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Sunday, 25 August 2013

A State of Sorrow

Brilliant German student Moritz Erhardt was fiercely ambitious, wanting to climb the career ladder in the banking world. The bosses at the City bank in London wanted to see how this intern worker was made of, in a brute masculine world which believes lunch breaks were for wimps, and being prepared to work from seven in the morning right through to two in the morning of the next day, before grabbing a few hours sleep at his East London apartment which he shared with three other interns. Then he is back at his desk at seven again.
But that was not his constant schedule. There were times that he worked at his desk for a solid 23 hours non-stop, only to grab a taxi home to shower and change his clothes while the cab waited outside. Then he was back at his desk at seven.
Not that his bosses demanded such commitment. Rather it was done to impress his potential employers once his studies were over. The competition was fierce. If Erhardt decided that he had enough by three in the morning, after twenty hours at his desk, and a fellow intern working next to him decides to put in a couple of extra hours, then the chance of Erhardt landing a permanent job at the bank was greatly reduced, most likely eliminated.
Moritz Erhardt
In his shirt and tie, Erhardt looked every bit a young professional, even while still a student. He was the sort of guy women would take a second look, the one who would buy and drive a Ferrari, or a Lamborghini, one of the top and most expensive brand of car. Then not to mention luxury holidays halfway round the world, staying in top class hotels. Apart from his studies and his Summer intern work, he was also an outstanding tennis player who reached championship levels. This guy had everything going for him. He was popular, his future was dazzling, and no doubt, the sort who could have picked out a wife with a single flick of his finger.

And any given church would have loved to have such an individual as a member! If a church believed in and preached tithing, bankers such as Erhardt would have made quite a contribution to the church funds. Imagine if half a dozen bankers like him, or even a dozen among a large congregation. Such funds would remain healthy and above the profit margin.

Something very similar to this did happen in 1978. During Summer of that year, two graduates turned up for the first time at the Baptist church in my hometown. Geoff, the tall one, still had his hair long from University. This budding computer programmer was wearing an orange-coloured satin shirt, open at the neck to reveal a silver cross resting on his chest. This was a typical 1970s fashion fad of young males during that time. He oozed self confidence as several young unmarried ladies swarmed around him, shrieking with delight as he revelled in the attention given. The one who shrieked the loudest actually married him within a couple years since arrival.

Cartoon of Sam Tyler, dressed in typical 1970s fashion.

Geoff did not only impress the ladies, but the Elders as well, despite the Senior Pastor calling him a bighead within earshot from where I was standing. He was shunted into group leadership and took on responsibilities normally reserved for older members with greater church experience.

The other graduate stood less than a couple metres away from Geoff that evening. Shorter in stature, he wore a dull grey woollen top which all but concealed his neck. While Geoff received all the attention, this guy, who had just began a career as a scientist at the Meteorological Office, was totally ignored as he stood alone stoically while the other was wooed. If there was a moment of regret, it was that I did not approach him to offer a welcome when I had every chance to do so. Fortunately for him, there was a female in the church who eventually took a shine on him and they eventually married and moved away.

It goes to show how outer appearances and level of education can make such an impact to other church-goers. Too bad, I had neither when I joined the same church three years earlier, in 1975, but at least there was a married guy already there who welcomed me.

I have watched church life throughout the forty years since I came to the faith in 1973. After I joined Bracknell Baptist Church in 1975 (where those two grads made their first appearance in 1978), I have seen people come and go. I have watched young grads marry and raise families. I have also watched, and pitied an elderly single female who was overweight and wore glasses, now deceased, who would at every prayer meeting, cry to the Lord to give her a man to love her and to love in return. She once stormed out of the evening service in tears one Sunday in 1978, when one male grad stood up at the front to announce his engagement. Then there were the annual conventions, or Bible festivals, such as the Dales, the Downs, Spring Harvest, then later Stoneleigh, now Newday and Westpoint, all Bible festivals where believers from across the nation gathered for - if I dare to say - a huge party with a "religious" flavour. Then they return to their churches as if little had changed among them.

Someone in our church once had a vision during one Sunday evening service. It was that of a waterfall cascading from a height, and floating along the surface of the turbulent river were the letters which spelt, Oh you English. The vision spoke a lot. We as a nation adore the Royal Family, worship the celebrity, believe in a strict social class system, and each individual is evaluated by his looks, education level, social status, and type of occupation, and even a level of racism. The contrast of welcome between the two arrivals in 1978 says it well, where appearance made the difference.  And sadly, this weekend we felt as we were fobbed off by the Medics while at hospital, something no doctor in his right mind would even consider doing to a member of the Royal family.

My wife Alex had, so I was told by the doctor, sprained her back, and is now incapable of walking. She was quickly discharged. Come to think of it, had it been Catherene, Duchess of Cambridge, with the same problem, she would have been admitted and days of tender care and attention lavished upon her. Instead, housebound, all Alex can do is lie down while I did everything else. We are both afraid of the future. Would I have to give up my full time work and become a house-husband? Does this also mean that she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair? Would I even face the prospect of widowhood, a source of terror for me? Would we have to cancel our coming holiday in Crete? And all paid for? Such fears are bolstered by the dreadful feeling of isolation. This weekend happened to be one without a service in our church, with many gone away to Westpoint Bible festival. When they return, it will be the same sort of thing, with John, for example, disliking me as ever, for demonstrating such abuse to his grandson!

Wow! Abuse? What actually did I get up to?
Did I sexually molest him?
No, I didn't.
Did I shout at him or say something negative?
No, not that either.
Did I hit him?
What coward would do such a thing?
Did I accidentally hurt him by, for example, tripping up while he was behind me?
No, that wasn't the case either.
Then what did I do?
As Facebook "friends" I half joked to John that his grandson should take up window cleaning, something I have done for more than thirty years. He immediately became indignant, "unfriended" me and blocked his profile out of viewing from both my wife and myself. Not long after, the boy himself was weary whenever I was around. Obviously, his grandad warned him that I posed a danger!

With no Ascot Life Church meeting this week, I decided to attend the Kerith Centre, the former Bracknell Baptist Church. After the end of the service, there was Geoff, now looking much older, talking to a steward. When he saw me approach to greet him, he rudely turned his back to me, and when he had finished his conversation, he made a quick getaway to the car park outside. Why this attitude I can only speculate. Both are English, both have stiff upper lips, and neither are courageous or willing enough to sort matters out with me, as Jesus Christ taught so clearly. True enough, these grand Bible festivals they attend may be impressive enough, but still leaves the nitty-gritty matters of daily and weekly church life unchanged.

Yet I see them as brothers in Christ. When John was away in Edinburgh, I said to his wife that I miss him being here in church. As one who believes in Eternal Security, I can't help feeling affection towards both these guys. The reason why my heart goes out to them is because the heart of Christ went out for me. Once-saved-always-saved sees the Lord Jesus Christ forever caring for those he gave himself to redeem. My prayer and longing wish is to enjoy a high level of friendship - not merely through Facebook - but on a personal basis.

My desire is the way I love my wife Alex reflects God's love for me. If it does mean a dramatic change of lifestyle as a result of her disability, so be it. As Christ will never leave or forsake me, neither will I ever leave her or forsake her, no matter what imperfections she might have. Once married always married!

As for Moritz Erhardt, he is the one to to pitied. Aged just 21, he died in the shower sometime last week, possibility the heavy pressure of work bringing on an epileptic fit. It is certainly a state of sorrow.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Disaster or Adventure?

Camping is something my heart had never embraced fully. My parents had never tried it, and the opportunity to become a member of the Boy Scouts was missed. As such, sleeping in a tent was totally unknown until well into adult life. Although a friend of mine tried to introduce me to the Great Outdoors, it was I who cut the holiday short from a week to just two nights. And that was in 1983.
The very same friend also introduced me to hosteling two years later in 1985. In this, I took a totally different perspective, and I became an avid fan of Youth Hostels, of the Youth Hostels Association, later to become Backpackers Hostels where instead of mixing with children (as was the original intention to introduce city kids to the delights of the countryside with minimum costs) - I mixed with people closer to my age, even an occasional senior citizen, who all had one thing in common: Independent Travel. From that first visit to a YHA hostel at Totland Bay, Isle of Wight, in Spring of that year, hosteling exploded to the furthest corners of the globe, including Israel, Singapore, Australia and the United States. Two outstanding hostels stands out in my memory: The first was New Swedish Hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was here that the main dormitory was mixed gender - courting couples, single males and females squeezed into this 15th Century Crusader-built room with a domed ceiling. And rather than the owners turning people away, they allowed couples to bed down on the wide window ledge while males and females slept alongside each other as normal and as without embarrassment as it got - very much unlike the strict gender segregation of YHA hostels in Britain.

Jews celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, Jerusalem, taken 2000 with their permission.

 The other outstanding hostel was the  HI-AYAH San Diego Downtown which in 1995, occupied a single floor of a YMCA building on Broadway, before moving to its present Market Street site by 1997, when I paid a second visit. During the first visit in 1995, there was no curfew, compulsory in most other YHA hostels, which allowed me to go to the member's kitchen at two in the morning to warm a cup of milk when I was unable to sleep. My dorm had only two beds, the other occupied by an Australian backpacker and a builder by trade who did some bricklaying elsewhere in the USA before stopping at San Diego for a few days before flying home to Sydney from Los Angeles. It was the meeting and sharing a room with this fellow which set the inspiration to visit Australia myself in 1997, on a special deal Round the World air ticket, stopping at Singapore and California as well. The thing I most loved about hosteling was the camaraderie felt among members - fellow backpackers in the kitchen, where a conversation struck up as we cooked our meals at adjoining stoves.

San Diego Harbour, California, taken 1997.
I can ramble on and on about this! World travel is indeed inspiring, and the Middle East in particular, when I first set foot in Israel in 1976, as I stood inside the Dome of the Rock on the Al-Haram al Sharif or Temple Mount, I saw the Bible really came alive, with the reality of the Scriptures hitting home.
So sleeping in a tent in those days had no appeal, especially after giving it a try in 1983. Yet when I first met Alex, my future wife in 1998, I discovered the exact opposite when it came to travel. She was repulsed at the idea of sharing a hostel dorm with other females, but she had camped before,  with her church, and she loved it, although she had always dreamt of roasting meat over a campfire. After we married, we started to go camping together, mainly to fulfil her desire and making our marriage relationship stronger. She gave me encouragement and - to a certain extent, I enjoyed the experience too. Yet I recall only a few years ago, on a remote area of Durdle Door Campsite, where I lay shivering in apprehension as the wind outside shaking the tent, yet my wife felt at ease and comfortable.
We camped a couple of times since then, until last week, when I booked a place at a campsite at Swanage in Dorset, nearly a mile from the beach. The tent was getting old, having bought it second-hand from the son of one of my clients, and approaching, if not already, thirty years since brand new. As we set it up, the outer door frame ripped from its supporting rod and it was scarcely holding up. There was also a hole in its outer roof, which was temporally fixed by a strip of tough plastic tape used for insulating wires. The first night was awful, with loud snoring drifting from a neighbouring tent, the noise keeping us both awake. Furthermore, moisture had collected on the inside of the outer roof, and although the inner lining kept us dry, there was this constant Plat! Pat! Pat! Plat! - as the sound of constant dripping of water onto plastic sheeting within the outer door but outside the inner lining where we lay. The following night the same set of circumstances were repeated. Plat! Plat! Pat! Plat! - with loud, snoring from next door. I exclaimed to my wife,
This is an absolute disaster! In the morning we are packing up and going home!

And this would have been after just two nights out of the four nights booked, and already paid for. Fortunately, I did manage to grab some sleep, and when I awoke at daybreak, I was determined to see the holiday through and not cut it short at all. After all, I always felt that hard-earned cash thrown away was not an option! When the two neighbouring campers, one on each side of us, collapsed their tents on the morning of the third day, I felt a rush of relief. Perhaps without the sound of snoring, we may get some sleep at last, which for the third and fourth nights, turned out to be true.

Just after erecting of our tent, Swanage Campsite, taken 2013.

Then there was the weather - ah yes, the typical British August - rain. I have found it amazing how such a holiday resort reflects the mood of the weather. On a day when the sun was out, the beach was packed with sunbathers and the sea was dotted with swimmers. Cafes with outdoor seating lining the nearby quayside were busy trading, and if was difficult to find an unoccupied seat. There was a party atmosphere of universal cheer among the bustling crowd - and that despite a chilly north-westerly wind which kept the temperature in check. But on the next day a wet afternoon cleared the quayside of all the crowds, the staff at all the outdoor cafes were standing about idly, just chatting among themselves, the beach was deserted and only determined shoppers, with their young children screaming out of boredom, paced through the streets rapidly to complete their chores.

Then the day arrived when we had to decamp, in preparation for the journey home. Of all four mornings, it happened to rain hard as we attempted to dismantle the tent. Cold and wet, our judgement was impaired and we managed to tear the remainder of the outer door frame to the extent that the life of the tent was over, while at the same time the flattened structure collected pools of rainwater. Afterwards, while waiting at the bus stop heavy laden with baggage, an elderly lady said that it hadn't rained like this in the area for many weeks, and this downpour was out of the usual.

So how were we to analyse the holiday? A disaster or an adventure? I recall clearly of both of us bowing in prayer as we dedicated the break just before leaving home, asking God to be with us all the way. So was he with us? Or was he left standing on the platform as the train pulled out of our home station? I believe that God was with us all the way. To me, I saw this holiday as a mirror of our Christian lives.

I was told many years ago that the Cross of Christ was not easy. Salvation has never guaranteed an easy ride. With our sinful nature still within us, walking by faith is a constant battle, as Paul calls it, flesh versus Spirit, as narrated in Galatians 5:16-24. So in what way did I believe the holiday reflected the Christian life?

When we face temptation, this could be pictured as both the rain and the two uneasy nights in the tent. For example, that afternoon when it started to rain, where did the crowds go? Many either went home or back to their hotels. Others most likely to the pubs to drown out their sorrows or ease boredom, or to the Fun World amusement arcade, where coin gaming machines with money dangling precariously over the edge, tempting many to insert more coins, in the hope of that final push will send the whole pile of coins, even a £5 note, crashing down into the hands of the gambler. Those machines can be very addictive, and before becoming a Christian in 1973, I stood as if chained to those machines, hoping for a quick fortune. Then in the pubs, or bars, one can drink himself silly. Yet I know of many young Brits who fly to Mediterranean islands such as Ibiza for the very purpose of alcohol consumption, even drugs, for the sake of sea, sun, sand, and sex, by means of a getaway from the British wet Summer.

Jurassic Coastline at Swanage area, taken 2013.

Yet living by the Holy Spirit to me is far more rewarding and satisfying. The way of holiness leaves no morning hangover, neither vomiting, admission to a hospital or even ending up in a prison cell after a street brawl. Rather, walking in the Spirit is like hiking to a specific location and taking in views which leaves me gasping in wonder and whipping out the camera. Swanage is the gateway to the Jurassic Coast, with geological features which are unique in the world, making the area a World Heritage Site. Although we have rain, and plenty of it, there are times when the sun shines, and there were golden moments in our holiday when our personal enjoyment reached its peak. Such is like walking in the Spirit. Due to our own imperfections, holiness is not always an easy ride, but it also has heights which no pleasure of sin can match. As an old 1970s song goes:
I beg your pardon, but I've never promised you a rose garden.
Along with the sunshine, there's gotta be a little rain sometime.

A good description of holiness. As with our camping holiday in Swanage - an adventure, not a disaster.


Sunday, 11 August 2013

Did Jesus Act Childishly?

A typical Saturday afternoon. Dad stays at home to watch football on the telly while mother and toddler goes out to the local superstore to restock the pantry and the refrigerator with the coming week's groceries. Once the car is parked safely, both stroll through the aisles, passing a shelf stocked with all manner of confectionery, tempting candy bars, sweets and chocolates which had been purposely placed at the level intended to catch the child's attention. The youngster starts to tug at his Mum's sleeve, then protests loudly when she says "No!" with a firm tone.
Unfortunately, the child does not think to himself, Of course, how silly I was. Mum's budget is limited and food items which are best for my health and well being must be prioritised. Besides, confection is not only bad to my teeth but adds no nutritional benefit, leading, if unchecked, to obesity.
Rather, the child will start crying, possibly stamping his foot on the floor and causing an embarrassing scene at a public place. Maybe a passing shopper pitying the boy may think to herself, Come on, it's only a little treat, not that expensive, or takes the mother's side, Tut tut, what an ill-disciplined child! The bottom cause of the commotion was that the youngster did not get what he wanted and he made sure his mother was well aware.

When I first started to read the Gospels, one particular thing which Jesus did that struck me, so contrary to his image of "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild" was to curse the fig tree. It was early morning and holiday crowds in the city were beginning to stir. Jesus was hungry as he made his way down the hill to the city, and he passes a fig tree in full leaf which happened to have been beside the road. It was Spring and fig trees don't fruit until the Summer. So it must have looked rather surprising to his disciples when he began to comb through the branches hoping to find something to get his teeth into. When he found nothing to pick and eat, he said, in full earshot of his followers, Let no one ever eat fruit from you again! - Mark 11:12-14, Matthew 21:18-19.
A childish whim? Was this incident much different from the boy crying and stamping his feet in the superstore? Because Jesus didn't get what he wanted? The only difference between Jesus and the small boy was that the former had power to punish the tree while the child was powerless to take revenge on his mother other to create an embarrassing scene.

 Atheists and sceptics would love to get their teeth into this episode of Jesus' life to prove that all religion is bad. Richard Dawkins, the outspoken atheist and author of a bestselling book, The God Delusion which has sold millions across the western world, would use this as bona-fide proof that God's goodness is not what he seems to be, therefore his existence is highly questionable. After all, was it the fault of the tree itself that it could only bear fruit at a certain time of the year? Then to add to this, would the One who created the fig tree in the first place, and set its genome to function in a specific order, then curse it when the tree's health was at it's peak, and it was plain bad luck for it that it's Creator was hungry at the wrong time of year? In other words, as God and Creator, Jesus should have known better and found alternate ways to have breakfast without the need to condemn the tree to wither from the roots up. After all, Judas Iscariot had the money bag and plenty of bread and other fruit were available.

If I, as a believer, had difficulty in swallowing such an incident which seemed to have created a blip in Christ's love and goodness, how much more would the unbeliever, whether he was a die hard sceptic or a genuine doubter or even an interested enquirer? Or even among believers, thinking that their Lord is not always happy with their performance and his petulant, truculent character would have his believers punished for the smallest misdemeanour, with loss of salvation a possibility. Again, its worthwhile asking; if you were hungry in Israel, would you curse a fig tree, or any fruit-bearing tree at the wrong time of the year? Or would you simply go to a shop or market?

The incident of Jesus cursing a fig tree reminds me of one of his parables he spoke earlier in his ministry of Luke 13:6-9. It was about a barren fig tree planted in the middle of a vineyard. The landowner, who went regularly to the tree with a hope to collect its fruit, and finding it barren, eventually got cheesed off with it standing there in his field and taking up much of the soil's goodness. So he ordered it to be cut down, apparently leaving a stump with its roots still intact underground. It is an exact parallel to the withered fig tree, which dried up from the roots up. This would mean that the roots of both fig trees remain intact underground. They are the parts of the trees which people don't see.

When it comes to application of the trees to symbolise the nation of Israel, the meaning becomes clear. When Jesus was hungry on that road to the city, he was not being petulant - he was teaching his disciples a very important prophetic lesson - the dissolving of Israel as a nation sometime after the crucifixion, the resulting destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the scattering of the Jews across the globe. Since AD 70, when the armies of Rome under General Titus razed the city to the ground, the Jews wandered around the world with no homeland of their own for nearly two millennia. It was during this long period that the fig tree was merely a stump with its roots underground, out of view from the world - symbolising the nation of Israel, invisible around the world but actually still in existence.

Contrary to the atheist's great learning, the Bible is written in such a way that usually the unbeliever fails to understand it. Then not having understood it, he then dismisses it as such nonsense. He may even, for example, accuse the prophet Daniel of being high on the hallucinate drug LSD. One piece of Scripture which is shrouded in mystery, which for a while I did not understand, was Daniel chapter 7. But after prayer and reading, the veil was removed. Here he wrote of four beasts arising from the sea, here itself a symbol of non-Jewish nations. The first beast was a winged lion, the second a bear with three ribs in its mouth, the third was a four headed leopard and the fourth an unidentified beast with ten horns on its head.

The four beasts are interpreted as four kingdoms, one rising after the other - yet what were those kingdoms and what relevance have they to do with us - especially if their remains are long buried in the sands of the bleak desert? The key of understanding is the nation of Israel. Only when one is aware of the history of the Jews does one realise that the four kingdoms were Babylon, the Medes and Persian kingdom, the Greek and the Roman empires. All four ruled over Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel and the place where God has put his name there forever. But again, why was Babylon seen as a winged lion then having lost its wings, stood upright as a man? The same with the leopard, the Greek empire, having four wings and four heads?

The history of Israel provides the answer. The wings represent territorial expansion. The Babylon empire had conquered the Promised Land and Egypt; after this, its territory remain static, but stood proud as a man. It was the Greek empire, under Alexander the Great, which expanded its territory to cover the whole known world. Alexander died early in his life, in his thirties. After his demise, the kingdom was divided into four sub-kingdoms, each ruled by one of the four generals who saw themselves as the new kings, with one of them having direct rule over Jerusalem.

Then the bear, with three ribs in its mouth. This creature was the Mede/Persian empire, which too ruled over Jerusalem. This empire had conquered Babylon in 538 BC, but before then, Jerusalem was ruled by three Babylonian kings; King Nebuchadnezzar, who razed Jerusalem to the ground in 587 BC, his son King Avil-Maruduk, and his son King Belshazzar (Nebuchadnezzar's grandson) each ruled over Jerusalem before King Cyrus of the Mede/Persians took over. Those final three Babylonian kings were the three ribs in the bear's mouth of Daniel 7:5.

Then the unidentified fourth beast which had rule over Jerusalem, the Roman empire, its rule in full swing during the life of Jesus Christ. Upon the head of this creature, ten horns grew. History does not bear any record of ten kings co-reigning over the empire at the same time. In Daniel 7:23-25 an explanation is given of this phenomenon, describing another horn growing after the other ten and subduing three of them. If this 11th horn or king is the future Antichrist and his worldwide government, then these verses are about the future from this present point in time.

So very academic, but a very important truth here. Sometime in the future, unknown by any of us, the kingdom of Antichrist will rule over Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews. Israel plays an important role in unfulfilled future prophecy. Furthermore, one can only understand the many symbols recorded in the book of Revelation if seen in the light of Israel, as when the Lord Jesus returns to destroy the Antichrist, he will then reign as King of kings and Lord of lords in Jerusalem, which will then be not only the capital city of Israel, but the entire planet.

The cursing of the fig tree, a prophetic symbol of the nation of Israel, demonstrates the sheer power of God; his sovereignty, his omniscience and his omnipotence. The cursing of the fig tree was a symbol of the future state of Israel from after the crucifixion. Basically, what's this was all about was the omniscience of God. Nothing can take God by surprise! God knew absolutely every detail of history from eternity past. Absolutely nothing can happen without God 's foreknowledge. God is God. God is infinite. God is all-knowing. God cannot be outwitted.

That's why I believe in eternal security of the believer. You call upon God to save you and he saves you. Your name enters the Lamb's Book of Life (if by his foreknowledge it wasn't written therein already) - you are adopted into his family. You became a child of God. You became a new creation. You have a regenerated heart. That means you lose desire to pursue sin and develop a desire to pursue holiness. God becomes your joy, your hope, your encouragement, your strength. Therefore, would God allow you to lose your salvation sometime after all this? If you have turned from your faith or have committed a grave sin, and you have lost your salvation as a result, would God have foreknew this? If so, would he have gone through everything to save you? If he did not foreknow, then God wasn't omniscient after all, was he?

Whatever you may believe, we can be sure of one certainty:
God is not petulant.


In the coming week, access to a computer may be restricted. All comments will be welcomed and received but may be a delay before publication.
God bless.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Atheism: A Little Sympathy?

It was a matter of days before Jesus Christ was to be handed over to the Pharisees to go through a mock trial, which itself led to his standing before Roman governor Pontus Pilate, who will give the go-ahead for him to be crucified. Not that Pilate was able to charge him with any crime. He knew that Jesus was innocent. But he had to give in to the baying crowd below him, who were chanting, CRUCIFY! CRUCIFY! Pilate knew full well that it was out of envy that they wanted him executed. Yet Pilate had to go along with it, else his conflict with the baying crowd would have brought him to stand before the Emperor in Rome, to give an account for his inability to govern a turbulent Jewish capital.
Jesus Christ, so meek and so mild, so as he is presented to children to this day. During the start of the Christmas season, carols are sung across the nation about the helpless babe, lying in a manger fast asleep, without ever letting out a whimper that he needs to be fed and his diapers changed.

And yet we now see him one morning walking down the hill towards Jerusalem with his disciples, feeling hungry. After all, they do say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. He approaches a fig tree, in full leaf, and starts looking for figs he can get his teeth into. Surely, as the Son of Man, Jesus should have known that it was not the season for figs. It was Spring, figs don't ripen until the Summer. After going about his search, he steps back and making sure that all his followers were within earshot, loudly declares: May no one ever eat fruit from you again! And from that moment on, the tree began to wither from the roots up. (Mark 11:12-14.)
Atheists would love to pour scorn on this incident, as Jesus acting more like a spoilt child who couldn't get his way rather than the meek and mild character who wouldn't harm a fly. Then to add to this, Jesus turning to the crowds surrounding him and crying out: If any of you does not hate his father or mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26). Atheists would point out how scores of families were left weeping with distress as one of their sons or daughters walked out of the home to join a weird sect or cult, which poured scorn on mainstream churches. I should know, I have gotten involved with such a group towards the end of 1972, and dear Mum burst into tears when I told her that I believed God wanted me to join that group. Fortunately for all of us, I came across a stray magazine which on its front cover featured an article exposing the truth about this particular cult.
It seems to parallel the character of God in the Old Testament. Ferociously jealous, God would kill anyone who followed or worshipped a rival god. Atheists love to point this to us, omitting a small fact that all rival gods of the ancient Canaanites demanded babies and young children to be burned alive at their sacrificial altars. Well educated atheists tend to keep this side of the argument hidden, and accuse God of being a megalomaniac. Then again, a megalomaniac God he could well be, according to the atheist. After all, we mustn't forget about the guy who collected sticks for firewood on the Sabbath, Numbers 15:32-36. He was taken and put in a cell overnight. The next morning God ordered him to be stoned to death, his screams as the fuselage struck bringing distress to his wife and family, who afterwards had to fend for themselves without a breadwinner.
And in Numbers 11:1-3 we read of the Israelites complaining about their hardships as they are camped in the desert. God starts to send fire among those on the outskirts of the camp, burning them alive. God's quick temper is again revealed in Numbers 16, when Korah and his mates decided to return to Egypt, seeing that they were far better off there than at present in the desert.  Not just the adults, but their children and little ones, perhaps their grandchildren, too young to know what was going on, all perished by being swallowed up by the ground they were standing on, which gave way beneath them. So much about protecting them against being burnt to a crisp on a pagan altar.

Then there is the story of King Saul being commissioned by God through Samuel to slay all the Amalekites. In 1 Samuel 15:1-3 the task is set:
Samuel said to Saul, "I am the one the LORD sent to annoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"

The Amalekites were to be executed by King Saul's army for having fought against Israel to defend their territory soon after the Israelites had left Egypt, as recorded in Exodus 17. This occurred hundreds of years before Saul's day. In other words, the generation of Amalekites alive during Saul's reign were to pay the price for the sin their forefathers committed in ancient times. I suppose it is a bit like saying that I, my wife and daughters are to be executed because my Roman ancestors persecuted and killed Christians around AD 60.  In the  slaughter of the Amelekites, not only adult men but women and children would also be slain. So I can imagine a female toddler, less than two years old, sitting at the corner of the room, screaming aloud for her mother, mouth wide open, tears streaming down her face. Just her misfortune that she had Amalekite parents, both lying dead in the next room. Then a formidable Israeli soldier, attracted by the screams, enters the room and thrusts his sword through the tiny body. By God's orders.

Atheists will tell us that the Bible is by no means a standard to set our moral principles. Surely there is much truth in this. How would we feel if we were aware of innocent children slain today for something their great grandparents did many years earlier? Or killed because of an in-group/out-group divide, or a tribal or neighbour dispute. We are living in a day when perpetrators of child abuse are sent inside for many years as each case makes news headlines across the whole Media, TV and newspapers alike. Child abuse horrifies us, but back in Biblical times it was commanded by God, or as the atheists would put it, a dispute over religion as well as being outside the house of Israel.

According to the atheists, we like to make excuses, saying that - ah! We are no longer under the Old Covenant, as Jesus came to fulfill the Law. Now, according to Pauls' letters, and especially the one addressed to the Galatians, we are under grace, the Law having been fulfilled in Christ, therefore it is no longer our schoolmaster. Furthermore, grace unites both Jew and non-Jew under one roof, the Church, and the line dividing the two groups was taken away at the crucifixion. Yet it is tragic, really that there is an in-group/out-group mentality within our churches. Different nationalities, different denominations, social class within a congregation and different doctrines and opinions, and also age divide as well, even within a small group. The atheist looks at the church, and walks away, the earnest enquirer is not impressed and agnostics remain without knowledge, nothing there worth pursuing.

Even I, myself have been branded as likely to stand outside the door of Heaven and been told by the Lord, I never knew you, depart from me, ye who work iniquity, of Matthew 7:21-23 - just for believing in Once Saved Always Saved, and therefore not producing the spiritual fruit of the vine of John 15:1-8. I am also seen as one who takes sin lightly and not working out my salvation with fear and trembling as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12 - if living in fear of punishment and terrors of a lost eternity is the reason for Christian commitment, which certainly does not reflect the love of God, and any unbelieving observer will see this fear straight away! No wonder the unbelieving mock our faith. The atheist also see us squabbling - are we eternally secure in Christ as believers or not? Sermons are delivered, books written, radio broadcasts and televangelists spout out their opinions, and in modern times, the Internet is plastered with texts and videos from both sides, each blaming the other of adhering to the devil's doctrine. No wonder we look rather foolish to the atheist or agnostic, especially one who has a high degree of education.

So the atheist blames religion as a hard taskmaster which inspires fear of punishment, yet have no historical evidence to base itself on. The story of Creationism, of Adam and Eve, the Noachian Deluge, miracles done by Moses in Egypt, Balaam's talking donkey - as well as a baby boy born without a natural father are held as nonsense, and against science to the atheist - let alone the suffering of one man to atone for the sins of the whole world, which the atheist would find offensive. Higher morality can be achieved by mankind without the need of the Atonement, according to the unbeliever, proof of we don't slay innocent children in the name of religion like in the past, upholding their claim.

I as a Christian believer feel stuck in a corner, so to speak. Yes, I do feel a level of sympathy for the atheist who knows the Bible well. After all, how can we adore a God who ordered young innocent children slain just because they were of an out-group, that is, unfortunate to have Amalekite or non Israeli parents. Yet at the same time I can feel embarrassed, upholding recent young-Earth Creationism at the face of Plate Tectonics, giving us evidence that the continents of North and South America, for example, had taken millions of years to move to their present positions, if the rate of movement is about the same as the growth of a fingernail, which is about two centimetres a year.

Modern education is reaching higher and higher degrees, the Gospel based on recent Creationism is getting to look more and more foolish on a daily basis, the rank and file are bowing to the knowledge and opinions of the academics who are laughing at the Bible in louder tones. So confessing Jesus Christ as Saviour becomes even more challenging as time moves on.

Having said all that, God is my Saviour and Lord through faith in Jesus Christ and my desire is to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit. For no matter what the atheists think, what the skeptics believe, what the crowd thinks, the love of God will prevail, because I know that the supernatural birth of Christ, his death on a cross to atone for our sins, his resurrection and ascension and his future return to rule from Jerusalem are all solid-rock facts.

And here I rest my case.