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Saturday, 22 February 2014

Just Read Your Bible

During last week's morning sermon at Ascot Life Church, I was singled out for commendation for my faith remaining steady during trying times, especially when my dear beloved was confined to a hospital bed for nearly four months. Evening after evening, after a day's work, I cycled to the station to catch a train for the short run to Reading, simply because I wanted to be with her, to give her encouragement and to leave, two hours later, with her spirits raised - even if this included cracking jokes which made her howl with laughter, much to the annoyance of one elderly patient in the same ward whose grown-up son confronted me face-to-face one Saturday afternoon.

At least my calm reply was enough to cool his temper, even though I felt hot under the collar myself. To see my wife recover was the only thing I wanted. Yet in times like these, I have wondered how anyone without the love of God in their lives manage in similar situations. Personally, I thank the Lord dearly for reaching out for one who our culture calls a worthless lump of clay, such as myself, who was a catastrophic failure at school, yet had my eyes opened to the source of the richest wisdom anyone can possess. So no doubt I felt elated when I heard the commendation spoken out in front of everybody in the room.
When the service was over and enjoying a snack of coffee and doughnut, a young friend of mine approached and strongly encouraged me to stay close to Jesus. I replied that after forty years, if I had not strayed in all this time, it's not likely that I would fall away now. I could say that I knew the Lord while he was still a twinkle in his old man's eye! But I have found his advice encouraging, even if it may be for the wrong reason, which is to say that if I fell away, I could well end up in Hell. 
And it is this kind of thinking which so sadly prevails in many Christians at present. I once read in a survey, or an article which contained the results of the survey, that of every believer who becomes disillusioned with the faith, or even fall away, more than 80% of these were taught never to believe in Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS) or Eternal Security of the Believer. I was even given a hint of the higher suicide rate among those who were taught to "hold out faithful" or face the possibility of a lost eternity, and others who were committed to an institution. And I'm not just referring to "orthodox" Christians here, but also include Jehovah's Witnesses and other groups who believe that OSAS is heresy, and the necessity to work to keep our salvation. I would go as far to say that in the vast majority of such cases - known in theological circles as Arminianism, after Dutch theologian James Arminius who first published these ideas - are under the guidance of their pastor, elder, an itinerant preacher or evangelist, or even literature written by an "expert" all pointing to isolated Scripture verses "proving" their point.
When I attended Spring Harvest Bible festival in Minehead with my wife in 2002, one of the sermons, preached one evening at the Big Top was about the Fatherhood of God to all believers. The preacher, who believed in Eternal Security, talked with a face radiant with joy, and his joy was infectious right across the several thousand strong congregation. The following evening, another preacher began to put various conditions on the talk delivered the previous evening. In other words, he said that granted, God is our Father, providing that...such conditions are fulfilled on our part. There was no radiant joy issuing from his countenance. Rather, he looked as if he had just received news on the death of his mother. His lacklustre was also reflected on the rest of us. Such was the influence of those who don't believe in the eternal security of the believer.

This has brought me to thinking: Do we need any form of guidance in our Christian growth? I would say yes, indeed. I was very fortunate to have grown up spiritually in an environment where OSAS was accepted by our Elders and teachers. I have read books by different authors, the majority having believed in Eternal Security. And if I had came across an Arminian author, even by chance, then I would have sensed the dismay in my spirit which would have compelled me to put the book down. Alongside Christian authors such as Hal Lindsey and the late Dave Hunt, both eternal security believers, the one I had always referred to as my mentor was the late Dr. John R. Rice, founder and director of The Sword of the Lord, based at Murfreeboro in Tennessee. Although I had never met the man personally, back in 1974 I have accepted him as my mentor in getting to understand the Bible better through reading of his literature, particularly in why I had to differentiate between my present faith from my former Roman Catholic youth.
But as for personal reading of the Bible, here in the UK at least, many believers have a daily devotional such as Everyday with Jesus. This may be fine for some - I don't have any issues over this, it's solely between God and the person who reads it. But as I understand, a verse from the Bible is read, followed by a commentary on it, and a time to meditate on what was read. The shortcoming with this, to my mind, is allowing a third party to constantly direct the reading of the Bible, rather than letting the Bible speak for itself.
I have found by letting the Bible speak for itself, that is, without a third party involved, I was able, so to speak, to knock on Heaven's door for answers. Rather than read one verse a day, I wanted to find out what the bigger picture was about. One of the greatest truths that came out was God's Omniscience. The whole of Psalm 139 spells it out well. But for those who have a familiarity with the Old Testament, have you ever wondered why, in Daniel 7:5 for example, talks of the prophet's vision of a bear with three ribs in its mouth? What was that all about? Was it a detail thrown in to puzzle, or even to scare its readers? Here I did not have anyone to guide me on this matter, but by asking God direct in prayer, the answer lies with the Jews, Israel, and their capital city Jerusalem.
In 586 BC, Jerusalem was sacked by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. However, some time before then, the young King Jechoniah, a descendant of King David, was taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar and escorted to Babylon. After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, his son Evil-Merodach took the throne. But God gave this king a kind heart, and had Jechoniah released from prison to feast at the king's table. Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, who in turn became the father of Zerubabbel, the governor who was to lead the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple that was razed by Nebuchadnezzar seventy years earlier. Evil-Merodach's son Belshazzar then took the Babylonian throne, and during his reign, Darius the Mede conquered the Babylonians and had its final king executed. Therefore Daniel's vision of the bear with three ribs in its mouth - of Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach, and Belshazzar, the only three Babylonian rulers who ever had dominion over the Jews and Jerusalem, therefore they were well symbolised by the three ribs in the bear's mouth.
Is all this relevant to us? Well, Zerubabbel was the ancestor of Joseph husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Through Daniel's vision, which was given to him while still under Babylonian rule, demonstrates the omniscience of God in protecting the Messianic line, including both the Royal title as well as the biological side. Then staying with Daniel, in the past I have wondered why so much prophetic detail is given in chapter 11 - the prophecy about the conflict between the Greek kings of the North and of the South. It is not an exciting read, to my mind at least. But the detail is so startlingly accurate, that the unbelieving had long insisted that this Scripture was written after all the events written therein had taken place. If ever the Omniscience of God was in its full display, this was it. But why did the Lord take so much trouble in such specific detail?
It was when I realised that no part of the Bible was written when the Jews were dominated by the Greeks. As with all the other empires which ruled over Israel, some parts of the Bible were written. During the rule of the Egyptians, Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Mede/Persian empires which all had dominion over Israel, parts of the Old Testament were written. The entire New Testament was written under the Roman empire. But when the Jews were under the Greek empire, no part of the Old Testament was written, as Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was completed under the Mede/Persian rule. It was as if, by his Omniscience, God was preparing his word beforehand, prior to the Greeks taking over, and the chapter continues on right up to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, future from our own standpoint in time. As I see it, this not only demonstrates his Omniscience, but also his Covenant with Abraham and his descendants will endure forever.

Then I'm fascinated with Paul's letter to the Romans. If there is a letter which first describes the universal wickedness of mankind, then goes on to explain about a righteousness from heaven, imputed to everyone who believes in Jesus, Paul's letter to the Romans explains all these with clarity. He then uses the case of Abraham, how he was justified by faith when God revealed to him that he will have a son. The righteousness imputed on Abraham was God's own righteousness, expressed and demonstrated in Jesus Christ. This righteousness is imputed to all who believe in Jesus Christ Resurrected, making salvation a free gift given without works to earn it. Then after explaining the presence of sin in himself, which is aroused whenever the Law is read out in the synagogues, he then goes on into chapter 8, for me, the most beautiful chapter in the whole Bible, and can be seen as a direct reference for those who believe in OSAS.
But what makes this letter fascinating. Again, it's an expression of God's Omniscience. In what way? That it was addressed to the church in Rome, the very city of the Emperor's throne, who one day in AD 313 will become the Bishop of Rome. A union of Church and State which will give rise of the Roman Catholic Church with its emphasis on salvation by works. Paul's letter to the Romans is a direct rebuke to the Roman Catechism. Paul himself most likely did not realise this when he wrote the letter, but in his Omniscience, the Holy Spirit behind its inspiration, knew. Romans is the only letter which at its end greets every household who meets in the city. What was meant to be Paul's care for each individual or household, the Holy Spirit points out that the apostle Peter was not present in Rome throughout his life as a minister, or else he would have got a mention in the given list, if not actually heading the list. Much, if not all, of the Roman catechism was built on Peter being in Rome and was the first Pope. The listing shows his absence, as he was in Babylon, far in the opposite direction from Jerusalem, ministering to the Jewish Diaspora.
And here I conclude why I believe in Once Saved Always Saved. God's Omniscience. It looks to me that, according to the Ephesians, we have been saved from eternity past as we are already seated in Heaven, as the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. Could this be the reason why men from the dawn of history were justified by faith, the same as with every New Testament believer? As God sees it, outside of the human time frame, every saint was saved from eternity past. Yet He commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel. A mystery maybe. But God is God, beyond our finite understanding.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Natural Disaster? There Is Hope!

"Vanity, all is vanity!" cries the Preacher. So the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes opens. Penned by King Solomon the son of David, Solomon was the ancestor of Joseph the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Solomon had a far less known brother Nathan, who was the ancestor of Mary herself, making King David the father of Jesus Christ in both the royal and biological lineage.
Having just completed the short book in daily morning Bible reading and meditation, I have found this book very pessimistic and if I would say, discouraging - throwing cold water on anyone who is bubbling with ambition and to the goal achievers. For those not so acquainted with Old Testament Scripture, what is Ecclesiastes all about?
That life without God is meaningless. A man works hard under the sun to enjoy the fruits of his labour, yet his days are few, and the same fate awaits him as it does to all. All the ambitious are toiling hard to achieve their goals but all they do is chase the wind. He cannot take his earnings or his rewards to the grave, but leave them for others to enjoy. So what is the use of wearing oneself out in heavy toil under the sun? Is he more wise than the lazy person who spends his time twiddling his fingers? Because both will die, the wise and the foolish alike, therefore the industrious wise man is no better off than the lazy fool, as the grave will swallow them both, and their names forgotten afterwards. So someone is born into a family with wealth and possessions, yet God has deprived him from enjoying what he has, instead he hurries around in anxiety in protecting everything he owns, for he knows that his wealth can disappear in a sudden. Someone else may work hard and gain wealth, but what would happen to it after he dies? Would the heir take care of the property and invest wisely, or squander it all away?
And so, Solomon writes,
What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun?
Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains for ever.
The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning to its course.
All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from, there they return again.
(Ecclesiastes 1:3-7)
In a world where universal belief was that every natural occurrence is a result of many moody deities in the heavens interfering with the elements, this Scripture is of true wisdom which is wholly backed by science. King Solomon could not have been truer when he described the reality of the earth's rotation and the atmospheric activity of the cyclone, or what we at present call a low pressure system, and the mechanics of the hydraulic cycle. That the sun rises and sets is scientific fact, even though it only appears that way due to the Earth's rotation. It was quite a contrast to the universal view, originated from ancient Egypt and adopted by the Babylonians, that the sun is a deity who dies at dusk, and it is either re-born at dawn, or a new sun-god is born every morning.
And so the UK media has put our recent storms and flooding as newspaper headlines and top priority story in our news bulletins. Talking in Solomon's poetry language, when the homes of the working classes up in the North of England were destroyed by flooding within the last couple of years, yes there was news coverage, but nothing as intense as in the present, as the Media goes hysterical when the prosperous South gets flooded. This is another evil, Solomon would have said, when our Prime Minister declares that "Money is no problem" when it comes to funding in resolving the crisis. Was it a coincidence that he came out with that statement on the same day as when news of a flood over the sports grounds of Eton was broadcast? And as far as I'm aware, I don't recall him declaring this infinite money resource when the floods hit the North a couple years earlier.
The floods over the Somerset Levels had been with us since Christmas, but it appears that not too much fuss was made over them, as much of the deluged land was farmland. It took weeks, even months, before our Government ministers turned up to show their support. But when the River Thames had burst its banks, particularly over Berkshire and Surrey, threatening towns such as Henley, Marlow, Datchet, Windsor, and Shepperton, all wealthy upper-middle class settlements, there was panic in Downing Street, and a voice was heard at Parliament. And so our Ministers squabble about one thing over another, yet are powerless to make any real tangible inroads, since how could man, puny as he always have been, tame the violent forces of nature?
And so street interviews follows one after another, victims of the flood giving their opinions and points of view of the conveyor belt of storms, persistent rain and gales, homes destroyed by flood waters, stinking sewage, along with power supply failure, fallen trees, abandoned cars and other damaged properties and businesses. Yet one of things I have noticed which is so distinctly British, is that of the sheer stoicism among the interviewees, the containing of emotion when, after years of working so hard and spending so much, to see such a beloved home destroyed along with treasured possessions, family heirlooms, and so on. Oh, isn't the stiff upper lip so admirable during a crisis as intense as this one, a characteristic so unique to Britain, so the newspaper journalists insist, that the UK, especially the English, appear culturally superior to the rest of the world. So our newspaper reporters love to boast on how the British were fit to expand and run an empire, according to them, the greatest and the most extensive in human history. This is another evil under the sun. For when human stoicism was seen outside the UK, such as at a mining crisis in South America a few years ago for example, our newspaper reporters not only remained quiet, they even disappeared from their desks during the occasion when all the victims were successfully rescued under a very meticulous operation.

So this is what I have observed: that when the ordinary plebs and the working classes suffer a crisis, then the media reports in a calm, business-like manner, one of several articles and not even making the headlines. But if the wealthier, upper or upper middle classes suffer the same sort of disaster, then both the Media and Government ministers throw themselves into an emotional turmoil, running around in circles in trying to find a solution to the crisis. On a Daily Mail Online website, there was a picture post showing all the posh homes lining the banks of the River Thames under threat of flooding. Maybe I might be wrong here, but so far I have not come across anything of this kind on the Media from up the more industrial, working class North.
So a boy receive a top-class education, attending an institution such as Eton, Harrow, Rugby, or Winchester public school, and graduates in readiness for Oxbridge, where he collects a highly valued degree. Then into the world of work where his degree earns him a high income which, in turn, lays a deposit on an exclusive, expensive riverside property with stunning views. But as the river rises and flood his home, he sees the whole of his lifetime achievement go to pot, despite all the media attention he gets. This is a terrible evil. As he gets old, his health gives in, and he spends his last days in a nursing home before giving up the ghost. How very, very sad and pathetic. He leaves nothing but his name, his date of birth and of his death etched on his tombstone, and nobody remembers him, save his family. The world simply moves on. Anyone passing his tombstone and reading his epitaph will not have a clue on how he looked, let alone how he acted in life. 
Am I being cynical? Maybe so, maybe not. But these ideas are not my own. King Solomon had already observed very similar things and recorded them. That includes class bias, which some readers might have come to believe I have an obsession with. Yet Solomon also wrote:
I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom which greatly impressed me:
There was once a small city with just a few people in it. And a powerful king came upon it, surrounded it and built huge siegeworks against it.
Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city out of wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man.
So I said, "Wisdom is better than strength."
But the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.
Ecclesiastes 9:13-16.
Oh, how we British, who claim that our Constitution is based on the Bible, yet follow the very same folly as those inhabitants in that city which was saved by the wisdom of the poor man. Maybe if I had titled this page Christian Thoughts: By Dr. F. Blasi M.D.- I would have a much wider audience of readers! Even if all my words were exactly the same, I was tempted, at one point, to title myself Dr. - just to see what might have happened. But God would never be glorified by deception.
Ecclesiastes is about daily life under the sun, without God, with the grave and judgement awaiting all. Without God, life is indeed meaningless, a hopeless folly. But, and yes praise God, there is a but, through faith in Jesus Christ there is hope - eternal life given freely to all who believe. That is good news. And this is the reason why I have placed the folly of life through the present flood crisis on the same par as Solomon's writings. We British may with stoicism face up to the disaster, and draw up plans on how to deal with it. But that is where the problem lies. The victims keep a stiff upper lip, count the cost of his loss, and attempt to move on without falling on his knees and calling on God for mercy. Given the right instructions on faith in Jesus Christ Resurrected, this soul would receive something much more worthy of value than mere restoration of his home and possessions. A heavenly home, glorious, eternal, without money and without price - hence no mortgage or rent - reserved for him in Heaven. A home and property that will never ever be spoilt by any form of disaster.

It is something to be cheerful about, and the reason for a much greater hope. 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

When God Seems Far Away

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I tend to feel that God makes his presence felt on Sundays, and on special occasions such as on Christmas day - if I attend church that morning. Ditto on Good Friday and especially on Easter Sunday. And oh yes, God was present on our wedding day when we made our vows among hymns, choruses, and a sermon to boot - and after signing the Register he was even present during the Reception which followed, which happen to have taken place in our church back room turned restaurant.
And so on our happy day which was to change our lives together, when the Reception was over, we waved farewell as we climbed into the car driven by my younger brother who was also Best Man, and we were on our own once more as we ambled into the check-in lounge at the airport to start our honeymoon. So God's presence is felt whenever we are in church. And so Sunday after Sunday we gather together for a service which had always been very predictable - thirty minutes of coffee and doughnuts, followed by a time of worship (actually, it's standing up singing praises rather than falling on our knees) - then after thirty minutes of this, the youngsters depart for Junior Church with its separate departments catering for different age groups. Another song or two, then we all sit down for the preach, which the Elders prefer as the title rather than sermon. Finally, the church notices are read out before the meeting ends, and it's back to coffee and doughnuts.

We love to say and testify that God had been present throughout the service, and no doubt, he has and always will be. Sure enough, there has been talk of  wanting of a revival of some sort, whatever that suppose to mean, but I guess it is a great increase of numbers coming to Christ, along with godlier lifestyles. Something on the parallel of the early church recorded in the Acts of the Apostles of the New Testament.  During the days of the apostles, if Starbucks or Costa-Coffee had been around, they would have had a thriving business! With between three to five thousand converted in a day, they would have had to work hard around the clock, with new branches opening up in Jerusalem and then across the Roman Empire to provide coffee and doughnuts for the new converts. I'll be honest with myself here. The idea of change always poses a threat. Therefore I find something assuring about predictability with a promise, to a degree, of security in a comfort zone.
Therefore it can be seen in the subconscious a pattern like this in a typical week following week throughout our Christian lives:
Sunday - All about God.
Monday to Friday - Commitment to work, business and homelife.
Saturday - Day off.
Most Christian believers would deny such a way of thinking, but let's face it, how nearer the truth has it been really? Even if everyone in the fellowship would insist that they serve God on a daily basis, how does this work out on day-to-day reality? Is driving to church on a Sunday morning on a road vertically free of traffic more exhilarating than being stuck in a snarl-up on a typical weekday morning trying to arrive at the office on time? Then again, on a Sunday morning the sky is clear and the sun streaming through the car windows lifts the spirits even further and therefore tend to sing a praise to God. In turn, on Monday the rain falls steadily, plunging the same environment into a gloomy atmosphere as a long, rush-hour traffic queue appears ahead, caused by a contractor digging up half the road almost a mile further along the route. Then, for the last straw, an impatient motorist cuts in front, causing the need to brake suddenly. Singing praises to God? Or letting out angry expletives? Certainly God was present on the Sunday drive to church. But does he return to Heaven for a cup of coffee and a doughnut by Sunday nightfall? 

What a Winter we had so far. I tend to look with a degree of envy when I hear news on the telly, or read in the newspaper that the American State of California, as well as the African State of Kenya, are suffering drought. Here in England, the Jet Stream has been flowing directly over Southern England, the most densely populated area of the UK. The result being a "conveyor belt" of stormy weather with  an endless chain of low pressure systems following one after another. The result was a ruined Christmas for many, resulting in flooded homes and power cuts. The Somerset Levels in the West Country remain flooded with large areas of farmland underwater and villages evacuated. Our coastline had suffered mass erosion, including the main rail link to Cornwall from London and the rest of the UK totally destroyed. The way farmers are re-acting as well as general public opinion regarding our extreme weather, I am beginning to wonder if Armageddon and the end of the world as we know it are just around the corner.

So everyday throughout the week, I set off from home dressed in a heavy raincoat, even if it may not be raining the moment I leave the front door. Riding a bicycle in the rain is no way a pleasant experience, especially when one of the tyres punctures, as they are prone to when the road is wet. Or as was the case of the past week, day after day of rain forcing me to pack away my work equipment and return home long before the day is fulfilled. It was a near miracle that despite the retreats, I have just managed to bring the week's round to completion on time.

Then my wife's poor health. To date, she is able to walk and complete household tasks, but back pain and stiffness returns if she over-exerts herself, and she is constantly dependent on a variety of pills, mainly to loosen her back muscles and to kill the pain. But I have to carefully watch how much medicine she has in stock, and re-order her supply from the NHS surgery as soon as one set of pills run down, as in her present condition, she is unable to make her way to the surgery unit on her own. A bureaucratic mistake made by either the doctor himself or by the computer operator had caused one set of pills to run out completely after causing a re-order to be stopped. I had to watch my beloved cripple in agonising pain. When the mistake was rectified, I have noticed the cool, fobbing off attitude towards her by the doctor, as if he sees her as a perpetual nuisance, someone to get off his back. Therefore the distress I can feel when she gets upset and her body re-acts, leaving me in an emotional down turn as well as all the housework. When my prayers seem to hit a brick wall, and not only my prayers but those in our church as well, I tend to lose faith and believe that prayer is a waste of time. Why not just eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.

So at times like these it is tempting to believe that God is far away, left behind to dwell alone in the building where we meet every Sunday. What I find amazing, is that when a crowd of believers sing out in praise to God, I can do the same without hassle, it is another thing to see my beloved writhe in pain after being dismissed by an irate doctor.

Then again, is living in the UK that unhealthy? Although our climate is appalling, we have as many commodities to make living as comfortable to the extent most previous generations could ever imagine. Such as running water from the tap after all the impurities filtered out and chlorinated to kill any harmful bugs, electric power at a touch of a switch, double glazing to keep the Winter cold out, the ability to watch events on the other side of the globe and to talk to someone equally far away. So it goes on. Yet, take a look at the doctor's surgery and the patient's waiting room on a Monday morning and see how the phone lines buzz while a queue builds up at reception, and every seat in the waiting room taken. Can a weekend elapse without someone falling ill? And there are times I feel lonely and forsaken, with the weight of the world on my shoulders.

So really, it is a good thing that my emotional side does not reflect the hard facts - as for example, Psalm 139 so lucidly demonstrates:

Oh LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know me when I sit and when I arise; 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.

You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139:1-10.

That is a terrific psalm, and in it contains a prophecy on international air travel! - To be fulfilled some three thousand years later. But even more important, it demonstrates that God is with us throughout the week, even during working days which can't seem to sink any lower. The truth is, God will never leave us nor forsake us. Even on bad days, God had already knew them long before we are even born. If there is a Scripture that proves without a shadow of a doubt that once saved always saved is true Biblical doctrine, than this is it, along with the New Testament equivalent of Romans chapter 8.

And this is a good place to remind ourselves that our God is a happy God. Yes, God is a happy God! Checking on Luke 15:3-10, Jesus gives two short parables, first about a man who has a hundred sheep and was unfortunate enough to lose one. He then goes out on a search and finds it. He then throws a party with his friends to celebrate the occasion. The second parable is on the same thread as the first one. Here a woman had lost a coin, and like the shepherd, sets out to find it. And having found the lost coin, she too throws a party. Then from verses 11 through to 32, Jesus tells a story of the Prodigal Son, and concludes with the father throwing a party over his safe return. The reality of all this is that someone, somewhere around the world, believes in Jesus Christ as Resurrected Saviour and experiences a new birth. And on each occasion, if these parables were anything to go by, there is rejoicing in Heaven. With the rate of people being saved, we can conclude that the party in Heaven remains endless.

God is a happy God because he sees the reward he has for his Son being fulfilled. The reward is for his suffering and death on the cross to atone for our sins, and the Father is more than delighted to give each and every believer to his Son as a reward. That is the basis of Eternal Security. God's Covenant with his Son, rather than with us. We are a gift to the Son from the Father, according to John 6:39-40 and 17:6-7, and as such, God's intention is that his beloved Son will lose nothing he had received.

And now that is something to celebrate with coffee and doughnuts.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

What I Don't Understand...

Believe me, trying to fulfil my post as a domestic window cleaner this week presented a challenge - particularly on Wednesday, when the gentle rain continued to fall without abatement, making me feel cold and damp, even though I was wearing a heavy raincoat - as I did just about all the time I was out of doors throughout January, whether for work or otherwise, this year recorded as the wettest since records began. Although cold and hungry I might have felt at times, there are surprising gems that I come across during the daily house-to-house call.
Like the daughter of one customer who was kind enough to offer me a cup of coffee. While I paused in my work to sip on the welcoming drink, I watched the little girl play happily in the lounge through the wide patio window which I was about to clean. She was between two to three years old, whose older sister was already attending school. Her bovine eyes, wide with curiosity, settled on me as if calculating whether I was there for good or ill. Deciding that I bode no ill, she smiled a little.
It is times like these that Psalm 139 comes into mind. This, I believe, is one of the bastion of Scripture which hints at the Eternal Security of the Believer. Nothing like the Omnipresence and the Omniscience of God can be described so lucidly as here:
Oh 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.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise from the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
The psalm then goes on -
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I'm fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  
Then suddenly in verse 19, King David, who penned the song, takes a sudden and rather abrupt turn:
If only you would slay the wicked, O God!...Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
If only you would slay the wicked...but God doesn't, because he waits patiently for the wicked to repent, that is to believe in the coming Messiah, the Consolation of Israel, and to demonstrate such faith by doing good to others. But with the first 18 verses, the little child I saw through the window comes to mind. I recall when the mother was pregnant with her, and she was being knitted together in secret, at a place no one can see, at least not until the invention of the ultrasound scan. How the genetic code found in the DNA inherited from both parents resulted in the formation of  the perfect human body, with the heart beating at the right rate, the plasma crammed with red and white blood cells, the functioning of vital organs such as the liver, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, the lungs, nervous system, and many other functions which is vital to life. And talking of the kidneys, without human hands, these magnificent machines were made to filter impurities from the bloodstream without a single red cell passing through into the urine by mistake. And not to mention the vast complexities of the immune system, and the platelets which cause the blood to clot when exposed to air, therefore sealing the wound before the injured person bleeds to death. Yet all of these were already in place even before the child is born, as if anticipating the world outside the womb and being fully prepared for what's to come.

So in the above psalm, it seems strange to ask God to destroy the very creation he himself had designed and made, and David's justifying his hatred of them. This sort of reasoning had made me wonder in the past, and sometimes comes up from time to time in the present as well, about the love God has for us. As mentioned in these blogs already, the human cell is a dizzying complex structure, the very nucleus itself, so small that it's invisible to the naked eye, is far more complex than the whole of New York City. Yet it's existence must be the very demonstration of God love, which he created for his own pleasure, a hint that the Creator's initial desire was for mankind to share in the wonderful, magnificent love that had eternally existed between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And one of the best demonstrations of God's love is between husband and wife, and I say this as a married man myself. Having my own wife ill in hospital for so long throughout last year had made me realise how precious she is, and will always be to me. And I suppose I can extend this loving care towards pet owners and their love for their dogs, cats, rodents, birds, even fishes (I have an aquarium) I think this love for certain animals in the home is a relic of a much greater and wider care mankind was meant to have towards all creation before the Fall. But the irony of it all is that the love returned to the human by the animal kingdom is extremely limited. Both the horse and the dog may show a degree of loyalty to its owner. But the cat, hamster, budgie and the fish, all household pets, don't rate their owners as much as their own space and comfort. Some 25 years ago, while setting off to work one typical morning, an elderly gent called out to me for help. I rushed to his apartment to see a canary flying around the room, and beating against the closed window. I managed to grab it and gently returned the bird to its cage, much to the gratitude of the elderly widower. Obviously, the bird had a greater desire for freedom than any loyalty to its owner, no matter how well it was treated and loved. And this is why, I think, all windows should be shut if the owner wants to let his budgie out of its cage for a while.
And so it was at London Zoo, which main entrance I sauntered past a few years ago. Separate from the main entrance used by the general public, I was amused to see an entrance for VIPs (Very Important Person). We as humans regard celebrities with a high regard, along with greater respect for the better educated. I watched at both Leicester Square in London and at 3rd Street Santa Monica, crowds gathering when a movie star made an appearance (the crowds in London were more extensive.) And whenever the Royal Family celebrate an important occasion, vast crowds gather at the Mall. But if a famous actor, singer, sportsman, or for that matter, a politician, or even the Queen herself with all her bodyguards, were to enter the zoo through the VIP entrance, and saunter past each of the enclosures, how would those beasts in captivity re-act? Would the giraffe bow its long neck at the VIP? Would the elephants gather for attention? Would the primates stop their screeching and bow a curtsy? Would the lion stop eating? Would the sleeping pyphon wake up, uncoil to bow? At the aquarium, would all the fish gather at the glass pane for a closer look? So much for the celebrity culture and social status!

But for us being created for the purpose of enjoying God's love makes far better sense. Before the Fall, mankind had the dominion to care for all creation. This was well demonstrated by all the beasts which came meekly to Adam to be named. There were no rivalry, no hunting carnivores, none of the beasts presenting a threat to Adam's safety and well being. Rather, their submission to Adam as God's deputy was something which does not happen now, which indicate that the Fall and the Edenic Curse brought a significant change to both within the entire animal kingdom and its relationship with mankind. (Genesis chapters 2 & 3.)
The mind of God, however, remains infinite, and there will always be areas we as mere humans will never understand. For a start, we would never know how God has brought such creation into being, but within the last few decades we are beginning to understand why, for example, the vast complexity of the genome working the way it does.  
As for salvation, that too I find hard, if not impossible to understand. There are Scriptures indicating that God knew and predestined from eternal past who would believe and be saved (e.g. Ephesians chapters 1&2.) In John's Gospel, there is an indication that no one can come to Jesus for salvation unless his Father calls him and brings him to Jesus (John 6:37,44,65; 10:25-30; 17:6.) This seems to have further backing from Revelation 13:8 that Jesus was slain from the foundation, or creation of the world. In other words, since God exist outside of time, the crucifixion, as he sees it, was from eternity past. This could be the reason why God was able to acquit, or justify believers during Old Testament times. Men of faith such as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, David, and all the prophets, received justification by faith in their future Messiah who God alone saw him as already crucified. But in human history, Jesus was crucified at a specific moment which the apostles agreed was just at the right time. Since then, God has commanded all men everywhere to repent (e.g. Acts 17:30; Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9.) There seem to be something like a contradiction here. First, the Bible indicates that from eternity past, God knew and predestined certain men to be saved, backed by Jesus' own statement that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him.
This was the central teaching of John Calvin, and those who followed him were known as Calvinists. But the Bible also indicates that salvation is open to all men everywhere, and God has commanded that all mankind should repent. What that this mean? Reading of the book of Acts of the Apostles, especially chapter 2, indicates that repentance is a change of mind about Jesus Christ, turning from thinking he was an impostor or just a good teacher, to being the Messiah or Christ risen from the dead. This is confirmed by 1 John 5:1, which reads:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God...
Perhaps the best way of resolving this apparent contradiction is by an explanation offered a few years ago by one of our Elders. A person comes along and he sees a doorway, perhaps with a cross fixed in such a way that to enter, one has to pass under one of the arms of the cross. But above the doorway is a sign, which reads: Everyone is welcome. The person walks through the door, and the blood from the cross washes him from all of his sins. But when he turns to look back, the sign overhead now reads: Selected by the Father to conform to the image of his Son.
This is only an illustration, but it does offer some form of help for us with finite minds trying to fathom an infinite mind, whose thoughts and knowlege are way above ours. The truth is, we will never be able to fathom the Infinite, but God will willingly give wisdom and knowledge to all who desires them. I thank the Lord that scientists and academics of the past have discovered the genome. Such scientific knowledge has, to my mind made God our Creator more awsome, someone worthy of worship. But more than that, this same Infinite Mind has an equally infinite heart of mercy and love to send his Son to atone for our sins, and to give eternal life to all who believe.

God wants everyone of us to partake in his love, regardless of social standing, nationality, race, level of education, profession, or wealth. God's heart is open to all.
Now that is Good News!