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Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Greatest Gift of All

After the England football squad had returned to the UK earlier last week, I could not help but feel sorry for Roy Hodgson's team, after reading a long forum column of angry criticism aimed at the failed team players, following an online newspaper article. To be sent home early from the tournament, with still the knockout rounds to come, must have resulted in a sense of utter despair. What a sorrowful sight as the plane touched down at Luton Airport with not a single fan to welcome them in. As one commentator sarcastedly remarked: How would the star striker, Wayne Rooney, feel about putting out the dusbin, helping out with the housework, and washing up the dishes while the television spews out massive crowd applause from Brazil as one goal after another is scored?

As he stands at the kitchen sink, he could have well be visualising himself running full pace towards the opposing goal, when a teammate passes the ball to him. Being in the right position, he shoots, and as he watches the ball defy the goalkeeper as it flies into the net, half of the entire stadium arises with a thundering, almost earth-shaking cheer, amplified by the curvaceous structure of the building itself, as several thousand red and white clad spectators rise to their feet. There is only a few minutes left as the ball is fought over by the opposing team players. But they don't go very far, because the referee gives that one long, final blow of the whistle. The World Cup trophy will be heading with them to England. The entire audience of English fans stand on their feet to scream out their applause and praise, and the striker is aware that crowds of multiple thousands will await them as their plane lands back home, and then to be driven very slowly through the packed streets of London in an open top double deck bus. Then soon afterwards, team manager Roy Hodgson will receive a Knighthood from the Queen.

His dream fade into crushing reality as the green grass of the football pitch metamorphose into the gently rocking soap suds in the kitchen sink, as he finishes his final dish. The utter despair he must have felt, being out of the Cup so early, and becoming a pariah of the nation as he is accused of being grossly overpaid, spoilt, lazy, satisfied, and lacking passion for his country. And so the sarcastic comments flows in as the three lions becomes the three kittens, according to one other writer.

But there is still hope for Britain at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, even if the star player is not English, but Scottish. Andrew Murray had won the British single men's grand slam just the previous year in 2013, after more than seventy years without a British win since Fred Perry. Here is one man who can hold up the Union Jack, if not the Cross of St. George, that would give Britain a sporting saviour.

Andrew Murray

But even as I was aware of Murray's victory at Wimbledon, following a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics, somehow I did not feel the national adulation oozing for his victories as I would have felt if England had won the Cup. This had made me wonder whether Murray's predecessor, Englishman Tim Henman, would have received far greater glory had he won Wimbledon.

So at this time of writing, life beats on with the nation now focused on this South West London suburb. But if he wins - great; if not - well there is always next year. Meanwhile, life carries on, wondering what the real purpose of us mankind being here. From the news bulletin spewing from the TV set, Muslims in the Middle East clutch at each other's throats - Sunni against Shiite - fighting over territory, citizens by the thousands made homeless, and many more desperately trying to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded, rickety boats which certainly aren't seaworthy, with many lives lost to the sea. Meanwhile, a large proportion of our national population seems to be deluded with our Government ministers, the majority from exclusive public schools, and having never done a day's manual work, all being fully committed to the welfare of big business over those of lower income families. I read newspaper columnists favouring the privatisation of the National Health Service, with an introduction of fees for just visiting the G.P. - at present, a free service made available for everyone to receive treatment regardless of income, funded by a national purse into which every earner contributes as taxes.

Such columnists often make my blood boil. These are well educated men and women who attended grammar schools as a result of selection, having passed the primary eleven-plus exams as children. Groomed never to get their hands dirty, they graduate at university with a degree, the academic passport to journalism, where a right wing newspaper makes a suitable forum for them to spout their views. For them, a £10 fee to visit a doctor is hardly a dent in their high income - it's quite a different matter for a single or low-earning parent who has a son or daughter who was born with an infirmity. Yet many of their readers, mostly high income earners, applaud these opinionated journalists as the answer to all the nation's problems. So the strategy in Parliament is to reduce welfare for those who are truly hard up, unable to find a job, or suffer incapacity - believed by the better-off that this is a good thing for the Economy - only to find that the cross-party Members of Parliament themselves have their snouts in the trough in claiming expenses funded by the taxpayer. Mortgage scandals seems to be the main bane, but their expense claim can cover anything. In short, denying benefit to the genuine needy while lavishing in very much the same kind of benefit themselves.

Now with a fresh scandal of one M.P. caught embroiled in paedophilia, a Tory one at that. All this makes me wonder - wow! What is it with mankind? Are we the endless product of a long, long process of evolution? And as one American psychiatrist, Arthur Koestler had suggested: somewhere in the final explosive stages of our evolution as Homo Sapiens, something went seriously wrong. Really, are we just primates, as biologists insist? Only trading our thick body hair for larger brains and greater intelligence? On the other hand, Dr. B. F. Skinner, another American psychiatrist in the 1960s, believed that man's behaviour had always been modelled on the surrounding environment. So the theory of Darwinism marches on, believed on by almost all academics and a large proportion of the public in general. Ah! that's why such a high level of aggression, competitiveness, and even national and racial superiority. After all, the further advanced in evolution, the higher up the social ladder towards the goal of becoming god.

This quest in our attempt in becoming god was recognised by a third American psychiatrist who lived and worked in the same period, Dr. Karl Menninger. He was the one who accused many church leaders at the time of lacking backbone when confronting their congregation with the reality of sin. Yet there is that rustling sound from the Bible like leaves rustling in the wind. At the dawn of history we read about how Eve was tempted by the serpent when he suggested taking a fruit from a particular tree, in order for her husband and herself to have their eyes opened, and to become gods, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5, KJV.) This statement by itself seem to rebuke evolution. Rather, not only does this imply Divine Creation, but it is much closer to the desires and ambitions to the natural human heart. Let's face it, within every single one of us lies the desire to become a god, whatever form it takes.

But what wonderful good news I was reminded with when I read the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Here Jesus offered eternal life to all those who would simply believe. Eternal life with Christ for all believers! What a wonderful free gift of God this is. Jesus says that all who spiritually eat of his flesh and drink his blood has eternal life. And what I find so exciting is that I as a believer do not make a conscious effort to eat of his flesh and drink his blood in order to "stay saved" or attempt to get saved. Rather I eat of his flesh and drink of his blood as a result of already having received salvation. Another verse I found so encouraging is found in Luke 11:13, which reads:

If ye, being evil, know how to give good things unto your children: how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?

It is remarkably easy! Eternal life and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit - the third Person of the Trinity - available by the asking. More so, it is God's desire that all men everywhere repent, that is a change of mind to receive the salvation God offers. And all for free, as Jesus Christ had already paid the price for this great salvation by suffering and dying on a cross to atone for all our sins. Then receiving the Holy Spirit by the asking. It is so wonderful, a glorious demonstration of God's love for all mankind.

No, England does not need the World Cup, because in less than four years later, the trophy would have to be handed back to FIFA to be competed for all over again. But what this country needs, along with all the other nations of the world, is to renounce the brain-snatching lie of Darwinian evolution, and be willing and ready to receive a massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.

Now we have something, or rather someone, to really live for.


Sunday, 22 June 2014

Relief at Last?

Today as I sauntered through the shopping precinct and the malls in Reading, a large town some eleven miles from my home town of Bracknell, and reached by a short train ride, I could not help the feeling of casual sense of relaxation and the feeling of ease among the shoppers as they sauntered by. It was a beautiful sunny day, with the temperature soaring to a pleasant 22 degrees Celsius, on Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Oh well, as I sat on a public bench and mused: Christmas will soon be here.  
The relaxed atmosphere tells me a lot. First of all, sunshine weather does lift the spirits, minimises personal stress, and makes the whole world looking cheerful. But there was another aspect to this air of tranquil. As I write this, so I read, England are out of the World Cup tournament in Brazil. This was due to losing two opening matches, the first suffering a defeat from Italy, the second lost to Uruguay. Then for England to have held on to any hopes of going through to the knockout stages, Italy must score at least two goals against Costa Rica. But instead, Italy lost to this tiny segment of Central America by one goal to nil. As the complicated mathematical probabilities show, England are out of the tournament.
So the Media keeps telling us. So as I went to do the weekly grocery shop at the local supermarket, I actually watched a member of staff take down all the English St. George flags and bunting which were, before that evening, displayed everywhere in and out of the store. Homes in my neighbourhood also took down their flags, and the environment began to look as normal as any other time of the year.

Well almost. As I exited Bracknell station, the first thing I saw was a taxi at the front of the rank, still displaying two English flags. And across the street from my home, one house still has its large St. George hanging from the front bedroom window, and just two or three blocks away, another home is fully garnished with white and red flags and garden bunting. Despite what the Media says, backed by a public apology from the team broadcast on the BBC, as these fans see it, England is still, officially, in the tournament, a matter I agree with. The enduring presence of flags and bunting testifying to their ardent patriotism and devotion to the fact that England is not yet out of the contest until the moment the team boards the 'plane for the flight back to the UK.

So their hopes lingers on, regardless on what the Media tell us. Even with the 0.01% chance that England could still get through purely by a fluke, they believe miracles can and do happen. They have that longing for history to repeat itself maybe just once more in their lives, when those of my generation recall the mass hysteria nearly half a century previously, when the London street was so tightly packed with a million happy fans cheering the open-top double-deck bus, that Alf Ramsey's team were literally confined to a very slow crawl as the bus made its way to Mansion House. The feeling of sheer exuberance, the ecstasy shown by the vast crowd was something forever imprinted in the memory of our nation, and so brought up over and over again every four years when the World Cup football tournament kicks off once again.

Over the past 48 years since that great day, hopes builds on a four-year cycle, and each time this same enthusiasm crashes to the ground, particularly when England makes it into the knockout rounds, but usually does not get past the quarter finals. Monday morning comes round and it's back to the workplace, whether its in the office or at the roadworks, the drudgery goes on, the last of the hangover peters out as their consolation drinks in the pubs and bars fades with the lost contest into history. There is always the next time, perhaps. 
But as I sat on the public bench in Reading, I was aware that this time things were different. Sure enough, I could spot a downcast face here and there, but as for the general mood, I could not help feel a sense of relief in the air, helped a lot by the fine weather. At last, there is no more of this nail-biting tension whenever England plays in a knockout match. Relieved from this ninety minute agonising moments when a last minute equaliser scored in injury time condemning both teams to a thirty minutes of extra play, if not end in a penalty shootout, or after nearly two hours of near silence due to a goal-less draw. I felt so much relief from being delivered from the sheer frustration that the lack of goals could be so consistant with the game. Give me rugby anytime. The final score of say, 25 to 5 points would make a lot more exciting event to watch. But as I sat down on that bench and watched so many families saunter by, most with reasonably behaved children, with a few other toddlers screaming to get their own way, I was wondering why so many were ready to follow with devotion eleven men kicking a football, but the great God in Heaven was virtually unknown to them.

It was only a few days earlier, when speaking to one of my customers, that the reality of the spiritual state of many hit home. This wife and mother of three was aware of my wife's infirmity, and showing interest on how we were coping, her look of surprise when I explained our trust in God to sustain us, was something of a revelation. She was a typical Miss Average Brit whose working husband is a keen England supporter, supplying his twin son's bedclothes, as well as bedroom wallpaper, decorated with the England three lions and images of black and white footballs respectively.

What I am trying to say is: the vast majority of people in Britain do not seem to know God or his salvation. But not only in Britain, but all over the world, and particularly in the Far East where at certain days of the year, vast crowds gather to celebrate their Hindu or Buddha's holy days. Over here, it is the rare case, when the home team brings an international trophy back into the UK, that gathers the huge crowds, all enthusiastic in giving glory and honour to their sporting heroes.

I sat on that bench, and wondered just how believing that Jesus is the Son of God who was risen from the dead could so easily change a person's eternal destiny. As I watched mothers pushing their baby's pram or chair, I could see how the parent wants the very best for their offspring, and dad ensuring that the family is well provided for. Although the majority were white, representatives of all races sauntered past the bench I was sitting on. I was asking myself, why isn't the truth of the Gospel getting through to them? What is the eternal destiny of the newborn asleep in the pram? And what if one was born in a Hindu, Islamic or Buddhist country? As I visualise the newborn, crying to inflate his or her lungs so soon after being born, does it seem like a luck of the draw that this baby's parents happen to be Hindu? Even in one of the streets I work at, I watched a daughter born in a Muslim family, and grow up to learn about the works of Mohammad. In turn, one of our church elders is a devout Christian, who himself had married a believer, and their two sons are growing up under Christian instruction and guidance, just as the elder himself and his two brothers also grew up in a Christian household.

What is it that keeps many from believing the simple truth of Christ Resurrected? As I look around, I sigh, wishing that everyone came to the knowledge of the truth. I imagine vast, vast crowds gathering together to celebrate the victory Jesus Christ has won for us, defeating the forces which had enslaved the human heart since the dawn of history. Sure, I have been to Christian festivals such as Spring Harvest and Stoneleigh, where a crowd can fill a large top, but this would be minuscule compared to the crowds that would have filled the streets of London as the England team holds aloft the World Cup trophy, as it happened in 1966.

Sure enough, there was a large crowd who greeted Jesus during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. They cried out, Hosanna to the Son of David! - as a result of witnessing his miracle of raising Lazarus physically from the dead. They had not only cheered him, but threw palm leaves on the road in front of his donkey. But all this was little more than hero-worship, very much like England received in 1966. But the sheer fickleness of the heart is exposed by the attitude of the very same crowd, this time crying out for him to be crucified. Perhaps not that different from the binned flags and bunting found across the country after this year's early defeat.

How I long in my heart to see many more people believing in Jesus and being saved. How I would like to see an enormous crowd thundering their praise to God as a result of spiritual regeneration rather than hero-worship. Wouldn't it be wonderful so see the result of mass regeneration - members of the Police force needed to find alternative work, the doing away with train tickets and the need for ticket inspectors and barriers, the closing down of law and civil courts, prisoners set free. I know, this seems cloud-cuckoo land in this present age, but the Bible promises a future age when all of these dreams will be realised, together with the elimination of all sin, illness, negative emotions, anger and frustration, boredom and finally death. And this fantastically beautiful world will not be confined to Disney or Grimm's fairy tales. Instead this new age will become a reality, and furthermore, a free invitation to enter God's kingdom is available to all who would receive it.

Maybe if Jesus was the national and international icon rather than England football team, who knows what day-o-day life would be like?

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Is My Love Stronger Than God's?

Anyone who has just read the above title would immediately answer, Of course your love isn't stronger than God's! Who do you think you are?
But actually, over forty years of being a Christian believer, such thoughts have crossed my mind. And here I am not referring to God's power, strength, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, his sovereignty, or any of his other attributes - rather, I'm referring to his love. Pardon me for saying this, but God's love has always been an issue I have struggled with. I think this is because it's my natural instinct to exclude my sinful nature from God's holiness. Perhaps its rather like taking an apple from a bowl of fruit. As you turn the fruit in your hand, you come across a hole at the surface, and suspect seeing a maggot inside. Immediately the apple is thrown into the waste bin without taking a single bite. If the affected fruit is so repulsive to eat, then that is pretty well like God finding me repulsive because of my "maggot" of sin within.

It was from this Biblical perspective that I understand that just as the affected fruit is thrown out, so likewise, God cannot accept sinners into his Kingdom. And that is the problem - there is sin in me. So God brought a solution to the problem: by sending his Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty my sins deserve, so that one with the likes of myself can be admitted into Heaven totally free from sin.
But there are two ways to resolve that problem: One is to remove the maggot from the apple, then the rest can be eaten. Or re-grow the fruit, ensuring that this time no bug will lay its eggs while in flower. Over the years, by reading the New Testament, the removing of the maggot before eating seems to be the solution. But the truth is, even after the bug has been removed, I would not want to eat the rest, even if I went for the unaffected white flesh by slicing it with a knife. To me, the entire fruit is inedible.
So where is the connection here? When it comes to faith in the atonement made by Jesus on the cross, then it is taught by many that only my past sins are forgiven at he moment of conversion. I am aware that I have discussed this already in the last two blogs. But here I would like to bring out a coincidence, known to my own experience, as a result of such thinking. It is the idea that I now have a clean slate. However, it does not stay clean for long. All I need is to harbour an unclean thought, for example, fantasising in sharing intimacy with the beautiful woman nearby who is married to another. It may be a pleasant thought to indulge in - the snag is, adultery is already committed in the heart, breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Confession of the sin does bring forgiveness, but more often than not, many a sin comes and goes unconfessed, and sooner or later the pile is high enough to forfeit salvation, and I would still end up in Hell if I were to die. This is the central teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in which I grew up, and many evangelical preachers teach a very similar idea which is upheld in many denominational churches.
The overall picture gotten from this way of believing was that God's love is very weak indeed, while his wrath against sin remains very strong. It is a way of saying that when it comes to loving someone, I can do a better job than God, who despite being adopted into his family, still watches my performance to see whether I'm really worthy enough to enter Heaven after death. One area of Scripture to "prove" whether I'm worthy of eternal life is found in Revelation chapters two and three, where John writes to the seven churches that whoever overcomes shall live and not die, e.g. Revelation 2:11. This has been expounded in both books and Christian tape recordings to churches across the nation, and beyond.
Sometimes I'm tempted to feel that my love for my wife and children is stronger than God's love for me. As for my wife, she is human like everyone else, and she has her faults. But would I throw her out of the house, or walk out myself, due to her lack of perfection? No way! I will always love her unconditionally. Neither would I give her laws to live by, if she wants my love. Neither does she feel the need to overcome anything to stay in my love. Rather, I love her as my wife, my nearest and dearest, in in no way would I make her suffer for a moment for any mistakes made, let alone for eternity! As for my daughters, supposing they decide that I was no longer relevant to them, and have turned their backs on me? Supposing that they wanted absolutely nothing to do with me, and they decided to go their own way? Would I stop loving them? Would I condemn them to everlasting punishment? By no means! I will always love them. Since they were born, I have put a portion of my earnings into their bank accounts. And even if they dessert me, I will continue to put money away into their accounts. I would never cease loving them, neither would I lay down the law which they must obey in order to stay in my love, or risk being ostracised. Why are they so special to me? Because they are my daughters. And I think this love I have for my family is from Jesus Christ himself.
If I'm a son of God, adopted into his family through faith in the risen Christ Jesus, then the possibility of being disfranchised makes God's love for me not only conditional, but also very weak and fickle. This seems to be heightened by ministers preaching on fear of punishment if I don't hold faithful enough, or not overcoming my sins, or the world. In short, my love for my wife and daughters is stronger than God's love for me. This seems ridiculous, even blasphemous, yet there are people, some I know personally, who believes this very thing, and it's believed on by a great many more.

David Pawson, a strong advocate of probational, or conditional salvation based on a believer's performance.
So it looks to me that merely removing the maggot from a diseased apple does not make it fit to eat, so God's forgiveness of past sins only at conversion does not make a believer fit for Heaven. As for a new fruit, unaffected by any bugs, needs to grow in order to be fit to eat, then I myself must be re-born in the spirit to be fit for Heaven, the birth of the new man within. As Jesus himself said on one occasion, unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God - John 3:3.
Yet there are many Scripture verses which seem to indicate that salvation is dependent on the believers performance and faithfulness. One oft-quoted passage is Hebrews 6:4-6. Here, five issues are given, which includes being made partakers of the Holy Spirit, but none describes a true believer who is born from above. In John 16:8-11, Jesus foretold that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement. And this is particular with the Jews, who have seen Jesus, watched and listened to his ministry, yet rejected him in favour of established Jewish customs. And in Hebrews 10, there is talk about sinning wilfully after coming to the knowledge of the truth. Coming to the knowledge of the truth, as the Sanhedrin did soon after his Resurrection, does not make them into believers. Their sin was of rejecting Christ in favour of the Temple, a sin which can be classed as "unpardonable." Therefore, it looks to me that being made partakers of the Holy Spirit involves conviction of sin, the truth about the atonement made by the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, and the inner call to trust in him. But rather the Jews, in which the letter was referring to, charged Jesus Christ as an impostor, and returned to the Temple ordinances which initially was a shadow of was what to come, namely Jesus himself. Their sins can't any longer be covered.

Then there are other Scripture verses, such as Philippians 2:12, we are exhorted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling - a text used by one preacher back in 1994 to disprove eternal security - and very nearly caused a riot among his audience. Or the promise to be presented to Christ at the Resurrection free from blemish and accusation - if we stand firm, stated in Colossians 1:22-23. Then reading through the second letter of Paul to Timothy as well as the second letter of Peter, all these seem to present an extremely fickle God whose love is conditioned by performance. So preachers who are famous and well known in the faith, expound fear of eternal punishment unless living a thoroughly holy life, in a way presenting a god whose love is so weak, that one with the likes of myself either tremble at the fear of death, as millions of Roman Catholics did particularly over the Dark to Middle Ages, or prone to turn atheist, like one angry Catholic builder has done, whom I got acquainted with at the sauna.

I think there is only one solution to the apparent contradiction found in the New Testament. That is, when a believer turns to Jesus Christ for salvation, not only does he receive a pardon, the forgiveness of sins, but also a full judicial acquittal, thoroughly explained by Paul in Romans chapters 3 and 4, and endorsed further in chapter eight. These are endorsements made by the apostle after Jesus himself, before his crucifixion, had promised eternal life to all believers, specifically stated in John chapters six, ten, and 17. But there is more. In Paul's letter to the Romans, he explains that a righteousness from heaven is revealed to all believers. That is to say, every true believer in Jesus Christ has the righteousness of God imputed into his account. In other words, God sees us as equally righteous as Jesus himself. That is wonderfully good news!

There is an important point here. If the righteousness of Christ is imputed into my account, then if I lose my salvation, as many in the pulpit insist, then that makes the atonement Jesus had brought about totally useless. Even the Roman Catechism insist that the atonement made by Christ on the cross was not sufficient enough to acquit the sinner and made him fit for heaven. So the Catholic believer has to partake in the Presence of Christ at the Eucharist every Sunday and holy days set by the Church. Not to mention, in addition, devotion to Mary and the reality of Purgatory, a temporary Hell where the believer has his sins purged out before entering Heaven. In reality, Christ's mission some two thousand years ago was an absolute failure - with not one person saved at all.

So what of these  portion of Scripture which looks like "Problem Passages" to the likes of me who believe in eternal security? Do they contradict the great truths of judicial acquittal? No, not at all. The account settled with God is to do with the heart, the part of me no other man can see. But what other men do see is my attitude, the way of expression, and the things I say and do. And this is why I believe that God is very concerned about the way I live as a believer. My very existence as a believer before death is to reveal the love of God to other men, so they too can believe and be saved. People will not be impressed with my faith if I behave sinfully like other men. Rather, I am to make my calling in Jesus Christ sure, in the sight of other men, so that they may glorify the Father who is in Heaven.

And where Peter's second letter is concerned, this involves false teachers. These come in many different forms. But their central core of teaching was that the sufficiency of Christ's atonement made on the cross was not enough to justify the believer, therefore the saint must add works to make sure he is fit for Heaven. The direct result of such teaching was that it tended to make the person sin even more, and to bring out excuses for such bad behaviour. This is the denial of the Lord who had bought them, and severely rebuked by Peter. Anyone reading about the history of the Roman Church and the terrible deeds done by many of her Popes and clergy in the centuries past will testify to the value of Peter's letter.

Just as removing the maggot from a diseased apple does not make it fit to eat, so trying to reform myself does not make me fit for heaven. Instead, I had to be reborn in the spirit, making me a new man, born of God and bestowed with the righteousness of Christ, in the same way a fresh, unaffected apple has to be grown and cultivated in order for it to be fit to eat. The maggoty apple is thrown out. Likewise, when I die, my regenerated spirit goes to be with the Lord, while my sinful flesh is taken to the grave for burial.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Road Rage & Balloons

Do you ever feel that life as a Christian believer is a bit like a roller-coaster? Like the time, quite recently, a friend and I spent the day at Thorpe Park near the English town of Chertsey. Not unlike Disneyland or any other theme parks across the world, this fun attraction features rides where we climbed into a roofless car, then hear it go clunk-clunk-clunk up a slope, until there was quite a panorama of the entire park, along with surrounding countryside below us, as we watch the bend approach, looking almost exactly like a dead end - a rail track leading up to the sky and suddenly ending nowhere. Then as the car reaches the apex, the clunking ends and the car suddenly gathers speed as it shoots down the first slope.
Or in blowing up a toy balloon. With eyes shut, I push short breaths into the expanding skin, when suddenly - POP! The large spheroid vanishes instantly as a rupture breaches the thin rubber, leaving a small split residue which now makes a funny noise when I blow into it. That's why to this day I get nervous whenever I see someone blowing up a balloon, say for celebrating Christmas or someone's birthday.

 My experience in the Christian faith seems to resemble these two illustrations: A time of spiritual ecstasy, when I feel close to God and in union with him, followed by times of feeling low and all alone. As one who grew up in the Catholic faith before conversion towards the end of 1972, I must admit, to this day, I'm not totally free. Neither am I unique. Abraham, for one, had his struggles. Failing to believe God's promise that he would have a son out of his wife Sarah, he thought of helping a dilatory Jehovah by giving in to his wife's demands by fathering a child from Hagar, Sarah's Egyptian maidservant. But even before this, he twice lied to foreign kings that Sarah was just his sister, to preserve his own life, forgetting the promise God gave that he would father a nation which will bring a blessing to every family on earth. And who can forget the suffering Job went through, when he thought that God was playing some cruel game with him?

Although I admit, those two are hoary with age, I have no doubt that many of us believers have very similar problems with believing, right up to this day. For example, I wonder if you too ponder whether God really loves you, and has accepted you as without sin us Jesus Christ himself. This is a very difficult concept to swallow, for I am aware how holy and pure God is, and how I fall short of this standard everyday of my life. Then there are a number of warnings found in the New Testament indicating what looks like being in spiritual danger in my standing with God if don't measure up efficiently. And so, over the centuries, as believers find it more difficult to reconcile justification by faith with their sinful natures still lurking within, new doctrines were suggested, absorbed into the faith, then developing into new laws which must be believed and acted upon in order to receive salvation. In short, where Heaven was originally opened by the atonement Jesus made on the cross, it eventually became accessible only through a lifetime of ritual, customs and good works.

For an example, the Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages used the presence of our sinful natures to suggest the idea of Purgatory, a temporary Hell where the soul of the believer goes after death to be purged of any venial sins remaining. This idea became church law, and must be believed by all, and acted upon in order to be saved. Thus, by playing on the terrors of the ordinary people, the Church became rich from payments made for the clergy to pray them out of Purgatory. Not forgetting too, that if both believer and unbeliever dies in mortal sin, then its eternal Hell, with no hope of release.

So as the centuries transpired, the efficiency of the Atonement Jesus made on the cross became less and less effective, until it came to the point where the Catholic believer, even helped with God's grace, had to work his own way to Heaven. The result of when Church and State merge, as was the case with Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth Century, had resulted in a society riddled with corruption. Only this weekend, while reading an article in the newspaper analysing the coming World Cup in Brazil, I came across these words:

Last year alone, 6,000 people "disappeared" in Rio, and many are believed to have been murdered by police or their gangland enemies. Meanwhile, violent crime remains a terrifying daily occurrence, and Brazil's murder rate is one of the highest in the world.*

And isn't it over the city of Rio that the giant statue of Jesus Christ has his arms raised in blessing and protecting the city? Then again, if the Jesus Christ of Roman Catholicism has a heart of stone, well portrayed by the statue, then little wonder that the hearts of the people in Rio, and Brazil in general, are just as stony towards each other, most likely the love of money in connection with the high murder rate.

Then the Reformation came along. Martin Luther and his associates tried to reform his own Catholic church with the truth of Justification by Faith, gotten by browsing the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans and coming across verse 17 - The just shall live by faith. Then John Calvin came along with the idea of eternal security of the believer, gotten from John chapter ten and Romans chapter eight, and other verses elsewhere. Some years later, Dutch theologian James Arminius challenged John Calvin over the issue of eternal security of the believer, and his ideas became hugely popular among many Protestant churches, most likely remaining unaware that Arminius' ideas were a reversal towards Roman Catholicism, even though the majority of these churches denounced Romanism as the Whore of Babylon of Revelation 17. So the years go by with many churches and individual Christians believing that unless one holds faithful, and constantly sticks close to Jesus, there is that danger of a lost eternity in Hell, along with allowing unconfessed sins to pile up until salvation is lost, even though nobody knows just where this line is crossed, neither Catholics or Arminians.

In this train of thought, I wonder whether I love God for who he is, a God of love, grace and mercy, who sent his Son to atone for my sins by physically suffering, and then dying nailed to a wooden cross, and rising from the dead three days later - or living a life of fear of a god (small g) who is constantly monitoring my performance as a believer to see whether I am worthy enough to enter Heaven after death. I know at least two people at Ascot Life Church who holds to this point of view, and I how found them to be always serious, hardly ever smiling, prone to be judgemental, and to put it bluntly, quite uncomfortable to have around! They are the sort of  people whom in their presence, I have to mind my Ps & Qs and wish, at least with one of them, that my prayer life matches his.

Yet that's the case with million across the Western world, where Christianity is either a State religion, as the case of European nations, as well as Latin and South America, or holds sway as in the case of the USA. It looks to me that the majority don't believe in eternal security of the believer, and in mainland Europe as a whole, this idea is virtually unknown. Yet it seems such a paradox in a way, that among such nations where Catholicism holds such power, it is extremely difficult to find anyone who is devoted to Jesus Christ with the understanding that faith in him alone brings eternal life through means of a re-birth of the spirit. Instead both Catholics and Arminians (along with Jehovah's Witness, Mormons, Unitarian, Church of Christ, and other splinter groups) insist that from the moment of conversion, only the past sins were forgiven, leaving a blank slate where the believer must hold out faithful and prevent any unconfessed sins piling up in order to be saved.

Yet only last week I was pondering on a verse of Scripture which I quoted in my last blog:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
James 2:10.

This is a serious case to ponder on! Paul also endorses this by quoting Deuteronomy 27:26, which reads:
Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.
Galatians 3:10.

The reality of these two verses are an indication of the utter impossibility for a believer to "stay saved" if only his past sins were forgiven. If God through Christ has forgiven only the believer's past sins, then there will not be a single believer in Heaven! In fact, absolutely everyone will end up in eternal Hell, including Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, all the prophets, along with Peter and the other apostles, Paul himself, and all the churches - languishing in Hell for all eternity - if God forgives only the believer's past sins at the moment of conversion, as so many teach. And here is where the real danger of diabolical heresy lies: The teaching of only past sins forgiven with the believer's conversion has made the cleansing power of the Crucifixion totally ineffective. To put it another way, Jesus Christ's mission on earth two thousand years ago was a total failure!

Rather, I thank and praise the Lord for forgiving all my sins at conversion - past, present and future, and on top of this, having received God's own righteousness into my account. After all, if only my past sins were forgiven, then imagine my frustration when someone blocks my path while cycling - and the offender, instead of looking where he's going, he buries his scowling face towards a tablet, as he is busy texting. My resulting ire and impatience would make me a lawbreaker - and bound for Hell. And talking of motoring, according to my observations, the steering wheel is the hotbed for foul tempers and anger towards other drivers not flowing with the traffic smoothly, to the extent that the words Road Rage are now accepted in the English dictionary. A believer with just his past sins forgiven wouldn't stand a chance! Christ's atonement would be entirely powerless to save.

Hence, when reading of warnings for believers found in the New Testament, little wonder that my spiritual life is like a roller-coaster ride or a balloon bursting during inflating. This is due to my immaturity, and not any contradictions in the Bible. As believers, we have received full acquittal from all our sins, and received a righteousness from God which, because of its divine origin, cannot be undone. But the covenant between the believer's heart and God cannot be seen by other men. Hence warnings to the believer to be worthy of his calling in the sight of all men, to make his calling sure in their sight. After all, it was Jesus himself who instructed to let my light shine so other people can glorify my Father, and they too, can be saved. (Matthew 5:14-16.)

Seeing someone turning to Christ and being saved? Now that is a good reason to release balloons into the air.


* Dominic Sanbrook, The Daily Mail, Saturday June 7th, 2014. Page 17.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Three Little Boys

I'm sure that many of you, perhaps late in the evening, while there is nothing worth watching on television, you take a casual browse through the Internet, and click on to a website such as YouTube, and then browse through countless files up on offer. So one evening this week I came across one video titled Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody - Ghost, and I felt my emotion rise as I watched the ghost of the hero kiss his tearful living partner goodbye as he slowly turns to walk into Heaven - all within a beautiful love song from the 1960s. The Righteous Brothers were a band which had prominence in the Charts of that decade, one of their songs becoming the basis for the final scene of the movie Ghost, released in 1990. The movie featured Patrick Swayze, who played the starring role as a banker, Sam Wheat, who discovered that a fraud was taking place in the New York City bank in which he worked. He shared his concerns with his colleague and closest friend Carl Bruner (Tony Goldwyn) who, being the fraudster himself, hired a hit man to have Sam murdered. As a ghost, he was given the task to set things right and have the fraudster brought to justice before he could be let into Heaven.

Patrick Swayze as the ghost of Sam Wheat.

I recall watching the movie at my brother's home together with my parents one Christmas afternoon in the mid nineties, and again at our home with my wife in the year 2000 or early 2001. Although the movie was no source for doctrine and should be taken at exactly the same intellectual level as Walt Disney, yet the emphasis on the afterlife should be a reminder to all that such a post-mortal state does exist, with the gates of both Heaven and Hell fully featured in the film.

I have heard second hand about the death of the actor, so after the video clip was finished, I decided to check up on this guy - the birth, life and death of Patrick Swayze on the Internet. I have discovered that the actor, songwriter and celebrity was born on the 18th August 1952, a full month before I was born. And that given what Mum once told me - that I should be two weeks older than I really am, due to a delayed birth with no option of a Caesarian op in those days. The date of Swayze birth brought to mind the date of Christopher Reeve's birth, which was on the 25th September 1952 - just nine days after I was born. Reeve's major role in acting was of the American comic character Superman. As a boy, I have often read Superman, so having already been familiar with the hero, I became a fan of Superman the Movie, released in 1978 along with its sequels. I can go as far to say that watching Superman the Movie on the big screen was the inspiration for the 1978 solo backpacking trip across the USA!

Christopher Reeve as Superman.

So in late Summer of 1952, except for location, three newborns could have been lying in their cots, arranged according to date of birth, side by side at a nursery. With just over five weeks between the oldest and the youngest, I would have been the one in the middle cot. Three very similar looking sucklings, at times all asleep, other times one, two or all three wailing to be fed or have their diapers changed. All three growing into toddlers, then boys who had the same interest in toy trucks, train sets, Meccano, and perhaps the thrills of playing outside in games such as chase with other friends, or to enjoy the experience with his mates of damming up a local stream and watching the water pond up behind the barrier. But although our childhoods might have been very similar with each other, my destiny was to be vastly different from those of the other two.

Swayze and Reeve became celebrities. Hollywood had recognised their good looks, strong bodies and acting talent which would eventually shoot them into fame, become household names, and with Patrick Swayze in particular, be described as "Utterly gorgeous" by women across the western world, while boys gravitated towards Christopher Reeve in admiration, and wishing for his extraordinary powers as Superman. And as for the infant in the second cot, he would never be a celebrity. Fame would be totally elusive. He would fail at school, and although he enjoyed school drama, nobody would have recognised his desire or talents, and without any outstandingly good looks, was to be passed over. In 1968, he began work as an apprentice wood finisher, but with pushing a broom every morning across two factory shop floors, by the end of five years he was still far from being a qualified wood finisher, although he did learn a smattering of French Polishing. So was to be my destiny. My destiny as a lifelong labourer.

For the first three or four years, I worked under the supervision of an elderly gent who served at the Royal Air Force during the War, in the Middle East during the British Mandate. The supervisor was very disappointed with life as a whole, for both fame and recognition had eluded him too, and he felt that he deserved better recognition after risking his life serving his country with loyalty. One afternoon, while I was busy, he approached me with an announcement that he would be on television that evening.

I looked up, with eyes open wide and gasped, Really?

He then said, Yes indeed. I'll be standing on the set while hanging up the curtains! As he watched my face drop, he turned and walked away laughing aloud like a madman, his cackles probably heard right across the factory. Such an incident revealed his crushing disappointment with life as a nobody, just another one of the masses who has to stand at the back of the queue like everyone else, and barred from any V.I.P. counter, gate, or entrance.

There must be something about achieving fame, recognition, admiration and publicity as a result of having talent. Also receiving public honour and recognition for bravery and servitude under life-threatening circumstances, which my supervisor felt he deserved. Surely, there are those who aspire for celebrity of one kind of another. Like one candidate who applied for a singing contest broadcast on TV by the BBC, with the ultimate prize of becoming a theatre star, perhaps leading to greater things. He lost at the first round of selection, and we watched him cry like a baby in the arms of the show presenter Graham Norton. And this candidate did not even look wimpish at all, but with shaven head, he would have passed as any working class mechanic, builder or gang leader.

Then again, there are those who would prefer to lead a peaceful life as a "nobody" without the TV or movie cameras focusing their lens at them, and to stay out of the media. Sometimes, checking on the lifespans of many celebrities, there seems to be something destructive about fame and celebrity.

Remember the three little boys - Patrick Swayze, myself and Christopher Reeve. Three newborn infants asleep in each cot placed side-by-side according to age. Swayze on one side of me, Reeve on the other, my cot in the middle. Well, Patrick Swayze died of Pancreatic cancer on September 14th 2009, aged 57 years. Christopher Reeve fell off a horse during a showjumping competition on May 27th 1995, which left him paralysed from the neck down, and died of heart failure on October 10th 2004, aged 52. Of the three children, I remain alive and well, still able to carry ladders around a housing estate at age 61.

Of other celebrities worth a mention here include John Winston Lennon, one of the Fab Four, or the Beatles, was shot dead in New York City by David Mark Chapman on December 8th 1980, aged 40 years. And if one gets the impression that only male celebs were affected, actress and singer Marilyn Monroe died aged just 36 on August 5th 1962, of a barbiturate overdose. More recently, Karen Carpenter, one of a singing duet with brother Richard, died on February 4th 1983, of heart failure, possibly brought on by an overdose of ipecac, to induce vomiting, but this was not confirmed by her brother Richard. She was just 32 years old. Then there was British singer Amy Whitehouse who died of Alcohol intoxication on 23rd July 2011 aged just 27.

John Lennon

Then last in this tragic and melancholic list is Elvis Presley. This American celeb who was referred to as the King of Rock, was born on January 8th 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, and after serving a few years in the U.S. army, rose above the ranks as a popular singer. One of his songs which had become one of my favourites was Suspicious Minds, released in 1969. It was when I set foot in the USA for the first time in my life, in the Summer of 1977, when I alighted the Greyhound bus at Chicago bus terminal, that I spotted a large crowd in the street, along with TV cameras and interviewers with microphones. When I approached one in the crowd and asked what the issue was, I was told that singer Elvis Presley died in the bathroom of his home at Memphis, of drug abuse - on August 16th 1977, the very day I arrived at Chicago. He was 42 years of age.

Karen Carpenter

When I consider the above statistics, I am thankful to God that I have arrived at my seventh decade of life. It seemed contrary to common sense that the two newborns on either side of me are now in their graves, despite having life destinies which most would only dream to aspire. With me, I'm just a mere window cleaner, but I'm still alive. Furthermore, I am aware that spending a lifetime engaged in a humble occupation is not the end in itself, but a means to an end. And that end is to spend eternity with my Maker, revelling in the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, among countless of other saints who were before me, along with those who are still to come.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified is the only hope I have. It is the surety which enables me to smile in a celebrity-worshipping world. And that includes authors whose book sales have given them recognition, even if not quite celeb status. Being a mere window cleaner, my theological opinion would not be taken as seriously as those written by an Oxford or Cambridge trained theologian. Such one author whose works I'm familiar with, Methodist pastor, stage speaker and author David Pawson, well known in many British churches, and known by other churches in Australia and possibly America as well. Browsing through his works, I came to the conclusion that this author taught the Roman Catholic doctrine that on conversion, only the past sins were forgiven, and the new believer must constantly keep his slate clean by constant confession of sins committed. He teaches that letting sins pile up unconfessed would lead to loss of salvation, although neither he or anyone else knows exactly when this point of no return is crossed, a stigma which was always been a problem with Rome.

This is dangerous heresy, failing to understand what exactly is sin. The truth is, that unless total acquittal is granted by God to the believer, just one sin will slay him spiritually. In other words, a believer with just his past sins forgiven will still go to Hell for allowing something as simple as an unclean thought to dwell for a moment in his mind. As the Scripture says, if one keeps the Law perfectly, but stumbles at just one point, he has broken the whole Law. If learned men such as Pawson is right, then every believer would go to Hell after death, and not just many, as this author insists. This is why Divine Acquittal, or Once Saved Always Saved, is something I'm so devoted to.

But like celebrity worship, there are believers, even in my own church fellowship, who would dismiss me in favour of a better educated professor. This is a terrible tragedy of our culture. Sure, I agree that a diagnosis of an illness made by a Medical Doctor is far more reliable than following an old wives tale, but this is not the same as swallowing heresy just because the perpetrator had studied at Cambridge. Rather, I prefer the divine acquittal, or justification by faith as taught by Paul in his letter to the Romans, and realise that without the work of God in my life, I have absolutely no hope.

It is not up to me to say where Patrick Swayze and Christopher Reeve are now. My hope and desire are that they have found God in their hearts sometime before their deaths. I guess that was why one suffered with pancreatic cancer for the last few months of his life, and the other was paralysed for up to nine years. These were good opportunities to call upon the name of the Lord, and be saved.

Who knows, maybe all three of us may link arms in the heavenly realm, with me in the middle - where else?