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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Increasing Your I.Q.

According to what I have seen around in the churches and reading books, as well as my own experience, if there is a book that has the power to raise intelligence, it must be the Bible. This seems to be a rather outrageous claim to make, particularly in the face of science, historical geology, evolution, modern studies of biology, chemistry, medicine, and perhaps sociology, much of which has its foundation in the theory of evolution and of natural selection. But as I open up to reveal some aspects of my youth, I hope to demonstrate the power that is within Holy Scripture, especially when read with faith. Sure enough, there were, and are, very clever people who would have dismissed the Bible as a book of ancient myths, or fairy tales, but the likes of these, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchins, who each wrote popular books dismissing the Bible as contrary fables - where any truth found therein having shrivelled like an Autumn leaf blown away by the wind. Yet they have demonstrated their knowledge of Scripture, even if for the purpose of pounding it with the mallet of science and, according to them, common sense.

Richard Dawkins.
For example, how would the academic atheist make out the six days of Creation, and the Noachian Deluge. Then not to mention the Exodus of the children of Israel through the Red Sea, following a series of plagues which inflicted the whole of Egypt except the district of Goshen, where the Israelites lived. Those bits about the staff in Moses' hand turning into a live snake, then turning back to a stick of wood again. Who in this day and age had seen such a thing, let alone believe it? Then all those plagues which failed to convince a stubborn Pharaoh to release the Hebrews for a sacrifice to be made to their God. I can't help seeing the deception put to the Egyptian king by Moses and Aaron, insisting that the whole of Israel had need to go out on an errand, like popping out for a few minutes to a nearby corner shop, and then making a quick return. Rather, the intention Moses and his brother had was to escape from Egypt permanently, liberating his people and resettling into the land of Canaan, across the finger of sea from Egypt. With God himself backing such deception, little wonder Pharaoh saw through their ruse, and with such stories, Dawkins had no time to worry about whether God exists or not. 
Where mathematics is concerned, Sam Harris threw his weight against the dimensions of the circular bath which King Solomon had cast and placed near the entrance of the Temple. In 1 Kings 7:23 and 2 Chronicles 4:2, both verses gives a measurement of ten cubits across from rim to rim, and thirty cubits in circumference, making the ratio of just 1:3. Harris then argues that this is the worst approximation of PI one can imagine, falling short of the calculation made by the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians hundreds, if not thousands, of years earlier, when the ratio of 1:3.14 would have been familiar among their priests and the learned. Little wonder that in the present day, someone like myself who believes the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God would, at best, looked on with pity, at worst, be totally ignored.
But as for myself, reading and understanding Holy Scripture has done wonders, believe me! When I was a young boy, I was diagnosed with learning disabilities, (whether rightly or wrongly) and I had to attend a special school. That was in itself very good. I learnt to read and write and calculate basic arithmetic. I was even assigned a task by the teacher to help my classmates to read. However, I must admit that we lived next door to another family whose two boys were excelling at their mainstream school, which made both Mum and Dad disappointed with my academic performance. I was aware of this, and I found that the only way I can make my parents happy was to excel. That was why my days at secondary school were a disaster. What I had learnt at my special primary school was hashed and re-hashed over and over again, in a class of slow-learners who were deemed no-hopers in further education, and were to be consigned to a life of unskilled labour. And so indeed I entered a life of unskilled labour, which I still do, more than 46 years later, even if I have now been running my own business for the last 34 years.
But my desire to read and write was never left behind at my primary school. During the lunch break, I often went into the school library to browse and borrow science books to take home and read. And that was out of genuine interest rather than to please my parents. It was not until December 1972 that a miracle occurred, which was to have a dramatic impact on my life, and I sincerely believe, have an influence on I.Q. levels. I began to be familiar with Holy Scripture. For full details of my conversion, read my two blogs:
1973 And All That...posted 19th May, 2013
Signs of the Times?...posted 26th May, 2013, both on this site, under "Archives."
These two blogs gives full details on how I met Jesus Christ as Saviour and the first five years of Christian experience.

One of the side effects in reading the Bible is my perception of history. At secondary school I found this subject crushingly boring, with the teacher not only droning away about one particular person's life which was irrelevant to me, but having to copy a mass of notes from the blackboard into my history book, without learning anything significant. But as a result of reading the Bible and mixing it with faith, history became alive. Theology debates between Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jacob Arminius, along with Georges Cuvior, Jean Baptiste Lamarck, Charles Lyell, John Pye Smith, as well as Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Fred Hoyle and Bertrand Russell, to name a few.

Along with history was my development in science, particularly cell biology. My understanding of the Genome, including the role of the Chromosome, Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Ribonucleic Acid (RNA), the Double Helix, with its fourfold nucleotides: the Adenine, Thymine, Guamine and Cytosine. Also the Ribosome, the Protein chain including the Enzymes, all within the nucleus of the cell. Now all this would have been foreign language in the days I wore the school tie, and for many years afterwards. I have gotten this knowledge from reading Holy Scripture. How come? Because I believed the narration of the six literal-day Creation, and I wanted to prove my faith in the Bible against Darwinism, which was advocated even by fellow Christians fresh out of University. To say in a nutshell, it would have been utterly impossible for the vast complexity of the cell to have evolved by chance as originally proposed by Darwin and his followers. This was proved by Fred Hoyle's mathematical demonstration in the use of certain factors just for the possibility of the enzymes in the protein chain to have evolved by chance - and came up with the probability of one chance out of one followed by 40,000 zeroes! Yet despite all this, our nation as a whole, even though calling itself a Christian country, accepts Darwinism as scientific fact, even among Christians themselves, and anyone who believes in divine Creationism is considered to be a nutter.

Also for a long time it has puzzled me was why, in the first chapter of Genesis, does the writer chronicle each day of creation as evening and morning as the first day, second day, third day, etc instead of morning and evening, as we would expect and understand it? This had to remain unanswered while I began to notice that much of the latter part of the Old Testament was about one particular city, Jerusalem, and something about a temple on the summit of Mount Moriah, just north of the original Jebusite city before King David took it over. While at school, I had an almost incomprehensible series of Religious Education lessons, but I do recall having to draw a diagram of a Temple on the summit of a mountain. I came up with something resembling Mont Blanc, or even Mt. Everest with a tiny, crude square perched on top. There was no comment about it from the male teacher. But the constant reading of Holy Scripture inspired me to visit Israel for the first time in 1976, as a sole backpacker. Looking at Temple Mount from the top of the Mount of Olives was not only an eye-opener, but had not an iota of resemblance to how I perceived it at school.

Visiting Israel in 1976 really made the Bible come alive, as I adored the sites which would have been familiar to Jesus Christ. Such as observing how ordinary residential homes of Silwan were founded on solid rock, which had brought to mind about the wise and foolish builders. But mixing freely with Jews had thrown a light on the apparent peculiarity of the Creation narrative. In the Middle East, the new day always starts at sundown, for example, allowing all trade to cease at sunset on a Friday which ushers in the Sabbath. It is the Sabbath throughout the entire night and the following day. At sunset of Saturday, the Sabbath is over and trading commences. I have watched shops open after sundown Saturday, even if just for a few hours. All this seems to indicate that the evening and morning of each creation day were to be taken literally, as the Jews would understand it, and not as indefinite periods of years as proposed by many Christians I have met.

During the days as a believer, I was praying to God for the big picture as opposed to isolated verses to prove or disprove a point, as seemed with the current trend of our day. As discussed in my last blog, the lives of Jacob, Joseph, Moses and David were shadows of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, as their rejection by Israel, their exile and their return to minister and rule all reflected that of the Lord, as at present, "in exile" as he awaits the command from his Father to return to sit at David's throne in Jerusalem. Also, as it is worth noting here, the answer to Samson's riddle, that from the strong lion, sweetness of honey is gotten, was a prophecy about the sweetness of the Gospel coming from the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who is Jesus himself (Judges 14).

I once watched a series of films on the television, about a very possible threat of human extinction by an airborne virus which was fatal to everyone who caught it. The rest of the story was about the few remaining people who were immune to the virus and survived. It was somewhat parallel to the eight survivors of Noah's family during the global Flood, except that all man-made structures, from small toys to huge buildings, as well as deserted highways, remained intact, as with all the trees and vegetation. Corpses rotted everywhere and groceries remaining in shops and homes went off very quickly. As such the few survivors struggled to live, finding and preparing food being the chief problem. At the time of writing, the Ebola virus over West Africa looks potentially threatening. Memories of the Great Plague or the Black Death, which killed multiple thousands, spring to mind. Whenever an infected person arrives from that part of the world, panic would ensue had it not been for the efficient quarantine system already in place.

But reading Holy Scripture allays such fears of mass extinction. According to Jeremiah chapters 30, 31, 33, and particularly 33:19:26,  the existence of our very planet, its rotation on its axis, and its orbit around the sun, as well as all life on it, human and non-human, are all guaranteed by God's Abrahamic covenant with Israel! Therefore reading Holy Scripture puts up a guard against the fear of global threats, natural or otherwise. For example, astronomers had spoken of the potential extinction of the human species by a collision of a large asteroid with our planet, a theory which now explains the extinction of the Dinosaurs (but oddly enough, not the small, shrew-like mammals living alongside), or as in the movie described above, a viral pandemic which rages out of control, or a dramatic turn of global climate, causing the whole planet to be covered in ice, as depicted in a blockbusting movie The Day After Tomorrow. Or man-made catastrophes such as a nuclear holocaust, as one TV programme had put it, a contest between Russia and the United States wipes out the whole of mankind. This was not far from reality back in 1962, when the USSR drew very close to coming to blows after the Communist takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro, just ninety miles off the coast of Florida. Fortunately, a last minute truce between the two nations had only just saved the day, or else World War III would have been inevitable. And at ten years old, I would have been alive to see it.

The Cuba crisis may have spawned the social revolution, the rise of the hippie movement, the aversion of the work ethic and machine society, changes in music and the arts with the rise of the rock bands, and so on, but I am convinced that what nipped this potential threat of mass extinction in the bud was the promise God had made to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. The Bible is absolutely clear on God's eternal covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The covenant of grace, which is eternal. Watching the present nation of Israel surviving against all odds in the midst of hostile Arab nations is in itself the grace of God, undeserved mercy. Despite Yassir Arafat's many attempts to wipe Israel off the map throughout the sixties, Israel lives on, as God promised through Jeremiah and other prophets. If the grace of God can be so secure for Israel, which at present, exist in unbelief, how much more secure is God's covenant with all who has faith in Jesus?

Fancy having higher intelligence? Then get stuck in with reading the Holy Bible. But don't read it with intended scepticism, but with believing faith. Ask God to reveal the bigger picture to you, which is redemption of mankind into a Kingdom of God with Jerusalem as the world capital, and Israel as the chief nation. Redemption of the whole Creation is promised, going right back to the dawn of history, to be fulfilled in God's own time.

Now there is a tonic for global anxiety.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sanctimonious Git! Really?

In the last blog, I called attention to one Old Testament character, Joseph son of Jacob. He was the one who saved the lives of all of Egypt as well as his Hebrew family, who were the fathers of the future nation of Israel, from a severe famine. After betrayal by his ten older brothers and sold to a passing camel-train of Ishmaelites, he spent a few years in prison before being promoted to the role of Prime Minister to Pharaoh, Egypt's king. But he also was a man of strong emotions, weeping and shedding tears to the intensity that his crying was heard throughout the palace he lived in, and even stirred the curiosity of the Pharaoh himself.

His endeavors earned him the respect from the priest of the Egyptian deity On, who gave him his daughter Asenath to wife, making Joseph the son-in-law to the priest, one of the most important figures of ancient Egyptian aristocracy. So here a pattern begins to emerge:
1. Joseph taught to look out for his brothers.
2. Rejected by his brothers and expelled from their company.
3. Marries a foreign wife.
4. Final acceptance of his rule by his family.

Another such example can be said of Jacob himself, Joseph's father:
1. He grew up as a Mummy's boy, loved by his mother Rebekah, and learned to cook and do the housework, in contrast to his twin brother, who his father Isaac loved for his skill in hunting and more masculine, outdoorsy lifestyle.
2. Jacob flees from his brother Esau after stealing both his birthright and his father's blessing.
3. Jacob marries two women in another country, Leah and Rachel.
4. He return to inherit his father's fortune.

Moses was born during the time the new king of Egypt knew nothing of Joseph the Hebrew, some four hundred years earlier. After he was discovered in a basket hidden from sight by the king's daughter, the boy grew up with the knowledge from his parents that his destiny was to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The lad was adopted by the king's household, and grew up as a prince, learning all the wisdom of the Egyptians. But one day, as he looked out for his own Hebrew people, working as slaves for the Egyptians, he saw one of his own being beaten by an Egyptian guard. Looking this way and that, he went and killed the oppressor. The next day he saw two Hebrews fighting. When he tried to reconcile the two, the one in the wrong turned to Moses and asked,
"Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Will you kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?"

So Moses fled Egypt and ended up in Midian, where he too married a foreign wife, Zipporah. It was forty years in the desert before God called him out of the burning bush to return to Egypt to lead his people out. It is an interesting statement from Hebrews 11:27 which says that Moses fled from Egypt, not fearing the king's anger. Then why did he travel to Midian? Was it because he was rejected by his own people, which deeply hurt him? This is backed up by the sheer reluctance to lead his own people, so narrated in detail in Exodus chapters three and four. In verses 24-26 of the fourth chapter, there is another proof that Moses was reluctant to help his fellow countrymen. So begrudged was he against his rejection forty years earlier, that he couldn't be bothered to circumcise his son. This wasn't out of forgetfulness, but willful rebellion on his part, as God was ready to kill him, and to have him stand at the Judgement seat of Christ, not to be judged for his sins, but to determine his eternal rewards.

Then there was the case of David. As a youth he was destined to replace King Saul's dynasty as the head of the kingdom of Israel. Like Joseph, David also delivers his people from a dire situation by slaying the oppressive Philistine giant, Goliath. But this led to Saul's jealousy, and David having to flee into exile, where he remained for the next twenty years. It was during that time that David married Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of a neighbouring state of Geshur. It was after King Saul and his son Jonathan were slain by the Philistines that David returned to claim his throne.

So the definite pattern emerges from the life stories of these Old Testament saints:
1. Rejection by his own people.
2. Marrying a foreign wife.
3. Returning to lead and rule over his people, who afterwards accepts him.

And so these men of faith were all shadows of Jesus Christ himself.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
John 1:10-11.

Jesus Christ came not only into the world, but specifically to his own people Israel. Jesus came presenting himself as the King of Israel, and rightful heir of David's throne, according to Matthew 2:3-6 and Luke 1:29-33. But his people rejected him and had him crucified instead. After his death, they all thought that was it, he was done away with for good. But they didn't reckon on his resurrection three days later. It was after his ascension that his Church, the Bride of Christ, began to be built on the foundation stone of Jesus Christ himself, who is also her head. And history has shown that the Christian Church has always been almost entirely Gentile, that is to say, people not of Israeli or Jewish origin.

Jesus Christ, having been rejected by his own people Israel, is now "in exile" so to speak, from the throne of David in Jerusalem, while building a Gentile Bride for himself. Then one day he will return to Jerusalem to reign on David's throne. At his future coming, it is said that the whole of Israel will mourn for what they have done to him, like a father mourning over his own son, as they see the One whom they have pierced standing on the Mount of Olives.

What richness and power of Holy Scripture! Which brings to mind of the prophet Habakkuk. This fellow is classed as a "minor prophet" due to the shortness of his book, with only three chapters. It can be easily missed while flicking through the pages of the Old Testament. But it was through Christian music that I became acquainted with him. Back in the 1970's, I had a library of spiritual songs on cassette tape which I played at home. One of them was my favourite, and it was called Scripture in Song. I played it so often, that eventually the tape was chewed up by the player mechanism, and it became useless. But I will never forget one of the songs which featured on the tape:

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither fruit shall be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation, The LORD God is my strength-

The song ended there, before repeating itself several times, but in the Bible the verse goes on: -and he shall make my feet like hinds' feet, and he shall make me to walk upon mine high places.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 AV, from which the song was composed.

When I first read this back in the day, I thought: Get real, man! You live in a agricultural land with a hot dry climate, you have your own home without a mortgage or a bossy, rent-demanding landlord. You never have to worry about having to pay fuel bills on time, let alone telephone and other utility costs. Then you work the fields at your own leisure, without the constant noise and dirt of factory machinery, where I have to reach on time by travelling in the rain amid noisy, air-polluting traffic, or stuck on a platform waiting for a delayed train at one end of the line, and a scowling boss at the other. On top of this, you most likely had never experienced bullying or stress from work colleagues much imposed by a faster pace of life at present than in your day. So your fields are barren. An application of some fertilizer should do the trick. What a sanctimonious git you look to be, Habakkuk!

But by reading the whole book, then doing some research on his environment, political and current situation, then quite a different picture emerges. Habakkuk lived about the same time as the prophet Jeremiah, or maybe a little earlier. His beloved nation of Judah was about to be besieged by the Babylonians under a powerful but cruel king Nebuchadnezzar. Habakkuk knew of the coming destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem and its Temple, built by King Solomon centuries earlier, along with the barrenness of the land, as Habakkuk had already known, was owing to God seventy years of Sabbatical rest. This rest, when no crops were to be sown and harvested, were to have taken place for one year out of every seven years (see Leviticus 25) along with a Jubilee year every fifty years. As Israel was a kingdom under the reign of a monarch for the past five hundred years, without the sabbatical year ever being observed throughout that period, Habakkuk knew of the resulting seventy years of sabbatical rest the land owes to God, and the necessity of the removal of all its people to Babylon, so the land can have its rest. The prophet also knew of the kingdom coming to an end with the beginning of the diaspora, which will continue right up to the Second Coming of Christ, still future even from our standpoint in time.

I also believe that Habakkuk knew of the coming Messiah, and his future ministry to Israel, and how he would be cut off from the earth while still in the prime of his life. During his lifetime, a lot of what we call Biblical prophecy (from Isaiah to Malachi) weren't yet written, but more than likely had access to Isaiah's writings, and from these, along with the knowledge of history of the nation's founding fathers, he would have a good idea of what was to come. Yet he was very distressed on how the universal unbelief and wickedness of his own people were to bring about the fall of the kingdom. Yet despite of all this, he also knew of the goodness of God as well as his sovereignty.

Like with me, Habakkuk spent his life seeing the glass half-empty rather than half full, as with all the prophets in the Old Testament, tending to have a pessimistic view of the world, which is quite a contrast to the apostle Paul's optimistic view, along with Peter's. Yet despite his despair, his demonstration of having faith in God, rather than seeing him as conceited or even cynical, his testimony in such adverse conditions has made an excellent model on how I too can have the same faith in the Lord as he did.

Like this weekend, having learnt that one of our church elders has arrived safely in Mumbai, India to volunteer in a Christian youth festival, their equivalent of our Newday Bible week. On top of this, another great friend I have in the church will be flying off to Uganda within the next eight or nine days, and will spend the rest of Autumn out there. Another mate of mine has been to both the USA and Germany in a space of two or three months. Then in addition, some of my clients had, in the last couple of weeks, passed through the airport terminal, resulting in a loss of income. As one who was, and will always be, a travel fanatic, feeling trapped in the UK due to health reasons of both my wife and myself can be distressing. But if Habakkuk can believe, why not I? In the next few weeks I'll be attending hospital appointments in preparation for a major open heart operation to fit a new aortic valve. It is a great comfort to know that I have a wonderful God I can trust, and together with the knowledge of his sovereignty and omniscience, I can rest assured in him for the rest of my life, knowing that there will be better things to come, both in this life and in the next.

Thanks for your testimony, Habakkuk. It has even made it into the charts!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Masculine? What a Wimp!

I happen to live in Great Britain. More precisely, England. Even more precisely, South East of England, in a non-touristy, high tech provincial town just thirty miles out of Central London. Therefore in this part of the world, it is natural to be very reserved, to keep a stiff upper lip, and to face personal crisis with cast iron stoicism. The British Bulldog. That sort of thing. So according to the current thought-line of national newspaper journalism, to show emotion in public is a sign of weakness, mawkish, sentimentality, and a lack of proper masculinity, or even for a case of a female teenager who was unfortunate enough to shed a tear while on air.

So it was with the case of the popular TV series the Great British Bake Off, when the youngest contestant made a mistake in one of her culinary efforts, and received a fail from the judges. During the following interview with the BBC host, there was evidence that she had displayed her emotions. My heart went out for her, and I pictured her father, who I know personally, reach his arms out to her to enfold her in a comfy embrace and re-assuring her at the same time. I knew perfectly well that had she been my daughter, I would have done the same. But after having just bought the Daily Mail newspaper just three days later, I was rather flabbergasted to read a filler on this female columnist's page. This arrogant, unmarried, childless journalist who settled in London from Australia after a failed relationship, mentioned the teenage contestant by her full name and demeaned her character, not only to the nation, but to the world. Just for shedding a tear after a fail. She then asks, if other teenagers were like this one, what kind of future will Britain face? Here is the crunch of the whole matter. If the strength of our country lies in the stoicism of its population, then shedding a tear will bring its downfall.
As a matter of fact, I have great admiration for this teenager. She was initially selected by the BBC out of thousands of hopefuls who applied for the competition. I have watched every creation she had made in very tight time schedules. It is my opinion that she was superb, especially with the nation watching her, as well as the judges interviewing her in front of the camera while actually preparing her ingredients. What amazes me was that nearly every bake was perfect. I was more impressed by her lack of failures throughout the time she remained in the contest, even beating other contestants who were older than her and most certainly had greater experience in the kitchen. I knew perfectly well that in no way I could bake a cake that would remotely match hers. She deserves every kudos she can get.
Which brings me to wonder how our columnist would have fared had she competed in the contest. But due to her long hours spent in the office running down the character of mostly female celebrities, most likely her culinary skills does not go much further than warming up ready-prepared meals in the microwave, never having felt the need to buy a proper baking stove since the day she closed the door of her former home Down Under. Then she has the temerity to criticise a skilled teenage baker under intense pressure and in public view, all for the sake of British stoicism. But this columnist is not alone. I have read articles by other journalists who had come up with crackpot ideas on what it means to be British. Among these was the suggestion from a self-confessed atheist that no male can be considered a gentleman unless he wears a shirt and tie all seven days in the week, which would include Saturday afternoons at the High Street, even in hot weather. If such a conclusion is correct, then according to what I have seen throughout much of my lifetime, a gentleman is very, very rarely seen here in England.

And so it goes back to my own childhood when it was considered cissy for a boy to shed tears. This was even brought out in pop music, such as the 1975 tune I'm Not in Love, by the band 10CC, which has the line, Big boys don't cry, Big boys don't cry, chanted several times by a female in the background. Even at school, I saw this as quite a phenomenon. During physical eduction lessons, I have watched boys of my age, forced to bend over to receive several whacks from the sole of a large plimsoll held by the master, for forgetting their kit on the day of the session. I recall three of the boys barely screwing their faces as the footwear struck with full force at their rump in front of us all, yet not a single tear shed. Afterwards they just stood aside as if received nothing more than a mild reminder. Yet I have watched another shed buckets of tears while begging the master to stop on the third stroke. Such must have been the intensity of the pain. According to the culture of our land, three of the boys who had demonstrated such stoicism could be considered truly British and the upcoming backbone for the strength of the country, while the fourth failed the test, and would have stood as a threat for the country's future. Maybe that was the case. According to these columnists, ever since Princess Diana was killed in a Paris car accident in August 1997, the British population had become very emotional and sentimental, a far cry from the days when the principal of Eton thrashed the backsides of several boys with a cane in his office every day, and each student gratefully thanked the master for the punishment as if awarded as a prize.*

I find it pitiful that British stoicism is even advocated by some believers in our churches in preference to showing any form of emotion. Our culture has even spawned the edict: The Englishman's home is his castle, which is agreed even by our elders that such an attitude is unbiblical, yet in addition to this, we are all too cautious about adult men hugging other men in case "it offends the first time observer" and "we must be unto all men," as well as "making the Body of Christ unappealing to the unbelieving visitor". If that means acting as akin to being like robots, then let it be so, according to them, as long as no one is offended. That is a cop-out, an excuse for one to preserve and protect his Englishness. As for myself, I find nothing wrong in giving another bloke a tight squeeze. It is a lot more affectionate than a mere formal handshake, but if that is what the other person wants, that is what he would get, at least to keep the peace. But there are other guys who, from time to time, actually comes to me for a hug, to receive affection as well as give it. I have read from somewhere that hugging is actually good for the health, as a beneficial hormone is released into the bloodstream, and as I also found, hugging is a wonderful reliever of stress, and I can face the world outside with a better state of mind. Personally, I wish that all men in our fellowship hugged each other, and allow the powerful love of Christ to shine between one another. I can't help thinking that the unbelieving observer, rather than walk out in disgust, will instead want to find out more about the God we worship, and how he can participate. However, I'm a bit more cautious about hugging women, unless I know them well, as they may think there might be a sexual connotation in the physical contact.

So to me, the showing of emotion in public is fine, and presents no threat to masculinity, whether mine or anyone else. Shedding tears must be good, since this facility has been created into us initially, I assume, by God himself. And rather than evolve from apes (a theory that had its origins here in England) instead we were created bipedal for the purpose to have embracing included in our day-to-day living. There is something about a man crying, and watching tears roll down his face. Yes, it can arouse embarrassment, even disgust, if believing that crying is a threat to national stoicism. But it can also bring out the love of Christ from the one observing, and together share what the issue could be, and make efforts to resolve it. And crying can also be an expression of love. And the expression of love is no more demonstrated with such force as was the case of Joseph son of Jacob and Rachel.

Joseph was one of the younger offspring of Jacob's twelve sons. He was the older of only two born of Jacob's favourite wife Rachel, who also had Benjamin, the youngest son of all, and Joseph's only full-blood brother, as the other ten were his half-brothers, all with three different mothers between them. Because Rachel was Jacob's favourite wife, it was his nature for Joseph to become his favourite son. He was something of a spoilt brat, who looked down on his older ten half-brothers, stirring up envy and eventually hatred towards him among them. He was given a special coat by his father, traditionally one of many colours (although this may not be historically verified.) The garment had set him apart from is other brothers, and excused him from manual toil. When his brother Benjamin was born, his mother died and was buried near Bethlehem in Judea. His father was crushed by her untimely death, and this was reflected in Joseph too, who developed a strong affection for his sibling, the only brother not to have any issues against him.

One day, Jacob sent his son Joseph to check out on his other ten brothers. When he had found them having a picnic, they took him and threw him into a dry well pit, where he pleaded with them to be let out. He remained imprisoned until a train of Ishmaelites passed by on camels, to whom he was sold and escorted to Egypt. Meanwhile the brothers slew a goat, and dipped the garment into its blood, and took it home to his father, who believed that his favourite son was slain by a wild beast. With both his wife and son gone, he lived out his remaining days in perpetual sorrow, constantly reciting that he will go to the grave in deep misery, believing that "everything is against me."

A long while later, Joseph ended up becoming Prime Minister to Pharaoh after interpreting a couple of the king's dreams. He was an excellent administrator, whose methods literally saved the lives of the Egyptians during a severe famine. It was then that Jacob sent his ten brothers to Egypt to buy grain, which Joseph had carefully had stored before the start of the famine. He then sent them off each with the sack of grain, after making them promise that they bring their brother Benjamin with them when they return.

The following year, the eleven brothers returned, with Benjamin among them. When Joseph saw his young full-blood brother, we are told that he wept three times:

As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother's son, he asked, "Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about? And he said, "God be gracious to you, my son."
Deeply moved by the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.
Genesis 43:29-30.

Then Joseph could not control himself  before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Make everyone leave my presence!" So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh's household heard about it.
Genesis 45:1-2.

Then he threw his arms around Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterwards his brothers talked with him.
Genesis 45:14-15.

Joseph also wept in his father's arms when the aged man arrived in Egypt. Therefore, was Joseph a wimp? By British standard of culture, that is quite a point! But I could see that Joseph was just as masculine, if not more so, as any tough-talking Brit. He was filled with the Holy Spirit who not only gave him the power to interpret dreams, but the wisdom to save both the Hebrews and the whole of Egypt from national starvation. He became Prime Minister after two years in prison for a crime he did not commit. There was no anger, no resentment in his soul. Instead he depended on the Holy Spirit within him to win the trust of the prison governor, who put him in charge of all the other inmates. His prolonged calmness was not due to stoicism or keeping a stiff upper lip, for the wicked can do these things. Instead, Joseph's peace and calmness were the fruits of the Holy Spirit within him.

Joseph was a true and proper masculine man, not a wimp at all. He would never have written any article to demean a teenager's character. Instead, had Joseph been alive today, he would have wrapped the girl gently in his arms and soothed her from her sorrow, and kindly have encouraged her. That is the way of a real man.

After all, Jesus Christ wept in public twice as recorded in the Gospels. As he was determined to go to the Cross, no one can accuse him of being a wimp! If Joseph and Jesus can both weep in public, then it is nothing weak about shedding a tear.

Even in England.

* Jeremy Paxman, The English - A Portrait of a People.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Being Thankful

We used to sing a song, which was included in our church wedding ceremony:-

Father God I wonder how I managed to exist
without the knowledge of your parenthood and your loving care
But now I am your son
I am adopted in your family
and I can never be alone
'cause Father God, you're there beside me.
I will sing your praises x3
Forever more
I will sing your praises x3
Forever more.

It's a pity that we don't sing it anymore at our meetings, as if it has been thrown into the garbage bin as an oldie, and therefore obsolete. And yet it carries a powerful message, especially when going through the trials of life, on the basis of day to day living. And that was the main reason why, on the day Alex and I were wed, this song was sang by all of us in the building - the minister who married us, bride and groom, the members of both our families, and the rest of the congregation - many who have never heard the song before, let alone sang it. Thank goodness for the song sheet everyone had on the day, at least the song was sang well and with enthusiasm.

But there is much truth in the song, as I recall it to mind after returning home from our anniversary break in Bournemouth. Yes, we have returned to Bournemouth in the middle of last week to celebrate our 15th anniversary, a little less than three months after our Summer visit to the same resort. And I found myself actually swimming in the sea, one of a tiny minority, due to the unusually warm sunshine in October. Sometimes it can be so pleasing to visit a resort out of season, free from the bustling crowd of tourists and holidaymakers, and with the main promenade empty of the fun-fair which was so dominant in Summer outdoor partying, the open space brought out the more sedate Autumn atmosphere while the kids were back at school, students having returned to college, and adults back at their workplaces.

But in the days leading up to the holiday, there was a funeral for my father which my wife and I attended with the rest of my remaining family, along with Alex's parents, and some friends and neighbours. Then to add to this, because of my heart problem, there were appointments to go back and forth to the hospital, in Slough of all places, making public transport extremely awkward, particularly when the medical team asks me to arrive by eight in the morning. With trains, I would have had to change in Reading, making a near thirty mile journey to cover a twelve mile distance from home to the hospital, along with long waiting at the platforms. As for the buses, they seem to take delight in a scenic tour of much of Southern England before arriving at the hospital. Not to mention some prat of a car driver way up in front whose erratic early morning navigation causing the bus I'm in to be caught in a resulting snarl-up - while the clock ticks away relentlessly, showing no consideration for the patient stuck in a bus.

That is why we have brothers and sisters in the church whose heart is to do the will of God, motivated by love. I have one friend who has taken me to Slough three times already, always arriving in good time. (As you may already be aware, I don't drive - yet I have travelled the length and breath of the UK, and a good part of the world as well. Ironic, isn't it?) It goes to show that a little showing of love goes a long, long way!

The Bible says that we should rejoice and be thankful in all circumstances. I know, it is easier said than done. Throughout the last fifteen months my beloved wife had lost her ability to walk properly. I had to watch her remaining confined at hospital bed up to four months last year (2013). Every evening, without fail, I made sure that I was at her bedside after a day's work. I have shed rivers of tears. Our 14th wedding anniversary came and went totally unnoticed by my spouse, as she spent that day in a deep sleep, induced by the medicine administered by the hospital. With the missing of last year's anniversary, an annual celebration higher on my list than birthdays or even Christmas, resulted in the cancellation of our dream holiday to the Mediterranean island of Crete. Then after all that, transporting her around in a wheelchair whenever we left the house, as well as running to and fro on errands she always did herself while I was at work. One tedious task is to constantly monitor her intake of daily dosage of medicine, to ensure she does not run out before I need to collect her next order.

On our 15th Anniversary, Bournemouth

Then on top of all his, I watched my father alternate between being housebound and bed-bound in hospital for up to a couple of years before passing away recently. To make matters worse, I have no assurance in my spirit that he is now with the Lord in Heaven. This is one of the things I cannot decide or judge, as God alone knew he state of his heart during his passing away. Yet he admitted several times that he was never afraid of death, and acknowledged that when it was his time, he must go the way destined for all men. At the funeral, a tear rolled down my face as I sat next to Mum, herself weeping as the strong but emotional tenor of Pavarotti's top hit Nessum Dorma, one of Dad's favourite tunes, filled the crematorium chapel as the curtain closed, concealing the coffin from view for the very last time. All this exactly one week before our 15th wedding anniversary.

So with the passing of my father, Alex mobility limitations and myself awaiting open heart surgery, I guess we are passing through a dark hour of our lives. And yet it looks to me that we ought to be thankful in all circumstances, rooted in the faith of Jesus:-

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before him in thanksgiving and extol him with music and harp.
Psalm 95:1-2.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2:4-7.

Easier said than done, I must admit, especially when I see others around me, better off financially, going away on foreign holidays, tales of backpacking adventures, owning a nice home and fast car, and best of all - enjoying good health. As I carry the ladders on my window cleaning round, I look up to the clear sky and watch a distant airline flying south, leaving a white trail behind as it crosses the sky. Or the distant roar of airline engines as its boosters roar after taking off from nearby Heathrow Airport. Often I sigh: I wish...

Like my late father, feeling melancholic and seeing the glass half empty rather than half full, is my natural tendency. I think about the coming surgery, and I naturally feel that I will be the one in every 1,000+ heart patients where the surgeons will make a mistake, and I slip away into eternity, while my wife waits anxiously outside the theatre. Or the extreme rare occasion of waking up from the anaesthesia-induced sleep halfway through the operation, as reported on several recent occasions by the Press. Lying on the table paralysed, and unable to bat an eyelid, these patients tell of the pain endured while incapable of letting the surgeons know of their plight. During a pre-op talk with one of the surgeons who will perform the op, I have raised this very issue, only to be told that such tales were rubbish. Well, I hope he is right, for according to the newspapers, it happens in one out of 15,000 patients. Naturally, I would be the next one.

The feeling of naked fear, even doubting my salvation, waking up in Hell from the operating theatre were thoughts which had crossed my mind. Did Jesus really save me, or did I, somewhere along the line, missed the mark where faith is concerned, and ended up deceived? After all, many Moslems believe that they are on the right track to Heaven - who am I to assume that it was Jesus Christ, and not Mohammad, or for that matter, Buddha, or even the Hindu gods, that offers life eternal. Operating theatres don't only exist in the West. Buddhists, Moslems, Hindus and Atheists as well, end up under the surgeon's knife.

That was why I found a couple of days in Bournemouth to celebrate our wedding anniversary such a tonic to my faith. From it, I was able to give thanks to God for his goodness. He even brought good weather of Indian Summer, as it's called here, which allowed me to swim in the sea in October. I wonder whether this is God saying to me:- Look, did I not take care you when you were without a job for a year in 1979/80? Did you run into debt? And when you called upon me during mid-flight across the Atlantic, didn't I keep you safe from trouble that can arise in some American cities? What about that evening walk through that particular street in downtown Los Angeles? Did anyone lay a finger on you? And when you were lost in the middle of nowhere in California, didn't I send a cyclist at just the right time to direct you, and caught the very last train back to San Diego? And who called you to pray for Jerusalem when you were in your lowest and shameful mood?

Travel has brought a new dimension in my walk with God. At least twice, on two different places and occasions I was called brave for backpacking the world on my own, although I wouldn't have associated such kudos with travel. But I can rest in one very important hope. Jesus Christ is the only person to have ever risen from the dead. Mohammad is dead, and his bones are with us in Medina. Buddha is also dead, so are the founders of Hinduism. But Jesus Christ is alive! That is the difference, along with the fulfilled prophecies concerning the Messiah's birth, death and resurrection. Now 1 John 5:1 says clearly that whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. This is backed by the case of the Ephiopian eunuch, who according to the AV, simply confessed to Philip that Jesus is the Son of God, and he was saved, and baptised at a pond they were happening to be passing. Either the Bible s true or it isn't true. Either the Bible is inspired by God, or a record of highly delusional and superstitious men who knew nothing of modern science.

For my wife's sake, I will go through the operation, trusting in the Lord that I will come out at the other end in fine form. I believe that God wants Alex and I to spend many more years together as husband and wife. By comparison to lifelong separation, it does not matter if she will be wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life, we are united in soul as well as body, we want to spend yet many years together, and I'm fully committed to this. I thank God dearly for giving Alex to me as my wife, and surely he has honoured that pledge.

The Bible exhorts us to give thanks to God and to rejoice in all things. When the chips are down, it would be naturally difficult to thank God for the circumstance, yet Paul and Silas thanked God when they were locked up in prison without a proper trial. And they rejoiced, singing praises to God, enough to bring the jailer to salvation. What were their secret? Believing in their hearts that Jesus is the resurrected Christ, and the author and finisher of their salvation.

And so, with open eyes and a believing heart, I go to the operating theatre, knowing that God will be with me.