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Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Dark Tunnel

Have you ever compared a holiday or vacation to that of your Christian life? Sometimes a short break can become a miniature reflection of a particular era in your life, maybe the whole of your life itself. Looking back on my backpacking days, I recall visiting Israel in 1976 and 1993, both of these trips included an experience of archaeology which is quite unlike the normal study of long-disused ruins of ancient buildings. For this particular relic is about 2,700 years old and it is still fully functional. Furthermore, it is mentioned twice in the Old Testament, and it was a site known by Jesus Christ and his disciples. Recently I was reading another blog on this site which gave inspiration for this blog: a Bible study article which touched on 2 Chronicles 32:30:

It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channelled the water down to the west side of the City of David. He succeeded in everything he undertook.
See also 2 Kings 20:20.
Yes, the relic referred to here is now known as Hezekiah's Tunnel, a still fully functional conduit cut into solid rock and snaking for 512 metres in a rough "S" shaped route under the southern end of Mount Ophel.

King Hezekiah was a smart, God-fearing guy. Around 700 BC his kingdom of Judah was under threat from the Assyrians, then the most powerful nation in the world. So from 701 BC, he commissioned a conduit to be dug into solid rock to divert the water from the spring of Gihon into the west side of the City of David of ancient Jerusalem, therefore cutting off the city's only water supply from the reach of the surrounding enemy.

The tunnel was open to the public on both years I was in Israel. In 1976, while staying at a hotel in West Jerusalem, I became friends with a young street seller of trinkets, which included some genuine ancient pottery which I purchased. He invited me to stay at his home in the East Jerusalem district of Silwan (Arab name for Siloam) where he and his younger brother lived with their parents, almost right on top of the Spring of Gihon. While my new friend went off to the streets to sell his wares, his younger brother offered me a trip into the tunnel for a small fee, despite that it's free to anyone to venture in as long as they provide their own form of illumination. With the purchase of two lengths of wax candles, this was one adventure which I was very keen to experience.
We both waded in ankle deep water through this rather claustrophobic but magnificently engineered structure, using only candlelight, as there were no modernisation to this ancient conduit. Roughly in the middle, the ceiling dropped to just five feet nine inches in height, and being 5'11" tall, it meant I had to crouch for several metres to get through. Throughout, it was I who led, rather than my friend, as I suppose, done purposely to enhance my experience. The walk takes a better part of an hour to complete one way.
The 1993 experience was more tense, as the water was chest-deep throughout, except just before the tunnel ends at the Pool of Siloam, where the floor dropped, making the water deep enough for me to swim out. The second visit was the result of hoping to re-visit the family who were so hospitable seventeen years earlier. But by then the parents have died, the younger brother who took me into the conduit had graduated to become a medical doctor in New York, and the older one was elsewhere in Jerusalem, still selling his trinkets. The house too had gone, along with many other Arab homes in that part of the world. I was amazed how things had changed in just a few years. Nearby, another young man who was selling candles offered to accompany me, a lone tourist, into the tunnel for a fee. Again I led, and where we had to crouch through the low roof section, the water was almost touching our chins. I was feeling triumphant as we saw the daylight appear, and I swam out into the Pool of Siloam, the spot where Jesus sent the blind man to wash his eyes, and came back seeing, (John 9) and I made my way back, dripping wet, to the backpackers hostel in the heart of the Old City.
Throughout these trips we depended on candlelight from a delicate flame burning a length of white wax. Had the candle went out, we would have been in absolute total darkness, so thick it would have been hard to imagine. With solid hard rock walls on each side, wading slowly, groping at each wall would have offered some hope in getting out. But such a delicate flame turned what might have been a terrifying experience into an amazing adventure.

I think the Hezekiah's tunnel experience reflects my life as a married man at present. If take off from a London airport represents our wedding day, and the whole duration of the holiday our lives as a married couple, then the wade through the dark tunnel seem to represent the situation we're in now, with dear Alex still in hospital, and so told by one of the ward nurses, likely to stay in hospital for a long while to come, possibly months. Being alone in the house day by day, is like being in that tunnel - cold, dark and wet - with just the light of Jesus Christ to guide me along the path which would otherwise been darkness, with little or no hope.
This week too, I felt lonely and fearful, even panicky, I think, the fear enhanced by the presence of a wheelchair placed next to her bed. Was I prepared for the inevitable - for Alex to spend the rest of her life confined in a wheelchair throughout each day? I kept on assuring her that I would stick by her for the rest of my life, promising that I would never leave her. This is to assuage her fears that I might get fed up with her presence and leave. I don't have it in my heart in any way to do this. I love her far too much, and such selfish action does not reflect the love of Christ for her as well as he has for the church. At hospital visiting times, I cheer her up, make her laugh, talk and reassure her, then leave with her smiling back at me. At home, often fear and depression set in, however during the week, I find engaging in my window cleaning business can be very therapeutic. 
Earlier I spoke to the ward nurse. She assured me that my wife will not be discharged from hospital and sent home on a wheelchair. Instead she said that they were all committed to bring her back to full health and mobility before discharge. The wheelchair is there for her daily exercise, prescribed to her by a team of physios. Yet as I hold her close in my arms as she lies helplessly in her bed, I can't help remembering two men in the past, Ray and Mike, whose wives' health had both deteriorated to the point of being confined to wheelchairs, then step off this planet to glory as their husbands live on for years to come. Yet these two guys stuck faithfully to their crippled wives while they were alive. They lavished their love and commitment to them and they did not abandon them for selfish pursuits. I admired them both, and should Alex, God forbid, remain a wheelchair-bound cripple for life, I will be hoping that the Holy Spirit of Christ will give me the same love and commitment those two husbands had.

Yet I appreciate the prayers on her behalf offered to the Lord by members of my church as well as you readers and followers of this blog page. At this point in writing, Alex herself is fearful of the future and added to this, fed up of being confined to a hospital ward, and she longs to go home. On the other hand, it does look as if she had accepted her fate as a wheelchair bound cripple. Prayers are continuing to be offered, while I myself may have to face the reality of becoming a full time carer, which could mean the end of my occupation as a window cleaner. It is always a possibility that God may use this experience of being in the dark tunnel as a way of character building in our spiritual lives and have the ability to persevere as those two widowed husbands did.
But to be honest, I much prefer to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, I had a dunking, but the relief to see daylight again not only brought relief but triumph as well. The water from the tunnel flowed into the Pool of Siloam. Here a blind man washed his eyes and came back seeing.

At the end of our tunnel, let's hope that Alex will pass through the Pool of Siloam and come out of the water walking on her own feet. Meanwhile, the delicate light of the candle of Christ will guide as along, with his power and might, he will never be put out.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Feeling Fearful

What is it like to have someone you love and cherish, and to commit the whole of your life, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, for sickness and in health - to fall ill to the point of inability to sit up, let alone stand up and walk, and to have a continuous searing pain along her spine?
How does it feel to have this cherished one loving you, accepting you as you are, being a thorough helpmate, and hold no reserve in exchanging affection, devotion and love - only to find out that as she lies crying and in fear in a bed at one of the nation's top hospitals, we are told by a couple of its doctors that all tests applied proved negative and any attempted treatment, some very costly to the NHS, have not brought on the expected recovery? She is then transferred back to a more local hospital, having no idea of her future outcome. This, I think, is what fear really is. It's of the unknown, the uncertain welfare of my beloved, of our future together as husband and wife and what this could involve.

Last night in bed, after her transfer back to Reading from Oxford, I was gripped by cold, naked fear. Alongside this, all the good times we had as a couple, both at home and on our travels, stirred my memory. The house is quiet, even when I'm at home, and when I turn on the telly or listen to music on the hi-fi, these are not real people, just images and past recordings. I don't have the proper feeling of company. Despite the sight of people and the sound of voices, by the end of the day I'm still at home alone.
Yet I should be used to this. I lived alone at a bachelor apartment for 23 years. Those were the days of freedom, to come in and go out whenever I wish, to buy what I desire as well as what I need, the ability to work long hours, to save up and travel the world. Also to take a day off if I wanted to (the benefit of self-employment) and if I couldn't be bothered to wash the dishes after a meal but to leave them dirty overnight, there was no one to reprimand me. Bachelor life was good in many ways.

But fourteen years of happy marriage had changed all that. Because as a bachelor, there were times I felt lonely and unloved, along with a good dollop of boredom. Love and marriage had filled in those gaps left unfulfilled as a single. Of course, as in everything else in this fallen world, nothing is perfect, and we had our share of disagreements and woes. But overall, it has always been a strong, robust marriage, each supporting the other during down times as well as celebrating noted moments together. In all of these, I made it my aim to love my wife in the same way Jesus Christ loves his church - sacrificially, with the ability to pass over any shortcomings she has. For an example, as a bachelor I loved independent travel, world backpacking and hosteling. At the same time I shunned package holidays with their luxury hotel accommodation. I also believed back then, that escorted tours were either for the elderly, or for wimps who did not have the bottle to look after themselves in a foreign country. But after marrying Alex, we went on five package holidays, including the Canary Island of Lanzarote, where I booked two escorted coach tours to explore the island.

Backpacking days: Singapore, taken May 1997.

Alex is everything to me. Her love for me and her devotion to our marriage had made a massive impact on my life. Even to the extent that independent travel is now by comparison seen as undesirable. As I sit here alone at home, with the recording of the pop band OMD playing through the high-fidelity speakers, I type this blog with a desire for a good cry. The emptiness, along with the fear of uncertainty, can be almost unbearable.

I call out to God to help us, and for Jesus Christ to save us, but even God seems far away, as if on some sabbatical holiday. When I call out, it is into empty air, with not even an echo to answer back. My feelings, my fears and anticipations are not soothed but continue on, unabated.

It is the time like this that it's so difficult to grasp the reality of Psalm 139, for example. In the opening verses, it reads:
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.

Although I know that such words are true, it is times like this, I tend to wonder whether such atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchins and Sam Harris may have had a point after all - that all I'm doing whilst praying, is talking into thin air, with the complexity of the vast Universe too large and myself too small and insignificant to be heard, let alone listened to and taking heed. There are times I feel life is like that, a grasshopper walking on a comparatively huge planet orbiting the Sun, which within - compared to the size of the galaxy - even the whole Solar System looks microscopic as it whirls on its orbit around the nucleus of the galaxy. I tend to feel: Is God elsewhere, carefully adjusting and fine-tuning the mechanisms of another more distant galaxy, and too busy to hear a plea from an insignificant guy from across the other side of the Universe?

Times come and times go, and there are moments when I can lift my hands into the air during church praise and worship, feeling the strong presence of the Lord. Then there are times like these, where my pleading does nothing but disturbs the silent, still air in my bedroom, and remains unheeded. Yet believing that God is Infinite, whose wisdom cannot be fathomed by mere mortals such as us, and yes, he could well be fine-tuning the complex fabric of a long distant galaxy, yet at the same time hold together and sustain the life cells of a bug crawling on the carpet, and also looks into our hearts, knowing more about within ourselves then we ourselves do.

These are the times to reflect on the omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of God Almighty, whose love for us was demonstrated by the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to atone for all our transgressions and shortcomings. No matter what the atheists say, it was right here on earth where Jesus atoned for our sins, not on a remote planet at some distant galaxy. God also sustains the very breath of life in our nostrils. As we go about our daily lives, we take for granted that within our chests, each lud-dum, lud-dum, lud-dum, of our beating hearts sends red and white blood cells coursing through our arteries and veins, bringing life to every tissue of our bodies, surely the very proof of the living God.

As we are living in an age of Science, knowledge, including the marvellous mechanism of the genome and microbiology in general, our sinful nature denies God as the Maker and Sustainer of such wonders, and resort to Evolution, with Charles Darwin being the new messiah of the likes of Dawkins and Harris. But it takes distressing times like this that such ideas, false as they might be, offering absolutely no hope, no shred of comfort, no stirring of any other emotion. Rather, Evolution would coldly insist that Alex and her ilk be eliminated from Natural Selection and allowed to die. It is unfortunate that the majority of the medical profession are unbelievers in Christ and of the Atonement, and instead see the wonderful, vastly complex fabric of the genome as having evolved, instead of manifesting the very glory of its Creator. For I believe that God has given mankind an exceptionally intelligent brain which allows study of microbiology and allied sciences to reveal God's glory in creation and to be converted and saved. Yet as they instead remain as unbelievers, we put in our full trust in their knowledge that they can treat such as my wife of a certain illness, and come out mystified, without a diagnosis. And I, for one, fall into despair.

Once again, as I have expressed so enthusiastically in previous blogs, there is that one key verse which Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome:
For we know that all things work for the good of those who love God, and are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28.

And no medical doctor can deny that.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Climbing to the Top...

Imagine a pub or bar scenario. Two groups of football supporters sitting side by side. One group support Rovers, and their motif is a striped blue and white scarf. The other are United fans, distinguished by their solid red scarf  - as here in the UK, football, officially known as Association Football, or Soccer for short, is played during the cold Winter months. This particular afternoon, United thrashed Rovers by four goals to one. So a member of the Rovers supporters approach one of the United fans and shaking his hand, congratulates him for being the better team. In turn the winning supporter buys him a drink.

Yea, if only.

Rather, opposing soccer fans has been a cause of fierce rivalry over the decades, with a strong Police presence keeping rival fans apart and making sure no violence erupts. Furthermore, at an average football stadium, fans of one team sit on one side of the pitch, the opponents on the other.
This is the time within the four-year interval that specific nations of the world are playing qualifying matches for entry into next year's World Cup tournament to be held in Brazil. Earlier in the week, England managed to beat Montenegro in the first of the two playoffs. At this point of writing, they will still have to defeat Poland before a guaranteed entry.
England has this habit of defeating rival internationals to qualify, but later, well into the tournament, England gets eliminated during the knockout stages in the selection for the cup final. And that is when I breathe a long sigh of relief!
Of course, 1966 will always be a year to remember in English football. This was the year when England defeated Germany at the World Cup final played at Wembley, and the whole nation roared with delight as the golden cup was lifted by the team captain. Afterwards, the open top double-deck bus hardly moved along the streets of London as the road was literally blocked with thousands of cheering supporters. A year later in 1967, the team manager Alf Ramsey, was knighted by the Queen.

Then again, back in 1966, when I was a thirteen year old schoolboy, our national culture was different. Despite being at the peak of the hippie age, men were still men and women were grateful! For example, women back then saw nothing amiss about staying at home as a housewife while the husband went off to work, no matter what occupation he was in, to fulfil his role as breadwinner. I recall, during the school holidays, watching Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, as the BBC back then broadcast the daily fifteen minute Watch with Mother programmes. The very nature of these shows reflected the housewife and mother staying at home to look after their young children while Dad was at work. I guess the way our brains are wired up, along with genetic makeup, we men are simply not happy unless we are productive in one way or another. I also guess that it had all started when God commissioned Adam to maintain the Garden of Eden and to look after it, giving him his wife Eve to be a help meet for him.

It has been said that productivity was the result of the Fall, but the Bible does not indicate this. Instead, God told Adam to take care of the Garden and to keep it, before the Fall. It was only after sin had entered the world that our livelihoods depended on our productivity. Yet, for thousands of years which followed, until relatively recently, productivity had always been a male domain.
I recall the moment I made a mention in referral to this while I was a volunteer in Israel, back in 1994. Immediately I was taken the wrong way by a couple of feminist-minded women in the Christian Conference Centre where I lived and worked. It was this that led to my final dismissal by the centre director. They thought I was saying that women were "inferior" to men. I told them straight that I was not implying this. What I said was that men and women have different roles to function and both were equally important. After all, does it look natural for a woman to be lying flat on the floor of a mine tunnel, drilling into the coal face, covered in black soot? Or getting equally dirty sweeping chimneys? These occupations seems okay for men, but for women? Then again, pardon my perception, but does it look really natural for a female to drive heavy articulated trucks with their massive steering wheels? Or even buses? For that matter, bricklaying at a building site? Is there something attractive about a female bodybuilder with rippling muscles and bulging biceps and thighs as hard as tree trunks?
Maybe I'm old fashioned and a male chauvinist, but I would never allow my wife near a coal mine, although bricklaying has always been something she would have liked to aspire to. Then again, stacking shelves in a shop or supermarket, or even at a factory production line, I might have given my grudging consent, if our household budget was dangling precariously over the cliff. But working in an office? To tell the truth, in such a case my self esteem might have come under threat, although not ever had this experience, I can only speculate.
Yet in domestic window cleaning, I came across situations which opened my eyes to what really goes on behind closed doors. I know of five cases where the husband walked out from his wife and family, three of these the wives were dedicated career women, the other two had found new female companions in the office. Furthermore, I knew of three cases where the wife walked out of her husband and in one case, her two small sons as well, to pursue a career. I had men weep with grief on my shoulders. Sometimes I feel that my occupation involves more than mere cleaning windows. To add to this, I recall a TV documentary in the 1980s on why the UK divorce rate was rising rapidly. This programme involved interviews with one middle aged couple, whose grown-up children had flown the nest. After more than twenty years of marriage, they were separating. The reason for this did not become apparent until near the end of the show, when it was revealed that after their youngest offspring had left home to start a new life, the wife and mother had engaged in night school, and managed to gain some qualifications, maybe even a degree, and she wanted independence from her husband's bread winning role. He was devastated, and they both felt their love for each other dry up. Of all TV programmes, this one is as sharp in my memory as if broadcast only yesterday.
Only last week, I was sitting in the sauna with two other mates, one of then a commercial window cleaner at another town. He recalls a conversation among fellow cleaners in an office, where one of them overheard a female say to her colleague:
Ugh! He's just a cleaner!
I was told that several male cleaners were brought to the brink of tears by such attitude they come across frequently. Talking of British class divide, I can fully identify with these guys as I have encountered hostility, mainly from school or college-age daughters of customers who themselves are decent people to work for. From these experiences, to others as well as myself, I tend to believe that there is something intrinsically evil about someone, both male and female, pursuing further education and a career for the sole purpose of climbing to the top. Furthermore, I have read the result of a national survey, that employees of both genders prefer male leaders than female. Photos of a model posing as a female boss bullying a male office worker had also appeared in newspaper articles, enforcing my suspicion.
But am I being a male chauvinist? Not really. The Bible gives some examples of the lives of godly women, four comes into mind straight away. They were Rahab, Ruth, Hannah and Elizabeth. Reading the lives of these four, all were submissive to their husbands, with even Sarah, who ordered her husband Abraham to rid the house of Hagar and her son Ishmael, submitting to him, referring to him as a lord (1 Peter 3:6).
One of the loveliest praises offered to God were from two women, whose praise were very similar to each other - Hannah mother of Samuel, and Mary mother of Jesus. I quote here the praise offered by Mary in Elizabeth's presence, as quoted by Luke 1:46-55:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoice in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on, all generations shall call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me - holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inward thoughts.
He has brought rulers from their thrones but lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but he has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and to his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.

If you read 1 Samuel 2:1-11, here Hannah goes into greater detail in her praise to God, but essentially her prayer was the same as Mary's. These women show the virtue in having faith in God and to lead holy lives.

Men and women have different roles, but neither one is greater than the other. But pressing for supremacy, I think, is evil. That is the reason why I feel relief whenever England is eliminated during the knockout stage of a tournament, or any competition. If England wins the cup in Brazil next year, the national and imperial atmosphere of pride across the nation will be almost unbearable. Oh, for the nation to collectively humble itself before God in contrition, and to put its faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour. Not only would there be a dramatic change in culture, but this alone would make our nation really great.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Unlucky 13?

2013 has not been a good year for us. With a prolonged cold Winter stretching through nearly the whole of Spring, a camping holiday within the UK which was not all that great, my nearest and dearest falling ill and had to be taken to hospital in Reading, about twelve miles from where I live as the crow flies; and as I visit her every evening without fail, I watch with despair her condition deteriorate, with a total loss of ability to sit up straight, let alone trying to stand up and walk. Then within the last week, she was transferred to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, one of the country's top medical centres which has a neurology specialist department.
But as I watch the medical team scratch their heads over exactly what is the cause of her problem, my daily visits has to be reduced to weekends only, and with a bit of luck, Friday afternoons as well, if I can get the week's window cleaning round finished in good time. Because Oxford is about thirty miles away from home, and this involve longer train journeys, including platform waits for delayed trains at Reading, the slow bus journey from Oxford Station to the hospital (route 13, of all numbers) covering five miles, and stopping every fifty metres to pick up and drop off fellow passengers; and while the entire trip extended from one hour one way from door (of my home) to door to Royal Berks Hospital in Reading; it takes approximately two and a half hours from door to door to J.R. in Oxford, and that is mainly due to the slow bus leg of the journey. These are times when I wished I had the confidence to learn how to get behind the steering wheel when I was in my late teens or early twenties. I guess I am one of the minority who never felt at home sitting at the driver's seat of a car, let alone affording to cover all the costs involved with owning and driving a vehicle.*
One of the problems with city bus rides is that the vehicle can get caught in a traffic snarl up, as was one occasion on Friday evening, returning to the station. I had no choice but to sit there, feeling frustrated as something to add to my effort to cheer up my bed-bound sweetheart who at times feels very helpless, alone and frightened. On top of all this, the past week we were meant to celebrate our wedding anniversary in warm sunshine over the Greek Mediterranean island of Crete. Instead, this year's anniversary was total rubbish, as I walked into Alex's special care ward at J.R. and found that she has passed out unconscious, and I had to alert the staff, to whom credit due, responded instantly and successfully brought her round.
This year in particular has certainly have been the year of hospitals. Because not long before my wife went down, I made regular visits to Reading Royal Berks hospital to visit my sick father, who had suffered a series of strokes. Then there was one early Saturday morning during the Summer when Alex and I were just about to leave the house to board a train to London, to join a long-standing mate from college, to enjoy a boat cruise together along the River Thames to Greenwich, one of the areas in London made famous by the East-West Meridian passing though, as well as being a naval base and home of the tall ship, the Cutty Sark, which Alex had always found inspiring. Instead, the phone rang, from my elderly mother that Dad had been rushed to hospital in Reading having just suffered a stroke. She passed this on as information only, but I was feeling: how could we enjoy such a day trip to London while knowing that my mother sits at her husband's bedside in distress? So after phoning my old college friend to tell him the news and cancelling the trip, we made our way to Reading instead.
Such as the direction my day-to-day living has taken this year. Lately I have been discussing with one or two friends whether being the year 2013 has anything to do with these things experienced. Of course, 2013 is one whole integer, as the number 13 is also an integer in itself. But by both posting on Facebook and talking face to face, I seem to have found agreement among others that 2013 is indeed unlucky.
And yet, "unlucky for some" the negative influence of the number 13 stemmed from the Christian faith, when there were once twelve righteous souls, including Jesus Christ himself, and one wicked person, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin for thirty pieces of silver, and then regretted what he had done and went on to hang himself. In the New Testament of the Bible, whenever a list of Jesus' disciples was made, Judas Iscariot was always mentioned last, hence allocated the 13th place.
Yet last night, I stood on the terminal platform in Reading for the delayed arrival of the train due to take me home, I felt a surge of anger. There are times I wish I could cry out to God, Why? I wanted to kick the wall of the station premises, to shout, scream, holler. But I would look foolish among the crowd of waiting passengers, all standing on the platform with such a stoic indifference which, according to some, makes Britain unique in its averse to grumbling!
As I sat in the train, I felt my anger directed at the churches, particularly the charismatic movement where one can "claim victory over the situation and over superstitious thoughts."
Claim victory? Personally, I have never seen this in the entire Bible. We can't "claim" anything. For we by nature are depraved sinners, born without strength and with no hope. We are all like a fading leaf, all our righteousness are as filthy rags, we are like grass scorched by the sun, chaff which is blown away by the wind. As I read Isaiah chapter 6, in verse 5 we read of the prophet crying out in despair, after seeing a vision of God in the Temple:
"Woe is me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."
The prayer uttered by Daniel the prophet in chapter 9 of his book, fifteen verses are committed to him acknowledging first the greatness and holiness of God, and his love for Israel and his promise to Abraham that under Moses he will deliver his people out of Egypt and settled in their own land, with the Law of Moses to guide them. But instead, Daniel admits, including himself along with the national guilt, that Israel had refused to obey the Law, and all acted wickedly. He then admits that God is fully righteous and just, and had full right to punish Israel by forcing them to be expelled from their own land to Babylon. He then pleads for God's mercy and grace, for forgiveness of their sin, and for the restoration of Israel as a nation and for Jerusalem in particular. Daniel does not "claim" anything. Rather he admits his own helplessness and that of his people, and pleads instead for mercy and forgiveness.
In the new Testament, neither Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude ever "claimed" anything for themselves, neither do they exhort anyone else to do so. Instead, they remind the churches of their forgiveness of their sins, of the imputed righteousness of Christ, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to encourage them to walk in holiness before God, for the benefit of others, in the power of the Holy Spirit within them, always to thank the Lord for his goodness and mercy, along with the riches of his grace. In Paul's letter to the Romans, he goes deep into theology, explaining about our sinful, helpless state, our inability to keep the Law of Moses, the good news of judicial acquittal, and the new life in the Holy Spirit as an act of grace. But never did he exhort us to "claim" anything.
There are times when superstitious thoughts do enter my mind, and actually believe that there is some kind of negative energy at work connected with these ideas, such as whether the number 13 is unlucky or not. I have connected the number 13 of the year 2013 with the negative things which occurred this year. But I don't "claim any victory" over any of these. Rather, I acknowledge that God himself foreknew all these things long before we were ever born, and to know that all things - both good and bad - works for the good of those who love God, and are called according to his purpose, so Paul wrote in Romans 8:28.
Like any frail, helpless human born of dust and ashes, there are, and will be, times of feeling superstitious, and that negative forces are at work. Paul exhorts the Ephesians to wear the armour of God to protect themselves spiritually, and to hold the shield of faith to bear the fiery darts of the evil one, and using the sword of the Bible to counter such accusations, worries and fears. But as for victory, that belongs to Jesus Christ alone. He was the one who atoned for our transgressions, he was the one who rose from the dead, he alone is the first fruit of the Resurrection. When he returns to usher in his glorious Kingdom centred on Jerusalem, then - and only then - will victory come our way.
* For those not familiar with the geography of Southern England; Reading Station is a principal through station on the Great Western Railway from London Paddington to the West Country, including a branch line to Oxford. However, Reading Station also has a set of terminal platforms, into one of them is served by the London Waterloo to Reading commuter line, which passes through our home station of Bracknell. Therefore, to get to Oxford, or to any other West Country destinations, a change of trains at Reading is necessary.
Apology for the lack of pics. This blog was typed out during the small hours of this morning (Sunday) due to the extra busy schedule.