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Sunday, 25 May 2014

World Cup - Oh Dear!

By Frank E.A. Blasi

Contrary to most people I know personally, including Christian believers, my heart groaned at the news that the England squad were to fly out to Rio in Brazil, to take on the challenge to win the elusive World Cup, and become world champions in international football. As supporters carry on with their daily business, their eyes sparkle with hope and optimism that the 2014 contest will be won by England, for the first time for almost half a century. This was when the Cup was won by England at their own turf in Wembley Stadium against Germany in the Summer of 1966, when I was just a thirteen year old schoolboy. I recall the school games period when many of the boys sang Lonnie Donegan's World Cup Willie, the 1966 England mascot, throughout the Autumn term, with the P.E. master getting into the act as well. Most likely, if not absolute certain, that the name Willie, short for William, would not be allowed public broadcast on the airwaves during the present day!

1966 World Cup Willie Lion Mascot.

Not that I despise England - far from it. Although with full-blood Italian parents, I was born here in England and grew up here. Despite its topsy-turvy weather, there are places in England which are strikingly beautiful, even if, due to being part of a small island, lacks the dynamism of some of the natural features of the continents. We may not have the Niagara Falls of Canada, or the Victoria Falls of Zimbabwe, neither the Rockies of North America, the Alps of Switzerland, and certainly not the Himalayas of Asia, but we do have the gentler Lake District National Park, where I did quite a bit of hiking before I married, boasting beautiful mountains, green fields, lakes and tarns fed by streams (or creeks) with cascading waterfalls, and hiking trails offering spectacular scenery. Back in 1992, a friend and I made it to the summit of Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain at 3,210 feet (978 m.) We referred to it as the Throne of England, even if compared with Mont Blanc bordering France with Switzerland and Italy, let alone the Himalayan Mt. Everest - Scafell Pike is but a bump on the road, yet by climbing it, we have made a marvellous achievement, and we were rewarded with stunning scenery, with tarns shimmering at a distance beneath us, along with a view of the Irish Sea. It would also be unfair to moan that there is no Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in England. This two-hundred mile gash in the ground, if aligned east to west as in Arizona, would cause the North Sea to the east and the Irish Sea to the west to meet in the middle and flood the Canyon, causing the nation to be geographically split into two. And not to mention what I believe this to be my favourite English location, the Jurassic Coastline, particularly in Dorset, where a hiking trail links the famous Old Harry Rocks with the equally famous Durdle Door Arch, passing through the quaint resort of Swanage, once a settlement for quarrying of building stone.

Durdle Door Arch, Dorset

When considering, in addition to its natural beauty, how England is steeped in history, with the famed Stonehenge stone circle dating back to the days of Abraham, and not forgetting many Roman and Medieval structures still standing today- such as at the city of Chester for example, England does have a lot to boast about - it is such a beautiful land steeped in history.

And our Constitution, based on Christian ethics, is one of the best one can live under. Of its greatest assets, the National Health Service was the envy of the world. From the taxes of every person earning an income, a public purse was created so that treatment for all kinds of illness and infirmities became available to all. And what a far cry from the Dickensian days when only the rich and well-to-do could afford to pay for a visit by the Doctor, and further payment for appropriate medicines, leaving the poor to suffer their fate. The NHS has been a great help for both my wife and me over the years of married life. So with all these credentials - natural beauty, steeped in history, the Constitution, and the NHS - why do I cringe at the thought of England winning the World Cup?

I guess that when I was a boy, I recall asking my Mum whether I was English. She was firm in her reply:
No, you are not English, you are a full Italian. But since you were born here, you have British citizenship.

So where does that leave me? A foreigner? No, I was born here. English? No, my parents are Italian. It leaves me as just British, but not English - an Italian, yet living somewhere in no man's land. I grew up feeling that I did not belong here, and for that matter, neither had I ever felt that I belonged to Italy either. I was a young guy without a homeland. Furthermore, my surname caused heads to turn, particularly in secondary education (from age 11-15 years). I was not fully accepted as one of the boys in my class, which was made a lot worse when I did not possess the ability to play team sports, such as football and rugby. When we all lined up in the field to be selected by the team captains, I was always the last one remaining, who walked to one of the teams for want of nowhere else to go. Even when I left school without any qualifications in 1968 and started work in a furniture factory, even there I felt ostracised, with my surname barring me from fitting in adequately.

I guess that's why, in early 1971 at eighteen years of age, I started attending gym and lifting weights to build up muscle. Known here as circuit training, a series of free weights and other apparatus were arranged in a circle, so that in one round I would have exercised all the muscles of the body. Not only had I enjoyed it, but grudging respect from other employees began to be felt.

But it was in the mid 1980s onward that the reality of "being different" actually dawned on me - yes, from fellow Christian believers! I guess it began while on a cycling jaunt across Windsor with three or four other believers on the run-up to the 1986 World Cup, I made a passing statement that I would support Italy. After all, by birth, blood, and parentage, I had a closer tie with Italy than with England. Although I did not join Ascot Baptist Church until 1990, by 1985 I was well known among the single young lads who attended, including a few who sincerely believed that England was a "superior" nation than the rest of the world, especially "the reckless Itai" as I was to become known. I guess this "national superiority" stemmed from Empire, together with the Darwinian concept that the English were more advanced in evolution, and therefore referred themselves as the Master Race.

But to put everything into perspective, I was not hated by them, not even disliked. Through Biblical conviction, I was accepted as a mate, but I had always felt that somehow I was not equal to them, but perceived as nationally inferior. Two lads had insisted that "the English are the best - I'm proud to be English" - a statement backed up by several others. So whenever England played Italy in any international, I tended to stay alone in my apartment with the TV switched off, something I still do to this day. If England did beat Italy, the smirks I would have received would have been close to intolerable. Yet despite of all this, the history of international football show to this day that Italy comes second to Brazil in the number of World Cup victories, with four wins to Italy to Brazil's five, way above England with just one - the historic win over Germany in 1966.

I guess much of this antagonism could have been avoided if these church people took their Bible a little more seriously, including of showing the love of Christ. Instead, even by subconscious, they had a hankering for the former Empire. There was even one fellow, several years younger than me and a graduate to boot, who was convinced that the British Empire was the work of Almighty God, as he expressed it. Some of them agreed, others weren't so sure, but as far as I recall, I was the only believer in Christ who challenged him head on.

Jesus did command his followers to "Go out into the nations and preach the Gospel to every creature." (e.g. Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-18.) But earlier in his ministry, he sent out his twelve disciples with the authority to preach the Kingdom of God, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, even to raise the dead. Then he gave a specific instruction:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town. (Matthew 10:14-15.)

The English in the past centuries believed that they were the new people of God who had replaced Israel, possibly Rome as well. This was immortalised by the famous hymn taken from the poem written by William Blake:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

Apparently, this poem was put into song in 1916 to encourage soldiers to dream of England as God's country while out fighting to defend its Empire. It would therefore be the result from the earlier invasions into foreign territory to colonise the land, had gotten the approval of God. Naturally enough, the indigenous did not welcome the invaders with open arms. But where Jesus had instructed these "Christian soldiers" to shake off the dust from their feet and retreat, and leave these "horrible indigenous inhabitants" to the judgement of God, instead they invaded with shotgun in hand, and set up their own laws and government, with the mentality that they were the Master Race.

But I guess the blame can't be directed to the indigenous. Rather they cowed into submission when they realised that they weren't able to defend themselves, their families, or their land. After the Empire collapsed, bitter memories remain, which had endured for decades, and had been well documented. If only the British actually obeyed the instructions Jesus had given them - to heal the sick, raise the dead, preach the Gospel of love, grace and forgiveness, and retreat if they found themselves unwelcome - what would have been the outcome? Would India become Christian instead of remaining stubbornly Hindu? Or the same with Nigeria instead of remaining Islamic?

Here is what I find to be the shortfall to all this: Instead of faith, hope and love, the crave to conquer, to fight and win, to prove the nation's superiority. And until the recent past, all in the name of God whose land this was meant to be. One good example came straight from one of the Christian men who were in our church. A proud Englishman, while at work, he once brought a Scotsman to tears after taunting him when England beat Scotland at an international rugby match. While the Scot was weeping, this fellow muttered, Uh! I don't think I'm behaving as Christ would. No, indeed not.

Such an attitude and taunting of team rivalry says it all. And that is the precise reason why I cannot bring myself to support England in the coming World Cup contest. The English are a proud nation who have throughout history, have deluded themselves as being superior to foreigners, and that despite their own boast of being tolerant, they tend to have a disdain towards those who were not born and bred here, particularly throughout the 1950s and 60s, when there was intense discrimination and prejudice towards coloured immigrants. So much so, that when Enoch Powell gave the Rivers of Blood speech in Birmingham on the 20th April 1968, much of the nation sided with him.

So according to Jeremy Paxman in his book, The English - A Portrait of a People, much of this way of thinking is due to the fact that we are an island nation, with at least twenty miles of sea separating the coast of Kent from the northern tip of France, our nearest neighbour of mainland Europe. After all, without any international borders, the English can relish the idea that the very last invasion took place in 1066, precisely 900 years before England won the Cup, when William the Conqueror defeated the indigenous and brought the land under Norman conquest.

Do I dislike the English? No, not at all! God loves them, as he loves all mankind, and he wants all to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. If God so loved them to the extent that he gave his only Son to die in atonement for their sins, then who am I, as a believer in Jesus, to think otherwise? Rather, I love the English (and all other nationalities) and my sincere desire is that all would believe and be saved. There have been times in the past, particularly in my bachelor days, that I sat alone in my apartment feeling close to tears, as I longed to see far more of my countrymen saved. If there was a nation which was, and is, desperately in need of God's love, it is England, well the UK as a whole. The Cross of Jesus Christ needs to cast a long shadow right across the UK.

And how this nation as a whole desperately need to come under the Shadow of the Cross. In the Bible, we can read the tremendous humbling power the Cross of Jesus Christ can have on a society of people. The 120 in the upper room is a good example of this power (Acts 1:12-15). Here both men and women were praying together - something totally unknown in a typical Jewish synagogue. The group included people of all classes, from Nicodemus the Pharisee right down to the Canaanite woman whose daughter was healed by Jesus. The sense of superiority over inferiority was swept away. Such power did the shadow of the Cross had as it fell across the room. Educational levels had lost their meaning, along with nationalism, wealth and social standing, levels of occupational professionalism, and to put it in a modern sense - the size and location of their homes, their cars, and which football team to support. All these things swept away as they stood naked before a Holy God, which just the shadow of the Cross offering any chance between them and the Almighty. As all huddled together, knowing full well that death will overtake them all, and only the Cross can save them from judgement. It is a terrifying thought, yet also the source of new hope and new aspirations - the desire to follow Jesus and the fullness of life which result from such a decision.

As for myself, I too want the Cross of Christ to slay the old man in me, which includes any national favouritism. In other words, I no longer consider myself British, nor English, nor Italian, neither do I consider myself working class, nor middle class, educated or professional. Under the shadow of the Cross, all these things becomes as stinking dung in order that I would know Jesus Christ, and his glorious Kingdom, to which through his death and resurrection, I have become a citizen, one of God's family.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Ever Felt Like a Pillock?

This past week has been quite eventful. We had Bank Holiday Monday, or May Day, a public holiday with no religious significance, unlike Easter just a couple of weeks earlier, or Whitsunday, still to come. On that day I took Alex to Oxford, with a combined purpose of clothes shopping and having a day out. At least the weather was good. Being in her present condition, I had to push a wheelchair from home to the station, then when we arrived at Oxford, she had an easy ride around the city while I burned excess calories providing transport. Then by mid-afternoon, we made our way through the grounds of Christchurch College (of Oxford University) which is open to the public, to the riverside, where we found a space on the lawn. Here, Alex got out of her wheelchair to lay on the ground beside me, arm in arm and sharing intimacy.

This was a moment of happiness, the feeling of liberation from the housebound restrictions her illness had imposed on her. In fact, this was the first time we had a decent day out together without involving doctors or hospital visits. She took the situation well, with no emergency call made for the ambulance. But just as important to us, I think this train trip to Oxford for the day has opened the door to taking longer breaks, even if they are in the United Kingdom. After all, I think we both would prefer some time at the beach, or at an area of outstanding beauty in questionable weather, than not to go anywhere at all. Alex was able to board the train without assistance, leaving me to load the vacant wheelchair onto the train, behind her. Modern stations are wheelchair-friendly, with lifts designed not only for wheelchairs but also for infant prams, pushchairs and heavy baggage. Certainly, we have come a long way from the 1960s, when I would have wheeled Alex across the tracks themselves, then up the platform ramp, while young mothers would had to fold up their pushchairs before ascending the stairs with her kids. I have wondered why it took such a long time in railway history for such ideas as a lift or even a footbridge ramp to be thought through.
While my wife and I were relaxing by the River Thames, she expressed regret at the loss of the dagger I bought her while we were in Scotland in 2005, and she longed to have it back. She suggested reporting the theft to the police, but I assured her that sometime in the future I would try to replace  the ornament, and encouraged her once again to let the thief keep his loot if he wanted it so badly. (See my last blog, The Love of our Possessions.) To reiterate: About a week earlier, soon after the Easter break was over and I had returned to work, Alex went down with a seizure, and I arrived home to find her in such a distressed state. So I dialled Emergency Services for an ambulance. When the paramedics arrived, we managed to revive her without the need to take her to hospital. After the paramedics left, life slowly returned to normal, not noticing that the dagger was missing, such a suggestion had never entered our minds.
Alex phoned me the next day, while I was at work, reporting that the dagger was missing. In the wake of having my bicycle stolen from our back yard, it seemed obvious that this too, had been stolen. And the only people we had in our house were the paramedics. Nobody else called, as far as I know. I recall seeing one of the ambulance crew standing with his back to the ornament and facing us. So we put two and two together and concluded that we were extremely unlucky to have been visited by a dishonest paramedic! After all, he was a total stranger in our home, and except for his uniform, he could have been anyone in the street.

If I had recorded the paramedic's name, I would have had a lead with to hand over to the police. But since we felt no need to record his name, we both decided at the end that if the thief wanted the dagger so much, then let him have it. This was also the attitude Jesus had when someone takes something which wasn't theirs. Matthew 5:40-41 is one classic example:
If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Also Matthew 6:19-21 is worth considering:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

These words spoken by Jesus himself seems so out of touch with reality that I doubt that most would take them seriously enough. The very idea of someone taking what is not theirs, or even going to Court to get an order for transference of goods seems terribly distressful. And in particular something that is an heirloom, handed down by generations of the family, or a possession gotten from a loved one, therefore having special meaning, must be heartbreaking to find it stolen, or for someone to apply for a Court order to take possession of it, maybe in payment of a debt. And yet, so I read in one book written by a medical doctor to the Christian layman - that calling the police, filling in forms, appearing in Court, or to fight out legal cases involving lawyers, solicitors and other legal personnel, is so stressful that it can be detrimental to health. And simply taking the advice Jesus has given can save us from a barrel-load of embarrassment!

So only this weekend, this has happened to us. On Saturday morning, while I was relaxing in the sauna, Alex accidentally came across the dagger underneath the armchair while she was doing some cleaning. So our precious ornament wasn't stolen after all. Instead it got somehow mislaid during housework, and forgotten about. Thank goodness we did not report the theft of the dagger to the police, no matter how expensive it was when I bought it. Imagine accusing the paramedic of burglary when he was innocent all the time. Imagine one of us finding it in the presence of a couple of police officers, and perhaps the paramedic too. What out-and-out plonkers we would have felt! In fact we might have been charged ourselves for wasting police time. Instead, we took the advice of Jesus, and allowed the thief to keep what we thought he wanted without making any fuss. When the dagger was found, our obedience to the Lord's advice had saved us from heaps of embarrassment, as well as wasting police time.

Yet in spite of this, I still feel like a pillock. Perhaps, after the loss of the bicycle (and that was stolen) we both felt very vulnerable. So to find the ornament missing the day after the paramedics called sent alarm bells ringing straight away. Is it human nature to assume the worst after experiencing a loss of something like the bicycle, along with her incapacity?

Jesus spoke of many things which seemed so unreal to day to day living. Such as not worrying what we shall eat or drink, or what we shall wear. And things like not taking any thoughts for tomorrow, for our Heavenly Father knows that we need these things (Matthew 6:25-34.) After all, the grass in the field don't spin or toil, yet Solomon and all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Yet, at least in my case, I have a disposition to worry about the future, a trait inherited from my father. But here Jesus gives something for someone like myself to aim for - to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added as well. It is well documented in the medical world that worry, fear and anxiety are the three great destroyers of physical health. Dr. S. I. McMillen, in his book, None of these Diseases, lists nearly a hundred physical disorders caused by these negative emotions, including cancer and cardiac arrest, two of our biggest killers. Dr. McMillen also recognised the direct link between an upset mind and sick body, and he referred this condition as psychosomatic illness. So when Jesus was preaching the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) he was not only clarifyng what the Law of Moses was all about with the bringing out of our knowledge and awareness of sin, but he also gave good advice on how to stay healthy, and also to save us from embarrassment.

Experiences like these helps me to understand the wisdom and such good advice the Bible offers. For example, of all the instincts found in a human being is the sex drive. Psychologists have rated this the second most powerful instinct after self-preservation. So strong it is in a typical, red-blooded male, that Paul the Apostle gave this advice to all Christian believers:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honour God with your body. (I Corinthians 6:18-20).

If only this piece of advice was obeyed throughout history! Here, Dr. McMillen gives a statistic of the miserable suffering endured by those who thought that the Bible imposed "horrible confinement of religious inhibitions" spoiling sexual enjoyment outside of marriage. To sin against the body is to put the temple of the Holy Spirit to a dreadful risk of disease. According to Dr. McMillen, in the United States alone, between 1955 and 1959, the rate of teenage syphilis rose by 208% in Washington DC; 291% in Los Angeles; 378% in Houston; in San Francisco - 591%; and in New Orleans - 818%.* The author then describes the dreadful sharp pains endured by the sufferer and the associated diseases, including of one man who consulted him, who was no longer able to pass urine through his penile urethra tube, as the sexually transmitted infection caused a blockage. It was a dire situation, along with sufferers whose infection affected their brains, causing madness and insanity. These are dire testimonies of those who thought that the Bible was written by primitive men who were still backward in their evolution, learning and education, and therefore seeing the Bible as thrown onto the dust heap or confined to literary archives.

Yes, concerning the ornamental dagger, after believing that it was nicked by a dishonest paramedic, only to find it under one of our armchairs a week later, makes me feel like a pillock. But by taking the advice Jesus offers at the Sermon on the Mount, and refusing to report the incident to the police, we saved ourselves from heaps of embarrassment. But I wonder who is the bigger pillock? Me? Or the guy who walked into the doctor's surgery as a result of rejecting the Bible?

* Dr. S. I. McMillen, None of these Diseases, page 42.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Love of Our Possessions

In my previous blog, I related on the theft of a bicycle from my back yard. The cycle was a utility, not a luxury, something essential to day-to-day living, yet having owned it for such a long time, from time to time new parts were added, replacing those which were worn or broken through normal use. Tyres were a particular bane, as they were replaced more frequently than all the other parts put together. So when the bicycle was stolen, something of my heart went with it. However, praise must go to other members of our fellowship, Ascot Life Church, who must have had a round-up on my behalf, for during my absence, two gift envelopes arrived at my door, containing money to cover the cost for a new bike. This goes to show the level of goodness among fellow believers in Jesus, and I'm so thankful for their kind gesture. So with the money I bought  a new bike, together with a strong D Lock, a device which its very existence reflects the bad state of the world where honesty comes into question. Now the new bike remains secured in our back yard when not in use.
Yet nevertheless that was not the end. Back in 2005, I took Alex my wife to Inverness in Scotland, to fulfil her dream to visit Loch Ness, the largest lake, I believe, in Great Britain. We laughed about the Loch Ness Monster, a Plesiosaur-like creature nicknamed "Nessie" that was supposed to inhabit the lake. Unfortunately, we saw nothing of it, even when we boarded a fast motorboat to cruise from one end of the lake to the other. While strolling along the main shopping precinct together, we spotted a beautiful dagger on display in one of the shops. Finished with a brass handle with delicate artwork, Alex gasped at the display, and I went along and bought it for her, noting its sheer weight. It was a demonstration of my love and devotion to my beloved, and I was willing to pay a reasonable price just to see her joy in receiving it. The dagger graced our lounge sideboard since the day we arrived home, and it became so familiar, that this week I did not notice its absence until Alex 'phoned me while I was at work.

Loch Ness, Scotland
Indeed I was flabbergasted! The very previous day to the 'phone call, I arrived home from work to see Alex in a state of comatose, a seizure resembling an epileptic fit, with difficulty in breathing. Without hesitation, I dialled Emergency Services for an ambulance to call at our home. When the crew arrived, I thought I saw the male member standing right in front of the dagger, with his back turned towards it, and facing us, while one of the females were discussing with us whether it was wise to escort my wife to A&E, as the possibility of almost immediate discharge would have created big problems getting home short of an expensive taxi fare. So arrangements were made to see our local GP instead, who diagnosed an infection and prescribed antibiotics. The paramedic in question did behave rather suspiciously, but all my attention was directed towards Alex, so even a hint of a likely theft was as far from my mind as east is from west, I gave no thoughts about it. In fact, after the crew had departed, I did not even suspect anything was amiss until Alex 'phoned me the next day.
Alex informed me that the dagger was there on the day the paramedics arrived. And as far as I recall, I had no other visitor in the house except a member of our church, who comes to visit Alex nearly every week while I'm out at work, as she had done for a number of years. So that leaves only the paramedic, who was after all, a stranger in our house, who I knew nothing of, except that he was wearing his work uniform. Otherwise he was just another guy in the street who had a problem with covetousness.
Alex was upset over her loss, which certainly was no help to me. She suggested contacting the police, but the embarrassment I would have felt at the unbelief of the officer over my insistence that our house was burgled by a paramedic, caused me to remain quiet. Too bad I did not take the fellow's name. This would have given me, and the police, an important lead. Therefore I reasoned with my wife that if he wanted the dagger so badly, then let him have it. As long as we still have each other - I may be able to replace the dagger if a very similar, or even an identical one was on sale - but I cannot replace Alex if anything was to happen to her. We still have each other, that is the main thing.
And I think Jesus would have said the same thing had he been around today. He would have discouraged us from contacting the police, and simply said that I should let the thief keep the loot if he wanted it so badly. Because, as he ministered in his day, he taught that a man's life does not consist of his possessions (Luke 12:13-31). He said this when someone approached him to act as barrister to divide and settle his father's inheritance with his brother, who claimed the whole estate. He then told a parable of the rich man who had harvested so much crops, that he felt it necessary to demolish his present barns, build larger ones, and live the rest of his life at leisure, sustained by his harvest. This sort of living is a dream for many. Many times I had to stand in a queue at a newsagents, waiting to pay for a newspaper while the customer in front was filling out his national lottery voucher. The dream of being wealthy, no longer having to work to pay the bills, to own anything he wants, and to travel the world at leisure, is the dream which motivates the customer in front of me to make a twice-a-week call a the newsagents to pay what I call; "the fool's tax."

But as the rich fool is about to live out his dream, Jesus then relates of his sudden, unexpected death, leaving no heirs to inherit his wealth, bringing out the reality of our existence - to love God and to love one another, especially the spouse. Jesus had always put relationships above wealth, as the former has eternal consequences, while the latter is subject to rust and moth corrupting, and thieves breaking through to steal (Matthew 6:19-21). I recall when I first believed in 1973. When I read what Jesus had to say about possessions, I found this very hard to bear. In those days, when still living at home, I did not find it a problem to save up what I earned and bought what came into my heart. For example, a music centre which kept me entertained in my bedroom, often playing Gospel music. Then not to mention my growing desire for travel.

Often I would think of Jesus, with nowhere to lay his head, tramping up and down Galilee and Judea as he ministered to others. And I recall reading of him saying to his disciples that the servant is not greater than his master (John 13:16, 15:20) nor is he who is sent greater than him who sent him. So if Jesus was homeless, so must be his followers. This was backed up further when, on one occasion, he turned to the crowds and declared that whoever does not take up his cross, dislike his own family, forsake all that he has, he cannot be his disciple (Luke 14:25-33), and to the rich young man he said that if you want eternal life, sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me (Matthew 19:16-26). Obviously, according to these and other Scripture passages, being a poor, homeless tramp was essential to salvation, so I thought in those days. Even Peter was aghast when he heard him talk to the rich young ruler, for he asked, "How then can anyone be saved, for we all own something?" v 25. And that was when Jesus revealed the truth of the Gospel:
What is impossible with man is possible with God.

Of course its natural and human for me to own something. And I have no desire to wander around the country without a roof over my head, particularly here in the UK with such a cool, temperate climate. Everyday I watch owners of fast cars whizz pass as I struggle up the hill on a bicycle or on foot, or the years of heavy graft put in to take on a mortgage, as opposed to renting. Yet, since I started believing in Jesus as Saviour towards the end of 1972, the desire for material riches began to lose its hold. Jesus was right - life is much more than possessions. Rather, I see it more of a preparation for eternity. I also recall, quite recently, reading a newspaper article reporting the result of a survey carried out here in Britain. According to this report, people are happier spending more on personal experiences than on tangible items. Holidays seem to top the list. The quest for foreign sunshine seems to be an obsession here, as the UK having such lousy summers is well known around the world. I am no exception. But as the majority of English families were staying at a hotel at a Spanish Costa, I went out to see a little of the world as a solo backpacker. Not following Jesus? Not hating everything in this world in order to be approved by him?

Rather I recognise that every good thing I have is a gift from God, as God so loved the world so much, that it is his desire to bless us with good things to enjoy. I believe that confessing the risen Jesus as the Christ and Lord is all that's required for salvation, according to John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10. As for loving possessions, on a human level it is impossible to change by self effort, and Jesus himself admits this. But by being filled with the Holy Spirit after believing, priorities of the heart starts to change. I have discovered that it is not difficult to put the will of God above my own wants. For example, the loss of the dagger was upsetting, because it was a love-gift from me to my wife, who loves these sort of things. But if I were to see the thief, rather than seek revenge, I'll simply say to keep what he has, if that was what he wanted, without contacting the police. The secret to all this is realising the vanity of life, when death awaits every man. King Solomon recognised this, and wrote the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon was no homeless tramp or street beggar. Instead he was the wealthiest king in Israel's history, and his glory was admitted by Jesus as well (Matthew 6:29). Yet he too, was aware of death approaching and recognised the vanity of earthly riches.

Alex seemed to have come to terms with the loss of the dagger, perhaps better than I did. But as people strive to gain wealth, either honestly through years of hard work, or dishonestly through theft, one thing is certain for us all - in the grave nothing we have now will be of any use or comfort.