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Sunday, 30 November 2014

Abraham the Backpacker

Abraham is one character I have always admired in the Old Testament. Maybe because he comes over as a very ordinary person, with fears, doubts and anxieties - and not with a heroism matching a faith superstar, nor as a "super-spiritual" who finds it easy to keep temptation out of his head and to abstain from every form of sinning. Abraham never had the opportunity to be "super-spiritual" - you may know of the kind - the one who shun the beach because of the presence of bikini-clad women, avoid the fairground for its worldly pleasures, and also staying away from the theatre as being the hub of sensuality, the one who keeps a record library of traditional hymns and spiritual songs as well as classical music, but with not a single rock, pop, or soul record to be found among his collection, and definitely no television in his house. The only secular books he would allow his children to read are educational. And glossy magazines? Don't even think about them! Such a person would find making and keeping friends very difficult indeed! Respect? Yes, to a certain extent. Intimacy would be a different matter altogether. Pie in the sky? I have met men who came close to such criteria. And one of them was kicked out of church eldership for committing adultery.

Nomadic Abraham had none of these modern conveniences, but he was a real person with real feelings. The Scripture tells us that he did throw a party to celebrate the weaning of his son Isaac (Genesis 21:8) and no doubt, there was music and entertainment. Yet we read that God, by sovereign grace, had chosen him, loved him, and most important of all, acquitted him from all sin and imputed his own righteousness - just for believing that he will be a birth father one day. Yet we read at least on two occasions his fears and apprehensions when it came to foreign travel. He believed that both the Egyptian king, and some time later the king of Gerah, were about to take his wife Sarah to add to their harem, so in fear of being killed, he lied to them, calling her his sister and practically disowning her, and that despite God's already revealed promises. To add to this, the 15th chapter of Genesis opens with God calming his fears. Reading about various points in is life, it doesn't seem too difficult to see that Abraham had a fear of the future, a lack of trust in other people, and the feeling of uncertainty in his heart, and he would have had to learn, bit by bit, how to trust in the Lord who initially called him from his comfy home in Shinar.
We read how he was encouraged by his father Terah's presence as he journeyed west to Canaan, and after the death of his father, he found security in the company of his nephew Lot by his side, along with his wife and his two daughters. So secure had he felt towards Lot and his family that God allowed a shortage of resources to occur between uncle and nephew, forcing them to dwell apart, with Lot choosing the lush valley surrounding Sodom. Abraham had to learn to lean on God rather than on family members.
In a sense, Abraham was well suited to his nomadic lifestyle. No doubt that way of living was free from the complexities that affect our way of life, such as fuel bills, getting into debt, taxes, mortgage payments, rent, the daily commute, holding down a job, threat of redundancy, the need for higher education, unemployment, and so forth. Abraham had none of all that, but neither did he have what we call the Bible today. Instead, his faith was entirely dependent on repeated revelations from God.

Although Abraham was generally fearful, I had wondered whether the simple nomadic life was more fulfilling than the complex lifestyles that exist at present, with all the mod-cons. Ever since I bought a laptop computer and had it connected to the Internet, it became a gadget I couldn't do without. Yet I was in my late fifties at the time I first bought it. How on earth did I manage all those years without the Internet? Yet I did. Activities such as participation in competitive sports like the Triathlon (Swim, Cycle, and Run) allowed me to get out of doors during the weekend, as well as being a paid-up member of a triathlon club, where we were just as committed to the Friday night social as the training programmes themselves. Other times, when there was nothing worth watching on TV, often I poured into reading books, both fiction and non-fiction, and this in itself became a prerequisite for future blogging, as well as grasping on general knowledge I missed out on at school.

Travel was something both Abraham and I had in common, along with the need for both of us depending on God's protection. I needed God's protection at the time I walked through East 7th Street of Los Angeles one evening in 1995, on my way to the Greyhound Bus Station from Santa Monica, carrying a rucksack, while gangs of Afro-Caribbeans lolled around the front doors of their homes. And divine protection I received, for although some characters looked shady, no-one batted an eyelid at me. In turn, on two occasions, Abraham feared being killed, and had his wife Sarah taken from him, he was weary of Canaanite inhabitants surrounding his camp, yet he was brave enough to rescue Lot from invading marauding forces and with God's help, defeated them and repopulated the captured city of Sodom.

Where travel is concerned, I can compare flying halfway round the world with long distance hiking.  I have found by experience that long distance hiking, cross-country cycling, and national and international train travel were no less fulfilling than air travel. As a matter of fact, I have found slow surface travel to be more exhilarating than sitting cocooned inside an airtight bottle several miles above ground. Little wonder that planning a holiday or vacation can be stressful, what with the need of having correct documents, tickets, long queues at airports, tight security including body search, flight delays and cancellations, industrial disputes, threat of illness, overbooked hotels, all eating into the joy of travel. All Abraham did was to un-pitch his tent, load it on a donkey, and move to fresh fertile ground. He must have done quite well. There are at least seven hundred miles 1,134 km between his home town of Ur of the Chaldeans and the Jebusite city of Jerusalem. That's the equivalent of hiking from London UK to Genova, well within the boundary of Italy. Not to mention various hikes up and down the land of Canaan, making his travels closer to a thousand miles.

Here is the irony. When Abraham and his fellow campers felt they had to move on for the want of fresh pasture, they simply packed everything away and moved on. None of the bureaucratic hassle which accompanies modern travel. But just a threat of an air strike, or a sneeze, or even the possibility of rain at the holiday destination, and we're prone to panic. A few years ago, thousands of foreign holidays were wiped out as a result of a volcanic eruption in Iceland. This being Britain, I hardly heard a murmur in the streets, but I wouldn't mind betting that behind closed doors there was much distress coming out of would-be travellers. Or going back to 1978, when the French Air Traffic Control strike crippled all flights across Europe. As I was at the departure gate waiting to board the unaffected flight to New York, there was a roaring, blood curdling scream echoing through the wide airport corridor. A young man, about my age, was told through the tannoy to return to the departure lounge, having spent the previous night walking back and forth to the gate from the lounge due to a series of false calls to board the 'plane for Spain. As I boarded my own flight, I watched a very sorry looking crowd of people saunter dismally once more back to the lounge. Just as well I paid more for a flight to New York. At least my airline took off right on time.

As he would have trekked across the wide hot desert on a train of camels, along with his family, servants, and all his livestock, I wonder how Abraham would have made of it all had he witnessed the ins and outs of modern travel? To add to all this, our dependence on TV, radio, the Internet, not to mention hospitals, along with mountains of highly sophisticated knowledge of science, mathematics, and other subjects. Then there is the matter of Holy Scripture. I cannot be dogmatic in saying that Abraham had no access to the Bible, as it was not yet written. He could have possessed the scroll, or a copy of a scroll detailing the lives of his ancestors, from Adam and Eve to Noah, the global deluge, and the ancestry of his family line and those of other nations. In other words, what we read as the early chapters of Genesis, most likely written by Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Genesis 10:1) in order to preserve the record of their ancestry for future generations. Therefore, I would say that the only way for Abraham's faith to grow would have been by direct revelation from God himself. A good example of this was the appearance of three men to announce to him that his wife Sarah will give birth to a son in about a year from their visit (Genesis 18.)

I guess we are the far more fortunate ones. We have the entire Bible, within containing the Three Powerful Witnesses (see my last blog) as well as the life and works of Jesus Christ told four times, the history of the beginnings and rise of the early church, and all the letters written by the apostles. Abraham had none of these. In Genesis 15:1, God had to reassure Abraham personally not to fear or be anxious, for God himself is his shield. Without the Bible, the only way God spoke to him was most likely audibly. Abraham never had the chance to read these precious words that were promised to us:

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, gracious give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those who God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:31-39.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19.

That is wonderful news. If only Abraham knew how much he was in Christ as we are, for he was equally acquitted. I'm so thankful to God that we have easy access to the entire Bible in one book, and not row upon row of separate scrolls, as was the time of Christ and the apostles. We have the best things God can offer, not only in the spiritual realm but also in the physical realm. I have always been thankful to the Lord for giving me the privilege of world travel, as far wide as California at one end, and Australia at the other. But even more fulfilling were the trips I made to the Holy Land. Imagine how it felt like staying at a backpacker's hostel in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, an area so familiar to Jesus Christ and the apostles. Imagine what it was like standing inside the Dome of the Rock and touching the very stone where Abraham offered to sacrifice his son Isaac, and then hearing God call out from Heaven. Imagine how Solomon's Temple might have looked on that very site, and the Second Temple at the time of Jesus.

God was with Abraham throughout his life. Even before he was born, God knew him. God knew him before the world itself was made and Adam was still dust on the ground. Yet despite all of the patriarch weaknesses, God had never forsaken him. Abraham was as much once saved always saved as we are.

If God took so much care of Abraham, even to the site of his burial, would he not be the same with us? That is grace, wonderful grace. Knowing that God loves us in Christ Jesus, he does not impute sin, but imputes the righteousness of Christ in us. That's why we can never ever be lost again. The righteousness of Christ, setting us free from the burden of trying to keep the Law. My own experience that if I perform to "stay saved" or to "remain in Christ by staying faithful" - then I am back under the Law. That is, I must perform to stay saved, there is something I must do, that is, to endure. Under such thinking I'm doomed to failure, simply because that even if I keep the Law, but stumble at just one point, then I have broken the entire Law, and doomed for judgement (James 2:10). Rather, in Christ I'm loved unconditionally, saved forever in my Father's arms.

Even if I don't act like it. Even if I get angry at someone. Even if I curse and swear. Even if I tell a dirty joke. Even if I watch porn on TV, on the Internet, or browse through glossy magazines. Even if I gaze at the bikini-clad female sunbathing on the beach. Even if I spend a day at the fun fair. Even when I prefer hard rock music to hearing spiritual songs. Even when feeling depressed. In Jesus Christ I'll be forever in my Father's arms, safe and secure.

But wait! Doesn't the New Testament exhort us to lead holy lives?

That is for the next blog.  

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Three Powerful Witnesses

In the last blog I related my experience with some Jehovah's Witnesses I became acquainted with back in the 1970s. Since back then I was very new to the faith, it would not have been too surprising that a level of confusion had arisen after their demonstration of their doctrine and belief came across as very logical and solid, and virtually impossible to challenge and overturn their beliefs and their arguments. So a question arose in my thoughts: Am I following the right religion?
And this following an upbringing as a Roman Catholic, a faith I had abandoned as a teenager due to resulting in learning of a moody, truculent God who just won't let anyone straight into Heaven after death, because of some unconfessed or unforgiven sin, mortal or venial, and of the soul of the deceased having to spend either eternity in Hell, or a temporal time period (up to thousands of years) in Purgatory, depending on the severity of the sin, or how many remaining unconfessed. Therefore hearing about Salvation through faith in the completed atonement made by Jesus Christ when he died on the cross was not only very new to me, but was in conflict with my then current beliefs. Then after believing in Jesus Christ through faith, along came the Witnesses, pedalling their own version of works-based salvation.
And they insist that the vast majority of them will not even enter Heaven, but will remain in their present bodies in Earth which has been restored to Paradise after a dreadful, global Battle of Armageddon. And back then I failed to see the two discrepancies they already have against the Bible, that at first, their version of Armageddon will be global, while the Bible confines the battle to a comparatively small area in the Middle East - the Valley of Megiddo in northern Israel. And secondly, they insist that only 144,000 specially-chosen Witnesses will spend eternity in Heaven, along with Jesus Christ - renamed Michael - the twelve apostles, and every convert recorded in the New Testament book of Acts. Never mind that the Bible makes clear that the 144,000 will all be Jews, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jehovah's Witnesses insist that every church, every religious establishment and denomination, every political, military, trading establishments, and everyone else not affiliated with the Watchtower Society will be wiped out in the most devastating "battle" - if it can be called that - in the whole of human history. They, and they alone, will inhabit the new Earth.

And that's the whole point. Every religion, every faith, every belief, insist that they are following the right path to eternity, whether it would be Heaven, Nirvana or some other form of Paradise. Here in the UK, extreme Muslim terrorists poses a threat to national security, deep in their convictions that theirs is the right faith. Other Muslims will fight their Jihad willingly, even to the cost of their lives. Then every Buddhist will be convinced that their founding monk had laid the right spiritual pathway, and have good arguments to support their case. Likewise the Hindus can give us good reasons why their Vedas Scriptures are holy, as with the Islam Koran. As for Roman Catholicism, for centuries they alone insist that they are the true Church of Christ, labelling Protestants as heretics. But within the last few decades, the Vatican has accepted Allah as "the one true merciful God we both worship together" - despite that the moon god Allah and the Trinitarian God of Catholicism could not be any more different.
So in the face of such an array of different religious creeds, each one claiming to be the right faith, how can I be sure that Paul's statement in  1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is one I can depend on? This blog, I hope, will provide some vital answers.
For what I have received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
These verses can be used as a universal plumbline by which all faiths and creeds can be tested. A plumbline is a tool used by builders to ensure that the wall is fully upright and not prone to slanting. Likewise, with this, all faiths can be assessed. And the plumbline is this, that Christ died to atone for sin, that he was buried, and rose again on the third day. It is the third criteria - that he rose again - that sets Jesus Christ apart from every religious or spiritual founder. In the Bible, there are what I perceive three witnesses or testimonies that points to Jesus as the only way. These are: the Ark of the Covenant, Miracles, and Prophecy.
Testimony #1: Ark of Covenant.
Throughout the Old Testament book of Exodus, there are intricate details on the construction of the Tabernacle, a tent which was to be the meeting place between Almighty God and the nation of Israel, which had so recently been freed from slavery in Egypt by God's outstanding miracles administered by Moses and his older brother Aaron. They camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, and from there they received the Ten Commandments and other laws by which they were to conduct their lives. All at first seems ideal - until a major problem emerged - that no one was able to keep God's laws perfectly due to the inherited sinful nature found in every person alive. God, in his holiness and perfect righteousness, could have wiped out the entire nation from the Earth. But instead, in his love, he instructed Moses to have his men construct a tent, which inside were two compartments, separated by a curtain. The innermost compartment was known as the Holy of Holies, and was the dwelling place of God. Inside was the Ark of the Covenant, a piece of furniture which was the object of Harrison Ford's blockbusting movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was a box of Acacia wood overlaid with pure gold, inside and out. Covering the box was a lid of pure solid gold, known as The Mercy Seat.
Cast with the lid were two cherubs of solid gold, their wings spread over the surface of the lid, and their faces looking down on it. It is likely that these two angels represent Justice and Holiness. Inside the box were placed three sets of items, which represents the triple facet of man's sinful nature. The first two were the stone tablets on which were written the ten Commandments. The fact that they were inside the Ark signified man's rejection of God's holiness. This meant that the average person prefers to do his own thing and set his own moral standard rather than God's. Another item in the box was a pot of manna, with which God miraculously fed the entire nation in the desert. Rather than being thankful for such a nutritious provision for free, instead they grumbled, wanting a far greater variety to eat. God, in his mercy, provided quails, a species of bird, also for free, and the Israelites gorged themselves without giving thanks and worshipping God. As a result, a pot of manna was placed in the Ark to signify man's rejection of God's provision.
Finally, a symbol of man's rejection of God's leadership which took the form of Aaron's rod budding. This took place after Korah led a rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron, and their sentence was passed. The almond rods belonging to all of Israel's elders were placed in an array at the Tabernacle. Overnight, Aaron's rod miraculously budded, showing the nation he whom God appointed for leadership. The rod of Aaron was then placed inside the Ark to signify man's rejection of God's leadership.
Thus the triple facet of sin were inside the Ark. The two cherubs were looking down on the lid, or Mercy Seat, and they could see the symbols of human sin which separated all mankind from a Holy God. However, once a year, an innocent lamb, about a year old and absolutely perfect, without any blemish, was slain by the priest, and its blood poured over the Mercy Seat. As each of the two cherubs now saw the blood of an innocent lamb instead of human sin, both Holiness and Justice can declare that they are satisfied with the atonement made, allowing God himself to dwell in the midst of his people.

Jesus Christ was the final sacrifice to make an eternal atonement between God and mankind, reconciling the world to himself for all time, unlike the priest, who because of his own mortality, had to perform the rite once every year. The relationship between God and man changed so dramatically at the Crucifixion that the sun was darkened, there was an earthquake, the rocks split, the curtain dividing the Holy of Holies inside the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the souls of holy men of the Old Testament came out of their graves (Matthew 27:50-53.) The blood of the lamb sacrificed once a year by the priest was the foreshadow of the Crucifixion, the shedding of his own blood, and the death of Jesus Christ. No other spiritual leader or founder had ever laid down his life for the salvation of others. But there was more to come. On the third day Jesus rose physically from the dead, an accomplishment no other human has ever achieved. This was the final proof that Jesus Christ is truly God, the Second Person of the Godhead. No other human can claim that status. And our salvation depends entirely on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul the Apostle wrote to the church in Corinth, if Christ was not raised from the dead, then no-one will be raised from the dead either, and our believing will be in vain, a waste of time, (1 Corinthians 15) and all one has to do to be saved is call upon the name of the Lord, believing in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9-10,13.)
This is one area where groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses fail. They deny the physical Resurrection of Jesus Christ and in turn, deny his deity. A created being cannot redeem mankind, it something only God himself can accomplish.
Testimony #2: Miracles.
I have read and heard of various churches, particularly of the Charismatic movement, using the formula of claiming healing and even prosperity for themselves as if these things were theirs by right, with the Atonement made by Jesus Christ on the cross by means of the rights to claim. But over the years of Bible study, a different picture had slowly emerged that there is no such thing as a Heavenly Health Service, neither is God a servant of man waiting to answer his every beck and call. Rather, the Bible seem to be very consistant that miracles were performed for God to prove his own glory, his authority, and his desire to save.
One of the most striking examples of miraculous power are found in the early chapters of the Old Testament book of Exodus. Here we read about the talk God had with Moses at the burning bush, a miracle in itself. The thorn bush burning without being consumed by the flames had two important meanings. The first was to reveal to Moses that he is the God of his father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he was to send Moses off on a mission fully backed by his authority. The second meaning to the fire was a prophecy concerning the future nation of Israel. This Hebrew nation was set to go through the fires of testing and disciplinary tribulation, but would never be consumed. As the bush burned and burned, but was never consumed to ashes, so Israel likewise would burn and burn, but will never ever go out of existence. The proof holds true to this day. At present, Israel is a sovereign nation, born shortly after Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party had made every effort to make the Jews an extinct species during the War. 
The power of miracles held to the same reason when God turned Moses' rod into a snake, and made his hand leprous. These were to convince a doubtful leader that God is God, and he was fully commissioned for the task. Then God performed a string of miracles to a very stubborn Pharoah, to demonstrate his power in public, and at the same time persuade the Hebrews to believe in Moses as their deliverer, and to obey him.
But many of the miracles recorded in the Bible are found during Jesus' ministry, and they are all consistant for one main purpose - to prove to all around him that he is the Christ. And what better way to demonstrate his deity than to show his love towards the poor, the infirm, the sick, the demon-possesed and the less fortunate. One of his greatest miracles was to raise Lazarus from the dead. And he did this not merely to comfort or bring fresh hope to his sisters Martha and Mary. Rather, the miracle was performed to prove to all around him that this Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. In John 11:41 it reads:
Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they believe that you sent me."
Thus the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was the same as turning a wooden stick into a living snake: as proof of God's sovereignty and to create faith. After the resurrection (a miracle in itself) and shortly after Pentecost, Peter and John healed a cripple in the Temple precinct (Acts 3, 4:1-31). The whole of the third chapter, and much of the 4th were devoted to Peter's explanation behind the miracle, that this Jesus who they had crucified was indeed the Christ who was raised from the dead, and salvation is given to all who believe in this revelation. Unfortunately for the Sanhedrin, they remain stubborn in their unbelief, threatening the apostles instead.

One of the more famed of present day miracles was related by Dutch evangelist Corrie Ten Boom. One day she was teaching an open-air class of schoolboys near a brook about the miraculous catch of fish at the Lake of Galilee. When one of the boys sneered at the possibility of the miracle ever had taken place, Ten Boom took a bucket, dunked it into the stream, lifted it out and dumped the entire bucketful of fish right in front of the boy. As the story goes, the boy himself grew up to be an evangelist and Bible scholar himself. Such is the power and the purpose of miracles.

Testimony #3: Prophecy.

Prophecy make the Bible the most unique document in the entire literary world. No other book, religious or secular, contains prophecy which was fulfilled hundreds, even thousands of years later, nor prophecy that was written thousands of years ago yet still awaiting fulfilment. And whenever I felt doubtful about the reliability of Holy Scripture, or the genuineness of my own faith, I remind myself about the wonderful testimony of prophecy.

There is much I can write about prophecy, for it contains a tremendous amount of wealth and information. It has been said that if all Biblical prophecy were combined together, it would take up a section of the Bible as large as the entire New Testament! But in an effort to prevent this blog from being too long and drawn out, I will concentrate on just one, but keep in mind that there are many, many more prophecies fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The example referred to is Psalm 22, penned by King David around a thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ. And it is a psalm foretelling the crucifixion of Jesus when such a form of execution never existed at the time of writing. Here are some selected verses:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.

Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.
I'm poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.
I count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.

The accuracy of this prophecy comes out when one reads the testimony of the Gospels. Nothing could be more clearer than the description of the scene consisting of many standing around the cross and mocking him as he was hung there, nailed by his hands and feet to the wood. And no better description is given than that of Matthew 27:27-50, where the narration not only gives the mocking by his enemies in full detail, but includes the dividing of his garments by the Roman soldiers while all he could do was look on.

With fulfilled prophecy like this one, Jesus Christ and he alone, qualifies as the true Saviour, and as for his resurrection, there are plenty of prophecies foretelling this too. For example, in Isaiah 53, much of that chapter foretells of the cutting off of the servant during the prime of his life. In verse 10, Isaiah writes that it was the will of the Lord to crush him and allowed him to suffer. Then still in the same verse, after he makes his life a guilt offering, he then sees his offspring and prolong his days. How could such a blatant contradiction make any sense unless he was resurrected from the dead? And history informs us that other than Jesus Christ, nobody ever was physically raised from the dead with an immortal body. No, certainly not the Buddhist monk, or Muhammad, and certainly not Charles Taze Russell or Joseph Smith, founders of the Watchtower and the Mormons respectively. And for that matter, neither the Archangel Michael fits the criteria, as he was created by God as with all of the angelic population. Jesus Christ is truly God, truly man, Saviour, Lord and King.

With this I rest my case.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Am I in the "Right Religion?"

I will never forget one Summer afternoon in 1973 when two young Jehovah' Witnesses called at our door. Only just been in the faith for a few months, I was still physically young, a spiritual babe, very naive, and wanted to learn what others said about the Bible. It was a time I was not affiliated with any church. To add to all this, I had already been taught that all churches were wrong, and God had withdrew his presence from them, to put it in a nice way. It was more of God had never been with them in the first place. That was what I was taught by the group I identified myself at the time, the Children of God, spawned by the American cult leader David "Moses" Berg, who founded his movement after a bitter dispute with an American Pentecostal pastor. (For the full story, see my two blogs on this site, 1973 And All That, and Signs Of The Times? both posted May 2013.)
I had quickly discovered that the Witnesses agreed with me of their beliefs that all the churches were wrong - forming a common ground with them. One of them took me to his home address, which was just round the corner, and serious discussions began. I quickly learned that they did not believe in the Trinity, and Jesus Christ was not equal to God but inferior to him, using John 14:28: You heard me say, 'I'm going away and I'm coming back to you.' If you love me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.'

With a statement like that coming straight out of the mouth of Jesus himself, it would be very difficult for a Trinitarian to put forth his case, especially when the whole of the New Testament appears to back it up. The method they used, and still do to this day, was that Jesus is the Son of God, not God the Son. With such an argument, it would have been easy to convince an unsuspecting listener, especially by asking how Jesus could be one of the Godhead if for example, that God has given to Jesus the scroll which he was to pass to John (Revelation 1:1.) The two Witnesses then asked me whether these were two different entities rather than one God "talking to himself" and "giving the manuscript to himself" - as they make out as what we Trinitarians believe. Then came the issue which placed the final nail in the coffin of all orthodox churches that they, and they alone were the people of God's Name. That is, the name "Jehovah" which appears in Exodus 6:3, Psalm 83:18, and Isaiah 12:2, 26:4 in the King James Version of the Old Testament, a name by which they identify themselves.

But I was not an "unsuspecting listener". Instead I had a gut feeling that something was seriously wrong with their theology, but at the time I could not counteract, as not only was I without learning and experience, but I received no help or back-up from the Children of God movement, as theology was not their strong point, but rather rebellion against the churches instead. And looking at the psychological consequence of this viewpoint, if the Jesus Christ of the Watchtower Society was an individual created by God the Father, then he could not qualify as Saviour - no matter if he was the first to be created before everything else, before all other angels and before the entire Universe, or how high in status he was after his death - if Jesus was not God himself, how could he save?

And yet despite these doubts in my mind, the Watchtower theology appeared logical and solid, and impossible to contradict, for even verses that hint on the Triune being of God, such as John 8:58, they insist that he said, "Before Abraham was born, I have been" instead of "I am." Or John 5:30, where they say that his declaration that the Father and he were one in agreement, and not one in essence. Then the classic John 1:1 when they insist that the proper translation from the Greek is "...and the Word was a god", instead of "... and the Word was God." To the unsuspecting, these were fed into the mind, converting the "goat" into a "sheep" - that is to say, a Jehovah's Witness who is in line to be saved if he remains faithful to the organisation, never dissent, and certainly never question or have doubts about what is fed from "the Lord's Table" up there in Heaven, through the Society headquarters in New York, and through all their printed literature. The convert is then convinced that he has the truth, while everyone else is living a lie and will die eternally.

It was during those days that I began to ponder: How do I know that my faith is the right one? I began to imagine what the Last Judgement will be like. I have pictured in my mind the Great White Throne with Almighty God sitting on it. In front of him are all the religious believers - Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Roman Catholic, Lutherian, Pentecostals, Baptists, Mormons, Christian Scientists, Children of God, Pagans, Anglicans, Methodists, Jehovah's Witnesses - all arrayed in their groups - some large, others small, all waiting to find out from God which group had done his will and obeyed him. Then the Almighty would single out Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Watchtower Society, and all his followers, and grant them eternal life. They then are allowed into Heaven, much to the shocking horror of all the others with their founders and leaders, who are thrown out of his presence to be cast into Hell, and that despite the Watchtower Society repudiating Hell, and only 144,000 Witnesses will enter Heaven, the rest are to enjoy eternity on the new Earth, restored to the state of the original Garden of Eden, but even then, on the principle that they remain faithful.

Watchtower Society Headquarters, New York City

Throughout my confusion I stood by the truth of the Trinity, even if I couldn't face up to a mature Witness (the young man's father), as I was still blind to the obvious - that any weakening of the Atonement achieved by Christ on the Cross renders their gospel as false. With Jesus Christ relegated to a created being, inferior to the Father, impaled on an upright pole (without the crossbar) and risen only as a spirit, and not physically, their religion is on the par with very other religion on the planet. For example, Muslims deny that it was Christ who died on the cross. Muhammad believed that it might have been Judas Iscariot instead, an idea upheld throught Islam. Both in Hinduism and Buddhism believe that Jesus was one of many good teachers who helped reform mankind, but certainly not atoned for their sin.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth of what one could be called the plumbline to determine whether a gospel proclaimed is true or false. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, we read:

For what I have received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Paul also emphasises that belief in the Resurrection is vital for salvation. Romans 10:9 reads:

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

This is a physical resurrection, that of the body, and not just a spiritual one as the Witnesses insist. The death by crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are a combined fact - they have ocurred before now, and are just as solid historically as the sun poured its light and heat on to our planet the day before yesterday. The facts cannot be changed. They are true regardless whether one believes or not. But by believing in the heart that Jesus rose physically from the dead result in complete acquittal from all sins commited - past, present, and future. No other religious founder or leader had ever enjoyed a physically resurrected body as Jesus. This goes to show that he is Lord indeed. But not Lord in a sense of an employer or an aristocrat, but Lord in the sense that he is truly God and truly man. No other religion can confess this. And even among Christian believers, the question of eternal acquittal can be so hard to swallow! That is why "Once Saved Always Saved" does not go down well with everyone who regularly attend church. Simply put, Eternal Security is just an acknowledgement that salvation as a whole is totally dependent on whether the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is historically true. If true, you as a believer is saved eternally and can never be lost again. If not historically true, then you are as equally lost as that poor soul yonder who is serving life in prison for theft and multiple murder.

Believing that salvation can be lost by a sinning or faithless believer weakens the truth of the Gospel by adding human merit or even works to the Gospel, diluting it. In other words, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ did not fully atone for one's sins, unless the sinner gives "a helping hand." All labels which claim to be Christian but believes that salvation can be lost insist that only one's past sins were forgiven at conversion, leaving "a clean slate" afterwards. The snag with that idea is that the moment a sin is committed, the slate is no longer clean, and the believer is subject to eternal judgement. As James wrote, that whoever keeps the whole Law but stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking the entire Law (James 2:10-11). Without eternal acquittal, it is impossible to keep the slate clean and then go to Heaven after death. Once saved always saved is essential for salvation.

That was the whole object of Paul's letter to the Galatians. In 1:6-10, Paul was so emphatic to drive his point home that not only did he repeat what he had already stated, but involved angels too - that if anyone preached a gospel contrary to the one he preached, let him be accursed! - Angels included. And what was this false gospel which infuriated the Apostle so severely? It was making physical circumcision mandatory for all believers, laying on them a heavy burden, as so well narrated in Galatians 5:1-6. Paul insisted that whoever advocates circumcision, or for that matter, observance of Jewish holidays, is compelled to observe the entire Law. If breached, then the advocate is subject to eternal judgement.

I can understand how those believers in Galatia fell for such ideas. In Genesis chapter 16, God himself  institiuted circumcision to Abraham and all male members of his family, to be passed down to his decendants forever. According to verse 14, if anyone fails to be circumcised, he will be cut off from his people, that is eternally separated from God and his people by death. According to the Judaists who influenced the Galatian churches, this covenant is eternal and therefore cannot be broken. The logic of all this was that the power of the Atonement made by Christ would be nullified. Hence the curse. There seems to be little difference between circumcision needed in order to be saved, and "staying faithful and abstaining from sin" to stay saved, as both puts the believer under the slavery of the Law, according to the Apostle, as both require the need of works and human merit.

But the idea of eternal acquittal from the curse of sin is virtually unknown by all religions. No matter how committed a Muslim, or Buddhist, Hindu, Roman Catholic or Jehovah's Witness may be, none would believe in Once Saved Always Saved. And if Eternal Security is untrue, the power of the cross and resurrection of Christ is weakened, a tantamount of denying the Lord.

The Church of St. Peter, Vatican City.

Yet a huge majority of religious people are devoted to their faith, giving all out commitment to their rituals and duties, with a hope that these will reconcile them to God or enter Nirvana. And each one thinks that he is in the right, and each one has a good case to argue. So how can someone like myself be so sure that I'm saved only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?  How can I be so sure that Muhammad does not have a case in point, or Buddha, for that matter? Or supposing the Roman Catholic Church with its Papal system had been right all along? Does the Pope really stand as mediator between mankind and God? And does the Virgin Mary really have the same role in interceding for the sin of her followers? And there are many who were, and still are, devoted to her.

There is no love lost between the Vatican and the Watchtower Society, but each believe that they are true to the Bible, both believe that they are serving God, and both deny the truthfulness of Eternal Security of the Believer. So I can I be so sure in what I believe is from God himself?

That will be for the blog for next week.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

An Amusing Incident...

Maybe some of you are aware that at present I have a heart condition, which has been diagnosed with a leaky aortic valve. This means that I'm in line for open-heart surgery to have the valve replaced, either with a flesh valve from a donor bank, or with a mechanical valve. This is a sort of thing which have swings and roundabouts. With a flesh valve, another open-heart operation may be needed later in life; however, the presence of a mechanical valve will cause the blood to coagulate around it, which is only preventable by taking blood-thinning medicine for the rest of my days. Perhaps this could be seen as a no-win situation. On the other hand, if I'm committed to take medicine daily for the rest of my life whichever the case may be, then I'll would opt for the artificial device if I am given a choice.

But that may not be my choice, but that of the surgeon. However, a series of pre-op assessments at Harefield Hospital, one of the country's top cardiac centres, has allowed the formation of the patient's notes - which always begins with the patient's name, date of birth, age, home address, blah, blah, blah, then his occupation - as if this mattered a lot with the condition - after all, I'm not a professional wine-taster or a cigarette analyst, if such jobs really existed. So the turn arrived for the Echo-Scan department to analyse my chest area, resulting in clear images appearing on the computer screen for the better part of an hour, reclining on the bed, very much like an ancient Roman feasting at the table.
After a considering amount of time examining my heart with its leaky valve, the operator announced,
Now, lie flat on your back, as I need to scan the pipe which carries the fluid back to your heart.
I thought: Pipe? Am I a mechanical contraption of some kind? With which I responded:
You mean the vena cava.
The operator, an English-looking male I suspect to be in his late thirties or early forties, was taken back with surprise.
Yes, that's right! How do you know? Where did you learn that?
To which I muttered, more to myself than to him:
Well, I'm not stupid.
The operator however, refused to let the matter rest.
Please tell me, where did you learn all this?
Finally, I answered:
When I was young, I had an interest in human anatomy.
As the scan proceeded, images appeared to be contradictory, with which the operator announced that he needed a second opinion. With that he departed, leaving me lying alone on the bed next to a constantly bleeping scanner, what seems to be somewhere between five to ten minutes. Afterwards he re-appeared with a female, apparently a doctor, as she seemed well-knowledgeable on the issue. As he was talking to her, I clearly heard him mention with a degree of astonishment that I knew about the vena cava vein. I guess that he would not have been any more amazed had he discovered that I had two hearts, as Dr. Who! The female then took over the procedure while he had to sit and watch.
As one whose occupation consist of manual labour rather than sitting at a desk in the office, it may be reasoned that my vocabulary gave him something of a culture shock. After all, he must have studied my notes thoroughly during preparations and before calling me in from the waiting room. Therefore, he came to the conclusion that I, as a window cleaner, must be dim. With such an assumption, I should have been annoyed. Instead I was rather amused, and I left the department with a sense of triumph, as I made my way to the next department to have my lung capacity assessed. No doubt, the operator's perception of occupation, social status, and educational levels, all to be seen in unity with each other, must have been severely shaken.  
What a glorious truth it is, that the Gospel has no respect for the person's social status, occupation or academic levels. The love of God through Jesus is universal, to both friend and enemy alike. As Jesus himself had once said, his Father in heaven sends rain to the just and to the unjust alike, as he allows the sun to shine as well on them both (Matthew 5:43-48.) In addition to this, Luke writes that the Holy Spirit is available to all who asks him to fill their lives, according to Jesus' own promise, regardless of the standing of the one requesting (Luke 11:11-13.) This has got to show how wonderful the love of God is, for even the vilest enemy is loved by him. According to what I have seen and heard throughout my life as a Christian, it seems much easier to write off an unbelieving sinner as under the wrath of God than to imagine that God loves him too. But how would heaven shout and rejoice with gladness if this "vilest enemy" was to hear the Gospel and believe? As we used to sing at church, the love of God is so high, that we can't get over it, so deep, we can't get under it, so wide, we can't get round it...such is the picture of the cross of Christ.

The love of God shows no preferences. It has no preference for the rich above the poor, nor for the educated above the ignorant, nor for the upper classes over the underclass. God's command for all men everywhere is to repent and believe the Gospel. That means a change of mind from believing that Jesus Christ was a myth, a good teacher, or an impostor - to believing that through him the world was reconciled to God by dying on a cross, and bodily resurrected three days later, confirming his title as Christ and Lord, the Son of God. It is not the desire of God for anyone to perish, but he is very patient, and desires that all should come to repentance, that is, a change of mind about Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:8-9). This same Peter delivers the Gospel so well as recorded in Acts 2. There, thousands of Jews from all over the known world were gathered to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Most, if not all, knew about Jesus who was crucified, but thought that he was an impostor and a blasphemer, hence his execution by the Jewish leaders. Peter successfully convinced up to three thousand of them to believe that the crucified Jesus is the risen Christ, their long awaited Messiah by linking his coming with the fulfilment of prophecy. And by believing, they were saved, reconciled to God without any works to earn or merit their salvation. What a glorious bit of good news!
This blog is written on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, the nearest weekend to Armistice Day, marking the end of the Great War on November 11th, 1918. Throughout this week we watched a series of programmes which can be classed as docu-dramas, epics reflecting the real life of those who fought in the trenches. Titled The Passing Bells, the drama featured two teenagers who volunteered to fight, believing that the imminent war would only last a month or so, a blip on their lives when they could defeat the Germans easily. After all, as head of Empire, didn't the Brits defeat the indigenous of every country conquered within months, if not weeks? Why should this be different? So they believed.
But the war dragged on. After three years of conflict, post traumatic stress syndrome was beginning to set in, even though it wasn't recognised back then. The superb acting showed young men crying out to return home, as they dodged enemy bullets whizzing past them, in heavy rain, falling Winter snow, and biting cold winds. A few even deserted the camp and tried to make a desperate run for it. When caught, they faced the firing squad. In turn, they see their best mates and colleagues lying dead on the ground in large numbers. It makes me wonder how such mass death and suffering happen after God had reconciled the world to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is known that 888,246 British and colonial troops died in the Great War.
How the heart of the risen Lord must have bled for these troops, just as it bled for the fate of Jerusalem for failing to recognise him (Luke 19:41) and wept over the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35). As I watched the drama, I felt my heart go out for them too. As the war dragged on, without an end in sight, the patriotic and imperial confidence they had before the conflict - that they were of God's chosen nation, so immortalised by William Blake's And did those feet of ancient time walk upon England's mountains green? - was beginning to wane, only to be replaced by fear of imminent death, the biting cold, dampness, feeling ill, and under the constant burden of the commanding officer, along with the threat of the firing squad for dereliction of duty.

Some twenty years ago, I knew an elderly war veteran who was also one of my clients before his death in the 1990s. I recall his tale of his father fighting in the Great War, as he put it, "in the name of God." The state of him at his return after the end of the conflict made his son grow up to be an atheist, after seeing his dad crushingly deluded with the faith, enough to depart from it. As we watched The Passing Bells, I was able to recall the conversation, if the drama was as true to life as it can possibly be, there was the commanding officer quoting a Psalm that no harm would come to the tents of those who trusts in the Lord. A short while later the whole camp was struck by enemy fire, and many died. Little wonder that these troops trusted in themselves more than on God, the very God of England as they once believed in.

My recent experience at Harefield Hospital indicates that this "god of England" (small g) is as much alive now as he was before the Great War. According to several of my former church mates going back into the 1980s, nearly all younger than myself, the British Empire was not only inspired by this god, but ordained by him through the British military forces. And I also recall one of them insisting that the god we worship every Sunday is the god of England rather than the God of Israel as the Bible makes known to us. Although just a kitchen porter at the time, he favoured the class system, and our reserved culture as a whole, and had a superior attitude over foreigners and peoples of other countries. I know personally other church-goers to this day who are strong advocates of the class system, worships the Queen, shows greater respect for the educated middle class, and would have preferred to see the likes of me as rather stupid, but instead grudgingly acknowledge me as a true believer with a little bit of intelligence.

No, I do not want to know this god of England. He seems to be a cruel beast in the sky who quickly judges on the way we perform. As I see it among his followers, he can get lost. They can have him gladly, the truculent god who threatens to take away their salvation if they fail to hold faithful, or fail to perform to their full potential, or fail to carefully abstain from sin. Such a beast of a deity I can do without. Maybe that was it. Our friend at the echo-scan department might well have been a believer in this English god. Equally possible, he might have been an atheist. But in either case, his condescending attitude towards me was identical to all those who voluntary joined the military to fight in the Great War. They fought for their religion, their King, and their Country. They fought for their culture, for their class and academic structure, but the few who returned arrived home disillusioned, especially with their god.

Rather, I much prefer to serve and worship, adore and trust the true God of Israel, who inspired the writing of Holy Scripture, and whose Son died to atone for our sins, reconciling the world to himself without imputing sin on anyone (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, Romans 5:10.) And with the Holy Spirit available just by the asking, I can live a far better, more fulfilled life loving and serving others, including hugging other men and considering their affairs above my own. The Holy Spirit in me does not discriminate or show favour towards one person above another - he gives me the power to love both the wise and the not-so-wise on equal terms, the well off and the poor, the educated and the ignorant. The Holy Spirit gives me the power to live out the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, which involve looking on and treating the poorly educated on the same par as the professional who graduated from university. After all, Christ died for both.

Perhaps on that hospital bed I have given this god a shaking as well. 

Saturday, 1 November 2014


As I write this, Halloween came and went without significance here in the predominant middle-class area of Southern England. The night-time knocking on doors by a group of children or youths dressed in weird clothing and wearing bits of odd plastic over their faces, meant to frighten, seems to be no more. I don't know about the area where you live, but where we are, there have been no Trick-or-Treat callers in our street for quite a number of years. Perhaps the idea of stepping out into a damp, chilly night to knock on doors with the high risk of  hostile receptions, or just greeted with apathy to say the least, had made Trick-or-Treating somewhat of an unpleasant chore, adding an unnecessary burden on to what otherwise an evening of fun and games for the kids.
The concluding sentence of the opening paragraph may cause some Christians to throw their arms up in their own sense of horror. Fun and games? I believe Frank is in need of some serious prayer!
That, to me, is nonsense. I don't know how wearing a mask made of nasty cheap plastic can be so spiritually dangerous, or riding a broomstick which stubbornly refuses to fly, only to be used afterwards to sweep up the fallen Autumn leaves from the yard outside. Then that typical Halloween game of trying to catch apples floating in a tub of water, using only the mouth. Yes, I played that game with my mates in former years, and we were all Christian believers. As far as I'm aware, I have not come across any sign of sudden demon possession or occult manifestation, whether within myself or others as a direct result of such activity. Yet I do recall one Saturday afternoon when a group of us from our fellowship had spent a Summer Saturday at a Disneyland-style theme park back in the 1990s. One Christian father refused to allow his pre-teen son board the Ghost Train, just one of many fun features of the park. I even reasoned with him that all there is behind the swinging doors are moving dolls powered by hidden rotors, loudspeakers and light bulbs, but he stood by his convictions. Talking about Disneyland, the Haunted Mansion had a fright moment when the original owner suddenly appeared during an electric storm, hanged from the ceiling of the domed roof and swaying back and forth in the draught - as a result of hearing the news, falsely, that his bride-to-be two-timed him the day before their wedding. One adult, standing right in front of me, let out a loud yelp at the realistic set up.

I have ridden Ghost Trains quite a number of times in my younger days, and none had such a fright element as the opening scene of the Haunted Mansion. Maybe this was because the sight of a corpse hanging on a rope is far more true to life than the moving dolls in the train tunnel. And I have wondered how many true Christian believers had stood on the very same floor as I did in 1978 and 1995? Did I ever feel far from God or in a spiritual inertia afterwards? Not at all. Yet a youth was denied the pleasure of a ride due to fears of spiritual harmfulness.

This has made me wonder whether this lad grew up to be a mature, committed Christian, or one of many teenagers who leave their churches every week. So it's not surprising for me to see, on the run up to Halloween, the result of a survey carried out among British adults and children (I assume those under 18 years of age) appearing online just a couple days previously. The statistics were as follows:

UK adults believing in Ghosts -55%
UK children believing in Ghosts - 64%
Believing in Aliens - adults - 51%; children - 64%
Believing in UFOs - adults - 42%; children - 50%
Believing in Angels - adults - 27%; children - 27%
Believing in God - adults - 25%; children - 33%*

The chart indicates that only a quarter of UK adults believe in God while a third of under-18s believe, a statistic that seems to back the idea that teenagers leave their churches, particularly during their college years. Yet belief in ghosts, aliens, and UFOs are believed on at and above half the general population. It would be all too easy to blame this survey result on Halloween and all its paraphernalia which come round for just one evening each year, but totally overlook the academic and intellectual poison which infiltrate the mind on a daily basis - Darwinism, which is a denial of the Bible's truth and historicity. Where many Christian believers would shun Halloween, and even rebuke any church-goer for endorsing the festival, in turn I have met quite a number of Christians who holds to the theory of evolution above the revelation of divine Creation, and in essence, calling God a liar.

It does not need to happen. Every believer has been instructed by Paul the Apostle to let the Word of God dwell richly within him (Colossians 3:16.) As discussed in the last blog, if there's such testimony of God's omniscience and the power of prophecy, they are found in the Bible. And the wonderful thing is, God wants every believer to have full knowledge of Holy Scripture, mixed with faith. According to my own Christian life, doubts and fears can creep in, along with worry about the future, and anxiety about my health, and about my wife's health. Then added to this, how can I be sure that "I'm following the right religion?" After all, if the Catholic faith was right after all, I'll be in serious trouble. After not confessing to a priest for many, many years, not doing Penance, nor taking the Holy Sacrament of Communion, and to make things worse, attend a "heretical" church - eternal Hell is guaranteed. Then supposing the Muslims were right all along? Or the Buddhists? Or the Hindus? Or even Atheists, who can prove in their literature that God doesn't exist at all? And so it goes on. The Bible provides a sure-fire answer to all these issues and doubts.

So I want to believe the Bible's revelation of Divine Creation above Darwin's evolution. In this country, this would be putting myself in a minority of  fruitcakes and fantasists whose faith flies in the face of all scientific evidence of evolution and uniformitarian geology. But the Bible does have a powerful testimony against unbelief which I have found to be very helpful. In considering my own future and that of my wife, it is a comfort to know that every single day of my life as been foreknown and predestined by God's own omniscience. That is to say that every single day of my life, both good and bad, were known by God long before I was born. This is a source of hope. Rather than the feeling of intrusion, instead this is a source of comfort and encouragement.

One striking example of God's foreknowledge of a person can be found in Isaiah 44:28-45:1-3. Here the prophet foretells of a Persian king by name, Cyrus, and how God will use him to release the Jews from captivity. The wonder of all this is that Isaiah wrote this prophecy around 700 BC, while Judah was safe under the rule of King Hezekiah, some 115-120 years before the destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and a further 50 years before Cyrus gives permission for the Temple to be rebuilt, making the fulfillment of the prophecy up to 170 years after Isaiah wrote it. In short, God foreknew each day of Cyrus' life more than a century before his birth.

Another striking example concerned the young Greek king Alexander the Great, who was foretold in a vision which was given to the prophet Daniel some two hundred years earlier (Daniel 8:8.) Here, the prophet saw a vision of a goat with one great horn slaying with fury a ram which did what it pleases (the ram being the vision of the Persian Empire) Soon after the goat's conquest (that is, the expansion of  the Greek Empire), the horn breaks off and four others grow in its place. King Alexander besieged Jerusalem around 331 BC, but died rather unexpectedly in 323 BC, at the age of 33 years. After his death, history had shown that four generals arose, dividing the Empire into four segments, each with its own king. Daniel's vision was fulfilled exactly as prophesied.

But no other person who had ever lived was the fulfillment of so much Old Testament prophecy as Jesus Christ himself, particularly at his earthly ministry. We have already seen in earlier blogs that the lives of Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David, were indirect prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But there are direct prophecies found in the Old Testament, with predictions going back thousands of years before fulfillment. One of the most well known and startlingly accurate is found in Psalm 22, penned by King David approximately a thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ. In this psalm, a detailed description of the sufferings experienced at a crucifixion are so well detailed, including the mockery from the surrounding crowd (the strong bulls of Bashan), the feeling of thirst, the piercing of the hands and feet, the dividing of one garment of his clothing and the casting of lots for another, yet his own assurance that he had been close to God from his mother's womb. All were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Then not to mention the whole of Isaiah 53, the suffering servant. Here the prophet has written on how this servant took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows - yet he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. The prophecy was written in the past tense, as if it had already happened. Yet there were to be another seven hundred years to elapse after the writing before the event itself took place.
Another astonishing prediction made about Jesus can be found in the book of Zechariah 9:9, where we read:
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
As prophesied, the crowds did gather on the road leading into Jerusalem as Jesus arrived riding on a borrowed donkey, an event we now call the Triumphal Entry. The crowds were rejoicing on his arrival as a result of the miracle performed earlier, in raising Lazarus from the dead. As Jesus entered the city, the people threw palm leaves on to the road ahead of him, perhaps what we might call the red carpet treatment with which we greet our celebrities today.
There are many more prophesies fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus Christ, including Micah's prophecy that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2.) This is one more of the 48 prophecies concerning the coming Messiah found in the Old Testament. A Californian mathematician, Peter Stoner, had assigned a task to each of his students to determine the probability of all these prophecies about the Messiah being fulfilled purely by chance, without divine intervention. The calculating of factors had come out with an overall result that the probability of all these 48 prophecies fulfilled in just one man was one out of one, followed by 181 zeroes.**

This shows how unique the Bible is compared to all other literature, both religious and secular. No other book in the world carries prophecies which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ after they were written centuries earlier. And no other book contains prophecies written thousands of years ago but still awaiting fulfillment, such as the Second Advent of Jesus Christ to reign as King of kings from Jerusalem, along with the re-creation of a New Heaven and New Earth. God knows exactly when the end of time and the beginning of eternity will occur.
What does all this mean to us? Much in every way. Knowledge of Holy Scripture mixed with faith will bring heart peace when the chips are down, or there is uncertainty of the future. It helps me to be content when I see others do so well, while we struggle. It has stopped me from feeling envious of well-to-do believers travelling around the world, while I'm stuck at home grovelling in poor health. God knows our situation, our very thoughts, feelings and motives. Furthermore, he knew about them long, long before we were even born. As believers, he has our lives mapped out for us, and whatever the situation be, it will always be for our good. This can be a hard thing to say, as it is a lot more difficult to realise when my world has collapsed, but it remains true nevertheless.
If there something young people need in this present day, and that is knowledge and faith in Holy Scripture. I don't believe that depriving a youngster from a ride in the Ghost Train would be of any benefit at all, as this would most likely arouse greater curiosity, and wait for an opportunity when a little older. Neither would a kid in his right mind be glad if excluded from a Halloween party held next door, especially if he was already invited. But I also believe in growing up rooted in the faith of Jesus Christ and having faith and knowledge of Holy Scripture. Like that, I believe he'll grow up without the need to leave his church or abandon his faith.
As for Trick or Treat, thank goodness the kids around here have common sense and stay away from door-knocking. I have always hated these calls in the first place. 
*Daily Mail online, 29th October, 2014.
**Henry M. Morris, The Bible and modern science, Moody Press, 1968.