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Saturday, 31 January 2015

In This World Of Troubles...

I recall 1976. This was the year I flew my parent's nest, set up my home as a bachelor, started to buy my own vinyl pop singles and albums - and began my travels outside Europe for the first time in my life. Of all the singles, one song stood out - John Miles' hit Music, which made it to #3 in the UK pop charts. Such an impact it had on my being, that just a few weeks after it was released, and as I flew out for a three-week backpacking stint to the Holy Land, the song kept ringing in my mind. What was it that set this hit from all other hits at the time? Was it that it was recorded with a proper live orchestra rather than a band as with all other chart toppers? To me at least, orchestras are found in opera houses, and tend to entertain the upper classes with highbrow pieces such as Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, or Ravel's Bolero, (my favourite classical of all time), or pieces from Mozart. But John Miles had created a happy union of a highbrow orchestra with drumbeat-type rhythm and a vocal to result in such a classic. You can listen to it yourself on You Tube (after reading this blog!) by typing Music - John Miles on that website.

The combination of the pop song Music with Israel was brought to mind only last night, when answering an opening post of a social website forum thread, who asked, Who has been to Israel? Share your stories. By sharing my lifetime experience totalling 23 weeks altogether, I was able to relate about the backpackers hostel in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, along with  a time as a volunteer in Ishfya on the summit of Mt. Carmel, downtown Haifa, and trips to Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Acre, Tiberias and the ruins of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, Hebron, the desert resort of En Gedi on the west bank of the Dead Sea, the remains of Herod's fortress on the summit of Masada, and the rich coral under the turquoise waters of the Red Sea at Eilat. But what I have found most striking was an example of archaeology still fully functional - Hezekiah's Tunnel, opened in 701 B.C. and still carrying water from the Spring of Gihon to the Pool of Siloam, within the ancient city walls during the king's reign. Of all surviving relics, this is specifically mentioned in the Bible, with the Holy Spirit inspiring it twice, to dispel any skeptics's doubts on its authenticity (2 Kings 20:20, 2 Chronicles 32:30.)

Hezekiah's Tunnel, June 1976, then aged 23

As I waded through the tunnel with just one other person, each holding a candlelight, the beat of the music went round my mind. But it was the lyrics which also struck a cord, perhaps helping me to set upon the course of Christian growth and sanctification. The lyrics contains the line:
In this world of troubles, my music pulls me through.

In this world of troubles. And that is what is like constantly living under the shadow of a delayed major heart operation - hence the writing of this blog - after receiving another phone call of a cancellation, twice in a row, with another appointment for admission set for the following week. Even at present I now feel that this will fall through as well, hence prolonging the frustrating wait to have the procedure over and done with, and a slow recovery to get life back to normal again. Maybe I could take this whole episode firmly on the chin, if it had not been for my wife's infirmity. Instead, because of her mobility limitations, it remains down to me to ensure that her medicines: three main drugs, two sets of painkillers and a daily nutritional supplement in a form of a small bottle of prescribed milkshake, are all well stocked up for the period of myself as a hospital in-patient. So it seems, if the operation went as originally scheduled, her medical care would not have posed such a problem, having already stocked up to cover the period of the original appointment. Instead I may have to cross swords with a skeptical G.P. to get him to sign for further prescriptions for stocking up. All unnecessary stress, with concerns for my beloved's welfare weighing well over my own concerns.

In this world of troubles, my music pulls me through. No doubt, listening to my favourite tune has a relaxing tonic, the ability to soothe my spirit.  If the tune has a regular drumbeat, it has the ability to excite the emotions on some positive topic or circumstance, thus helping me to overcome various issues. But as I fully agree with John Miles' solution to this troubled world - music, like all earthly panaceas, are temporary fixes. What I need is something a lot more permanent.

And that was why I flew to Israel in 1976 (and three more times after that) - having discovered the Bible and delved into the Old Testament from more than three years earlier towards the end of 1972, when I was first converted. As visiting Jerusalem and exploring the sites in the Holy Land brought the Bible to life as well as authenticate its inspiration, so mixing reading of Scripture with faith helps me to face these problems without sinking too low.

Coral Beach, Eilat - taken October 2000.

The incident of the Lord allowing Peter to walk on water provides a classic case point (Matthew 14:25-33). When the disciples saw Jesus approaching the boat whilst in the middle of the lake, they were at first terrified, thinking that they are seeing a ghost. When the Lord reassured them that it was he, Peter alone had both the faith and courage to ask Jesus if he too can walk on the water to meet him. That's where the glory of Jesus comes in. He could have said, Don't be a fool, Peter! I alone have that divine right. Instead, he bade him to walk. And while he had his eyes fixed on Jesus, the miracle was performed - he walked on the surface as if dry land. But most likely, one of the disciples remaining in the boat called out a warning of an approaching wave, and being typical of Peter, he impulsively took his eyes off the Lord and took caution of the approaching wave. And immediately he began to sink.

I suppose this happens to me and I guess all other believers - taking our eyes off the Lord and worrying about our own situations, whatever they may be. And we sink, often into despair, as I often do. But this is also a good reflection on why I had received another cancellation. The hospital staff was very apologetic, and did not merely palm me off as an inconvenience. Instead, she explained that there has been an unusual spate of heart transplants taking place at the cardiac hospital. Admitting that there is usually a spike of admissions during the post-Christmas blues, with the prospect of a Winter with cold, unpleasant weather and nothing to look forward to, nevertheless, this year has seen a higher than expected rate of donor deaths, hence the prolonged delay. By the looks of it, I was unfortunate enough to be caught in a vortex of sheer bad luck.

But as I think about this spate of deaths, I could not help thinking about the loss of the loved ones among their families, and the joy of other families receiving hope for their loved ones when a donated matching heart becomes available. No doubt they take priority over the likes of myself, an elective patient. However, the high spate of deaths, and particularly at this time of the year, may have been due to a high level of disappointment, stress, or anxiety, so according to one Medical Doctor.* Also, according to statistics, divorce rates are at its peak throughout January, and I believe, although I can't substantiate this, suicides seems to be up as well. It all boils down to a sinking feeling of hopelessness throughout the cold, dark and wet season, without an object of faith which can bring hope, if not the solution itself. As Peter looked on the approaching wave and began to sink, likewise we too can take our eyes off Jesus and start sinking in thought and emotion, and furthermore, incur various physical illnesses as well, which include heart attacks.

My natural tendency is to see the glass as half empty rather than half full, to believe that evil triumphs over good, to look on the dark side of life. But I am also in good company. For example, Jacob saw mud rather than the stars. When he thought that he had lost his favourite son Joseph to a wild beast, his mournful dirge was that he will go to the grave with his son, (Genesis 37:35) everything is against me (42:36) you will bring my grey head down to the grave in sorrow, (42:38) and as for me, I am bereaved, I am bereaved (43:14). Such was Jacob's prolonged attitude over the loss of his son, which occurred some twenty years earlier. Moses too saw the glass as half empty as well. In Numbers 11:11-15 we read of Moses' complaint to God:

Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people upon me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries her infant, to the land you promised an oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, "Give us meat to eat!" I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too great for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now - if I have found favour in your eyes - and do not let me face my own ruin.

And all that despite that Moses saw all the great signs and wonders performed in front of his eyes, including the daily provision of manna from heaven. The Hebrews' lack of faith in God and their thankless attitude had wearied his spirit to the point of sheer hopelessness, as with the case of Jeremiah the prophet. His grief over the destruction of Jerusalem under the siege of the Babylonians was intense enough to write the book of Lamentations. Only faith in God can overcome these negative emotions, such as the case of the prophet Habakkuk, who was with Jeremiah as they saw the land devastated. However he wrote that even if the fig tree bears no fruit, nor be any grapes on the vines, the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, there be no sheep in the pen nor cattle in the stalls - yet through faith continues to praise and thank God for his goodness (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Habakkuk's faith had triumphed over his own pessimism, an area where Jacob and Moses had failed to overcome theirs.

At the Citadel, Jerusalem, taken October 2000.

I guess faith is the key. Despite the repeated cancellations, I must believe that God has everything in his hands, including my future. I should rest in God's assurance that everything works for the good of those who loves him, and absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, whether it be physical or spiritual (Romans 8:28, 38-39) and my wife's medicine supply will be fully met while I'm in hospital.

Faith is believing that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and is the source of rest for those who fully trusts God through it. After all, its authenticity is verified through my visit for 23 weeks in Israel, where most of the Bible was written.

Especially if I waded through a 2,700 year old hole in the wall!

*Dr. S. I. McMillen MD, None of these Diseases, Lakeland Books.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

My thoughts...Your Thoughts...

Last week I concluded my blog with the words, This may be the last blog for a while. I wrote this with the hope that this week I would be offered a bed at Harefield Cardiac Hospital in order to have open heart surgery. But instead, on the day before the date of admission, the 'phone rang with the message that there were no beds available, and with it another appointment for admission a week later. This sort of delay is very common here in the UK, where we have the public-funded National Health Service. All it takes is for someone to go down with cardiac arrest, and he goes in straight away as an emergency patient for treatment, leaving the routine patient, such as myself, standing by the wayside.

It is so frustrating! I get hyped up for the procedure, only to be told that someone else had jumped the queue. Then to add to this, there is always that dreadful possibility that I could be settling in my bed at the ward, just hours away from the operation, when the Doctor approaches with the instructions that I must leave and go home straight away, untreated, as another emergency admission had just taken place. Such is the day-to-day running of a small cardiac hospital just outside the Greater London area and the Home Counties of the South East of England, an area in the UK with the most dense population. But again, if the Doctor were to ask if I would be willing to give up the bed for another with a life-threatening condition, most likely I would give in, maybe with the proviso that I would be given special priority at the next call.

I was surprised when I saw the hospital for the first time last Autumn. It is a lot smaller than I had imagined, and under the same Trust as its sister cardiac hospital, the Royal Brompton, in Central London, where my late father had a pacemaker fitted. In a situation like this, I wish that Harefield had a much bigger hospital, with many more beds, more skilled surgeons, doctors and nurses, and more operating theatres. Yet these two are among many hospitals dotted in the Greater London area, most of them huge institutions each housing hundreds of in-patients, along with its constant flow of out-patients. When considering the addition of many more sick people taking prescribed medicine at home, it goes to show that our nation's health isn't that great. And that is the paradox. We live at an era where we enjoy the forefront of scientific knowledge and technology. We have explored the genome, found suitable drugs to tackle illness, we have learnt how to eat the correct kind of food, we have discovered that a sedentary lifestyle without proper exercise isn't good for us. We have seen the debilitating effects of smoking and excess drinking. Yet the National Health Service is bursting at the seams: Patients at Accident and Emergency have to wait in corridors, even remaining in ambulances that had brought them to the department, Government funding always making the News headlines, the fight between private and public investments - all proving that there are more sick people than what the N.H.S. can handle or afford.

Yet we read for example of Abraham, who lived up to 175 years, and was still fathering children in his old age. Yet there is no indication that he ever felt ill, let alone visit a hospital. Then Moses lived to 120 years, and apparently never suffered an illness in his life either. Sure enough, Job did suffer a life-threatening illness, yet he pulled through to live to 140 years, fathering children in the process - without any doctor's appointments or being cared for at a hospital ward. There is even a tradition that the Apostle John lived to a good old age. Just what was it about living in a tent on the backside of the desert? Plenty of sunshine and little, if any rain? Does our cool temperate climate affect our health? Or could our poor state of health be the outcome of life's modern stresses, anxieties, worries, especially on income, job security, level of education, household budgets, unexpected expenses, debt, marriage breakdown, an uncertain future? At least, since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there has been, for example, no Divine in-group/out-group division within the whole of modern society, for God has always had his arms open to anyone who would come to him through faith in Jesus Christ, with the churches continuing to invite all unbelievers to repent and believe the Gospel.

But on the flip side of the coin, reading whether one is a victim of an in-group/out-group culture had a negative effect on me when reading the Old Testament. In the last few months my daily Bible reading is in the process of covering the entire section the Jews refer to as the Torah. That is the first five books of the Bible. For an example, in Numbers chapter 31, God instructs Moses to sent Israeli troops to take vengeance of the Midianites for allowing their women to seduce the men of Israel to worship their god Baal (Numbers 25.) After slaying all the adult men, the Israeli soldiers brought all the women and children to the Hebrew camp. Then in anger, Moses ordered all mothers, along with all the boys to be slain. Only virgin girls were allowed to live. So I visualised women screaming in front of their sons as they met their end, and young boys screaming for their mothers as they too were killed. It must have been a dreadful spectacle, and I must admit of being rather upset over this throughout the day.

This ties in with an event which took place several hundred years later, when God through Samuel orders King Saul to slay the entire population of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15) including children and infants (v.3), along with every livestock they owned. So imagine a stout Israeli soldier about to leave a house as the young couple lies dead on the floor of the lounge. But as he leaves, he hears a cry coming from a side room. He turns to see a eighteen-month old girl crying her eyes out, in her hand is an uneaten piece of bread her mother had given her. The soldier takes his sword and thrust it through her tiny body. Of course, she knew nothing about the sins her ancestors committed hundreds of years earlier, neither would she had known the difference between worshipping Baal or Jehovah of Israel. But her unfortunate situation of being one of the out-group does not seem to affect a gangster or Hell's Angel motorbike rider, three thousand years later, who after growing up into a life of violence, gang rivalry and bloodshed, becomes radically converted to Jesus Christ and is gloriously saved, and becomes a son and ambassador of the Lord, and whose seat is guaranteed in Heaven, while the soul of the Amalekite toddler remains lost in Hell forever. At least so that how it looks.

Such a situation I find very upsetting. Those poor boys and girls, so young and innocent of the sins of their ancestors, simply were unlucky enough to be born of the wrong parents, of the wrong time in human history, and on the wrong side of God's national division. From this perspective, I have a good idea where atheists like Richard Dawkins are coming from. He accuses Jehovah of the Old Testament of being a sadistically cruel, megalomaniac, a proudly jealous bully who endorses infanticide, and I have to agree, after reading the Old Testament, I would find it virtually impossible to argue against him. As a result, I have wondered how could I love a God like that? Even as a matter of interest, the Israelis who had fought the Midianites had shown a far greater degree of mercy towards women and children than either Moses or God himself. Try and counter Richard Dawkins with such reasoning, especially when the atheist reminds me that the Midianites were cousins of Israel, both stemming from their father Abraham.

I can imagine you thinking right now: the Midianites and the Amalekites were wicked sinners who sacrificed newborn babies to the fires of idols. Fair enough. Also the Hell's Angel killed someone in a bloody fight. The fact is, we are all naturally under sin. The Apostle James says that whoever keeps the whole Law but stumbles at just one point has become guilty of all (James 2:10). In other words, we all stand guilty before a holy God, not a single person in a billion years can plead innocence. So what's the difference between a Jewish Pharisee, an Amalekite and a Hell's Angel?

Then again, I'm thinking as a human thinks. I see the love the mother has for her child. A natural human re-action. But to complicate things further, when Jesus Christ was on earth, he had shown compassion towards children. When mothers brought children for him to bless them, he blessed them (e.g. Matthew 19:13) and has declared that unless one becomes like a little child, he will never enter the Kingdom of God (Luke 18:16-17) and such are the Kingdom of God. But while he was here, he was ministering to Israel, and not to Gentiles, as so demonstrated when he spoke to the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28.) So even in his day, the in-group/out-group between Israel and the rest of the world was still standing. How did Jesus have felt towards non-Israeli children?

On the face of it, it looks like God has been grossly unfair to the point of sheer cruelty throughout human history - allowing Abraham to live to 175 years, ordering an Amalekite toddler to be slain, saving a wild, murderous gangster, the latter because he was fortunate enough to be born after the Cross. How would he have fared had he been born during the days of King David? Then again, consider a child born in the far East, where Hinduism, Buddhism or even Islam dominate. What would be his eternal fate then? Or even a French, Spanish or Italian who had never understood the true Gospel of Christ. How would they fare at God's judgement throne? Again, human thinking, human reasoning, human emotions. But concerning human thinking and feelings, God had this to say:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
As the heavens higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9.

God's ways of thinking and acting will always be higher than ours, as his wisdom is greater than our wisdom and reasoning. Looking at the slaughter of the Midianite mothers and their sons, this took place at or near the Hebrew camp. Every single day the Levitical priests offered bulls, rams and calves as guilt, sin and fellowship offerings, and as such, there might have been the possibility of the sins of these people had been covered by these sacrifices, allowing their souls into paradise. It's just a thought of course, but the same reason might have been behind the order King Saul had received from Samuel, to slay all the livestock belonging to the Amalekites. As without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22) - the slaying of these beasts could have been the way for these children into paradise. The fact that King Saul had disobeyed the order and allowed the beasts to live, does not shorten God's power in making atonement. Rather, King Saul paid the price of losing his kingdom to a rival youth, the shepherd David.

Going back to the hospital appointment, it does look to me to be unfair for a routine patient who had never abused his body, having to stand at the wayside in order to admit an emergency patient whose condition was brought about my heavy smoking and excess drinking. It's unfair, but I suppose I could see myself as a "health pharisee" looking down on the "health abuser" - yet it is the latter who enters hospital before the former. A reflection of God's grace?

At the time of this writing, another appointment for the procedure has been set for the coming week. If I am put aside again, then I'll continue with normal living - going to work, looking after my wife, writing blogs. And so I'll continue until the day a bed is assigned to me.

Watch this space. The presence or absence of next week's blog will say everything.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Moment God Spoke -

While cleaning a window last week, my mobile phone rang. It was from Harefield Cardiac Hospital, announcing that my open heart operation was scheduled for the following week - if there will be no emergency admission of another patient with a life-threatening condition taking over my time slot. I began to feel jittery, and I began to feel lethargic as all different kinds of thoughts had crossed my mind. Two days later, the paperwork arrived.

I was made aware that as the sole breadwinner of our household, I would not be able to earn a penny for up to three months after the op. Here in the UK, we have a "safety net" benefit system meant for cases like this. But this won't kick in until three weeks after discharge, and going through mountains of paperwork and (miraculously) overcoming bureaucratic obstacles - well, I don't need to say more...

Except that I was overcome by a sense of deep fear and anxiety, causing my whole body to tremble. This had become worse during the early hours of the morning, along with loss of appetite, making breakfast an ordeal. But was the prospect of the coming operation the cause of all this? Rather it was the fear of the unknown, especially knowing that my particular slot will not be guaranteed. The thought of no bed being available for the night prior to the procedure had tightened the knot of fear. Then there is the outcome of my beloved wife Alex. She has been on medication for the past eighteen months. In every case it was I who kept her constant flow of prescriptions running fairly smoothly. But while I'm confined in hospital as an in-patient, there is that risk of her running out of vital medicines which would lead to catastrophic consequences.

I'm not being dramatic or even hysterical here. I have seen this happen on several occasions when she had tried to cut down her dosage under recommendations from the Doctor. On one or two occasions, I had to make an emergency call for an ambulance. But fortunately, my business accountant happen to be a good friend I knew since he left university in the 1970's, and he with his wife are happy to accommodate Alex at their home while I recover in hospital. Like this they can keep an eye on her, at least from time to time. However, one of my biggest fears would be the Doctor refusing to renew her prescription before the time he thinks best. A nightmare which has happened already.

So fear and panic set in, with myself in a far, far worse state emotionally than my beloved. Fear of the uncertainty, of the unknown, of my wife's health and well-being, of financial bankruptcy, delay and inadequacy of benefit, fear of debt or the arrival of unexpected expenses. And not to mention the procedure itself, where my whole life hangs on a machine, the possibility of cardiac infection, sloppiness or momentary lapse of the Surgeon's concentration, a glimpse of the afterlife, or even the possibility of death. So I lay in bed, my wife next to me sleeping peacefully, while I toss and turn, the emotion so intense as if a dagger was plunged into me, my limbs trembling like a jelly on a vibrating surface. Feeling crushingly lonely and yes, lost. Imagining those disliking me gladly seeing me off to my doom, even the stern or expressionless look of Jesus Christ shaking his head from side to side with the words, I never knew you!

Help me! Somebody help me! This morning, after our usual breakfast in bed, I arose and settled in a nice hot bathtub. While soaking in the heat, I was pleading; 
Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus, please save me, please help me!

Then a thought crossed my mind. Since I became self-employed over 34 years ago, have I ever suffered want? No, not at all. Rather I was blessed with the privilege of world travel, as well as a life relatively free of debt. But what about the time I was jobless in 1980? Yes, I had to skimp and scrape, and I recalled the sight of a couple's splendid table all laid out with abundance which brought me close to tears as I walked home without a single morsel in my stomach. Yet I didn't get into debt, and managed to pay the rent on the meagre unemployment benefit. It was then when the electricity bill arrived in the post, and I laid it before God and prayed over it. A day or so later some money came in from an anonymous source, enough to pay the bill. Then I recalled the times prior to this, going back into childhood when I didn't know the Lord. He sustained me then, including several times when I came close to death in a road accident, as well as drunkenly walking along a live rail track, and during adolescence, daring to ride a motorbike through red lights at a busy intersection. With God literally saving my life several times in the past, I thought further back to when I was conceived, and born.

That was when I thought about God of the spirits of all mankind (Numbers 16:22, Job 12:10, Ecclesiastes 12:7, Isaiah 57:16, Daniel 5:23, Zechariah 12:1, Hebrews 12:9) He was the one who breathed in the breath of life into our first parents, and into the lungs of every baby born, including myself. Then there is Psalm 139, part which reads:

Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thought from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand before me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Psalm 139:1-6.

This is such a wonderful Psalm (at least from verses 1-18) illustrating all three of God's characteristics - his Omniscience, Omnipresence, and Omnipotence. When I remembered and believed all this, and how the Lord sustained me and took care of me even under such foolishness, I asked myself why wouldn't he continue to sustain us as a couple if he has sustained both of us at different times and places - despite our sin and weaknesses?

I felt my fear and anxiety assuage, to replaced by a fresher hope. Not all my fears had gone, but I did feel my spirit calm down. Also my feelings towards others had changed. Before, while I was lying in bed, I had imagined one Christian brother who dislikes me gloating over my fate, along with the expressionless visage of the Lord himself. But after this bath time revelation, I could only have love for this fellow, with the realisation that no matter who we are, our spirits have been breathed into us and sustained by God himself - not just to believers but to unbelievers as well, that is, all mankind. This is a powerful truth, and it makes everything pertaining to life as trivial and unimportant by comparison. For example, social class, which is perhaps my biggest issue, along with nationalism, race, unfair educational and wealth inequality - all pale into insignificance.

Jesus himself advised his listeners not to worry what we shall eat, what we shall drink and what we shall wear, for the pagans are always concerned about these things. But rather we are advised to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added as well (Matthew 6:25-34.) My heavenly Father knows that I need all these things. Perhaps, I may reason, this might have been okay back then, without all of today's mod-cons which cost money to have and run, with the constant stream of bills, and with them, the anxiety to keep our creditors satisfied. But even back in the days when Noah boarded the Ark he had built, or when Abraham pleaded for Sodom, or when God delivered the Decalogue from the summit of Mount Sinai, he also knew about the Internet, and about the electric, utility and fuel bills we will all have to pay.  

As for myself, as you probably have guessed, I'm by nature a pessimist and a natural worrier, although in my younger days I was probably more determined, but never a true optimist. It takes a miracle of the filling of the Holy Spirit to stir a more optimistic faith, as faith is a direct opposite of fear and anxiety. But this I do know: That yes it's true that I have broken the Law, and my sins deserves Judgement. But it is also true that God loved the world so much, that he gave his only begotten Son, that anyone believing in him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16) - and that remains a fact regardless of how I feel. Then there is that threefold creed which sums up the Gospel: That Christ died according to the Scriptures, that he was buried according to the Scriptures, and that he was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4-5), that anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (1 John 5:1), and whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).

I think that being a true believer results in having love for my Christian fellowman, especially the one who dislikes me. Since the revelation in the bathroom, I felt my heart go out for him and his lovely wife. Perhaps that is what 1 John 5:1 really means when it says:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. The two are intertwined. One of the tests whether one is truly born again is whether he has love for his fellow believer.

This may be the last blog for a couple of weeks. I thank you for reading and following. I'll be back.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Joy? What Joy?

For the first time in quite a while I paid a visit to a sauna. With my present heart condition, I have been very cautious with such visits, after a Doctor at a hospital said I could bathe in a sauna, but to keep away from the wet rooms. So, as the Christmas and New Year festivities fade into oblivion for the next twelve months, I sat within earshot of a conversation held between two middle age men, both with generous waistlines and sagging chins which seem to indicate that they have little or no experience of food deprivation, neither having ridden a bicycle or even engaged in some physical exertion since leaving school.

But flying in an airplane, according to my own eavesdropping, was certainly an annual ritual for them, as they discussed between themselves of another trip to the Atlantic island of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, and how their coming holiday was already booked up with all systems go. I guess this is a reflection of the national post-Christmas mood. Short days, long nights, cold and wet weather, threats of ice and snow, flooding, gale-force winds, and freezing fog obscuring vision to just a few metres in front of the car windscreen, on the morning commute to the office, already made late by an unexpected traffic queue caused by a truck jackknifing a mile ahead on the motorway. With such stresses, little wonder that our National Health Service is under strain, particularly in the Accident & Emergency departments.

This is the time of the year when holiday websites are near to crashing as the nation on the whole reach out for something to grasp hold of, something it can look forward to and cherish - the three-dimensional view within the imagination of clear blue skies, the turquoise sea lapping on the golden sand beach, perhaps backed with palm trees, and even a mountain range in the background, or of forested cliffs plunging into the sea as the little cove lies between two headlands, far from the day-to-day drab of responsibility and toil. Indeed, I recall reading the result of a survey which indicated that January is the least appreciated month of the year. I may be a rare exception for rating November as the most dull month, as the days continue to shorten, and the weather continues to get colder and wetter - even after the month gives way to December. At least with January the days are starting to lengthen, which becomes more obvious as the month progresses. Or maybe this is an opinion which grew from having an outdoor occupation.

And going back to the National Health Service, a wonderful institution where national taxation has created a common purse from which all treatments, from a dressing for a grazed knee to a major heart operation - is given free to the patient, yet taken for granted by the population as a whole. The NHS has been in the news lately for its inability to cope with the seasonal influx of patients needing attention as a result of Winter, most of them elderly. As for myself, having sprained my back muscles while at work last week, I had to endure frequent sharp stabs of pain in my lower abdomen for three to four days, yet this was matched by my determination to get the week's work completed on time. 

Then the forthcoming cardiac operation. At present I'm on the waiting list, and I could be called in at any time. But I wish it could be as simple as that! Rather, on the day of the op, the likelihood of an emergency admission of another patient taking up my slot could result in me being sent home untreated. Not very encouraging after booking (and paying for) accommodation for my wife and a friend to stay at the hospital grounds while I'm in the theatre. Neither would such a dismissal be of any help after setting up temporary benefits to tide us over the period of convalescence, which could be as long as three months, as I have always been the sole breadwinner in our household.

If concerns about my health was enough to worry about, then browsing the Internet can be risky business if being gullible enough to be a soft target. One click on a pop-up panel warning me that a facility on the laptop needs attention, and wolla! I have opened a Pandora's Box of malware, a program which I could not uninstall, providing a gateway for dozens of unwanted ads to pop up on the screen, rendering the computer useless. Fortunately, I have a good friend, a computer professional, who attends a different church to the one I go to, who came round to my home, spent a couple of hours looking through the computer, then deciding to take it away to his home. There is the possibility that the entire disk has to be completely cleared of all software then rebuilt from scratch.

And so the fear, anxiety and depression engulfs me, and they tend to exaggerate the problems I have. I have felt naked fear take a grip on me, usually during the early hours of the morning as my concern for the coming operation grows. I know that this will be a routine op, many patients went through the experience and came out well at the other end. Then again, I have always believed that there is always the first time failure strikes...

So the shabby witness I present of my faith in Jesus Christ. Any observing unbeliever would have the right to ask; Where is this Jesus Christ I claim to profess? He could even go a step further and ask where is this joy in the Holy Spirit? If there ever was a time when this particular fruit had gone on a long vacation, I think this would be it. Yet I see and hear other people talking about their booked holidays, I see others doing well at work and at home. On the roads there is a growing number of fast sports cars, in church there are many smiling, happy looking faces as they have successfully raised their children, and their high incomes providing security for their homes. Also at our church there are students whose futures appears to look bright.

I could sit down and simmer with envy. But I don't. One secret of a healthy spiritual life is thankfulness, to recognise the goodness of God in my life, and be content with that. If joy means intensive happiness regardless of circumstance, then there are times, quite frequent times, that I don't have it. But a related fruit of the Spirit which does seem to be more prevalent in my life is peace. The presence of this fruit over-rides any feelings of envy towards those more fortunate than myself. Peace is also knowing that all my sins are forgiven, and I'm seen by God as equally righteous as Jesus himself. Because that is true. The righteousness of Christ has been imputed into my account. And because Jesus had never sinned while he was here, his righteousness is eternal. As a result, I will never lose my salvation, neither can I walk away from it. Now that is something to be joyful about.

When a woman who had five failed marriages met Jesus while drawing water from a well, she never felt the burden of guilt settle on her. Instead she joyfully ran out to the street and told anyone within hearing that she had met the Jewish Messiah. The same applied to Zacchaeus who Jesus called down from a Sycamore tree, and he was glad to have him dine at his house. Then what can be said for Paul and Silas, locked in prison without trial? These two were so joyful that their singing of praise to God resulted in the jailer's conversion. Even Peter, although he didn't sing while he was imprisoned, yet the peace which flooded his soul allowed him to sleep instead of tossing and turning throughout the night with anxiety.

I think real joy comes through knowing where we stand with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Joy is irrespective of circumstance, because it stems from knowing who we are and where we are in Christ. And for this to become realistic, I must reject any teaching indicating that I can lose my salvation if I don't hold faithful or walk away. These teachings, when considered as a possibility, has put me under the Law, which brings knowledge of sin. The Law kills. And toying with the idea that these Cambridge Dons could be right in what they believe and teach because of their vast education, had taken away both peace and joy. In the circumstances I'm in, especially regarding my health, these false teachers are the very least of my needs. Dare they to take away my peace and joy in the Lord!

Or the possibility that God had never imputed the righteousness of Christ into my account at all, and I'm still lost in my sins. This sort of thinking usually comes from those who believe in Eternal Security of the Believer, but is often entwined with a sinless life which is akin to being enslaved to the Law. In other words, "Oh, I have not overcome this particular sin, therefore I must still be lost." As one who believes in and advocate Eternal Security, this train of thought is my biggest weakness, rather than fear of losing my salvation. I have read websites created by those who believe in Eternal Security, and rather than feel the assurance, I have felt my peace slip away. Therefore I consider wise not to click on those sites anymore.

To be all and end all, I think the one and only reason why I lack joy in my life is because I constantly look on myself instead of looking at Jesus Christ. When I look on myself, I see the Law transgressed. When I look on Jesus Christ, I see his righteousness imputed into my life account, and God sees Jesus in me, and therefore loves me as dearly as he loves his own Son.

Now that is something to be joyful about!