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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Self Pity? No Way!

One of the benefits of working as a self-employed domestic window cleaner is that I can turn mere customers into good friends, as a result of a long-standing contract between a householder and myself, which involves turning up when I say I'll turn up, and doing a job to the level of their satisfaction. Such is the case of one ageing couple whose house I called at this week. This time round, one of their sons had returned from Australia to stay with his parents for three weeks, and it was their last full day in England before take-off the next day. With him was his wife and his two children. The customer also has a daughter living in San Francisco, and she too is raising her family there. Sometimes I wonder what is it about Britain that makes people want to live abroad.
Although I wished them farewell and to enjoy a pleasant flight home, I could not help but sigh within. Living in Australia, with its fine beaches, coral reefs, diversity of wildlife, a slower pace of living, and a pleasant climate to match, makes me wonder, if I were to compare myself with this young father, why I have missed out on some of the good things in life.
I knew the customer's offspring for many years, when the boy arrived home from school dolled up in his uniform -  including white shirt and tie. But unlike with me years earlier, he excelled, gained his A Levels and attended university and successfully graduated. With his degree, he settled down to a life as an accountant. With such credentials, Australia welcomed him with open arms, even though his visa took a long while to come through, as the USA also welcomed the equally well-educated sister. While I cleaned their windows, I was able to watch their often-mischievous children run around the house, engage in play and watch their favourite children's programmes on their grandparent's telly. 
All this reminded me that there were times I wished I was able to emigrate. Given the choice, Australia would have been first, followed possibly by southern California, particularly San Diego. Back in 1994, I was even considering a long-stay spell in Israel, as a result of working as a volunteer at a Christian Conference Centre near Haifa, owned and operated by the Church of England. That didn't work out either, as I had to return home to England just after three months - a direct result of being booted out by the rest of the team, a diversity of English, a Scot, and three New Zealanders, including a married couple. But not a Jew among them, despite being in their country. Then again, I guess there is something about the English character which never appealed - an island culture of rabid nationalism, love of Royalty and the pageantry pomp that goes with it, social class, contempt for foreigners, Empire-oriented, power elitism, and the self-conceived divine right to police the rest of the world. Little wonder how relieved I always felt when England was knocked out of the World Cup international football tournament. I would dread the national arrogance arising from such a victory.

I consider myself fortunate when, at 46 years of age, I met Alex in church in 1998 and married less than a year later. Before then, as a bachelor, after I was dumped in 1972, no female took any interest in me at all. In fact, I found this rather mystifying, as I'm sure I wasn't that ugly. Rather, I was subject to teasing by any group of girls into their late teens or early twenties, whenever our paths crossed. I became aware that there was something wrong with my accent when talking, this particular area in my life I wasn't allowed to forget, as I was often mimicked by older men during my early days at work in the late 1960s. I believe it was this accent defect that had put many potential girlfriends off, made worse by a lack of proper education and no professional status. I would go as far to say that having had a professional career might have been enough to absolve my odd accent.
The wonderful feeling of love and acceptance my wife has always shown has made a massive impact in my life. From this I have come to discover and learn how to love a person so devoted to me. As a Christian believer, the answer to that was not elusive. I wanted to love her in the same way that Jesus Christ loves his church, an agape love which covers any faults or shortcomings. Now my wife lies ill in hospital, and according to the medical team, the cause might be from a spinal infection, however, this is yet to be proved. At the time of typing and posting of this blog, she is waiting to be transferred to a neurological ward at one of the country's top hospitals for proper diagnosis and, I hope, further and perhaps rapid treatment.
On one early morning this week I recall having a little cry as I sat alone in an otherwise empty house. In a way that has done me some good, as emotions are concerned, if I hit bottom, the only way is up. But adding further insult to injury, I had to cancel our holiday (vacation) in Crete that was meant to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Believe me, I feel gutted. This was something I never ever done before, and claiming on the insurance will be something new to me as well. The only panacea to help alleviate the horrible feeling is to take the week off work anyway, and try to occupy my spare time on a leisure activity such as gym, sauna, even a day trip to London, blogging and Internet browsing - and then making my way to the hospital to spend the late afternoon and evening at my wife's bedside.
Strange it seems, but lately I have seen far more dating couples in the street or in the train, petting or exchanging words of endearment, than when Alex was up and about. Also there seems to be a lot more 'planes hovering up in the sky, waiting in a stack to land at nearby London Heathrow Airport. Then, as I sat in the train on my way to visit Alex, at one of the stations is a huge advert board of a British Airways aeroplane, waiting to be taxied on to the runway. It is as if providence was deliberately teasing me, like a mischievous child holding up something he snatched from my hand, and yelling Nah! Nah! Nah-nah! Nah! -as he held it up high in full view and runs away. Then not to mention my good church friend away in Africa, and customers heading to the airport, even broadcasting over the radio - and scores of healthy, middle class folk enjoying life to the full, especially taking early Autumn breaks after the kids return to school. 
In the morning, the Sunday we were meant to head for the airport, I shall be heading to my church to thank and to praise God for his goodness, love and mercy. If the prophet Habakkuk can do it so can I. He wrote this:
Thou the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crops fail and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour, The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:17-19.
It is interesting to note that the prophet's willingness to praise and thank God during adverse times was of his own choice. "I will be joyful in God" - he says, because of his knowledge of God's salvation. There is something about knowing the Lord which is above comprehension. Sure, this week I had a little cry one morning, yet just two days later, also early morning, I felt my heart rise as I read the 4th chapter of Romans, and I couldn't help but look up to the sky with a smile. Here Paul was using Abraham as an example of imputed righteousness from heaven given to all those who believe in their hearts that God rose Jesus from the dead. But there is more to this, I think. Habakkuk's secret was that he knew that the righteousness he had was imputed, and as a result, led to his belief in Eternal Security. Coming to think of it - Eternal Security, or OSAS if you prefer to think of it as such, is perhaps a major bulwark against adversity, allowing the sufferer to thank and praise the Lord, knowing about the eternal promise reserved for him in Heaven.

Dear brother or sister in Christ, if you are taught by your church, your literature, or from any other source that you cannot accept Eternal Security of the Believer as Biblical truth, then let me encourage you to read John chapter 10, Romans chapter 4 and chapter 8, and allow such beautiful words to nourish your spirit. Don't allow mere men, no matter how academic or well educated they may be, to block your assurance in the Lord.
While in hospital, Alex assured me of her "gut belief" in God raising Jesus Christ from the dead. She then referred to him as Lord. What more do I need for assurance that Alex my dear wife is eternally saved and secure in the Lord, whether she will go with me to church or not. Imputed righteousness - now that's something no trip to Crete, or even to Australia, can match! 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

"HE IS RISEN!!!" Then Silence...

I can never forget one Saturday afternoon during 1996 at Leicester Square (pronounced Lester) in the heart of Theatreland at the West End in London. Perhaps equivalent to the Broadway in New York, it was not out of place to witness a public speaker standing on a soapbox addressing a crowd of listeners. He sounded American, and he seemed stuck for an answer when among the listening audience, a Muslim called out;
In what way is your Jesus Christ any better or more superior than our prophet Mohammad?

I watched the orator as he stood there, desperately racking his brains to come out with a convincing answer. To him, the two original religious leaders were both influential enough to draw followers for generations to come. Both groups fought in the past to spread and defend their faith. Therefore it is concluded that both founders had valid, true-to-life teachings which made an impact to their listeners and followers. Yet I began to feel something stirring within me, and it grew so strong that I was practically unable to restrain myself. Then the words exploded out of my mouth:

The whole area fell into silence. I thought, whoops, I better get out of here. Fortunately, that wasn't difficult, as there is always a crowd of pedestrians sauntering at a leisurely pace past the Empire theatre. It was easy to melt into the crowd as I made my way over Charing Cross Road, heading for a Travel Bookshop located near Covent Garden. Yet despite my trembling over what could have happened, I felt a wave of joy in my soul. The reason for this was that this could have only been the work of the Holy Spirit.

There are times like this when the Holy Spirit within rises to the occasion. And there are plenty of other times when he doesn't, or he does not seem to, or he seems to be totally absent in a given situation. Such seemed to be the case at a hospital ward in Reading, a large town more than forty miles west of Central London. It is here where I visit my wife Alex every evening without fail. Her bed is among five others, three of these occupied by long-stay female patients who are into their eighties. If there was a place where I feel so helpless, I think this is it. At a nearby single-bed ward across the corridor another octogenarian lies in her bed, her occasional screaming drifting through the building, as if her time had come and she is facing Judgement. Back in Alex's ward, one dear lady with Alzheimer's cries out, Nurse, Nurse, Please nurse, Please a member of staff is busy attending another patient or is carrying out a task in the corridor. Every day one of her offspring comes in to visit. She has a son and two daughters, all middle-aged, and some grown-up grandchildren. Yet, at times when she is by herself, her cries of desperation can be heartbreaking to hear, as well as thoroughly annoying to the female in the next bed, herself into her eighties.
One of the striking effects of this hospital atmosphere is the total lack of praise and thanksgiving to God, or the absence of hope of eternity with the Lord in Heaven. There used to be a time when the hospital chaplain called regularly, especially on Sundays. I recall a motorcycle accident having put me in hospital for a few days in 1976, and I clearly recall the hospital chaplain chatting to me while confined in bed. At present, according to my knowledge, in all the hours I spent at my wife's bedside, no chaplain had ever called - if he did, Alex would have said so at once as soon as I walked through the doors. Someone to offer hope, easily recognisable by his clerical garb and white dog collar. At least all the patients would have known who he was.
A simple message - that Jesus Christ died on the cross to atone for their sins, and believing in their heart that God had raised him from the dead, thus confessing him as Lord - would offer peace and hope in the twilight of their lives. I have wondered, and I felt bothered too, on why I was so powerless to help them in the ward. Especially as I was leaving to return home one late evening, and two of the octogenarians, one directly opposite the other, both reached out to me, begging me to help them get out of bed. Not having the authority to lift a finger, I was helpless, I could not say anything, and I walked out of the ward under a raft of guilt and impotence.
This experience has made me wonder how Peter or Paul would have reacted given such a situation. One thing I am aware of - that with one of those two apostles, all the patients in the ward would have benefited, most likely in both physical and spiritual healing. So why the big difference between them and such like myself?
I recall one house group meeting in the 1980s where a verse in the Gospel of John was discussed. It read, He that believeth in me, the works that I do he shall do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father (14:12 KJV.)
We tried so hard to convince ourselves that this verse must be true, as Jesus himself had promised it. But as we reflected on ourselves, each one of us knew well enough that wasn't the case. Jesus had healed many. In forty years of being a Christian, I never healed anyone. The same with casting out demons, a ministry, I have to admit, I would shy away from. Raising someone from the dead? Jesus did that, at least twice. Peter did too. But so far I hadn't. Performing other miracles? No, not that either. Yet I have read several stories of miracles performed in our day. One case which struck me was one performed by a Dutch female minister, Corrie Ten Boom. One day she was by a riverbank, teaching an outdoor group of boys about the miracle of the fishes caught in Peter's net, after the resurrection of Jesus. One of the boys sneered at the reality of the miracle. Just as handy that there happened to be a pail nearby. Corrie took the bucket, immersed it into the river close to the sneering lad, then pulled the bucket out of the water and emptied it of fish, so many that they formed a heap right in front of the startled youth! The lad grew up to become a noted evangelist.

Corrie's miracle is typical in conveying a message, and it's the same kind as those found in the Bible. Nowadays we tend to see the church as a spiritual alternative to the national health service. Only this week I received news from a good friend of mine away on a mission in Africa. His updating had stories of physical healing, forgiving of past disputes, even "generational healing" - meaning to be set free from the consequence of parental or ancestral sins, which is advocated by many Charismatic churches. But most important, out in Africa, people believed in Jesus as the Messiah and were saved. And by becoming acquainted with the Bible, I have detected a strong link between this message of salvation and miracles, including physical healing, something which seemed to have been overlooked by many Charismatic churches in favour of healing in a sense of a spiritual health service.

The whole of the ministry of Jesus Christ before his death, was centred on who he was. Every miracle performed by him was meant to be the backing proof of who he was: the Christ. In John's Gospel, we have Jesus telling his doubting onlookers that if they don't believe in him for who he was, then at least believe for the sake of his works (John 10:37-38.) The whole of the 11th chapter of John's Gospel is devoted to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In verse 42, Jesus gave the very reason behind the miracle, that those who witnessed it would believe that God sent him. In verse 45, the ultimate goal behind the miracle was achieved: many of the Jews believed in him, that is, that he was the Messiah. In verses 47 and 48, a council was held by the unbelieving Pharisees, on the basis that if they let Jesus perform his miracles, the whole world would turn to him, and they with the rest of the nation will be seized by the Romans for their betrayal.

The first miracle done after the ascension of the resurrected Jesus was the healing of a cripple (Acts 3:1-10.) When the crowds who saw the miracle wondered, Peter gave the reason for the miracle - to persuade the onlookers that the Jesus they had crucified is indeed the Christ, and in verse 19, Peter told them to repent, that is, to change their minds from thinking that the one they crucified was an impostor, to believing that he is the Christ, which was parallel to the command given in his earlier sermon delivered in Acts 2.

The debate over the healing of the cripple spills into the fourth chapter. Here, the Sanhedrin held a council over the healing of the cripple. In verse 4, we are told that the miracle of the cripple healed and the reason for it, led to a further five thousand witnesses of the miracle to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Christ, and they were saved.

Corrie Ten Boom's miracle of the bucket of fishes, parallel to the net of fishes recorded in John 21:6, was meant to bring the sneering youngster to salvation. Her miracle worked. Not only did the boy believe that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, but he grew up to become an evangelist, with many more believing as a result of hearing his testimony. And what about my own answer shouted to the audience in London? Was this the work of the Holy Spirit? I believe it was. And the result? I think that from the answer I gave, someone, somewhere, believed, and was saved. I don't know who, but God does.

How I wish for the Holy Spirit would manifest himself in the hospital wards, perform a miracle and save those elderly patients. And I much sooner see this coming from someone other than myself, than not to see it at all.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Trusting God in a Crisis.

What is it like when an illness, serious enough to confine the sufferer to a hospital bed, disrupts the normal routine of daily life? Furthermore, it is not me who is unwell, but rather a wife, lover, partner and soul-mate who has always been there for the last fourteen years of married life. And suddenly, the house is empty and quiet, bar my own presence. Visiting Alex in hospital in the evenings following a full day's work makes the day long and tiring - not to mention daily train fares draining our resources; but I cannot go through a single day - workday or weekend - without spending some time at Alex's hospital bedside.

At the time of writing, the medical team has not been able to diagnose the problem. Her symptoms are severe backache followed by her loss of ability to stand up, let alone walk. At first, our G.P. thought it was just a strained back, and prescribed some medicated gel to be rubbed in at the affected site. When the condition failed to improve, but rather deteriorated, I called for the medical doctor to pay us a home visit, as Alex was no longer able to make her own way to the surgery. The doctor at first was reluctant, as he thought her ailment was not serious enough to warrant a visit. But by pleading with him to make the call, he finally agreed to visit the next day. When he arrived, a quick examination convinced him that she should go straight to hospital, where she was admitted.
At the hospital, MRI and CT scans were carried out on her spine, but have found nothing amiss with either her spinal cord or vertebrae. This is in itself good news, as had there been a problem, it might have been too late to operate, so the nurse informed me, as there might have been a risk of permanent paralysis. Instead, a sample of her blood had been dispatched to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for analysis if my wife has an undiagnosed disease. The two weeks it could take before the result comes back would make the wait seemingly long.
Through out these past two to three weeks, I felt vulnerable, afraid, worried and fear of the future, these combinations of thoughts and emotions causing depression, intense at times. These fears were a reminder of a series of identical dreams during sleep I had in the past months when Alex's health was okay. Those were dreams of myself returning to a life as a single person, even moving back into my former bachelor pad I lived in for more than twenty years before I met my future spouse. Those dreams were identical with each other, or very nearly so. Prophetic dreams? A hint of permanence was suggested in all of them. They reminded me of the dreams I had in the early 1990s that I found myself in the United States, and also another dream, a few years later while still free and single, that I was near Haifa in Israel with an unrecognised female partner, looking across the Bay of Acre. In 1995, I did backpack across the USA, from New York to San Francisco, and in the year 2000, Alex and I stood near the summit of Mt. Carmel overlooking the Bay of Acre as we celebrated our first wedding anniversary.
Last Sunday, I testified of these dreams at our church open meeting. Recently I received a phone call from someone in our congregation informing me that at present, I'm very vulnerable to the devil's tricks, and therefore I should resist the fear these dreams have brought. If those dreams were to be a lie, then this should be a source of relief and assurance that we will be together as normal again. But having already experienced what looked to be prophetic dreams fulfilled in real life, I admit my confusion over the source of those dreams - were they from God? Or was the devil playing games with me?
I accept that those dreams might have been a warning from God, to prepare me for what is to come. On the other hand, they may be from an evil spirit, or looking from a scientific point of view, they could be nothing more than a psychological hunch. But there is one truth I can assure myself. God is in charge, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth, risen, is Lord. As I always assure Alex whenever doubt or fears arise, every evil spirit is more terrified of God than we are of them. Even Satan must get permission from God before he can act, as the first two chapters of the Old Testament book of Job so affirms. If those dreams were from the Adversary, then their ability to act were the result from God's permission, and only because we know that all things work for the good for those who love God, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28.)
Satan tried to tempt Job to curse God for his sudden misfortune. Chapters one and two gives an amazing insight of what goes on in Heaven, in God's realm, where the Adversary has access. When the Lord pointed out Job as an example of God's own righteousness imputed into him, Satan threw down the gauntlet to put God's own righteousness to the test, by removing the shield of protection surrounding the man and making him subject to the most testing trials a man can endure; not only the loss of all his sons, but the loss of all his possessions, and soon afterwards falling ill almost to the point of death, and suffering physically. Then when he was in such a state, even his wife encouraged him to curse God and die.
But Job was well familiar in his relationship with God as depicted in Romans 8:28, and he even declared with enough conviction that in his flesh he shall see God. In Job 19:25-27 he says:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
If this wasn't a promise of Eternal Security of the believer, then what is? This is the wonderful truth of imputed righteousness. The fact that Jesus will return and he will stand on the summit of the Mount of Olives, facing Jerusalem, is a cast iron fact promised throughout the whole Bible, and particularly highlighted in Zechariah 14:3-4. Job saw this as a fact. But equally, he assures his friends in the tent with him that just as his redeemer will one day stand on the earth (the Mount of Olives) - so likewise in the flesh he will see God, that is, in a resurrected body like the one Jesus has now. The point is; his salvation was as sure to him as the coming of the Lord. No ifs or buts. Imputed righteousness, God's own righteousness in him, as in all of us today who believe. Once saved always saved!

This is the kind of faith which acts as a bulwark during times of testing and being subject to so much depression, that I could easily crawl under the carpet. To know the love of God, his goodness and mercy. And no matter how bad things might go, I'm utterly convinced that God is on our side and his goodness cannot be denied. After all, what is this power of love that sent his Son to the cross, to redeem such as I who is but dust and ashes?

Her present time spent in hospital has allowed me to reflect on our fourteen years of marriage. This included all the foreign holidays we had taken together - Rhodes, Kos, Sicily, Malta - all Mediterranean islands, together with Lanzarote of the Atlantic Canary Islands, along with Israel on our first anniversary. Alex back then so wanted to visit the Holy Land, and see for herself the places Jesus was so familiar with. At the Garden of Gethsemane, east of the Old City of Jerusalem, I recall her suddenly slipping to her knees and praying, giving thanks to God for his goodness, and particularly for giving us to each other. I got to admit, I stood there and wished to have moved on, as I was so familiar with this particular site going back to my first visit as a backpacker in 1976, and having visited the area so many times since. Then that extremely rare moment we both stood alone inside the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus' burial, and normally crowded with visitors and pilgrims, and she knelt at the tiny altar and gave thanks to God there. 

Garden of Gethsemane
I also recall a year earlier, on our honeymoon at the Greek island of Rhodes, Alex and I strolling alone at the shingle beach, and later into the night we looked up into the black, starry sky and watched shooting stars streaking across the sky as they burnt out before hitting the earth. And the countless times we were alone, embracing each other tightly as the waves of the Mediterranean lapped gently near our feet.
And when we were at home, she was always there for me, as God originally intended, as a "helper meet for me." As with all marriages, there is no such thing as perfection this side of the grave, we had our ups and downs along with disagreements. But she was always there for me. So finding myself alone in the house day after day for weeks on end is quite a shock to the system!
But God is with us, and this makes quite a difference! Last night, after returning home from visiting in hospital, I had a long conversation over Skype with a lifelong friend whom I met at a London college in 1969. He being much stronger emotionally than I ever was, with wisdom of life's experiences to match, I felt assured when he said without doubt that Alex and I will be together at home as normal. I am sure that God can, and does use anyone he chooses to deliver a message.
Proverbs 18:10 reads:
The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.
It's good to know that during troubled times, there is a strong tower we can run into and take refuge.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Dust and Ashes

Let's imagine this scenario, which is based on real-life experience: A friend of mine invites me to a party, but on one condition - that all men invited must turn up in formal dress. I thought, "Fair enough" - and so when the evening arrives, I dress in a pinstripe suit, white shirt and dark blue tie. Then I head off to the party.
Of course, I'm free and single, no girlfriend, let alone having a soul-mate. A pretty young female seem to be giving me the eye as she was talking to another female whose boyfriend was sitting next to her. The music played, the thump, thump, thump of drumbeat causing the glass of sherry to vibrate slightly. At last, after some hesitation, I approach the lass to introduce myself.
"Yes, I am Frank, and I live alone at an apartment on Such-and-such Road." I said.
"That's amazing!" She responds. "What are your interests?"
"Travel and photography." I replied.
"Travel? Do you go on package holidays (vacations) or on escorted tours abroad, or stay here?" (in this country.)
"Both, but when abroad, I don't generally go for either package or escorted. Instead, I backpack."
"Wow! You are brave. Where have you visited?"
"Much of Europe, including France, Spain, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Germany."
"You've been around."
"That's only a start!" I responded with a touch of boasting. "I also been to the Middle East, where I worked as a volly in Israel for two months, before staying at a backpackers in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem for a full month, making three months overall."
"When was that?"
"1994. Then a year later, I backpacked the USA, with the Grand Canyon and the city of San Diego being the two greatest highlights of that trip."
"Did you do all this on your own?"
"Sure! At least there's no quibbling on deciding where to visit or what to do. Then two years later, in 1997, I did the Big One - Round the World, stopping at Singapore, backpacked the East Coast of Australia, then flew over the Pacific to California, landing at Los Angeles. All on a special cheap deal" *
"You must be a professional, to earn an income that pays for such traveling experience!" The lady sounded impressed. "What do you do for a living?"
This was the question I was dreading being asked so soon before any friendship, let alone relationship, even got off the ground. But deception was not my thing. I much prefer to tell the truth, no matter how much the truth may hurt.
"I'm a self employed window cleaner. I clean domestic windows of housing estates as a thriving business." I answered, while trying to keep my embarrassment as concealed as much as my facial expression allowed.
There was a moment of silence. Then she got up from her seat and called into the kitchen.
"Maisie! Do you need any help?"
I decided to make an excuse to the host, apologising to him that I felt a bit under the weather. It's the same old story. The pretty female wanted someone with a good university degree and spending his working hours at a desk, pushing a pen. After all, how would she feel among her posh friends that she is dating a window cleaner? The fact that I have a rich travel experience indicates a good income, most likely adequate enough to support both of us. But that wasn't the point. In our culture professional status matters.

Grand Canyon, 1995
This sort of thing makes me wonder why a group of youths in the street pose such a threat, or why rival football fans are segregated in the stadium, or why there are some who are passionate patriots. Or in my case, enjoy boasting of my endeavours. To others, it's owning and driving a fast sports car. The feeling of low self-esteem, particularly among the poorly educated, students who fail to make it to uni, and among those who depend on State benefits, unable to find employment. Businesses here in the UK, especially among the restaurant trade, prefer to hire foreign labour for low-paid jobs, than to employ a home-grown Brit, as the official explanation is that a hungry person from abroad is willing to work much harder than one from welfare taking on a job with lower pay. Or could it be, as I think, that such a worker would not want to be seen washing dishes, or even fixing a pipe or electric cable while another man in a posh suit walks in or drives by, making him feel "inferior" academically? Let's face it, Education has been an important issue for our Government, Tory or Labour, over the past fifteen or sixteen years, which seems to reflect the level of snootiness among school leavers against engaging in manual apprenticeships or to work in restaurant kitchens.
Inferiority complex has always been an issue with me during the days of being an adult single. Maybe this is where my love of travel arose. Not that I looked upon travel as a mere psycho-builder or emotional healer. I always had, and still have a genuine curiosity and desire to see this big, wide planet we call Home. Yet, on the other hand, as a bachelor, I developed "travel snobbery" against package and escorted trips, for "real travel" where I quickly learnt to take care of myself while away from home and in a far-away country. This has helped build my self esteem to combat the disastrous era of school tie failure of the 1960s.
At present, with my wife Alex ill in hospital with a back malady, and the medical team is yet to find out exactly what it is; fear of uncertainty and of the unknown holds sway. Alone at home and with our coming trip to Crete to celebrate our anniversary cancelled, surely I would be forgiven for feeling down, depressed, angry or frustrated. Yet, soon after cancelling the holiday, at the station platform, I could not help but praise and thank God for his goodness and mercy, after realising how much he loves us.
What is the secret of this thanksgiving and praise to God in an adverse situation? Believing in the Lord Jesus as Saviour? Yes, this plays a part. Being filled with the Holy Spirit? Yes, this too is important. But my love for God and longing for his presence and his government in my life stems from the real truth about myself - an expression Abraham used on himself - that I am but dust and ashes.

Dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27) - what a contrast to the celebrity mentality which dominate our land, along with emphasis on social class, profession, education level, wealth, and national superiority with echoes of past Empire. I guess we all like to be respected by others to a greater or lesser degree. To be held in honour, to be looked up to, or at least to be treated as equal with others around. In our nation of conservative English, the vast majority adore the Royal Family. Even among the "lesser Royals" Prince William, second in line to the throne after his father Charles, would have caused a national scandal had he dated and married the daughter of a plumber. Although marrying into an aristocratic family, at least this provided an acceptable concession other than marrying a daughter of another royal. A plumber's offspring would never do. Suppose Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, went down with the same symptoms as my wife Alex, losing her ability to stand and walk, not only would she be admitted in one of the nation's top private hospitals, but newspaper and TV news bulletins would place her condition as the main national headline, above the news of thousands killed in strife-torn Syria or any other country afflicted by war and disease.

It looks to me that seeing myself as dust and ashes by comparison to God's holiness forfeits my human rights as well of a sense of self-worth or importance. Yet Abraham must be one of the greatest men to have ever lived, short of Jesus Christ himself, having fathered not just one but several nations. Another example of true self evaluation was by a young shepherd's boy, David. After killing the giant Goliath, and having received praise from the women of Israel for killing tens of thousands as opposed to the King's thousands, he approached the reigning King Saul in a cave with a protest that he was just a flea (1 Samuel 24:14, 26:20.) The flea is the smallest living thing visible to the naked eye. If the wonderful science of microbiology was available in his day, David would have most likely referred to himself as a virus.

I feel there is something liberating about giving myself the true evaluation in God's point of view. It means that I realise that it is through the grace of God that I am alive, that I breathe, eat and digest food, have good health, and have my being. Freedom from trying to be something that I'm not, just to impress others and win respect, if not admiration. Seeing myself as dust and ashes frees me from the need to buy and drive a fast car, or to climb the property or career ladders. We live as tenants in a rented property (i.e. public housing, as opposed to a private landlord.) Since our real home is in Heaven, I don't mind having this status. Rather, I'm grateful to God that we both have a roof over our heads.

It also looks to me that seeing myself as I really am before a holy God is inextricably linked to the truth of eternal security of the believer, or the rather unpopular doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved, or OSAS. To see myself as dust and ashes, as Abraham did, can I really kid myself in thinking that I could lose my salvation if I commit certain sins or not hold faithful? Sure enough, there are many Scripture passages exhorting us as believers to live holy lives to glorify God in the sight of others e.g. Matthew 5:16, but to kid myself that I have the power of choice to either keep or forfeit my salvation, given to me as a free gift paid by Christ's atonement on the cross, is deceptive.

Abraham referred to himself as dust and ashes after God had declared him righteous in Genesis 15:6, most likely after a good number of years. Therefore, if he believed that it was God's own righteousness imputed into him by judicial acquittal through faith, then seeing himself as dust and ashes leaves nothing he could have contributed towards his redemption.

With my dear wife confined to a hospital bed, I can't help feeling lonely at home, and prone to deep depression (as my Facebook friends would tell you!) - along with the feeling of helplessness, the fear of the unknown, an uncertain future, even lamenting over the loss of an exciting trip to Crete. But in retrospect, seeing myself as a holy God sees me: Dust and ashes, or a flea, puts everything in the right perspective. I am alive. So is Alex. We live because of God's goodness, love and mercy. This helps me to see the experiential reality of Romans 8:

For we know that all things work for the good of those who love God, and are called according to his purpose....For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

Wow! Thanks, Paul. With a promise like that, it is certainly worth looking at myself as a flea rather than a celebrity.


* Thanks to an agreement made between British Airways and Qantas Airlines in 1996, offering extra cheap RTW airfare deals.


Sunday, 1 September 2013

My wife ill in Hospital

For the past few days my wife Alex was admitted into hospital after I called for a doctor to pay a home visit. A week previously, she went down with a bad back, severe enough to weaken her legs to the point she could not stand up on her own, let alone walk. When I called the ambulance and took her to the Accident & Emergency department of our nearest main hospital, she was discharged after only up to a couple of hours of examination, with the verdict that she had a sprained back (see last blog.)
Then, about three days later, her condition worsened, and since I had to work to keep the bills paid, I found an opportunity to cry out to the Lord, literally, in the nearby woods. I cried for the Lord Jesus to help us. Soon afterwards, the feeling of fear, anxiety, uncertainty and of the unknown began to lift, like an overcast sky breaking up and the sun beginning to shine through. That evening, I felt the need to go to my local General Practitioner's surgery to ask if a home visit by a GP can be arranged, as Alex was unable to stand up, let alone walk to the surgery (we don't drive or have a car.)
When the doctor phoned us that evening, he spoke to us as though we were wasting his time. But by pleading for him to come and visit, he finally agreed to make the call the next day. When he did call that afternoon, he took one look at my wife on the sofa and basically said, "Hospital for you."
She was admitted, with the intention to have a MRI scan, to find out exactly what the problem was. Due to other patients admitted with life-threatening conditions, her scan was postponed for the next day - Friday - but this too was postponed over the weekend until Monday (tomorrow from the time of this posting.) Meanwhile, my poor wife is lying in bed at a hospital ward under heavy pain-killing sedation.
My feelings of anxiety and grief is tempered by believing the verse I have always talked about - Romans 8:28 -
For all things work for the good for those who love God, and are called according to his purpose.
Then I recall a song we used to sing at our church services:
The Lord is like a strong tower. The righteous run into it, and they are saved. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
I find such scriptures not only encouraging, but saving me from going hysterical. You see, we were meant to fly to Crete later this month to celebrate our anniversary. And this holiday is fully paid for. So it is no surprise that Alex wants to go as much as I do. However, if God was to approach me and ask,
"Do you still want to go to Crete with your wife's health uncertain?"
My answer, having given a lot of thought, would be;
"No, her health comes first."
This is how I feel for my one and only. As she is in hospital and I'm alone in otherwise an empty house, my hope in the goodness and mercy of the Lord Jesus is all I have. I want my wife back. Compared to this, everything else, including holidays, becomes as nothing.
Tomorrow (Monday 2nd Sept) she should have her scan. If so, finding out what the problem is and directing into the right course of treatment would lift away a very heavy burden - the fear of the unknown.
Romans 13 is about submitting to the Government authorities, because there is no authority which has not been established by God. Therefore this must also apply to hospitals. These too have been established by God, and I'm very glad about that. Therefore, if the scan is postponed yet again, it would not be my spirit to rant and rage, but more in line with pleading for them to find what the problem is and apply the correct treatment.

Because most of my spare time is spent by my wife's bedside, normal blogging has been put aside for now. So I wish God's blessing to all my readers and my followers, and for so much of your support and interest in what I write. I should be back soon, God willing.