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Saturday, 19 December 2015

Back To The Manger!

After a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where I knelt before a fourteen-prong star marking the traditional site of the birth of Jesus Christ, I found myself sitting in a smart bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. As I watched the scenery roll by, I felt nonplussed over the site I had visited a little earlier. The stainless steel star surrounding a hole in the marble floor seemed so far removed from the reality of the virgin birth that was supposed to have taken place there. Was this the real spot or not? So arguments rage for and against, but none of these arguments impressed me. Instead, I had a longing wish to have been present during such an historic event.

I arrive at Tel Aviv for an arranged visit to a car-hire dealer. It was here that I was shown a Delorean, quite a fast, impressive-looking make of car. The dealer showed me a special dashboard, where I would type in the present date, the date I would want to be transported, and the date to return to. He also showed me the Flux Capacitor, a three-pronged gadget enclosed in a glass and metal casing located just behind the driver's seat, and a caseful of carefully bottled Plutonium as fuel for the Capacitor. 

Presently I was cruising along the highway towards Jerusalem, from where I took the highway south towards Bethlehem. My lifelong dream - would it be fulfilled so soon? I drove to where Rachel's Tomb is located, just outside Bethlehem, and momentarily parked the car. I got out, fuelled the Flux Capacitor with one of the bottles of Plutonium, and then climbed back inside, making sure that I had the rest of the fuel sitting beside me. I then typed the present date and time, then my destination date and time underneath the present setting:

December 25, 04 BC, 04.00.00.

Then underneath, I typed the present date with the time set to a few seconds after present departure.

I was fortunate that the highway was free of traffic, as by this time it was getting dark, being a Friday evening, and the Jewish Sabbath was about to begin. I took a look back to see if the Flux Capacitor was - er - fluxing. The flashing lighting of the triple prongs assured me.

I put my foot down on the accelerator and the car roared into life. The road was clear. The speedometer reached 88 mph. All of the sudden there was a sudden bang, and I found the car speeding along a dirt track on a dark starry night, the rough ground surface rapidly slowing down the car. Nearby there was a cave, one of many in this part of the world. It was a good place to hide the car until I came for it later that morning.

I walked towards the village, now looking very different from the town I was familiar with. I was gasping with a combined emotion of excitement, shock, and bewilderment. I kept on turning around, surveying the scenery. All the stars above shone brightly. As I walked through the village, I saw what looked like shepherds heading the other way, rejoicing and all looking extraordinary happy. I could not understand what they were saying but one of them pointed at the direction I was heading for, and gasped, Messiah! Then he spewed out a torrent of excited words I could not understand, and then made off to the fields some distance out of town.

I recognised the area as the approximate location where the Church of the Nativity will one day be built. There were some houses, next to one of them was a cave which served as a stable. Various animals were resting near what looks like a feeding trough. Two people, a man and his wife, sat above the cot, looking into it. I hesitated. But the wife, having looked me over, beckoned me in. I approached the crib, and there l saw the newborn, lying awake in the manger.

I felt tears roll down my cheeks as I fell to my knees looking into the crib, and worshiped, remaining silent for the better part of thirty minutes. Now I knew why the shepherds were so joyful. They saw the child, and believed that he was the true Messiah. They were instantly washed from their sins, and acquitted, and knew that they have eternal life. They also knew that their salvation is theirs and they will never be lost again for ever. Oh, the power of God's mercy!

To the child, I began to spill out what was in my heart. It was the ideal environment to do this, because as one speaking English, nobody around me would understand, certainly not the child's parents at least. It was a conversation reserved for the baby only. The child cooed as I began:


"You may not realise it now, my child, but you are the Messiah, the Christ, the future King of Israel, the Saviour of all who believe who you are, like the shepherds did. You also have a name, Immanuel, which to my language means God with us. And you are indeed God incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity, as we call the Godhead back home.

"You will grow up in a harsh world, where your people is ruled by the Romans, a Gentile empire where I have my ancestry. Heh! Somewhere in this domain, quite likely in Rome itself, lives my father's direct ancestor. But it is you, Lord Jesus, I came from far off to see, and not any of my forefathers. You will grow up in a world of gross inequality. Slavery is normal here, so is the world of the gladiator, where two men fight to the death, literally. Your people is under oppression here, but part of your mission is to free all from oppression, as well as from their sins, and to reconcile all mankind to God, since it was you, my child, who created us in the first place - to enjoy eternal love, joy, and fellowship with you, the only true God.

"I was born in a land called England, far into the future. Yes, I'm from the future. It is because of you, Lord Jesus, your immaculate conception, virgin birth, your future ministry, trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, that has changed the world. So at least, where we call a 'Christian Country', we no longer have slavery, nor the games where gladiators battle it out. We have healing centres such as hospitals, where the sick and infirm can have the right kind of medicine. Coming to think of it, Lord Jesus, such a principle already exists in your time, over at Kos, and founded by that great Greek doctor Hippocrates. Funny enough, we even have, right up to my day, the Hippocratic Oath, still recited by every junior doctor at graduation. 

"England is a fair, pleasant, and easy country to live in, Lord, but there is as much inequality in my sphere of life as it will be in yours. We English are obsessed with social class, levels of education and wealth. For example, for centuries the English gentry had live-in servants, a posher word for slavery, the only thing that made the difference was that English servants weren't under the threat of the whip, instead under the threat of potential unemployment and the possibility of starvation. Oh yes, Lord, come to think of it, a time will come that you will receive 39 lashes. That's how much you love us. As your prophet wrote, by his stripes we are made whole. However, we have come a long way with the introduction of the benefit system. However, employers in my sphere will now only give plum jobs to those graduates who had the privilege of a private education. If you fail at State school, life is a lot harsher and may have to depend on benefits. It is very humiliating, come to think of it. And now our Government is fighting to have those benefits reduced, if not eliminated, so those who are poorer will be worse off, while he has mates, nearly a hundred in all, Special Advisers, or 'spads' who are paid enormous incomes directly by the taxpayer.

"Oh Lord, my sweet child, you yourself wrote in Proverbs 31:
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of those who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

"And you will come to know, Lord, that this was the advice a queen gave to her son, the heir of the throne, King Lemuel. He was instructed that the poor and the destitute lived with security in his kingdom. But our Government is going the opposite direction, to deprave the poor who are mostly hard working, even further in order to line the pockets of his own chums. Yet the irony of all this is that a very large percentage of the English population not only fully adore and support our Government's priorities, but share in its disdain for the working poor, for celebrity worship.

"And we even have that eccentricity within Englishness, where a football manager is sacked, given greater priority in news bulletins, well above the news that many of the elderly are facing untimely deaths due to neglect. Even sons and daughters have abandoned their elderly parents to care-workers in order to pursue high-flying careers, in their bid to survive and prosper in a competitive world.

"That because, dear Lord Jesus, is that near to my timesphere there were three men we call great. They totally turned our way of thinking from honouring you as our Creator to worshiping and competing among ourselves, individually, as families, and as a nation. Yes, three men - three of all numbers. The first was Frenchman Jean Baptiste Lamarck, a fiercely-opinionated atheist who first published the idea that the alternative of seeing ourselves as your creation, instead saw us as a product of evolution by gradual mutation. The second was Scotsman Charles Lyell, who wrote, Principles of Geology, and ushered in the theory of Uniformitarian Geology. And the third was Englishman Charles Darwin, who wrote, Of the Origin of Species. Of the three, Darwin remains well known globally. I bet that if I were to visit France and ask, Who do you think was the father of Evolution? they would give me a look of surprise and answer, Well, Darwin of course. Indeed. Their own founder, Lamarck, remains confined within highest academia. Thank goodness, my dear child, this will not happen to you.

"Therefore it took an Englishman to reshape our way of thinking, leaving us with an ungodly philosophy that we are chance-products of evolution, eventually evolving to godhood. This leaving us to strive against each other, creating a social class system which not only disfavours the poor, the weak, and the ugly, but has enslaved the minds of the English population, which then spread out to enslave the rest of the world. Yet it had its origins in England, Kent to be more precise. And that includes the taking away of our three young daughters in the middle of the night, simply because some atheistic bitch representing the State thought that we were too stupid to parent our own children. Now they are adopted by another family whose surname and whereabouts remain unknown to us."


Suddenly I break down in tears. The cooing baby reached out his tiny hand and the whole of it wrapped around my thumb. I thought I detected him smiling, as if reassuring me that in his hands, all will be well. His mother came up to me and placing her hand on my shoulder, reassuring me, even if I did not understand her language. I looked again at the child as his fingers clutched at my thumb. As he eventually let go, I rose up and looked up at the brightening sky. An unusually bright star shone overhead, amidst a clear blue dawn sky, still free from the blazing sun. 

"I better go." I said, with words that fell on non-understanding ears. "Mary, Joseph, Lord, soon the wise men will be here. They will bring gifts of joy. Receive them when they arrive." I instructed, but without avail.

Somehow, despite the language barrier, they understood. They both nodded as I made my way out, but not without bowing to the Holy Family in reverence. I made my way to the cave where my car awaits. I poured fresh Plutonium into the Flux Capacitor and started the engine, ensuring of the correct return date and time was displayed on the dashboard. Then I managed to spot an area of flat hard ground, large enough to accelerate to 88 mph.


Back at a library in Jerusalem I heard of an ancient manuscript telling of an early first century legend about a twin set of fiery tracks spotted just outside Bethlehem...

I wish all you readers and followers a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. God bless you all.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

A Source of Unneeded Terror

Simon, who has a level of Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, has been a Christian believer for quite a number of years. But having being brought up in the Catholic faith, and becoming deluded with it by the time he reached his late teens. Then one day while killing time in the library, he was suddenly converted after finding a Bible on one of the shelves. Having placed it on a nearby reading desk, it fell open towards the end of the book, on one of the pages with the sub-heading, St John. This is what he read:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; that the world through him might be saved. 
John 3:16-17.

Simon had a more positive feeling about God than he did before he read that passage. He believed that this Jesus, the son of Mary, played a significant role in his salvation, and began to put his trust in him. It was quite a contrast to the Jesus Christ of Catholicism. As he once perceived this long-haired, bearded, Italian-looking fellow to be continuously angry, and constantly critical of the behaviour of those he met and communicated, it was impossible for this lad to see any love within the heart of the man who called himself the Son Of God. If it wasn't for his virgin mother persistently interceding on behalf of sinful mankind, nobody would get into Heaven. To add to this, even the favourites of this Jesus languished in Purgatory, a temporary but a very real Hell where even the smallest of sins committed when alive had to be purged out before being let into Heaven. This purging involved physical suffering to an intensity never experienced by anyone on earth. With threats such as this, little wonder he became disillusioned with his former faith.

Purgatory of Catholic Catechism

Although he was encouraged by the Scripture, his new-found faith raised questions. Mainly this: Why weren't many more believed, if that is all it takes to be saved? And how can he be so sure that he was saved? Has God really acquit him from his sins? Was his faith strong enough, or pointing in the right direction for it to have taken effect? Then a few years later, Simon was browsing on the Internet at home, and came across the most terrifying video that could ever be made. It had its origins from the works of Jack Chick, an American who was famed for his miniature evangelistic cartoon strips and his emphasis on a physical Hell. The video struck terror into Simon's heart, and as he lay in bed that night, he was silently praying while his wife lay asleep beside him.

If this is to be our eternal destiny after death, then why, oh why, did you create us in the first place? Then he turned to see his wife sleeping soundly, and he felt as if another, an even larger spear piercing his heart even further. The very thought of his wife suffering such an eternal fate not only intensify his fear of her welfare, but also a sense of pleading sorrow. How he loved his wife and felt so devoted to her. And even if there were times she might have been cold or disagreeable to him, he could never, never confine her to such eternal suffering! All these emotions, strong as they were, were from the fact that he was never fully freed from Roman Catholicism, and remained locked in the image of an angry God whose wrath was manifest in a critical Jesus Christ as he ministered here on earth some two thousand years previously.

As he walked through the city streets, Simon observed the daily crowd going on their business. He watched young families, especially mothers escorting their infant offspring. At a cafe, he even watched a mother slowly spooning semi-liquid food into her baby son's mouth. All bound for that dreadful place after death? Then as he walked further along the street, he spotted some Hindus and further on, some Muslims. He began to visualise the huge crowd of Muslims, thousands of them, in and around the Kaaba, the head mosque at the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca. And also the multiple thousands of Hindus assembling at the Ganges River in the far east. And were they all heading for that fiery place under their feet, simply because they are following the wrong religion and showing devotion to it? Then at times when he had to visit his doctor, his dentist, or allowed to be served by the checkout attendant at the supermarket. Then all the men and women he watches daily on television. News anchormen, reporters, chat show hosts and their guests, actors, singers, comedians. Then, worst of all, sitting at table with his agnostic parents and atheist brother. Then his mother wonders why he has no appetite.

But it was the sight of the young mother and her son at the cafe which sent shivers down his spine. All throughout the Hindu world, the Muslim world, as well as the Western world, children are constantly being born to parents who know little or nothing about salvation in Christ. This grieved Simon even more. It was a dreadful anomaly from what meant to be perceived as the God of love who sent his Son to atone for their sins. Simon couldn't help thinking: How effective was the atonement Christ made on the cross? If the apostle wrote that in Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself, not imputing their tresspasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19), and that he that loves not knoweth not God, for God is love (1 John 4:8) seems to blatantly contradicts this fiery Hell as portrayed in the video, yet it is as if nearly the entire human population are heading towards it, as the video shows, a constant rain of lost souls unceasingly falling into the fires below. Simon reasoned that "not knowing God" is a bit like not knowing Fred Bloggs. How can he love Fred if he doesn't know him? Furthermore, would Fred send him to fry forever, because Simon failed to love him? Such thoughts spun in his head.

If Simon loved his wife so much, he couldn't bear see his wife suffer, not even for a moment, let alone eternally. He then reasoned that the Christian faith, like all religions, is based on fear. Fear of punishment. For Simon grew to believe that the reality of this fiery Hell has prevented him from loving God as his Heavenly Father, because he finds it difficult to love a deity who is capable of condemning billions to relentless torture. Instead, in fear he makes an effort to stay clean. But there is a problem. Although he is happily married and very devoted to his wife, in the church where he attends, there is another female whose presence arouses his sexual desire. He see her there nearly every week, and he goes home and to bed fantasising her with himself, arms entwined. He even uses the fantasy to help him sleep. But he also knows that this is wrong. And it is this aroused desire which makes him doubt his salvation and dreading what could happen if he died right there and then.

Then, as Simon lays on his bed, he ponders: What right has he to be an inheritor of eternal glory when there are so many around him who are not so fortunate? Pretty frightening too, is the thought of being born as a Muslim or Hindu, or from a remote jungle tribe cut off from civilization as we know it, or for that matter, from atheist but well educated parents. So much distress, how can such a mountain of burden be borne solely on one human heart? After all, does this Jesus Christ have any love in his heart, knowing that such a huge percentage of the human population is perishing? Or does he cry out Woe! Woe! Woe! - as he did one day at the Pharisees? But furthermore, how can he prove that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Jewish Messiah, is the Way to eternal life? And not Mohammed or any of the Hindu or Buddhist deities and their scriptures? 

I approach Simon and asked him if watching the video has edified him. He tells me that just the opposite of edify is to terrify, and that has what the video has done for him. He also explained that any love he had for God has been replaced by a deep fear of him, together with an apparently justifiable case that if God has reconciled the world to himself, not imputing their tresspasses against them, how is it that God has prepared such a terrible place for lost souls? I try to explain that the Lake of Fire was never intended for mankind, but was prepared for the Devil and his angels, according to Matthew 25:41. It was never God's intention for any man or woman to go there. Then by testifying that the way to life is through Jesus, I opened the Bible to Isaiah 53, and read out to him these words:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 
But 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.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us turned to his own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:3-6.

I then asked him, "Who have met such credentials?"
Simon replied, "None other than Jesus."

I then advised him never again watch such videos on the Internet, or watch or read anything that does not edify, because unless the material builds up your faith and brings out your love for the Lord, then more than likely, such material is not from God - even if it looks fully orthodox and Biblical. For Jesus died to atone for our sins, to bring us peace, and that we can enjoy life, not tremble in terror. After all, no living person has ever been to Hell, nobody knows what it really looks like. 

"But what about those who do not know the Gospel?" Simon asked.

Well, according to Paul's letter to the church in Rome, he wrote that his voice has gone out to all the earth, his words to the end of the world (Romans 10:18). And that was quoted from Psalm 19:4 which reads:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
Their voice go out to all the earth, their words to the end of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4.

The love of Christ is beyond comprehension...

And the Gospel of John opens with the assurance that the true light which shines into every man was coming into the world (John 1:9). Simon then concluded, 
"If a man in Hell asks, 'Why am I here?' then I could answer by asking, 'Why did you reject such a loving God?'"

Then Simon turned and walked away.  

Saturday, 5 December 2015

A Duvet at Church...

For some months I have been impressed with the church which meets at Westminster Chapel, a short walk from London Victoria Terminus Station. My first Sunday visit was earlier this year, back in June. I have known Westminster Chapel for quite a number of years. It was here that Alex my wife and I had attended the all-day Prayer for Israel conference one Saturday in 2000, which was led by the late Lance Lambert, a student, advocate, and expounder of Bible prophecy, particularly on the future restoration of Israel as a theocratic nation with Jerusalem as its capital. But equally impressive was a Saturday evening inter-church meeting about leadership, which was held there around the mid 1990's, to which I was encouraged by members of my own fellowship to attend. The place was packed. Not only was the central auditorium full to capacity but also the two tiers of balconies on each side were full. This resulted in a tremendous atmosphere, especially when the more popular or well-known songs were sung during worship.

So with such memories, I made a return visit to Westminster Chapel last Sunday. As I approached its main entrance, I could not help but notice a large day-glowing duvet or sleeping bag lying as if rolled on one of the church's front windowsills, facing the street. Suspecting a sleeping victim of homelessness, I decided to let him sleep on, and entered the building.

Like as June earlier this year, the building was nowhere near full, unlike that of the leadership meeting back in the nineties. Various pews in the main auditorium remained empty, as well as the balconies. I was even the sole occupier of the pew I sat at, not far from the front. It was then that my spirit fell. In a modern cosmopolitan city such as London, how I long to see this building packed out on a Sunday morning! I found myself thinking, if not praying, Lord, I long to see this place filled to the brim on any Sunday morning! How I would love to hear the praises thunder so loudly that even the roof itself gets blown off from its place! The light of Glory right here in central London! This was when I realised how much I loved this church, and had I lived in London, I would have had no hesitation in applying for membership.

Westminster Chapel presents the Gospel and Bible teachings in a fundamental, straightforward manner, which I find very edifying, hence my fondness of the venue. The emphasis of Eternal Security of the Believer can be felt as I listened between the lines of the sermon. That week, before the main preach, there was a children's slot held in the auditorium before the youngsters were despatched to their departments. The children's theme was about hypocrisy. A mini-drama was staged by two London University students, about a "perfect Christian" who boasted about all the good things he does in public on a daily basis, along with his boast about abstaining from evil. "Wow! What a pillar of church society!" - That is, until someone checked his Facebook and Twitter profiles, and discovered that he lied frequently, and was secretly dishonest with his money, particularly on tax evasion.

Whoops. It was at this point when I felt the Holy Spirit point out several things in my life, and gave me an opportunity to confess quietly to God. I thought about the homeless individual I passed as I entered the building earlier. Hypocrite? Perhaps that is a matter of opinion. But seeing someone with a begging bowl sitting on the side of the street doesn't generally stir compassion within. Not to say that I never felt for the beggar. I recall when I was in Jerusalem back in 1993. For days, I could not take my eyes off this elderly gentleman sitting on the grass with his back leaning on the medieval wall of the Old City, not far from Jaffa Gate. His left leg looked as if he was badly injured, and let's face it, his lower leg did look rather ghastly. Out of goodwill I gave him a fair sum out of my funds. He looked very grateful as he took the cash off me. After this, he vanished, and I saw him no more throughout the rest of my stay in Israel.

As I pondered over this fellow and his sudden disappearance, slowly the truth began to dawn. His leg wasn't injured at all, but had a fake makeover, done very professionally, to attract the likes of myself. But rather than feel duped and a gullible fool, I allowed the matter to pass, and gave thanks to the Lord for the privilege for my ability to give. After facing an aggressive female beggar at 5th Avenue New York City in 1995 (and she was young and pretty, not old and looking unwell) I decided to revise what I have read what goes on behind the image of street poverty. One reliable source was Brian Moynahan's book Fool's Paradise, where he interviewed some beggars at the Champs Elysees, Paris. After his research revealed that a number of them congregate in the evening with the day's takings at a bar in a backstreet, and celebrated with champagne. He informs us that the beggars are at work when the public are not. He then reveals the Newspaper Ploy carried out by one, and the Telephone Ploy acted out by another, where each asking passersby whether they could donate towards buying a newspaper, or towards phoning his mother living in Germany. In addition, they always make sure that their clothes, although looking threadbare, are always kept clean, and dress reasonably. Over in Israel, I was the gullible victim of what I could refer to as "the Injury Ploy."

Then I recall when I took Alex my wife up north to Chester, a historic medieval city built on and around a Roman fort. The River Dee flows through the city, making the promenade a popular walkway. One evening, we saw a man lying by the edge of the river, and his companion begging for help. It does look as if the one lying on the ground was seriously injured, and I wondered why an ambulance wasn't called. That's when his companion explained that he didn't have the money for the phone call. Wised up already, I smelled a rat, and said to my wife, "Come, let's leave." We were chased over a short distance. When I turned around to look behind us, lo and behold! The injured person had instantly and miraculously recovered, and joined the chase. Fortunately we kept going when the two gave up on us.

When it comes to street beggars - really, I find it very difficult to discern the true from the false. I have wondered how would Jesus react if he was around today. I don't think he would have tossed a coin into his plate or bowl. Instead, he would give the order, "Follow me." Therefore, rather than give directly to the street beggar, I prefer to give towards charities which deals with the genuine poor. If the charity is Christian, such as Tearfund or Compassion, all the better. But wherever I'm generous or stingy, discerning or gullible, wise or foolish, this I know, without Christ in my life, my own righteousness will never meet God's demands. I live by his righteousness imputed into me, and not my own.

Going back to the homeless person sleeping on the windowsill of Westminster Chapel, he was not actually begging. Instead, he was sleeping. I have wondered what all the other worshippers were thinking as they walked past to enter the building. Was it a common sight, something so familiar that they have became insensitive to his presence? Or was it something of sudden appearance numbing the thinking and decisions of all who passed by? After the service was over, many of us congregated for refreshments afterwards, yet I heard no mention of him. This post-service coffee seems to be becoming common in many churches - the serving of coffee after the service which, no doubt had its origins in America, when in 1978, I had coffee and doughnuts at the First Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon, something still unknown in churches throughout the UK. Another example of Britain harrumphing whenever America coughs?

But as far as I recall, nobody mentioned the homeless sleeper outside. It was as if he wasn't there. Was he deliberately ignored? It felt strange, as I see it, sleeping at a location where just a pane of glass separated him from the message of the Gospel. And yet he slept on outside, while all of us inside were recipients of the Good News. But do I blame the church for making no effort to invite him in? No, I can't, since I have had no inkling of how such a circumstance came to be. How can I prove whether or not he has made this particular window his home, and whether or not had the church invited him in over and over again, and yet he fully resisted? Had any members brought food to him in the past? This is something I would never know. Likewise, if I were to go back to Westminster Chapel this weekend, would he still be there, wrapped in his thick sleeping bag as before? Or would he have wondered off into the horizon, carrying his thick duvet with him, never to be seen again except by some sheer coincidence?

Perhaps fully aware of my own shortcomings, after coffee I exited the chapel, only to see the man stirring in his duvet. Alone, I called out to him, asking him if he was homeless. When he answered in the affirmative, I took out my coin bag containing some small change. I took out the only £1 coin I had and gave it to him. "Here, take this, and have a bowl of soup on me."

Maybe, just maybe, he had a glimpse of the Gospel in action. Who knows.


For more reading of my visit to Westminster Chapel in June 2015, click here

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Frenzy For What?

It was only a year ago that another date on the calendar has entered my vocabulary. Something like Black Friday? Or is it now called Bleak Friday according to the Media? An American terminology, it's supposed be be the day after Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November. It is a public holiday very much parallel to Christmas Day, when many families settle around a table laden with roast turkey and its trimmings, the only difference being the lack of gaudy decorations wrapped around a fir tree, and no exchange of presents. Many American businesses feel that it's uneconomical to trade on the just one day following, so a four-day weekend is enjoyed, with the Friday evolving, so I believe, to be the first day of the Christmas shopping season - a boom for retailers.

So we have a saying here in the UK - Whenever America has a fit of coughing, Britain harrumphs its own throat soon afterwards. So with Black Friday, it has become established here too, along with the Americanisation of our towns and cities, the invasion of McDonald's into the once sleepy UK market of Wimpey's, the burger invasion long preceded by the introduction of para-orthodox faiths and cults (Watchtower Society, Mormonism, Christian Science, etc.) along with para-medical practices such as Chiropractic treatments. But without the public holiday, as the British version of Black Friday, although falling on the fourth Friday of November, remains within a full working week. Then I recall a telling off I received from an English church-goer for using the word diaper instead of nappy in a conversation about our newborn daughter. Perhaps he should be grateful that our Queen's English has so far has not (yet) been invaded by words such as Crosswalk instead of Zebra Crossing, along with Rotary Interchange instead of Roundabout, the rear Trunk for a car instead of the Boot, Smokestack for Chimney, Cookies for Biscuits, and Comfort Station for Public Convenience. However, the American term Airplane looks to have crept into the Queen's English as if through the back door, and remained unnoticed except by the sternest of newspaper journalism, who insist on the English word Aeroplane.

Although, in my point of view, the start of Christmas preparations, including the installation of Christmas lights, should be within the month of December itself without spilling into November, I still find something nostalgic about Christmas and everything that goes with it. That is the one day of the year bringing excitement of new toys to us as children, and one of the occasions of the year free from daily hassle of routine and potential disagreements between adults, when relatives arrive to spend the season together, and that unique cigar smoke filling the air following the main dinner of roast turkey and potatoes, Brussel sprouts (which I was very fond of, believe it or not!) - along with the Christmas pudding being served literally on fire, lit table candles, crackers with its useless trinkets and dreadful jokes, walnuts and hazelnuts with just one nutcracker among a table of six, plenty of Torrone (an Italian nougat), Motta Panetone, and a seemingly unlimited supply of chocolate. A great way to celebrate the Lord's birthday.

There is nothing unbiblical about a national celebration to welcome the birth of our Saviour. The exchange of presents, I believe should not be confined to Christmas and birthdays, but at any time of the year, which help revive flagging relationships and further strengthen already healthy unions. But it was this time last year that I saw, via newspaper and television, something which I thought would never occur here in the UK, and would have caused previous generations to sink their heads in sheer national embarrassment. That is, the frenzy to buy goods at a reduced bargain price. Across the nation, stores selling electrical goods in particular, attracted large crowds, many after the same item. The result were fist-fights - the fruit of the me-first attitude instead of considering the welfare of others, as the Bible teaches.

The greatest bone of contention among merchandise of reduced cost seemed to be new television sets. Wow! All of a sudden, everyone wants a new TV set! What was happening? Isn't it true then, that just about every household here in Britain owns at least one TV set? And with my former occupation, I was fully aware of a TV in each bedroom in addition to the one in the main living room. Why the cry for new TV's all of a sudden? And what is it about buying one at a reduced price, when no consideration for it would have been given at any other time? (For the record, this blog was composed the day after Black Friday 2015, when by a massive contrast, most shoppers stayed away from the discount stores, and instead, ordered their purchases online, resulting in the dubbing of the day - "Bleak Friday".)

It seems to me that possession of physical wealth does not lead to contentment, but the cry for more, more, more. And with our modern culture, if the next door neighbour has something new, than the other must have it too. A good example of this, during my working days, was the re-paving of the front driveway. When one household had theirs done, it wasn't long before the neighbours also had theirs done too. As with computers, play stations, even type of car parked outside, if he has one, I must have one too. With the latter, I tend to think that some who own posh cars parks them outside to show them off to their neighbours, and announcing to the world of their achievements. Then again, others park their vehicles well away from view in fear of vandalism and theft. It is rather extraordinary, come to think of it, that only a few generations back, a typical Christmas present, for instance, was a pair of socks, or even a treat like a bar of chocolate (or equivalent) which was gratefully received by the recipient. Hmm. I dare any parent to buy their pre-teenage son just a pair of socks for this Christmas, and see how grateful he would be for the present!

I suppose there is something about owning and displaying possessions. Does it symbolise status? Or financial success? Or success in one's career? Or do they cover the feeling of inadequacy? This "I must have that or else I'll be seen as a pariah of society" - could this be the reason behind the want for possessions? To keep up with the Jone's? Then to add that the advertising world is designed to make you feel odd if you don't have this particular product.

Jesus had quite a bit to say about owning possessions. One example is found in Luke 12:15 - Watch out! A man does not consist on the abundance of his possessions. That was his answer he gave to someone who asked him to arbitrate between himself and his brother over an inheritance. He then tells a parable about a rich man whose harvest was bountiful, and decided to enlarge his barns before retirement. But that very evening God said, You fool! Tonight your soul will be required of you. Then who will get what you own? To be called a fool by God, I think, is the worst scenario that could occur to a person. This is an interesting case. This was in times when a wealthy man was thought by others to be righteous before God, as it was believed through Moses that wealth was a reward from God for his obedience to his commandments, such as found in Leviticus 26:3-13, Deuteronomy 11:13-15, and 28:1-14. Each of these verses assures the reader that abundant crops is the reward for righteousness, and therefore regarded as wise and respectable among his fellow Israelites.

As a sign of being truly righteous before God, the rich man in the Lord's parable, instead of planning  to enlarge his barns, he should have considered the poor living around him, and give away his stock, trusting in God for his daily needs. Imagine the joyful fellowship he would have received from his neighbours, the growing of a good reputation in society. These, I believe, are the true treasures of heaven, and it's eternal. Maybe he was afraid of thieves, a fear surely everyone of us feel from time to time. But even if his abundance did fall into the hands of thieves, this would still have been a lot better than being called a fool by God. In fact, Jesus zeroes into this matter, found in Matthew 6:19-21. Here he advises us not to lay for ourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupts and thieves break through and steal, but to lay for yourselves treasure in Heaven, where moth and rust does not corrupt, neither do thieves break through and steal.

Faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour is the only solution to the problem we have, along consideration for others. I think that true riches is the agape love that flows in us and through us. And that can only come about through the Holy Spirit in us. And this is also a promise from the Lord Jesus himself. The Holy Spirit is there for the asking, not merely to believers, but for everyone:-
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!  Luke 11:13.
There seems to be no conditions there. There is no "First you must believe in me, then you can ask to be given the Holy Spirit." Instead, the Holy Spirit is being offered to people who are evil, with unregenerate hearts. As I see it, this is parallel to "The Sinner's Prayer" of asking Jesus into the heart. As God exist as a Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet there are no three Almighty Gods but just one Almighty God, then providing that the attitude of the heart is right - knowing the need for God in one's life - he can call upon any of the Trinity, and God will hear his request.

Serving God and loving others is a direct opposite of grabbing wealth and fighting with others to get it. To serve only self brings discord with others, amounting to fisticuffs, as already demonstrated in the stores at last years Black Friday. Although there may be a short term feeling of personal satisfaction by serving himself, this positive feeling usually does not endure, and longer term misery is often the end result. Indeed, King Solomon has noticed, and has recorded in Proverbs 14:20 and 19:4, that the self-serving rich has many friends, while the poor has few if any friends. Actually, the word should be in inverted commas - "friends" - as all they are of interest is their hope of gaining something. It is false friendship, and I believe that the rich man himself is also aware of this.

After all, we are here to revel in God's love, and to have this love shine out to others. This is why we are here, and not to reach out to grapple for what we want, on the expense of fighting and creating enemies. In my mind, the difference between loving someone and putting his interest above oneself is as far different from taking something in expense of another's welfare as Heaven is from Hell. 

God is willing to give us everything to enjoy. In him, there is no necessity to strive, against the will of others, to grab what's there. For me anyway, God himself is my desire. How much I want him, more and more. And believe me, no one will be hurt by this.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Magpies, Stars, and Terrorism.

I saw a cartoon printed on a newspaper page one day this week. It was divided into two frames: the one on the left featured a presenter on television asking the question to the viewer: How can we relieve ourselves from the fear and anxieties of our current affairs and situations? The frame on the right showed the smiling viewer having just turned off the television. Sometimes I feel that I'm with the viewer. Day in, day out, I can't escape the bombardment of the recent Paris atrocities spooned into us from the TV, radio, newspapers bought at a newsagents, or browsed online. Just when I need to get on with life, we remain constantly reminded.

Don't get me wrong, what happened on that fateful Friday has to be taken seriously. I feel full sympathy for all the families of those killed and those severely injured. Then again, the Paris bombing took place during the evening of Friday November 13th. Many consider Friday the 13th to be a very unlucky day, especially for traveling. So I can imagine myself boarding an airline that Friday morning, checking into a hotel by mid-to-late afternoon, then that evening set out "to paint the town red" - that is, to enjoy the diversity of entertainments on offer, and not to shed or spill blood!

Later that evening, several gunmen burst into the club I happen to be in and shoots, taking many casualties. Friday 13th has struck full time. Fortunately I escape, and make my way back to the airport several days later, trembling from head to foot, deciding never to travel on Friday 13th again. Superstition, yes - to you maybe and perhaps for me as well, just silly superstition. Or was it? Were the terrorists aware of our extra caution taken on Friday 13th? Was our superstition known to them? After all, Friday 13th was also a title of a successful big-screen movie released in 1980, with eleven more installments until the latest version was released in 2009, the 12th so far. Even if the movie was banned from being shown in the Middle East, surely it would have been impossible for it to be shown across the Western world without somehow attracting their attention.

Superstition is based on fear, the fear that something bad might happen in the near future. Like the apprehension I feel about magpies. By walking or cycling, but never driving, (I don't have a licence) if I see a single magpie, alone and without a companion, tension arises. I then tend to recite something like, It's only a bird, created by God, in whom I trust. If I see two magpies, (as I often do) then I tend to feel a sense of relief that something good will happen. But even then, I remind myself that God is sovereign, and all good things comes from him, and not from the two birds. Just in case you are unfamiliar with the magpie superstition, here in the UK we use to have a ditty: 
One for Sorrow, Two for Joy. Three for a Girl, Four for a Boy. Ma-a-a-a-agpie!

And this song was the theme for a children's programme of the same title broadcast on TV during the 1960's, at the peak of my schooldays, and it was ITV's rival to the more popular BBC show Blue Peter. But by becoming familiar with the song, an awareness about the bird began to develop which wouldn't have done otherwise. But any reasonable person can blow holes through the superstition. Sure enough, I have seen three magpies together, and I have three daughters. But I have also seen four of the birds together, but I still have no sons. But what about if I see five or more together? Does that mean anything? Or supposing I pass by just one bird, but turn a corner and behold, there is another. What would be in for me? Sorrow or Joy? And what about one or two pigeons, robins, or for that matter, a hawk, night owl, or eagle? Don't they have any superstitious powers? What of a variety of these birds together at a certain area? Would the one magpie among a flock of seagulls bring sorrow? Or would two magpies among pigeons bring me joy?

Perhaps the same with astrology. The stars column appears in all newspapers and magazines, or at least it used to anyway. These daily or weekly personal predictions are very generalised, and can mean a host of happenings. I have once read that they are mainly computer-generated, a long list of data stored in memory, and each for the twelve signs of the zodiac is taken from the database at random. Normally the devotee does not notice that his day's reading had already appeared under another sign some months previously. But I have also heard stories of these predictions coming true to those who believe in them. One of these stories included a church leader in America who wanted to demonstrate to his congregation that astrology is nonsense. So he began to read them each day to prove his point. To his horror, his readings began to come true. He had no alternative but to drop to his knees and confess his sin to God before he was set free from its power.

But is there a common link between superstition and religion-inspired terrorism? I think there is, and it's fear. Fear of the future, fear of Hell, the want of salvation. The attacks, of course, could also be revenge for the bombings and military action in the Middle East, and also for the support in the West for the State of Israel. But aside of these things, I believe that the want of salvation is the bedrock for not only Islam, but for all religions.

It had the same effect on Christianity over the Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic Church had its Inquisition, when those who disagree with its teachings were branded "heretics" and were tortured on the Rack and other dreadful instruments. We can't deny that the Church of Rome has blood on its hands. One notable example was the execution of Bishops Ridley and Latimer, both burnt alive at a stake in Oxford on October 16th, 1555. They were just two among multiple thousands of men, women and children who were executed for posing a threat to Roman theology. When Martin Luther first believed in Justification by Faith alone, taken from Romans 1:17, the Catholic Church was up in arms, and called for the Council of Trent during the mid 1550's to reaffirm that salvation is infused into the sinner by the grace of God, and must be sustained by human effort, including participation in Church ritual and catechism. This "salvation by works" combined with the denial of the Cross, along with the fear of Hellfire, has been the basic cause for relentless persecution over the centuries, including warring conflict between Catholics and Muslims throughout the Crusader days of the 11th Century. Really, coming to think of it, men of faith has always suffered persecution by those who think they can make their own way to God. From the time when Cain murdered Abel, all the way through to the stoning of Stephen by the Jews, the killing of the apostles and many other believers, right through to the present day.

The Church of St Peter, Vatican City

And as the bloodshed by the Catholic Church recede into history, I see people of the present throwing up their arms at the horror of the recent massacre in Paris, carried out by the Islamic State. Cries that this terrorist group is posing a threat to our national security and calling for the Syrian refugees not to be let into the UK, I believe, will not solve the problem. As long that there are people who believe that salvation can be earned, then I think that social unrest and persecution will continue. Also I believe bombing the Islamic State to oblivion will only cause the rise of other groups to carry out revenge attacks in the future, with their belief that their acts will earn them a place in Heaven.

This may seem odd to you as one reading this, and you may not even agree, but my awareness of the magpie, the popularity of astronomy, and the practice of religion (not just Islam) all boils down to fear and insecurity. Whether its fear of what might happen tomorrow in this life or what eternity holds for us after death, fear holds sway in them all. I also believe that this same fear can rise among true believers in Jesus Christ as well. Thoughts such as, Did I believe the right way? or Did God really save me when I asked Jesus into my heart? or If I'm truly saved, then why am I still committing sins? or even Can I sin myself out of my salvation?

Lately, I have been reading posts and blogs posted by those who have an inkling for Universal Salvation. I have to admit, I find these blogs incredibly edifying, even causing me to think, Wow! If only this is true, that God was in Christ, reconciling the whole world to himself, not counting their sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). God being seen as so loving to helpless mankind that although the first Adam brought sin and death to many, how much more has the second Adam brought eternal life to many? (Romans 5:12-21) This gives the impression that if the work of the first Adam brought death to "the many" - by asking how much more has the second Adam brought life to "the many" - that the work of Christ exceeded that of Adam on a quantitative scale, a basis for Universal Salvation. Really, I wish that the idea of a fiery Hell could be eradicated from our minds, to love and serve a wonderful God totally without fear or apprehension. It is thought by them that if the second "all men" - found  in verse 18 - and if the second "the many" - found in verse 19 - are not the same as the first "all men" - found in verse 18 nor the first "the many" - found in verse 19, this must mean that each of these two sets of the same words have different meanings. 

But wonderful is the idea of Universal Salvation looks to be, I do find problems with it, and that could be the reason why the apostle adds a condition found in verse 17 where it says, "those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness" seem to indicate true believers only. But there is more to this. When I consider the evil these terrorists have done - alongside the acts of pedophiles, impatient drivers, fraudsters, thieves emptying your bank account, burglars invading and wrecking your home, those who committed murder, and even snobbish people, isn't it true that the thought of them going to Heaven after death seem insulting to the spirit? Would you rather see them get their comeuppance instead?

But here is where I believe the wisdom of God is different from ours and much greater. His desire is to bring these people to himself, and he has given us believers the privilege of such a commission. There are times that I wish that I could enter a room filled with these terrorists, ready to go out to kill every non-Muslim, and to tell them that the difference between Jesus Christ and Mohammed is that it was Jesus Christ who laid down his own life to atone for our sins, was buried, and on the third day rose bodily from the dead, and he is now sitting fully alive at his Father's throne in Heaven. Mohammed did not die for your sins, but died like any other man, and his bones are with us to this day, buried in Medina. This is a full denial to the popular belief that Mohammed rode to heaven on a horse from Jerusalem. By repenting (changing their minds about Jesus Christ and accepting him as their Saviour and therefore, God) they too can receive eternal life and enjoy totally changed hearts.

That is the true solution to all the world's problems, including fear and terrorism, along with false religions. The turning of the human heart towards God our Saviour through faith in Jesus Christ.

And appreciating his creation, including the magpie. 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Bread, Benefits, and Diamonds.

Fred wheeled himself out of the back door of his house to appreciate the lovely flowers in full bloom adorning his garden. He leans forward to reach out and enjoys the sweet aroma from one of the blooms. Unfortunately for him, out of the window of the house backing on to his, Deborah Ville gazes at Fred with a level of smug satisfaction.

Fred is a victim of a muscle disease which gradually restricted his mobility to a level where he had to be confined to a wheelchair. Having lost his ability to stand, walk and run, he lost his job as a contractor, and afterwards lost his wife too, still in her thirties, to a dishy colleague she met in the office, and to whom she fell in love. Fred, feeling angry and crushed by the loss of his spouse, also had to fight tooth and nail to claim his Disability Allowance, the only source of income with which he is able to live reasonably well.

Deborah is convinced that Fred is a Benefit cheat, milking on the taxes paid by hard-working professionals. As a sour-faced spinster, past middle age and who had never dated, and remaining childless throughout her life, she considers herself a model of moral idealism, and she can be seen at her traditional Church of England service every Sunday morning, dressed in her best finery and topped with her favourite decorated bonnet. She is disliked by her neighbours, and one of them overheard her giving her name to an official, as Miss D. Ville. No doubt, her nickname became known along the street, and so she remains referred to by her initial and surname.

Deborah turns back from her window before Fred has a chance to spot her. She heads for the 'phone and dials the DWP. She reports that this "disabled" Fred at such-and-such an address has been spotted as less disabled than he claims. A couple of weeks later, he receives a letter through the post announcing that his allowance has been stopped, as a result of a tip-off. Suspecting this might have been the work of Deborah Ville but unable to prove it, he heads back to the benefits office to prove his case. No success. He is analysed as fit to work, and he should consider himself lucky he did not face a Court prosecution. In the weeks to come, as he watches his bank account slowly diminish as both his stomach and the pursuing of his fuel creditors continue relentlessly with their demands, he looks for adequate employment, only to be turned away by one potential employer after another.

Deep depression sets in. He suffers loss of appetite and sleep. He turns on the radio to listen to the latest news bulletin. The headline was about the sale of two diamond jewels to a total of £50 million, bought at an auction by a Chinese businessman for his seven-year-old daughter. Never mind that this rich fellow had a five year prison term passed upon him for money-laundering. By staying out of the country where he was convicted, he can live on as normal, avoiding jail. All this to Fred was rubbing salt into the wound. He had already read about the fat cat lifestyle enjoyed by high flying management, especially of the Police, the banking industry, and the NHS, with their sky-high incomes, bonuses, golden pensions, and early retirement. Not to say good health as well, luxury yachts in the Mediterranean, round-the-world travel, posh cars, luxury homes away in the country and not among the terraced estate where he resides. Fred just could not understand why there is such gross inequality this day and age in the 21st Century. 

Fred felt his depression intensify as he watches his bank account go into negative equity. As he watches the figure with its minus sign in front grow bigger and bigger, so did his fears grew. After receiving yet another letter of rejection from a potential employer, he felt he had enough. With the pittance of a cash reserve he has always kept on the side, he buys a bus ticket to the coast, where there is a high cliff. Positioning himself, he wheels himself over the cliff edge, crashing onto the rocky strip of beach many feet below. Meanwhile, on the following Sunday, Deborah Ville makes her way to church, totally unaware of the recent tragedy. Feeling smug that she had fulfilled her moral duty, under the guise of prayer, she starts to thank herself for her high morals, not like that scum of a neighbour who milked the taxpayer with such a "dishonest" claim.

Although I have fictionalised the above story, I have wondered what God says of this when I read media statistics of not a few suicides among the disabled that had taken place due to situations similar to Fred's circumstances. As for Deborah; back in 2005, when I had to reduce my working hours to sit through a six-month parenting assessment, we claimed Housing Benefit until the assessment was over and I returned to full-time work. About three to four months into the assessment, we received a letter saying that not only the benefit had stopped, but we had to pay it all back, due to an anonymous tip-off. So began the tribunal defending our cause for claiming, and we lost the case. Fortunately, the benefit officer was a compassionate female who allowed us a three-year payback interval instead of the twelve-month period which was the norm for failed or dishonest claimants. At least I saw this as an act of mercy at a time of great distress, when the State decided that our mild autism, or Asperger's Syndrome, deemed us unfit to raise our own daughters.  

But I was praised even by our Social Worker for adopting the "Ethic of King Solomon." This was based on the Biblical story of the two prostitutes who presented themselves to King Solomon with a living infant and a dead one. Solomon had to decide who was the mother of the living child. Since each of the two women claimed that the living child was hers, the King ordered a sword to be brought to him, so he could divide the living child in two, so both can have half each. The real mother fell at the King's feet and begged him to give the living child to her rival, but not to kill him. Her rival instead agreed to the kill. Solomon then knew who was the real mother (1 Kings 3:16-28.)

The same is true for our three daughters. Although our hearts grieve over our loss, we now feel that it was better for our daughters to grow up in an environment where they would get the best of everything, rather than miss out under our care, loving and sincere as it might have been. But our hearts continue to grieve, and I believe that has affected the health of both of us. Alex had lost her full mobility, and has become lame. Although she can manage her housework without too much difficulty, whenever she goes outdoors, it has to be in a wheelchair. To see her in that state breaks my heart, but she is a lot more stoic than I am. She takes it all well in her stride. As for me, I would not be at all surprised if there may be a connection between the loss of our daughters and my heart condition. I needed open heart surgery to replace a regurgitating aortic valve. As a manual worker cleaning windows and the need to lift and transport heavy ladders on foot, (I don't drive) I have lost some of my vitality after the procedure. Fortunately, when my 63rd birthday came around just a few months later, I felt this was a good time for retirement, a move backed not only by our Church Elders, but by the majority of my clientele, even with the statement, "It is about time!" uttered by a couple of them.

To some who has always worked and have never been on benefits, I guess it is easy to believe those on benefits to be workshy scroungers, milking the taxpayer. I can understand Deborah's point of view, which is a view seen by many in our country. But to those thinking that retired life is all about ease and leisure, Pension Credit, which we are now receiving, is a benefit which is different to State Pension, which I'll get when I reach 65 years of age. My present benefit enslaves me somewhat to the extent that if my savings exceed £10,000, I have to tell them. Likewise if my wife is taken to hospital, a care home, divorces, or dies. We cannot leave the UK, even for a holiday, without first telling them (although we are not barred from leaving the UK). It is a bit like living on a knife edge. It makes me ashamed in a way, living off the taxpayer, even if I have paid tax throughout my working life. Sometimes I feel immoral by not working, although I comfort myself with the knowledge that 47 years of working since I left school in 1968, is generally longer than one who graduates at university at 21 or 22 years of age, and retires at sixty, after just 38 or 39 years sitting at a desk (although many who receive a doctorate work for even a shorter duration.)  

And here's the point. It was only two years ago that I felt confident enough in my health to work past 65 years of age. I had my own domestic window cleaning business which I was wholly committed to, and fiercely guarded against intrusion by rivals. So to be diagnosed with heart failure during the Summer of 2014 came as a real shocker, believe me! But now as a retiree, I can't help feel a sliver of guilt. Never mind that the Chinese businessman buying diamonds for his daughter is fact, making news headlines, and not fiction. Never mind that there are thousands of those in managerial positions who retire in their fifties with a massive pension. I still can't help feeling at times a sliver of guilt, combined with a feeling of insecurity.

But is benefits Biblical? I believe it is, and the relevant Scripture can be found at Leviticus 19:10 and 23:22, where both verses instructs landowners harvesting their crops, particularly of the vine, not to go back to glean what was left behind, but to leave these grapes for the poor to take freely. This has been written twice by Moses in the same book, emphasising the importance of such a command. This is God ensuring that the needs of the poor are met, and it should be done in love. Likewise, in the New Testament, Paul instructs Timothy to ensure the elderly widow's needs are met (1 Timothy 5:3-16). This is more in line with the present benefit system, but on condition that the widow has no family members to support her, and that she lives a godly life in Jesus Christ.

And that is how I should view the benefits system - as an act of compassion rather than compulsory giving. But then again, had my vocation had been in the office or non-manual, I guess I wouldn't have even considered retirement at this age. Instead, I would have returned to work after my heart operation, and not consider retirement until the proper time.

Especially if I was a jeweller working on expensive diamonds.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

God Is Absolutely Faithful!

I stood upon the level ground of Al Haram Al Sharif, better known as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, one hot August day in 1993. Not for the first time though, as I stood at the same spot seventeen years earlier in June, 1976. On both occasions I admired the beauty of the Islamic Dome of the Rock with its blue and white octagonal marble structure, topped with a golden dome, covering the precise site once occupied by the Temple built by King Solomon, then later the Second Temple which was so familiar to Jesus Christ and his disciples.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

As I stood to admire the structure, I couldn't help asking myself, Why did the Muslims build their mosque right on the very spot where the ancient Jewish Temple once stood? I found this to be both intriguing and puzzling. It was while I was meditating on the goodness of God in allowing me to visit such a location, when a thought entered my mind. The reason why this mosque was built on this very site was to block the Jews from rebuilding their Temple. The Jews rebuilding their Temple, which must be at that very site and nowhere else, would this time serve as the throne of the Resurrected King Jesus, according to Ezekiel 43:1-9. The blocking of the construction of the Jewish Temple by the presence of a mosque allows this time of grace to flourish. Until Israel is ready to receive Jesus as their risen Messiah, the grace of God at work in the churches will continue when people worldwide are born from above and enters God's family. I think it would be safe to say that the Lord will not return to sit on David's throne until the Dome is taken out of the way, at least. Whether the Temple will be rebuilt before that great Day is another matter. But until then, the Dome of the Rock is serving an important purpose, allowing many to turn to the Lord for salvation.

Consider also that Israel is the only nation in the world that has a fortress built over the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. This cave entombs the graves of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with their wives Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah. There must be something about this fortress which seems to serve as a sentinel, a witness and testimony that the land belongs to the children of Israel, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The fortress was built by Herod the Great, and completed some time before the birth of Jesus. This is another indication that there may be a future for Israel as a nation. Furthermore, no other nation in the world has a monument over the tomb of its founding fathers standing high, passing the test of time and surviving wars such as the one which razed Jerusalem to the ground in AD 70.

But this whole Third Temple scenario, to me, beggars belief - why on Earth the need of a Temple, with its animal sacrifices? Didn't the Lord Jesus Christ become the final sacrifice to end all Jewish sacrifices? But reading on Ezekiel's narrative, there is much about the Levites "bearing their own sins" along with the sons of Zadok "sacrificing sin offerings". I have to admit, there are many things which remains beyond my understanding, however, one possibility being Israel's deliberate rejection of Jesus as their Messiah for at least two thousand years. But the main clue that all this is still future from our point in time lies in Ezekiel 47:1-12. Here a river flows out from under the Temple, eastwards towards the Dead Sea. Where the river is only ankle-deep at first, after four thousand cubits (a little over a mile) the river is deep enough to swim in (probably after cascading waterfalls and the slower flow of the river within the valley east of Jerusalem.) Such a geological phenomenon does not exist at present. There is no river flowing out of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea is called that because of its high salt content, and therefore unable to sustain life. Yet the prophet writes about the Dead Sea being home of a variety of fish species.

But further clues are given by the prophet leading up to the description of the Temple. Ezekiel devotes two entire chapters on the return of Israel to their land - chapter 36, where God talks to the mountains, hills, and ravines of the land of Israel, and chapter 37 where the revival of the house of Israel is likened to a valley of dry bones coming back to life, and the joining of the two sticks - the northern tribes of Israel with the southern tribe of Judah - into a single nation. Over and over again the writer refers to the house of Israel literally. In Ezekiel 36:24-28, the Lord talks about the regenerating of the heart, sprinkling it clean and filling it with the Holy Spirit. According to history, that has never occurred so far to Israel on the national scale.

This runs parallel to what the prophet Jeremiah has written (31:31-34) which is quoted by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, that is, about a new covenant God will make with the house of Israel (Hebrews 8:10.) This looks to be partially fulfilled in the seventh chapter of Revelation where 144,000 Jews, 12,000 from each of its twelve tribes, will evangelise the whole world shortly before the Return of Jesus Christ, resulting in a harvest so large that it cannot be numbered, converts from every nation of the world. Again nothing of the kind has ever occurred throughout history, and concluding that this must be a future event. The fact that the Holy Spirit through John has named each of the twelve tribes of Israel for this future crusade indicates that all twelve tribes of Israel are with us to this day. This seems to concur with a statement which Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, that eventually all of Israel will be saved, that is to say, on a national scale, fully endorsing the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Romans 11:26.)

Sentinel of Israel -the Cave of Machpelah, Hebron 

So what has brought me to write about this subject? It was after listening to a preach delivered by one of our Elders last Sunday, which featured a chart showing that out of the house of Israel, only one tribe remained, the tribe of Judah, from which the word "Jew" originated. All the other tribes remained lost, marrying into their surrounding nations, leaving the churches as the sole possession of God's people. In other words, a belief that God is forever finished with Israel because of their constant sinning and their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. Instead, the churches of our day remains God's only people, but any Jew who turns to Christ for salvation becomes a member of the church as well. This theory is known as Supersessionism, or Replacement Theology, and although our Elders believe in it and preach it, they are by no means alone. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church believed and taught it, along with many Protestant churches. Supersessionism is accepted in many Anglican churches and I believe, many charismatic churches as well.

But does this theory of Replacement Theology really draw me closer to God? As a matter of curiosity, how would I perceive the character of God if he is truly finished with Israel as a nation, and now only the God of Christians only? My perception would be that God himself is not wholly trustworthy to stay true to his promises. Since God has made an eternal covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that their descendants will inherit a specific land, instead I see God rescinding on his former promise by throwing Israel out, and starting again with a new group of people, that is, the Church. Roman Catholicism teaches this, and even Martin Luther and the Reformation also held on to this. On a parallel case, Islam insist that Allah was the God of the Jews until the seventh Century AD, when the prophet Mohammed insisted that Allah was done with the Jews, and prepared for the rise of Islam, which ended up becoming Israel's sworn enemy. 

Supersessionism had brought some quirky ideas about England in the last few hundred years. William Blake's poem, And did those feet in ancient times referred to the whole of England as the new Jerusalem, and that after believing that God is through with the Church in Rome! Since Jerusalem was the actual capital city of Israel, maybe this was the thinking that enforced the building of Empire. If England is the new Jerusalem, as Blake believed, then I can't see why the Empire itself couldn't have been perceived as the New Israel. Perhaps fortunately, the Empire folded in on itself in the 1960's, and England perceived as the new Jerusalem might have passed on, in theory at least. But the hymn And did those feet continues to be sung in various institutions and in international sporting events such as rugby. There was even talk of making this hymn the new English National Anthem.

But the main point of this blog is that God cannot be trusted fully to keep his promises if Replacement Theology is proved to be Biblical. Consider this: If God in the past has, in a sense, dumped Israel as a nation of God's people in favour of the Church, then what could stop him from dumping the Church for something new? After all, Blake believed that the original Church in Rome was dumped for England. A similar idea is believed by every Christian-based sect. All of them - Mormons, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unification Church, even the Church of Christ - all believing that the early church went astray after a few centuries, and God called out a new group of people. Even among more orthodox churches, the idea that they are the Israel of God is taken from Galatians 6:16. But I don't think Paul was referring to Gentile Christian churches here. After all, I don't consider myself Jewish at all, and I have never met a non-Jewish Christian referring to himself as Jewish. Neither do I consider myself an Israeli. The "Israel of God" Paul mentions must be referring to Jewish believers of his day, who we call "Messianic Jews" today.

I doubt if anybody here would call himself a Jew!

And that is the same referred to the one who is a "proper Jew" in Romans 2:29. In verse 17, the apostle addresses those who "call themselves Jews," who have the Law and attempts to keep the Law of Moses. He concludes that even a man who isn't circumcised but has faith is more akin to Abraham than a Jew of genetic link but does not have Abraham's faith. To conclude, a real Jew has both Abraham's genetic link and his ancestor's faith as well. 

And finally, I can ask myself: If God has dumped Israel in favour of the Church, then who can stop God from dumping me in favour of somebody else for salvation? If God is seen as having finished with Israel, then he can finish with you and with me - if we depart from the faith or allow our sins to pile up. 

It looks to me that we have gone the full circle. Namely this: If God has finished with Israel in favour of the Church, then you as an individual can lose your salvation if you depart from the faith, and give it to someone more faithful. But if God's promises to Israel remains standing, and will in the future restore the nation physically and regenerate the Jewish heart on the national scale - as foretold in Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:24-28, and Romans 11:26, then you too will remain eternally secure in your salvation - you will never lose it (if you are a true believer) because God will always be the same - yesterday, today, and forever.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

A Cruel Slave Driver

You sit back and relax as the 'plane awaits takeoff at Boston Logan Airport, Massachusetts. While waiting for the all-clear runway signal to come on, you find yourself getting engaged in a conversation with a suited businessman sitting next to you. It wasn't long before he asks you what your interests are, after realising that there is no common denominator between his occupation and yours. This influential Boston banker is flying to Los Angeles to seal a business deal. You are flying to the same city for some fun at Disneyland, after deciding to take a short break from your job as an assistant at Boston Aquarium.

Boston Aquarium, visited 1998.
In answering your companion, you begin to share your testimony of God's love through faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, just as the airline gathers speed on the runway and soars into the air. You feel your spirit warm as you recall your dependence on the Lord during rough times and how you enjoy thanking and praising him when everything is going well - and also admitting that you still have a long way to go. 

The banker turns towards you and asks, Are you a Creationist? 

You reply, Yes most certainly. The Gospel of Jesus Christ would be totally meaningless if the Earth with all its life, including us, were not created by divine intelligence.

The banker bursts out laughing. I'm wasting my time talking to the likes of you! Divine Creation. Indeed. Six thousand years? Not only are you disputing many of the world's top scientists, but you are likening their established geologic time span to that of New York City being only a couple of metres away from Los Angeles. You religious types are a laughing stock in the community. Nobody takes the likes of you seriously these days. 

You then emphasise that faith in the risen Lord is far more important for him than the debate over Creation versus Evolution. Meanwhile the 'plane soars westward over the Eastern coast of the USA. Then all of a sudden, five Arab men rise from their seats and make headway for the pilot's cabin. Realising what's happening, some of the passengers screams. There is a lot of scuffling heard from the cockpit. Two of the hijackers come out of the cockpit and begin wrestling with passengers attempting to intervene. One of the passengers is stabbed. The plane swerves and begins its descent. Soon the twin towers of the World Trade Center appears directly in front. Amidst screams, there is a sudden judder, and a massive ball of fire rockets through the airline. The next moment you find yourself in the arms of the risen Lord, as he greets you. He then directs you into a city so astonishingly beautiful, that by comparison, Disneyland wouldn't stand a chance. You also notice six more souls from the flight of 92 people are also with you. But there is no sign of the banker. Despite your attempt to search, he is nowhere to be seen.

Of course, this is fiction based on the historical event of 9/11. The five hijackers were from the extremist Muslim group Al Qaeda. Of a group of nations who believes that Allah is the only true God and there is no other. They are so devoted to this entity, that only earlier this year a young Muslim jihadist was ordered against his will to blow himself up in his tank he was driving to a nearby enemy city. How one Muslim group could be enemies with another of the same faith can be puzzling to me at least, but more likely it's to do with Sunni versus Shi'ite. The youth burst into tears at the thought of imminent death, and the terror of passing. But he went his way to become a suicidal hero. This is a reflection on how many other terrorists, including those of the 2005 London bombings, are committed to sacrifice their own lives for Allah, with a promise of Paradise with its harem of virgins.

According to them, Allah is a moon god who does not even have a son, let alone an advocate to atone for their sins. Their salvation is based on works, with the hope that sufficient works outbalancing sins will take them to Paradise. It is a motive based entirely on fear, without a shred of agape love which characterise the true God of Israel, the Church, and the Bible. Allah is an angry god indeed, who will either have all unbelievers converted to him or put to death. Perhaps you may be thinking, Thank goodness I wasn't born in the Middle East or in any Muslim country. That is the very line of thought that I still live under. The same applies to all other non-Christian countries, and to Catholic nations as well. I came to believe that only those born in Northern Europe (e.g Germany, Denmark, Holland, Scandinavia, United Kingdom) and North America have a far better chance of hearing the Gospel and believing.

Being born in a non-Christian country and growing up there must be the nadir of bad luck or misfortune, as the average Western Christian may see it. There is even a long-held belief that England is the New Jerusalem, from a poem written by William Blake, along with the crackpot theory that Britain is the lost tribe of Ephraim and America is the younger tribe of Manasseh, despite that there is not a shred of Biblical evidence to support this. That is how far the British had gone in the past centuries as they reclined in the couch of spiritual self confidence. Rather, in a converse sense, it looks to me that being born in the West has no guarantee of salvation, as the banking businessmen in the above story can testify.

I sense a kind of invisible force in the air which is, and has always had, fought for every attempt to keep the average sinner blinded from the truth of the Gospel. Every effort has been made to hide the truth of justification by faith alone, whether it's the aggressive spreading of Islam, the more peaceful religions of Hindu and Buddhism, or even within the Christian faith, away from simple believing, towards a whole convolution of works, whether it's Roman Catholicism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, Uniformity, Christian Science, or even debating whether one's salvation is eternal or not. Such a divisive image of Christianity presents a laughing stock to a mocking unbeliever. Then going back to the banker on the flight to Los Angeles. A fictional character he may be, but he is the accumulation of many real people who thinks that Creation is too ridiculous to be factual.

In the Western world, the theory of Evolution hold sway over almost the entire population, and especially here in the UK, the home of Charles Darwin. Ironically enough, Darwin's work is based on the work of another Brit, Charles Lyell, who wrote Principles of Geology, and founded his theory of Uniformitarian Geology (as opposed to catastrophism, as taught in the Bible). Little wonder that in the UK, and particularly here in England, Darwin's theory is taken as factual history by virtually everyone, including a large percentage of church-goers. Nothing robs the Gospel of Christ Crucified of its power more than the relegation of Creationism to the level of fanciful myth.

The Bible insists that the one who truly believes is fully acquitted from his sins and the righteousness of Christ is imputed into his account. Because Jesus himself had never sinned while here on Earth, his righteousness is perfect. As a result the believer cannot lose his salvation. He has the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed into his account. But there are many who believe that salvation can be lost if he departs from the faith or commit too many sins. There are many from top universities who graduate on this idea. And most likely unknown by many, this "losing of salvation" theory, prominent in some Protestant churches, had its origins from the Vatican.

Paul the apostle, in his letter to the Ephesians, writes about the principalities which are at work within those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:2, 6:12) and the only work which these forces can achieve is to convince the mind that attempting to reach God is by human effort, salvation partially by works, or kept by the believer's faithfulness rather than the righteousness of Christ. This runs parallel to the Edenic Lie, which promises human effort for an upward attainment to godhood as depicted in the theory of Evolution. This, I think, is the essence of disobedience: not to accept the complete righteousness of Christ, but to infuse works or any other effort into God's covenant of salvation, and to reach the state of divinity on the basis of self-effort.

If I were to die now, my entry into Heaven will be on the righteousness of Christ alone. However, I do believe that the grace of God will cover everyone who earnestly called on the Lord to save them. As a result, I do believe that an element of Roman Catholics are saved, along with remnants of all other Christian-based faiths and cults, including Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. They are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus, and not by any doctrine they may hold on to. God's desire is for all men everywhere to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9) and anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).

It is a crying shame to see everyone else under a cruel slave-driver being deceived with the idea of a works-based salvation. Then this same slave driver insisting that works alone is not enough, but martyrdom with the taking of other lives will secure a place in Heaven. All of this is a lie, and a lie which brings fear, hate and anger towards everyone else, but especially towards Christian believers.

The opening story is based on historical fact - the total death toll of  2,996 people (both in New York and at Washington D.C.) including all nineteen hijackers. But the disaster was not only the responsibility of the hijackers, not even just the responsibility of their leader who ordered the plot, Osama bin Laden. Rather it was the prompting of the real slave driver, invisible, but not lacking in power.

The good news however, that this power has already been defeated by Jesus Christ on that morning he rose physically from the dead. Christ's Resurrection has already sealed Satan's doom.