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Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Die is Cast

When I was in my twenties, and grappling with the truths of the Christian faith, I wanted to be part of the local Christian church, which fortunately for me, happen to be a "live" church close to where I lived. This was against the so-called "dead" churches, which was defined by the traditional Sunday service attended by formally-dressed senior citizens long retired from their professions - singing melancholic hymns, chanting prayers, and reciting the liturgy, then after a sleep-inducing sermon, dismissed with a blessing, but with no more fellowship than a formal limp handshake, together with the question of mandatory church etiquette:
And how are you today, sir?
In which the answer must never be any other than Fine, thank you. The very thought of admitting that you're upset because of a massive row with the wife earlier that morning, or your grandson is down with measles, or you are faced with a debt you are unable to repay, or that the breakfast toast was served burnt, would be anathema in such an environment. After all, here in England, showing or expressing emotion is just not on.

So in this "live" church I could not help but mix with plenty of graduates - along with a variety of older families with young children, middle aged couples and pensioners as well, all assembled for the "modern" live service with more upbeat music (yes, even drums!) - along with more individual prayers and an attention-grabbing sermon on practical living, and of course, about midway through the service, the whole congregation reciting the Lord's Prayer - the only remaining link with tradition, and that most likely for the benefit of the elderly. But it is the fellowship which followed after the end of the service which sets apart the "live" church from a "dead" one. Far more positive conversation among the people with, heaven forbid, even an occasional hug, but still again, negative emotion frowned upon. When the question was asked, How are you today? The stock answer must always be, Fine, thank you. Oh, how tradition and English church etiquette never dies! And so the years roll by, and I believe, from American churches across the Atlantic, the idea of coffee and doughnuts being introduced after the service was a sure way of maintaining growth of the congregation as well as preserving its numbers.
So it goes, after any one service, I approach a young newcomer and ask him where is he from.
I have just graduated from Loughborough University.
"That's a very good uni, with first class reputation. What subject did you study?"
"Huh-uh, good on you. Sorry, but I'm in a bit of a rush. I speak to you soon. Ta-rah!"
The graduate watches for a moment as I walk off, then catching sight of a married couple standing nearby, I pause to open a conversation with them "for a quick hello" but twenty minutes later I'm still chatting happily with them. The  graduate has seen it all before. The subject of mathematics as a degree had turned several away in the past, and maybe he can't help feeling a little left out, probably even lonely. No doubt, there are many who had struggled with the subject at school, perhaps just scraping through a G.C.E. pass with scant success. That in itself looks to me of something of an achievement. Some years after leaving school, I enrolled at day college to study maths at G.C.E. level. After sitting the final exam, the result envelope dropped through the letterbox of my apartment. Inside, a piece of paper had the word written ungraded. That means absolute fail. In those days a General Certificate of Education consisted of a pass grade of A, B, and C, with D and E equivalent to a secondary certificate. I couldn't even get an E. I have always found the subject daunting, let alone someone with a university degree!
Yet numbers does hold a degree of fascination for me, because they feature well in the Bible. I guess we have all heard of the Trinity, the seven days of the week, and the twelve tribes of Israel together with the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. And that despite that one of the disciples turned out to be a loser, and he had to be replaced with another candidate to keep the number to twelve. And yet the Biblical numeration weren't expressed in the way we understand them at present. In Hebrew, of which most of the Old Testament was written, a letter from the alphabet represented the number. In Greek as was the original New Testament, words represented numeration, such as tessera for four, hepra for seven, dodeka for twelve, eikosi tessares for 24, to name a few. Yet as I see it, it was no accident that we now have numbers which nothing else could express the character of God so explicitly.
As in my last blog, the Bible indicates that seven is God's unique number. For example, it is recorded as God creating the earth and everything in it, including our first parents, in six days, with the seventh day God had rested. In Exodus 20, the Sabbath rest given to Israel was the seventh day of the week, after the order of Creation. God had also commanded the elders of Israel to make a seven-branch candlestick, which at present we refer to as the Menorah, and place it inside the Tabernacle. It is also interesting that the Hebrew name for Israel is actually YISRAEL - an anagram of initials of the nation's founding parents: Yacob, Isaac, Sarah, Rebekah, Abraham, Elohim, Leah - with six human names and one divine name, making a total of seven. All six were buried in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron, while the seventh was the nation's founder and finisher, and lives forever, as opposed to being buried in a cave. In the book of Revelation, its author John sees a vision of the risen Christ holding a seven-star Menorah, representing the seven spirits of God and the seven churches in Asia to which the book is addressed.

Seven is one of three special numbers representing God, the other two being three and twelve. Three is the triune essence of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - which makes up the divine Trinity. From it, many aspects of his creation can be seen or experienced. For example, space has three dimensions: length, area and volume. Time is past, present and future. Water, which sustains life, can be of ice, liquid or vapour, as with our planet's surface - land, ocean and atmosphere.  Even a human being is a trinity - spirit, soul and body. In the way all living fauna move: walk on land, swim in water, and fly through the air, with man-made modes of transport using the same triune means to move both themselves and their cargo. Three is the very essence of God, which also include his Omnipresence, Omnipotence, and his Omniscience.
Twelve is what I can see is the third numeric character of God. In the Old Testament, twelve was the number of the tribes which made up the nation of Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus selected twelve disciples, and there are twelve months in the year, globally, as well as twelve constellations in the Zodiac.
Twelve is a double-figure number: 1 and 2. Add these together and you get 3, the number of the Trinity. Also multiply 7 by 3, and you get 21, which double figures also add up to three. And this is an eternal fact, as God himself is eternal. No matter how quantity was expressed in the ancient past, whether it was by a letter or series of letters, a Greek word, Roman numeracy, even modern binary used for computer programming; the  ability to count and to use the science of space and quantity remains the same. Two plus two will aways be four. Multiply seven by three, and you will always get 21. Time can never change these.
I have played board games using a die many times throughout my boyhood and adolescence, as well as an adult. But how often does one observe that the number of dots on each face of the die (plural dice) opposite sides always add up to seven? Six is always opposite to one, five is opposite to two, and four is opposite to three. Three even numbers opposite three odd numbers, and each combination adds up to seven. Every die has a total of 21 dots, the two and the one adding up to three. Even a single cube, particularly a fairly large one, say six inches on one side, represents the Trinity. You can look at it direct on one face, and you see one square. Turn the cube carefully 45 degrees, and you see two faces. Then lower it by another 45 degrees, and you see three faces. But you will never be able to see more than three faces of any cube at any one time without turning it. And that is true regardless of the size of the cube, from which angle is viewed from, or from what distance. Whether it was the intention or not, the die has always represented God, in addition to when it is thrown, the casting number is decided by providence, outside the power of human choice. In the Bible, a set of dice has been known to be the final decision of God, a good example was the choosing of a candidate to replace Judas Iscariot.

In the last couple of weeks there has been a nature programme shown on BBC2 about the wonderful senses many animals have, for example; such as the incredibly complex, 360-degree vision of insects, how the nearly blind bats uses sonar to see in total darkness, and how sharks can detect blood through smell over a comparatively long distance through water. To me, such a broadcast screams out the reality of divine creation, yet the two presenters, one a doctor, the other a biologist, still insisting that these marvels in nature were the results of Evolution by chance. Yet I can't help marvel at the two presenters whose educational levels are worthy of national respect, yet still be so blind to the obvious. Although not a biologist myself, nevertheless I seemed to have observed that I have no awareness of any animal species which can walk, swim and fly in its lifetime, although some birds such as the seagull comes close, with its superb diving ability to catch its prey. But a seagull does not swim in the way a fish does. Some fishes may leap out of the water, but they don't actually fly, and no marine animal can walk (save the turtle, but it cannot fly). Bats can walk and certainly fly, but cannot swim. In turn, penguins are marvellous swimmers but they are flightless. As for the mammals - quadrupeds and bipeds - including mankind, all can walk and run, and many can swim, but none can fly.

This seems to connect with the great men of God in the Bible. Of all who ever lived to please God, particularly in the Old Testament, none fulfilled all three roles as Prophet, Priest and King (or national leader). Only Jesus Christ has, and will fulfil all three roles. Moses was a leader and prophet, but not a priest. His brother Aaron fulfilled that role. Jeremiah was a prophet and a priest, but not a king. King David was also a prophet but not a priest. Samuel was a prophet and priest, but not a king, for he appointed Saul as king, then later David. Many of the prophets from Isaiah onwards were also priests as well, but none were kings or national leaders. All indicating that creation as a whole is less than the triune God who made them all.

God is way above us. He made us as a trinity of spirit, body and soul, and he gave us the ability to walk, and also a limited ability to swim, but still with the inablily to fly. God, the all powerful, divine Creator will always be greater than us, his crown of creation, forever. 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Old Nick, 777, and Travel

Cannot make sense of the title? Then read on. It will soon become clear...
Some years ago I read a true story of a church pastor or elder attending a function at the home of one of his congregation. Nearby there was a female among the group, probably having not taken off her coat or clothed in some other protective garment. Then all of a sudden the Pastor approached her, took hold of both edges of her clothing, and pulled the garment open, exposing a considerable amount of flesh before standing back to look upon his work. She just stood there mortified, without saying a word, until he came to his senses and began to deliver a torrent of apologies. However, the lady must have been spiritual enough to assure him that he was forgiven and not to allow the incident to overcome him. Nevertheless, whether he stayed at the party afterwards, or made a quick exit, I wasn't sure, but it was impossible not to imagine the embarrassment he must have felt after returning home.
As I would have imagined, he most likely had wished the ground would swallow him up. He dreaded the next Sunday, when he had to stand at the pulpit in front of everyone. It was most likely that he appointed someone else to preach that week, or he might have even gone for a holiday, possibly a sabbatical. But without a doubt, he must have sat down and asked himself how he was so capable of such acts.
Then wind forward to October 1992. For the past eleven years leading up to that date, Fred and I had developed a good, sturdy friendship. Once a week we both turned up at the local Sport Centre for a game of squash, a contest which I initially taught him, but before long overtook me in his skill, and won more games than lost. Eventually, after a few years, I agreed to clean the windows of his house for a fee. As his residence was separate from all the others scheduled for the day, his home was always the first in the morning, and every month he would answer the door dressed in pyjamas under a loose housecoat. 

Then one Monday morning of October 1992, I called as normal, and he answered the door to let me in for a coffee, as was the custom. But this time he was fully dressed, wearing a business shirt buttoned up but without a tie. Then all of a sudden, I lunged forward and tried to pull his shirt open at the neck. I failed. But unlike the female as narrated above, this guy went ballistic. He shouted at me to get out of the house, and not to bother with his windows any more.
And I don't want to see you here until you get your life sorted out!
He then slammed the door behind me as I sulkily made my way to the main estate.
That morning I felt crushed, ashamed, and embarrassed. I got on with my work, but saddened at the sudden termination of our friendship. I was also surprised at his reaction, a facet of his character I never thought he had. I was shocked by it all. I guess it was the same kind of story as with the pastor, as I refer to this sudden, sinful impulse as Old Nick. If I, along with the church elder, had not let our spiritual guards down, then Old Nick would not have been able to rear his ugly head. 
But that wasn't the end of the story. If there was a time when I was at my lowest ebb, deep in the emotional pit, it was that morning. But while up on the ladder, I had a kind of revelation passing through my mind, so intense that I had to stop working for a moment.
Go to Jerusalem, spend a week there and pray over the city.
Jerusalem! I have been to Jerusalem before as a backpacker in 1976, and I remember the city well. On top of this, this would be the first time I would board an airline after fifteen years, since arriving home from the USA in 1978. This long abstinence from flying was due to time spent building up a business. Therefore, this revelation came as a surprise, but was it from God?
I then prayed, "Lord, may I have two weeks in Israel?"
Okay, you can have two weeks.
I was beginning to feel convinced that this revelation was from God, as it seemed so out-of-order from what took place that morning. But why me? Here were two men, both single, with five years age difference (myself being the older) - yet one tried to take advantage of the other, the one wronged showed his anger quite rightly, the other totally guilty of what could be interpreted as attempted rape; and surely, in the opinion of all other Christians - had there been an audience watching the whole scenario - if God wanted to reveal something, it would have been to the other fellow, the innocent victim. But no, instead God spoke to me, the perpetrator. He told me to go to Jerusalem to pray over the city, and not Fred, even though he was in the right.

Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives, taken 1993.
Up to that particular morning, I had just managed to stay above water financially, with a weekly budget allowing for apartment rental, the payment of all the bills including the income tax, and the groceries. After all that I had little left for pocket money, and what I did have went to the weekend sauna sessions. But after that revelation, things changed, and that despite earning not a penny more than previously, I found that I could put £20 away in the savings account every week for the next ten months - to give me enough funds for a two-week trip to Israel, as usual, as a lone, independent traveller. And I spent that time at a tiny backpackers hostel in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem - a lot cheaper than hotels and hostels outside the walled city. And yes, I did pray over Jerusalem - from the summit of the Mount of Olives, just as I visualised on that gloomy October morning.
From August 1993 when this trip to Israel took place, things were never the same. With the exception of 1996, when I remained in the UK, each year I went abroad for backpacking and hosteling. This is how they panned out:
1993 - Israel, prayer over Jerusalem.
1994 - Return to Israel as a volunteer at a Christian Conference Centre.
1995 - Backpacking trip to the USA.
1997 - Round the World special airfare deal - Singapore, Australia, California.
1998 - New York and Boston, Massachusetts.
1999 - Honeymoon at Rhodes.
2000 - 1st wedding anniversary in Israel.
As each year came and went, one foreign holiday followed another, with 1997 reaching the peak of ultimate travel. Of course, I had no idea what was going on in the long term basis. But while I was meditating all these things recently with my wife, I realised that there was a set pattern emerging - a series of "sevens" - God's unique number, and three in all, which panned out like this:
1. October 1992 - when I had the vision and revelation; to October 1999 - our wedding day - seven years.
2. Seven foreign holidays.
3. Seven years from the start of Israel 1993 to the end of Israel 2000 inclusive, by then my wife was 20 weeks pregnant with our first daughter, thus bringing this special seven year period to an end.
As each of these seven years elapsed, it was natural to believe that with God's will and permission, I chose my destinations and planned each trip carefully, working extra hard at my window cleaning business to ensure that I saved up adequately to meet the needs and expenses of all these trips. Except for take off for the 1993 flight from London to Tel Aviv, when there was a six-hour delay, there were no further problems on all the other flights, no health worries, and all bills and creditors fully paid up and met. But only God could see what was really happening, and by his loving grace and mercy, ensured that every detail of his will was worked out to plan.
Looking back over these years, this special time of my life was the confirmation I needed as proof, that the revelation I received with a vision of myself on the summit of the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem, was from Heaven. It was extraordinary, as this came within an hour or so after upsetting a Christian brother and bringing to end an eleven-year friendship. So what the significance of all this?
I think all these things demonstrates the omniscience of God, as well as his omnipotence and omnipresence. Long, long before I was even born, God knew of that particular day in October 1992. He already knew about the insult thrown to my good friend, and the revelation I would receive soon afterwards. And furthermore, God had already known that that day would not come until almost twenty years after I first believed. Here seems to be the solving of the apparent contradiction between the Sovereignty of God and human choice. In all these trips, I chose each set of destinations, to prepare myself for each trip, and go. But nothing was done outside the Sovereign power of God. The inclusion of the fall before my friend has also reminded me why I believe in Once Saved Always Saved so passionately. The omniscience of God. The day I first believed twenty years earlier, God had already known of that particular Monday morning in 1992. He was able to see exactly what will happen, and the seven-year travel experience that will follow as a result.
If ever there was a time I could have lost my salvation, I think that Monday morning was it. But instead, God, through his grace and mercy, spoke to me. In addition to all this, there was even a time when, during 1994, I felt so discouraged by the attitudes of other Christians at the conference centre, that on one occasion I lay on the bed at the backpacker's hostel in Jerusalem (the same one as in 1993) with the intention of renouncing my faith forever. None of these Christians believed in eternal security, and they had given me a very hard time. I have decided to renounce the faith and begin to do things my own way. But as I lay on the bed, alone in the dormitory in the middle of the day, I felt the Lord calling me, ever so gently. When he called again, I responded with a "Yes, Lord" - and slowly resumed my walk with God as a believer, although it took me a year and a trip to the USA to fully recover from my ordeal. And did you know how this trip to the USA in 1995 came about? It was while I was standing on the summit of the Mount of Olives, and gazing over the city I so passionately love, that I had a sudden inspiration to travel across the Atlantic, very similar to the vision of 1992. And it was so. And furthermore, I knew this was from God too. And yet this was all part of the special seven years following that first vision.

Hiking the Grand Canyon, USA - taken 1995.
And what became of Fred? Well somewhere between one to two years after that incident, we passed each other on our bicycles on a quiet road in the heart of a housing estate. We stopped and began to talk to each other cordially. The conversation was long and cheerful, and no mention was made about the incident in 1992, Gradually, he invited me to his house for coffee, but I never offered to clean his windows again. Eventually, our friendship was restored to the full, we prayed for full forgiveness on both sides, and at present he delights in visiting us as husband and wife, although he remains single to this day.
The sovereign grace of God prevails. He knew all this from eternity past. That is the main reason why I believe in Once Saved Always Saved.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Feeling Secure.

I don't know about you, but whenever I read any of the four Gospels in the New Testament, I always get the idea that the Lord Jesus Christ felt secure in his Father's love. Of all the great men of God recorded in the entire Bible, it looks to me that only Jesus went about his business feeling 100% secure in his Father's acceptance. This was even endorsed while he with his three disciples up on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the Father passed over the summit in a cloud, uttering the words,
This is my beloved Son, in whom I'm well pleased, listen to him. (Matthew 12:1-13.)
But these were not the first words he heard the Father speak. Earlier, at the start of his ministry, as John was baptising him in the River Jordan, he spoke the same words, assuring John that he was indeed the Christ, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. For further proof, John watched as a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit descend from heaven in the form of a dove. Personally, I don't believe that Jesus and John were alone in the river. There must have been a crowd of onlookers who witnessed this extraordinary event, some might have been in the river itself, just a few feet away, waiting for their turn to be baptised. This experience alone would have left without any trace of doubt of the Lord's assurance of his Fathers love, with enough witnesses to establish a legend.
But going back to the incident on the summit of the mountain, believed to be Mount Tabor in the northern region of west Galilee, Jesus selected only three of his twelve disciples, leaving the other nine behind. Mount Tabor is only 575 metres (1,886 ft) high, so compared to other mountains around the world, it isn't that high, but enough for a revelation that had the three disciples terrified, yet gasping in wonder and glory at the same time.
Mount Tabor.
Whenever I read about this particular event, I have wondered what went on in the minds of the other nine followers at the foot of the hill. Did they believe that their Lord showed a certain degree of favouritism? The very fact that Jesus instructed his closest three - Peter, James, and John - to keep their experience to themselves seems to indicate the possibility of jealousy or envy arising in the hearts of the other nine. Indeed, favouritism does not endear friendships, but seems to be one of the main causes of division and rivalry. The Mount Tabor incident might well have been the underlying factor behind the disputes among the Twelve on who will be the greatest. Although I cannot be dogmatic here, as this is only a suggestion, but maybe the possibility of a growing hostility Judas Iscariot had felt towards Jesus might have originated here. At least, while they were milling around at the foot of the hill, the Father allowed a man with a demon-possessed son to attract their attention away from the inconvenience of the Lord's absence.
Jesus, who felt secure in his Father's love and delight, carried out his ministry without the slightest sense of fear of making a mistake and resulting in his Father's disapproval. It was, I think, his awareness of his standing with his Father that he was able to forgive sins easily and without reservation, to heal the sick, to comfort the oppressed, and to show compassion for the poor. His confidence in God's love and approval had impressed both his followers and the crowd in general, and aroused envy and anger among the Pharisees. I would say that the mock trial preceding their deliverance to Pilate was about searching for something he had said or done that was deliberately wrong, in order to convince themselves that he had fallen out of God's favour. When no charges could be brought before him, in exasperation, they all cried out to Pilate, Crucify! Crucify!
During his ministry, he showed a variety of emotions, from the joy he expressed to his Father about showing wisdom to babes and sucklings above the wise and prudent, to the righteous anger shown to the dishonest Temple merchants, to the tears over the fate of Jerusalem and the death of Lazarus. But he never displayed any fear about his relationship with the Father. Sure enough, he sweat drops like blood in the Garden of Gethsemane immediately before his arrest, but that was not for losing favour with God, but for the dreadful anticipation of suffering intensely while hanging on a cross. It is interesting too, that of all the prayers he requested and talked about to his Father, this one, asking God if he could take another less painful way, was the only one which the answer from above was "No". Then Jesus acknowledged his submission to his Father's will, knowing perfectly well of the tremendous reward of countless saints which would make up his future bride.
Jesus had a fervent love for his Father in heaven which motivated him to live a servant's life to the full. In him there was no fear of loss of salvation, no questioning doubts about his relationship, and no worries whether he committed any sins, or fell short of perfection. Instead he was constantly doing good to others and he did not squirm for one moment when he faced his enemies, instead, he had enough trust in the Holy Spirit within him to answer all their hard questions and to confound their accusations.

As a believer in Jesus as the Christ, Lord and Saviour, I too would have found the stresses of modern life much easier to cope if I had that same confidence in my relationship with God as Jesus had. With my beloved wife partially disabled, and myself awaiting assessments on my heart condition, the last thing I need to be told is that I could still walk away from God and lose my salvation, even if nobody else would be able to take it away from me. And so it happened while sitting at a friend's back garden over coffee one warm Summer evening in July with a couple of long-standing mates. What these two believed were the results of teachings percolating through many churches in our area, and across the land as a whole - the idea that nobody can take away a believer's eternal life in Christ - not even the Devil - but I can choose to simply walk away and be lost again. They, like me, were keen on Romans 8:38-39, which reads:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These two verses reflect the very relationship Jesus had with his Father while here on earth. And it looked as if Paul too, enjoyed the full security in his sonship with God as Jesus did. But these two in the garden insisted that despite all that, I can just walk away and lose the salvation God has given me. And this guy once was one of the elders in our church before moving on. I did not argue or defend my case when I stated that I believe in once saved always saved. But what I did find odd was that if neither angels nor demons nor any other powers, whether in heaven or on earth, were able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus, then why would I want to walk away from the Father unless I was being led by another entity? If I simply walked away, then I must be actually going somewhere - which means that I have seen something more attractive than the Kingdom of God, or that my faith no longer appeals, which will cause me to find something more appealing. I either case, if such a carrot was dangling in front of me, who would be holding the rod?

Just by asking such a question exposes the fallacy of such teachings. Not to mention the denial of God's omniscience, which means that God does not know what will happen next. This in itself is a blasphemous travesty against all the prophecies found in Scripture, which demonstrates the omniscience of God spanning all eternity. Then another problem would arise if I did walk away and end up lost again - where exactly in my spiritual life is that line, once crossed, I'll be lost forever? No teacher, preacher, or evangelist can locate this point of no return, neither the Pope or any Catholic or Protestant clergy. But the Bible itself can. In James 2:10 it reads:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

This reminds me of a simple act done by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They took a bite of a fruit from a tree God said not to take from. It wasn't much of an act - eating a particular fruit - but it was sin, a transgression of a simple command, and it was the cause of the Fall. And this wasn't just an act they just decided to make. Rather it was Lucifer himself, in the form of a snake, who first tempted them, calling God a liar. After the Fall, mankind was born sinful ever since. This narration shows that the line is crossed the moment a sin is committed, even a very small one.

Then to believe that I can lose my salvation by simply walking away puts me under the law, as I must hold faithful to be saved. That is law, something I must do, something I must keep. And if, heaven forbid, I do something that is not of the faith, then I sin, and according to James 2:10, I'll be lost forever, having forfeited eternal life. This is disastrous for every believer who has ever lived or will ever live. The end result, as I said to those two mates of mine, was that not a single soul would be saved - from Adam to the present day. It would mean that men of faith - Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, King David, all the prophets, Peter, Paul, all the other apostles, and every believer to this day - would be eternally lost unless they lived a perfectly sinless life since conversion. Not believing in eternal security is all about the believer's past sins forgiven only, a concept I could see will only lead to failure. All I can conclude from this is denying the truth of eternal security, or once saved always saved, is a complete denial of Christ's atonement made on the cross. That is to say, if nobody can be saved due to everyone being a law-breaker, then the coming of Jesus Christ to die for our transgressions was a total waste of time and effort on his part. Hence the devastating state of both Christology and Soteriology among those who deny the truth of eternal security of the believer. Yet there are many preachers around the Christian world who continue to expound this lie to the detriment of those who listen and absorb.

So how do I find all this in practice? Well, could it mean that I have a greater burden than Jesus or Paul to make sure that I remain in the love and acceptance of God? For example, if someone insults me, then, according to these preachers and teachers, I'm expected to forgive him or else my present and future sins would not be forgiven. At least Jesus had no sin in him which needed to be forgiven, so he wasn't burdened with the problem. If the offender refuses to apologise or change his mind and ways, and as a result I don't feel any forgiveness in my heart, then I stand condemned, according to them. Believe me, I have met and dealt with some of the nastiest people who could ever walk this planet, insisting that they were always right, then disappear out of my life, leaving me venting with rage with no escape route for such feelings to be let out. If this rage continues on and on week in, week out, for many months to follow, as they did with me, and then I cross the line of no return and lose my salvation, in that case, all what Paul had written in the 8th chapter of Romans becomes meaningless - a lie, in fact - either that, or Paul had never had the experience of rage at the level I had experienced.

Believing in Once Saved Always Saved has strengthened my walk with God to no end, and holding to this doctrine does not entice me to sin, especially against other people. I would go as far as to say that anyone who rejects this doctrine as a licence to sin is still harbouring a desire to sin in his heart, which he keeps in check through fear of punishment. That is quite different from the desire not to sin through a fervent love for God. Furthermore, believing in eternal security has helped me through some testing times in my life, particularly with my wife's illness, her long stay in hospital. and my daily visits to her bedside. Also the medical team has recently discovered that I have heart failure, and further assessments are required to determine whether I need open heart surgery for a valve replacement. Security in Christ goes a long way against panic, and through this I can give glory to God through praise and thanksgiving for each day of life he has given me. Eternal security in Christ has allowed me to give credit to God where credit is due, and recognising in myself that I have nothing to boast about. Rather, I'm saved purely by the grace of God, totally undeserved mercy, and as such must also be kept by the power of God, for I don't have the power to keep myself.

Secure in Christ - on holiday, 2014

I was created by the Father, redeemed through the Son, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit - a triune God who knew me from eternity past, predestined me to conform to the image of his Son, and will see future glory. This is the true God I have a longing to know, to worship, to enjoy intimate fellowship and to spend eternity in glory.

Losing my salvation? No chance! God sees his gift as far too precious for that. The price the Lord Jesus paid for this gift was way too high to be forfeited.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

An Astonishing Situation.

As we live somewhat ordinary day-to-day lives, from time to time something I find astonishing comes up on the news bulletin. Like the announcement that the space probe Rosetta had caught up with the comet 67P/C-G and throughout its rendezvous with it, about to orbit the rock on a triangular course, even to to find a suitable site for its robotic landing of its sibling Philae - not easy, as such a lump of rock flying through space is anything but spherical, let alone providing a landing pad. Rosetta was launched from near Kourou, in the South American State of French Guinea, on 2nd March, 2004 - the very same day as the birth of our second daughter. For the last ten years, this vehicle hurtled through space to purposely meet with the chosen comet to find out whether it holds any clues to the origins of life on Earth.

This idea originated from the theory that comets and other heavenly bodies contain the molecule which makes up the animo acids which from which all life originates, to put it simply. No doubt about it, the project is the product of human intelligence - the magnificence of the human mind, the ability to make decisions, and the possibility to solve extremely complex problems using mathematics and physics, making the human brain an astonishing marvel!

Other great ideas, other than the invention of the wheel, includes the discovery of Penicillin in 1928 by Dr. Alexander Fleming at St. Mary's Hospital in London. Like any normal human, he accidentally left open a Petri dish containing the culture of Staphylococcus bacteria - and like a discarded slice of damp bread, it wasn't long before common mould began to develop in the dish, causing a reaction with the bacteria, which such discovery led to the antibiotic Penicillin, a saviour-drug for multiple thousands of patients, particularly those who had contacted venom through sexually-transmitted diseases. This led me to think that such an act of apparent clumsiness or forgetfulness on the part of the scientist can allow nature to take its course and perform acts which we humans can consider miraculous. 
Medicine, for me anyway, can be a fascinating study. While the pre-Renaissance Western world was still languishing with life-threatening diseases, it was known that other cultures of the world, such as in the Far East and the American Indian, were familiar with various herbs which had medicinal powers. And although I had read articles in the past that the origin of medicine was connected with the occult, really it occurred to me that the only occult were the ritual dancing and religious beliefs which accompanied the healing of the patient - particularly among the Native Americans - but had these rituals not taken place, the herbs would have still have had their healing properties.
Then there was good old Dr. Hippocrates, who practiced at the Greek island of Kos in the 5th Century BC. He did not believe in surgical operations, as he thought that dissecting the body was against the will of the gods. But like the American Indian, he prescribed drugs gotten from various herbs, and even had in-patient wards where the sick can be observed while on medication. On the same grounds as the hospital, various temples dedicated to certain divinities were used for the sick to pray, and to offer sacrifices to the gods. Even in our modern hospitals, there is always a chapel found in the premises, but far less obvious and significant than the huge temples which dominated Hippocrates' day. The astonishing similarity of treatment over 2,400 years has allowed the Hippocratic Oath to be taken by medics even to this day.

Hospital of Hippocrates, the Asklepeion, Kos -taken October 2011
But the wonder of these natural herbs providing healing powers - including Penicillin which was gotten from a common mould, and that without accompanying religious rituals - demonstrates the love and mercy of God in such divine provisions. But even at present, when many of the medicinal drugs used at present are synthetic rather than natural, by his provision of the original herbs, we can thank the Lord for his mercies when it comes to healing of illnesses.

And so going back to the subject of the Rosetta Space probe, a stupendous result of a group of ingenious minds working together - then not to mention scores of other human creations and engineering feats, from the microchip which controls an intricate yet powerful computer, to the delicate mechanism of a wristwatch, made with precision to keep time accurately, right up to the mega-structures of civil engineering, such for example, the magnificent Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, or a railway tunnel bored through solid rock under the English Channel. Let's face it, modern engineering and technology has not only made day-to-day living much easier for us, but has also expanded our horizon of knowledge our forefathers would have never imagined.

Yet in the case of the Rosetta space probe - the very purpose of such a project will be to gather information for clues whether life here on Earth had its origin from outer space. This is a theory originally conceived by Sir Fred Hoyle, a brilliant astronomer and mathematician. Hoyle was an atheist, who rejected the idea of the Big Bang as the proposed theory for the origin of the Universe, and instead, advocated the steady state, which means that the Universe had existed from eternity past, and like a flowing river in which every water molecule is on the move, the river itself remains endless. Hoyle had much trouble reconciling Darwin Evolution with his own research on cell biology. For example, he used the probability of the enzyme, part of the protein chain formed within the nucleus of a cell, to calculate the impossibility of having evolved without divine intervention. He worked out that the probability of just the enzyme itself having evolved to its present form by chance is one out of one, followed by 40,000 zeroes! With such a mathematical result, Hoyle was forced to conclude the reality of divine creation - or come up with some other theory. In this case, to him life on Earth was the result of animo acid molecules entering the primeval ocean, itself formed by comets consisting of ice colliding with the primeval Earth.

Millions was spent, many, many man hours went into the designing, construction and launch of the Rosetta, to find out whether Fred Hoyle was right with his theory. It took a further ten years for the probe to catch up with the comet, and from the time of writing, it will be a further three months before Rosetta launches its sibling, the Philae, for a robotic landing on the comet itself to gather enough information to see how close to the truth this scientist had been. Suppose the comet does consist of ice, and animo acid molecules were found in the rock? Wouldn't this be a massive victory for Darwinism, and the Bible proved false after all?

That is precisely what these brilliant, academic minds are after. The final answer to the origin of life without the need for a God to stick his oar in. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris would also rejoice. The Bible would at last be thrown into the dustbin of history and mythology, and as John Lennon wrote and recorded his song - we can imagine a world without Heaven above, nor Hell beneath us, and no religion either. A perfect Utopian society.

This is what I find to be an astonishing situation. All over the world, brilliant, well educated minds abound, many engaged in creating new ideas, the latest inventions, and into medical research. Others study the stars to find out just how we got here. Still others were able to design a robotic vehicle which can carry out meticulous tasks millions of miles out in space. It is so incredible that even throughout history, we can see the wonders of the human mind and imagination. For example, around seventeen years previous to this, I found myself at The Chesters, one of the best preserved Roman sites in the UK, possibly of all of Europe other than the ruins of ancient Rome and Pompeii. The Chesters was a major Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall which marked the northern boundary of the entire Empire. What I have found intriguing were the well-preserved latrine system, a set of holes at a bench where water used to flow in a channel underneath. Also there was evidence of sanitary items existing. The whole structure would be still fully functional to this day had the watercourse beneath had not dried up. As with the Roman city of Aquae Sulis (now Bath Spa) the Romans were superb with plumbing and the hypocaust heating systems for their homes, their utility buildings, and their leisure centres.
Chesters Roman Fort, Hadrian's Wall, UK.
What a difference all this to our nearest cousins, the Primates, from which we supposed to have evolved from. It has been observed that the best they can do is use a large stone to crack a nut. It is a far cry from even the simplest of structures even a child can make. But our academics prefer to believe that we as Homo Sapiens are members of the Primate family, at one with the monkeys, apes, gorillas and chimpanzees. In the world of science, the Bible is ruled out.

It is this hostility to the truth of the Bible which lie behind the Rosetta space probe, along with other branches of science, particularly in Historical Geology and Paleontology. The universities in Britain and Europe became an intellectual battlefield particularly during the nineteenth century, with the likes of Charles Lyell, Jean Baptiste Lamarck, and Charles Darwin, along with others, throwing down the gauntlet against the Biblical truth of Divine Creation. Of all literature ever written throughout history, it seems odd to me that the truthfulness of Holy Scripture had so much opposition thrown at it, yet we as a nation hold a reverential respect for the highly educated, and applaud them for the ability in launching rockets into space, particularly for the purpose to disprove the reliability of the Bible.

Maybe the near-universal hostility of Scripture might have been stirred up by passages like this:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of the age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believed.
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness o God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25.

Spot on, Paul! Maybe it was because of what you have written that clever men of our age had sent a very expensive, highly technical device to look at a lump of rock in the sky.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

A Sobering Thought..

Reading the Bible every morning for me is as important as breakfast itself. Particularly when the outlook for the working day isn't that great - because the Met Office promises rain, which isn't compatible with my line of work, or the prospects of facing one of those awkward households who somehow had found themselves on my rota list. Or just as bad, having one or several of those properties where using a ladder on them jeopardises the safety of my neck, yet nevertheless, managed to complete the task successfully every month for many years. But there is always a degree of personal job-satisfaction when, as in my case, working for myself as a self-employed domestic window cleaner, a very British trade which had endured for the last century, maybe even as much as two hundred years, with myself on the go for the last 34 years. Without the shadow of a doubt, linked inextricably with my line of work is daily Bible reading and prayer, mainly the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, in order to face the day.

Does writing about all this make me look super-spiritual? Rather, I am admitting that without the need of God in my life, I wouldn't be able to cope. Like at one moment earlier in the week when a client, about to drive to France with his wife on their annual holiday, mocked by saying how lucky I was to have caught  him on time, or else I would have gone without payment for the next two weeks. His mocking tone, rather than what he actually said, touched a raw nerve and I was clearly annoyed. I think this ire was over the fact that he was a successful, middle class professional who had achieved the best out of life with the resources he had, along with his equally successful working spouse - a superb home in a quiet cul-de-sac surrounded by trees and open space, perhaps not unlike a typical Californian housing estate. Two cars were parked on his driveway, and hanging inside his lounge wall, in clear view, were photos of his married son cuddling his daughter - that is the client's granddaughter (we window cleaners can be notorious nosey parkers!) - a testimony to their brilliant schooling and university graduation, something I had always dreamt about.
As I climbed the positioned ladder, I was gasping for breath as I tried to keep my anger under control. Then, there and then, I silently pleaded with God for a filling of the Holy Spirit. Soon after I felt my emotions calm, and at the completion of the job, when he handed me the fee, I was able to explain in good humour that these payments were so important because unlike them, I am the only breadwinner, as my wife is unable to work, especially now confined in a wheelchair, together with a lower than normal income due to other clientele already away on their holidays. I then finished the conversation with a statement that despite our situation, we had never felt in need, we parted on a good friendship, even wishing them an enjoyable holiday. Such is the work of the Holy Spirit.
All this was brought to mind as I read a newspaper article about these car-parking surveillance firms whose bully boys, who run these private companies, allowing themselves to become rich, literally, by extracting penalty fines from distressed car owners who were unfortunate enough to leave their vehicles parked for even a few seconds over the time limit. These victims were not just merely weekly shoppers, or one out on an errand, but also hospital patients, including those with severe illnesses, such as cancer, arriving for assessment and treatment, who afterwards returned to the hospital car park just a few seconds late. The fines these companies impose were huge, and one particular group of victims were senior citizens, whose slowness in returning to their parked cars resulting in the issuing of a ticket. The amassed fines from such a multitude of distressed car drivers had resulted with these company bosses posing in front of the camera in suit and tie, happily smiling, with snapshots of lucrative homes out in the countryside, complete with luxury cars of their own, well away from the city crowds they extort every day.  
This is just one of many examples of greed and extortion which, to me, gives capitalism a bad name, along with those in the Banking industry with their exorbitant bonuses. Before you believe that I'm a outright Socialist, in fact I do believe that Capitalism is the better of the two economic systems, and one endorsed in the Old Testament and by Jesus himself. For example, Moses was very strict with property boundaries (e.g. Deuteronomy 19:14) - as well as forbidding of stealing contained in the Decalogue itself. And Jesus spoke several parables about property ownership, private investment and profit, particularly of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) - of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-41) - and of the Workers of the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16.) In modern terms, there is nothing wrong in someone setting up an ice-cream parlour and hiring another person to help run the stall. Or a beach-front restaurant, many of such we saw at our holiday resort of Bournemouth. If the one investing in a business can provide good service to the customer, and through honest trading, make a profit, then that is good. I guess that is exactly what I'm doing in the window cleaning trade - providing a service in which the customer is satisfied, with contracts lasting many years.

But this is an age where honest capitalism seems to link hands with greed, with profit as seen with exorbitance and of unruly gain. One of the most popular current documentaries broadcast on the BBC is Rogue Traders - mainly in the building, roofing and landscaping industries where often one man sets up a cowboy building contractor with the aim of emptying out a victim's bank account for a shoddy piece of work which was not called for, or for no work done at all. Car repairs also fall victim to this sort of scam as well. According to these programmes, it is often the old-age pensioner who falls victim, after being persuaded, for example, that the roof of her house is in need of urgent repair, when in truth, there was nothing wrong with her roof at all. Tales of the elderly losing multiple thousands pounds of their life savings abound in this documentary, and I can't but gasp with wonder how the fraudster can pocket such amounts of money without a sting in his conscience.

Many people imagine themselves to be rich, wealthy, and to secure a comfortable living, including a beautiful mansion out in the country with plush furniture and fittings, a private swimming pool, large manicured gardens, and posh cars. Holidays consisting of long-haul flights to faraway places not generally visited by the average commoner. Perhaps on top of this, a luxury yacht moored at the southern French resort of Nice or Monaco. On board, champagne corks are popped as a party out at sea is celebrated. No more worries about work and responsibilities - just enjoy the rich blue Mediterranean sea beneath and the golden sun above in a cloudless sky. Even take a dive off the boat edge and swim in the cool, crystal clear waters. The life of luxury on the Island of Dreams, far, far away, as a popular song of the early sixties, went like this:

High in the sky is a bird on a wing.
Please carry me with you,
far, far away from this mad rushing crowd.
Please carry me with you.
Again I will wonder where memories enfold me,
there on the beautiful Island of Dreams.

I guess that if no bird can carry a person to this paradise life, then a few will turn to crime and fraud, in preference of a quick fix rather than a lifetime of honest trading. And not so rapidly as through technology, where Internet and mobile phone scams abound, along with banking and credit card fraud. Nearly everyday a story comes out about one dishonest gain or another, as if in a desperate attempt to fly away from the harsh reality of life to the Island of Dreams.

But all this is not new. Even in he days when Jesus was around, inheritance disputes abounded, as often as they do at present, and this did not escape the Lord's attention. As I pour through the Gospel of Luke, I came across a dispute between two brothers:

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide his inheritance with me."
Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?"
Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all greed; a man's life does not consist on the abundance of his possessions."
And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store up my grain and all my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God."
Luke 12:13-21.

"The Rich Fool" is the title of this passage in the NIV. But actually he was a very good businessman and farmer, who has spent years working on his land to build for himself what we call today a very comfortable nest egg. With the final task remaining, that is to modify his storage space, he was anticipating his flight to the Island of Dreams, where he thought of lasting happiness. I guess the Island of Dreams is Paradise Lost, a condition which had originated on the day Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were driven out of the Garden of Eden. From that day on, all humanity had attempted to return to Paradise in one way or another, myself included, who has found a form of paradise in world travel.

My version of the Island of Dreams - World Backpacking - Cairns, Australia, 1997

I have found The Rich Fool quite an intriguing fellow. He was, in the eyes of the world, a wise and prudent guy who, having inherited the land from his father, had learnt the right way in going about in ploughing, fertilisation and sowing of his seed in well prepared soil, resulting in good harvesting and storage, should a famine arise sometime in the future. However, what did strike me, contrary to traditional Jewish customs, was the hint that he remained unmarried and childless. He had no one to inherit is property after his demise. Instead, he spent his adult years working hard and storing up his goods while looking forward to his retirement when he can spend the rest of his life in hedonism, the Island of Dreams. Yet he was not really different to the modern ambitious man or woman who had performed brilliantly at school, then graduated at university - the degree becoming a passport to a lucrative, high-flying career with a high income. Presently, a mortgage poses little problems, not to mention owning and driving a fast sports car, such as a Ferrari or Porsche. Like the fellow in Jesus' parable, often they remain single to well into their thirties, even to their forties.

Such a person is often a pride to their parents and other family members. And unless caught in some scandal or misdeed of greed, he or she is respected in the world, and looked up to. The majority, I believe, would agree that a retired life of hedonism is a richly deserved reward after putting in the years of hard work. Any differences between the rich farmer and today's high flier are not that great.

But God called that guy a fool, with no hint of Heavenly reward. Instead, his life would be cut off that very night to meet his Maker and face Judgement. Like the on-going stories of undergraduates and young academics whose lives are cut off in the prime of their lives - such stories appearing nearly everyday on the Media - nobody will ever know just when his time is up, and furthermore, death comes when least expected. Therefore what was this rich farmer's main mistake?

First, he did not know God in his life, and second, he did not share his wealth with the poor and the desolate. Instead, he stored up his goods instead of sharing them out. This rich man, who visualised life on the Island of Dreams, had never understood that paradise involves first, worshipping and acknowledging God in his life and the need for salvation, then sharing with the poor and with those in need, to practice hospitality, and to love and respect others. Instead, he worked all his life, amassed great wealth, but died suddenly and so unexpectedly, leaving the result of all his hard work to strangers, not having an heir to inherit his wealth.

This is a sober lesson to people such as rogue traders, greedy banking executives and owners of parking surveillance companies who had made themselves rich by using extortion on their victims. To any of them God can easily say, "You fool! Tonight your soul will be required of you. Then who will use your long-haul flight ticket?"

A very sobering thought indeed!