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.
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.
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.