chances of having the landlord slamming the door on your face was very high, along with a failed job interview - if such an interview ever took place at all. To this day there is always something about a white man in a business suit - the greater respect offered to him, a deeper trust, even perhaps a sense of reverence. Even more extreme is the contrast between a noted celebrity about to appear at a movie premier and a homeless beggar sitting alone in the street. Yet then again, our present Tory Prime Minister is a target for harsh criticism, not so much for bad or biased leadership as for being an Old Etonian and one of the Old Boys club, along with the Chancellor George Osborne and the Benefits Secretary Ian Duncan Smith, another toff whose intent is to withdraw State handouts from the poor and needy while bowing to the high earners and profiteers who are getting richer and richer all the time.

And so the newspapers tell us. In the City, 2,700 bankers have received sky-high bonuses, each one pocketing £1,600,000 - a rise of 37% in a year, compared to a rise in income of just 0.8% for the average worker. This makes England with the highest rate of city high-earners in the whole of the European Union. Yet do we really hate these bankers as much as we say we do? Or do we harbour a secret admiration for their talents while realising this country's economy can't do without? And this is when energy and fuel bills are rising to such an extent that now there are many who cannot afford to heat their homes during the cold Winter months - while our Government ministers prattle around like headless chickens as the profits created by these energy companies continue to soar. Then there was a case of a keen swimmer who drowned as he took on a daring challenge to swim through a submerged cave tunnel while on holiday in Malta a couple of years ago. Under the online article, one commentator asked; Why such emphasis that he was a student at Cambridge University? Of course, that was the whole point of the article, wasn't it?


Cliffs at Malta, 2012

Let us be thankful for certain Scripture passages which assures us that God is not like a human after all, even when at times he appears to be. As we are all steeped in favouritism, bias and social class to one degree or another, we can be assured by Isaiah, who wrote:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favour, and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion -
to bestow on them the crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour.
Isaiah 62:1-3.

Poor Leah, rejected and unloved by her husband she adored. She was keen to be a breeding machine for him, in a vain hope of winning his love and affection. How many times had she sat alone in her tent and wept her heart out, while Jacob was courting and petting Rachel? How often had she lay alone in bed, looking up at the tent roof while the man she loved is making love with her younger sister? And the times she held baby Reuben tight in her arms as a tear rolled down her cheeks. As she told stories to her young boys, how often did she look out of her tent and glimpse her husband frolicking with her beautiful sister? Were there times when Leah gloated over Rachel's infertility? Did she smile as she overheard the two having a blazing row over her childlessness? Really, I can't help but pity this unfortunate woman whose fate was of no fault of hers. And God pitied her too.

As she was watching her husband adore Rachel's firstborn son Joseph and bestowing on him a beautiful garment; a token of heir to their estate, all this must have been a little too much for Leah, who believed that her own son Reuben was entitled to their inheritance. How did she really feel in her heart when Rachel died on route to Canaan while giving birth to her second son Benjamin? And were her tears of genuine grief when her younger sister was buried in her own tomb near Bethlehem? When the rest of the family returned to Canaan from Laban's house, Leah also died some time afterwards, but was given the privilege to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah, the fifth person to be buried together with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, as Jacob was still alive at the time of Leah's death, and the last to be buried in the family tomb.

The Hebrew name for Israel is Yisrael, an acronym for Yacob, Isaac, Sarah, Rebekah, Abraham, Elohim, Leah - all six buried in the Cave of Machpelah. But in God's combined omniscience and pity for poor Leah, he had her initial as part of his own name, a sign of how much God loved her, and even rejected by her own husband, safe in the arms of God himself. This is something worthy of consideration during times when I feel low, rejected, disliked for no reason, and feeling put down, or even plain ignored. There is a God whose love and pity for the weak is beyond human understanding.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

A Long Enduring Witness

Lately I have being posting blogs on what looks to be my dislike or contempt for the English culture. If this looks like I'm anti-patriotic, possibly a traitor, then consider a newspaper report I read while I was on the train home, plus a back-up report on a national online newspaper that had made my blood boil, bringing to focus on exactly what I have been grieving about.
 
The report from both sources was about a cyclist bring hit by a car, then the driver roared off without stopping to see whether the bicycle rider was hurt as he lay on the ground. Then furthermore, the car driver bragged about the incident on Twitter. "Ah," you may think. The driver was a heavily tattooed working class male who probably had one too many at a local pub. Wrong! The offending driver was a young female in her early twenties, a middle class accountant whose explanation in Court for not stopping was because she had the right of way! On her Twitter account she boasted that she pays road tax, which cyclists don't pay. An astonishing statement for an accountant. The Road Tax was abolished in 1937. The tax paid by all motorists is due to fuel exhaust emissions, and the payment goes towards general taxation - as does VAT on alcohol, etc. Therefore a cyclist doesn't have a tax disc on his bike. So a hit-and-run is okay, then. Why not go all the way and KILL the wretched rider? At least that's one tax-evader less to feed!

 
She was cleared of the charge of dangerous driving, and she got away with what one would call a slap on the wrist. No doubt, in countries such as Holland, Denmark and France, where bicycle riders are treated with far greater respect on the roads, this arrogant female would have received a tougher penalty, possibly a prison term. To add insult to injury, on the online Daily Mail version of the report, I was rather shocked on the large percentage of comments which were on her side. This sort of attitude reminded me of a national organisation which began to make an appearance in the mid to late 1980s, lobbying for the rights of car drivers against the growing popularity of cyclists in both daily commute and in road racing and training. Unsurprisingly, the car driver's lobby was represented by a silhouetted logo of a group of men wearing business suits and ties. Such is typical of England!

Singer Kate Bush once had a hit Oh England My Lionheart in which she relates with nostalgia the flapping umbrellas filling the lanes, London Bridge in rain again, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, Shakespeare, and the English Rose; and pleads that she does not want to go, assuming to mean leaving the country. To be fair, living under a Constitution based on the Bible allows a level of freedom denied in some other nations. For example, the official State Church of England would never impose a ban on alcohol, or for women to cover every inch of her body, or to ban them from further education, as were the cases in many Islamic countries. We enjoy freedom of speech and of the press, and if one wants to crack a joke about the Royal Family or even Jesus Christ himself, nobody would give a hoot. When Author Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses, he had to find refuge here in the UK to protect himself from Islam persecutors who were after his blood - for insulting the Prophet Mohammad.



Talking about such dismal climate of ours is well known around the world, often such variable weather is a good way to start a conversation, or even to greet someone in the street. Yet a spell of fine weather can make areas such as the Cumbrian Lake District National Park and the Dorset Jurassic Coast such stunning vistas in full glory; natural England at its best. By contrast, areas of South London such as the dilapidated housing estates of Brixton or Wandsworth can look so depressing in the rain, as does London Bridge.

Although steep in history and many ancient and listed buildings to show for it, along with its spectacular scenery offset by the cool temperate climate, these are not the theme of this article. Rather it is to point out the shortcomings of a culture so beloved by many regular church-goers, that speaking out against it most likely would result in isolation. Such were the case of a photographer who is in our church, and his son who attends a church elsewhere, who both blocked their Facebook profiles from my viewing. And a Christian at another church, who I knew since 1978, refused to link friends with me. All three have a ongoing grudge against me for speaking out against their culture, for example, joking that the photographer's grandson should take up window cleaning for a living after leaving school. What an insult! Other believers in Christ who I knew personally for more than thirty years, all graduates by the way, won't link with me on the social website either, simply because I'm not up to their level.

Riding a bicycle on the roads has become a very risky business. The old adage of "the White Van Driver" has been around for a couple of decades. He is the working class male who can get very impatient if a slow cyclist gets in his way. Or feel a deflation of his ego if he struggles to overtake a racing cyclist or triathlete out training. Then there is the rising trend of the ambitious career girl when she gets behind the wheel - like the one mentioned above, adding to the ferocious cultural evil which makes the English the way they are, like another Christian I knew who was, in the 1990s, watching the English Cricket team and urging them to steamroller the opposing foreign side; the England football fan shaking his fist angrily in the air while backing his losing team to bury the opposition; the emphasis on social class, with greater respect for the academic professional, the disdain for the humble labourer, contempt for foreigners, feeling xenophobic - yet without hesitation, to depart for foreign shores to conquer, colonise and rule; racial and ethnic slurs, and mimicking and poking fun at foreign languages and dialects.

Oh yes, mimicking foreign languages. What a superb example of national and ethnic superiority! How our mother language and plum Southern English dialect reflect a flawless, God-blessed culture. Like the BBC Radio 2 Little Englander presenter Sarah Kennedy did often during peak hour morning broadcasting in the 1990s, when she really lay heavy with the Italian language in particular with teasing mockery. Preceding her over quite a few years was a fellow employee whose name was Walter, who was also my supervisor, at the furniture factory where I worked for five years between 1968 and 1973. A keen Englander and Arsenal F.C. supporter, often he made a weird, multi-tone mimic of something I never heard of, as I wasn't bothered to ask what that was all about, as by then I absorbed all his eccentricity as a matter of course during a normal working life.

It was when I made the first backpacking trip outside Europe, to Israel in 1976 that I found out where all that mimicking made by my deceased supervisor originated. While I was staying at a private Arab residence in the east Jerusalem district of Silwan, their Arab radio broadcast played their kind of music. When I heard this for the first time, suddenly everything fell into place. I recall Walter relating to me of his serving in the Royal Air Force during the War. What he never told me was that he must have been posted to the Middle East as one serving in the British Mandate, which held control over Palestine until the State of Israel was declared in May, 1948.

With Walter serving in the Middle East has made me wonder whether he visited any of the three principal places which were so tied with the Bible - The Sea of Galilee where Jesus taught much about the Kingdom of Heaven, Jerusalem and Hebron, not to mention the towns of Bethlehem and Nazareth, both to do with Jesus' early life. Jerusalem was chosen by King David to be the capital of Israel and the city where God himself has put his name. It was the site of the betrayal, trial, the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ, and to this day it's still the City of the great King. But where I have found to be most intriguing was at Hebron, a town several miles south of Jerusalem. Here is the site of the Cave of Machpelah, the burial tomb of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, along with their wives Sarah, Rebekah and Leah. These six people were the founding family of the entire nation of Israel. Had Walter been familiar with the fortress which stands over the Cave of Machpelah? If so, then it looked to me at the time that through his own spiritual blindness, Walter, along with his colleagues, had failed to pick up the message this fortress was conveying.




The building was constructed and completed a few years before the birth of Jesus Christ, by Herod the Great. It withstood the test of time and remained intact while Jerusalem and its Second Temple were razed to the ground by Roman general Titus in AD 70. Today it is used as a combined synagogue and mosque, and in the past it was also used as a church. Yet it appears to me that its main purpose was, and is, to stand as a sentinel to show the rest of the world that this is the land given to the Jews by God himself. This seems to be endorsed by the unscrambled code contained in the name Israel. The Hebrew name for this Middle East country is Erech Yisrael, Erech being Hebrew for Land of, and Yisrael is actually an acronym for -
Yacob, Isaac, Sarah, Rebekah, Abraham, Elohim, Leah.

All six whose initials are buried in the Cave of Machpelah, except Elohim which is, of course, one of the names of God. But even here God is seen to be in the midst of his people, the Jews, and their land, which God specifically calls my land. This is wholly unique, and this is something which neither England or the English can claim, despite many efforts. The English love to fancy themselves as having had the privilege of the feet of the young Jesus Christ walking on England's mountains green, even the fictional idea that the English are the descendants of the lost ten tribes of the Diaspora, therefore proudly singing Rule, Britannia, rule the waves...along with Land of Hope and Glory - assigning to England what actually belongs to Israel, for only God can bring hope and glory to a nation. And according to many Old Testament prophecies, hope and glory will be restored to Israel, leaving England, if God allows it to continue after the return of Jesus Christ, to bow to Israel, bringing its produce and its bounty, honour and glory to Jerusalem, Israel's restored capital.

Believing in the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead should put everyone of us into the right perspective. There is nothing in us that can please God. Our fallen natures have separated us from the intimacy God had created us to enjoy with him. Abraham realised this, and referred to himself as dust and ashes. Moses, when he saw that he was talking to God in the burning bush, was afraid, and gasped when he was commissioned with the privilege to face Pharaoh and lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. He asked who was he to face someone as great as the king of Egypt. The then young prince David, when comparing himself to God, referred himself as a flea, the smallest living creature visible to the naked eye, and was subservient to King Saul. Isaiah cries out in the Temple, "Woe is me, for I am undone, a man of unclean lips..." Even the apostle Paul said on one occasion that there is no good thing dwelling naturally in him, except the power of Jesus Christ.

This is the result of true conversion. To know of our unworthiness before God, being grateful and thankful for his goodness, grace and mercy, and to see others as recipient's of this mercy. It is to thank the Lord each day that we wake up in the morning alive, and to be grateful for our health, and to give thanks for every good thing we have - homes, family, jobs, the ability to earn a living. (And this is a big lesson for me in particular, as I tend to suffer morning blues between Monday to Friday inclusive!) To every person to see himself as dust and ashes before God strips himself of all pride, all national and ethnic superiority, the importance of class and social status to melt away. It means the rich or well educated walking arm in arm with the poor, the labourer or the beggar. It means to give willingly to those in need. The Beatitudes, preached by Jesus on the Mount, can only be fulfilled in a person's life after being saved, then realising of his status as dust and ashes and needing to be filled and walk in the Holy Spirit.

The English, who falsely believe that they are Christian through ethnic origin, desperately need the power of the Holy Spirit to convict of their shortcomings, show them who they really are, and their need for God's mercy and grace.

The end result is that, among many other benefits, we cyclists will feel much safer on the roads.
 
**************************************************************************
 
Addenda
 
After the publishing of my last couple blogs, one of our church elders who happen to be a good friend of mine, warned me that the content can be conveyed the wrong way by those who have a degree, particular those who attend church regularly, believing that I have an envious grudge against them.
This is not the case. Most of my close friends have studied for a degree, and I have enjoyed good relations with well educated Christians over the years. I now favour an idea, which was in my mind for several years, mainly that it is God who calls many of his own into further education, for the prime purpose of keeping evil under restraint in the office, just by being there and working - the role as salt of the earth. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

In Him All Things...

 
The typhoon which swept across the Philippines within the last couple of weeks have dominated the news headlines every day so far. Appeals have been sent out, aid of every kind are being delivered to these stricken islands from around the world. I actually saw one national newspaper carry the headline that an adequate amount of funds could be raised if every person in the UK donated just one pound ($1.60) which would add up to £62,008,000, of which £50,763,000 would come from England alone.

We Brits love to pride ourselves as being a nation of compassionate, generous donors. But according to an online table of the world's most generous national donors, the UK so far failed to make the top twelve. The most generous was Canada, followed by Spain. The much maligned Italians holds fifth position, ahead of Japan in eighth, China in ninth, the USA in tenth place. Even tiny Singapore holds eleventh place, ahead of France, in twelfth. But on the individual scale, there are generous people, there are also the mean, including the rich; in all - generous, tightfisted, and somewhere in between, along with the poor of both extremes, among those I guess, would like to give but are anxious of their financial resource to meet future expenses.

So we pat ourselves on the back on walk along smugly, believing that we have fulfilled the will of God by giving something, showing compassion to a nation which looks to all the world to have received judgement from the Almighty. After all, are we not a Christian country, with the Bible as the bedrock for our Constitution? Why; we most likely have sang that glorious hymn sometime in our lives, particularly at school, written by William Blake:  And did those feet in ancient times walk upon England's mountains green? Never in a million years would the Almighty dream of judging England in any way close to that inflicted on to the Philippines. Instead we are threatened with a possible dusting of snow this coming week, so the newspapers cries out on its pages. Of the sixty-plus years I lived in England, the media seems to forever fail to realise that it is normally cold during the Winter months! Yet any forthcoming news of snow and we feel that our lives will be disrupted - the dread of cars skidding on icy roads, vehicle engines stalling, getting stuck in endless traffic snarl-ups, delayed and cancelled trains, airports closed, thousands of flights cancelled, schools closed, valuable working hours lost...dear me, with the snow comes the Apocalypse, those last  few years of Tribulation prior to the end of the world. It makes me wonder what the Philippine people really think of us English. After all, typhoons are an accepted way of life to them, they are used to that sort of weather.

Lately I have read an article written by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail newspaper accusing former Labour ministers such as former Home Secretary Jack Straw of hating the English, and the former politician accusing them of being violent nationalists who have used force to subjugate other nations. If Straw did make such an accusation, then he must have referred to the former British Empire, which did subjugate the indigenous inhabitants of foreign lands to submit to Colonial laws and governance - all in the name of being God's chosen nation with His Majesty being the head, and to him all must bow, both among the conquerors and the conquered. Along with England being the New Jerusalem of William Blake, the English were to be seen as the Master Race, a phenomenon arising from Charles Darwin's theory of Evolution, which makes out that the English had advanced in the evolutionary scale to a degree well beyond other nations, particularly among non-Caucasians.



As if being advanced in Evolution and being of the New Jerusalem was not enough, there was even an academic, crackpot professor Edward Hine who, in 1879 delivered a lecture in the London borough of Chelsea, that the English were descendants from the Jews of the Diaspora - the ten lost tribes which were exiled by the Assyrians around 700 BC. This theory, known as British Israelism, enforced the idea that England was indeed the promised land, and that the Empire was not only sanctioned by God but ordered by the Almighty. Here was a contradiction which would have posted a challenge to Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity. That is, the Bible and Darwinism are as much opposed to each other as being enemies. The Bible teaches supernatural Creationism in six literal nights and days. Evolution, on the other hand, insisted in the ultra-slow development of living organisms over millions of years. Surely both can't be right. And by 1879, Darwin's book On the Origin of Species, was already well known to the British public, having been published some twenty years earlier in 1859.

So here we have a nation which is the motherland of Darwinism, yet running concurrently with its Christian constitution for many decades to follow. Evolution offering its explanation for the Englishman's sense of national, cultural, and racial superiority while insisting that the truth of the Bible verifies his heritage of being one of God's people, and therefore holding special divine privileges, namely, the right to rule over others of different ethnic and racial origins. These two conflicting ideas had not exhausted themselves to nonexistence to the present day. Not many years ago, Richard Dawkins was spouting his atheism, his steadfast support for Darwin, and gaining rapid readership support for his book: The God Delusion. In turn, during preparation for the 2006 World Cup, England star player Wayne Rooney injured his ankle while playing at a qualifier game. His injury threatened to exclude him from the England squad, as a result, the chances of England lifting the trophy was practically eliminated. When the medical team announced Rooney's rapid recovery, the Sun newspaper had emblazoned on its front page: There is a God after all! This makes me believe that the normally self confident Englishman only believes in God when it suits him.

But real peace and, if I should add, self-worth, comes in believing who God really is. And one verse in the Bible kept coming back to me over the past week  Colossians 1:17, which reads:
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

What a tremendous amount of truth contained in just a few words! All things hold together, which of course would include us as humans. Not only are involuntary body functions - such as breathing, sleeping, digestion, the nervous system, the heartbeat and the flow of the bloodstream are all sustained by God, but the very essence that actually we are a collection of tiny atoms, the essential building blocks of the entire Universe.



Here is the very mystery of life itself. If everything consist of atoms, then why is one mass sustains life while another is totally inanimate, such as a brick wall? A stone or lump of rock is as dead as it could be, but the same material can last for millennia. The human body is not only alive but is sustains itself and has the ability to repair itself when injured. Yet soon after it dies, it quickly decomposes. In turn, a chip broken off a china plate spoils and devalues its worth, and the dish will remain chipped forever, without self repair or decomposing. Yet between these two substances is the wood from trees. It is alive yet inanimate. There are species of tropical fig trees which, as it grows, wraps itself around a host tree and strangles it to death, then takes its place. But cut a chunk out of this menacing tree and the wood can be used for carving or construction, and the finished article would be no more animate than the mantelpiece on which it stands. What exactly is wood? It consists of living cells yet is it alive? Other than in texture, is a wooden artifact any more living than one carved out of marble? Then there is the well known Mickey Mouse arrangement of the three atoms; two of hydrogen and one of oxygen which makes up the water molecule which is so vital to all living things.




Yet, the hydrogen atom is the simplest atom of all elements. It consist of one electron whizzing in its orbit around a single proton as it nucleus, a microscopic star and planet system. But what makes it so remarkable sets the pattern for all atoms, regardless of the level of complexity, is the vast space between the nucleus and its orbiting electrons. This vast space between electron and nucleus could be the vital clue to Paul's statement in Colossians 1:17 - that every atom in the entire Universe is sustained by Jesus Christ, who is in turn, our Saviour, one of three Persons in the Divine Trinity, of which the life-sustaining water molecule makes such a good symbol. If the vast space within every atom of our bodies were to collapse, so that every electron actually touches the nucleus, then our bodies will be reduced to the size of a grain of sand! Therefore it can be said that even a hard lump of rock, such as granite or marble, is mostly empty space, yet remains as solid as God sustains it.

This is such a sobering truth, the science we have discovered by means of our magnificent brains, which we have through Him who created us to enjoy his love, his grace and his intimacy forever. And that is the real purpose why we are here - not as advanced in evolution to the extent that we can walk in arrogant pride, divide and conquer - but rather that we can know God our creator, life sustainer, our Saviour and revel in his love for the eternity to come.