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Saturday, 25 April 2015

Slain - But Not By George

St. George's Day came and went as expected - without any fanfare, bunting, flags, live bands, let alone any street carnivals, at least, not around my area. As I reclined under the warm sunshine on a sloping grass verge fronting the town's Roman Catholic Church, directly opposite the entrance of the indoor shopping mall, I watched people saunter past in all four directions, with no one, as far as I observed, wearing tee shirts sporting a red cross on a white background. Instead, whether any were in a hurry or not, all had some business to attend, whatever nature such calling would have been, without any hint that this day was meant to be special. Rather it was just another working day.

I guess most countries have their own national days. Even in the United Kingdom, Scotland celebrates St. Andrew's Day; with Ireland it's St. Patrick's; and Wales has St. David - not the ancient King David of Israel around 1,000 BC as I once thought, but a far more recent Bishop of Menevia who was around during the 6th Century AD. But even with these three saints, Andrew, Patrick, and David, a far greater effort has always been made to bring some carnival atmosphere into commemorating their special days. But not for our poor St. George, patron saint of England. As this is being typed right in the midst of a national election campaign to form the next UK Government, all the political parties broadcast their own manifestos, yet only one - the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIP for short - promises to make St George's Day a national Bank Holiday.

Not that businesses across England would welcome such a proposal. Unlike Easter Monday, May Day, and Spring Bank Holidays, all which falls on a Monday; St. Georges Day, like New Years Day, would fall on any day of the week. I can imagine employers being up in arms over this. Rue the day when St. George selects a Tuesday or a Thursday to mark his commemoration. Imagine the large number of employees who would phone in sick on the Monday or Friday respectively. I recall once the huge commotion in our national newspapers the week following January 1st a few years ago, when the holiday fell on a Thursday. According to the Press, the nation's economy had taken a nosedive when the Friday was taken off in addition to the holiday, and did not pick up again until the doors of the workplace opened on Monday, January 5th. Although according to one poll, 83% of the English population is in favour of making our national day a Bank Holiday, I can't see this going down well in the business world.

But even if St George became a national holiday, it would have nothing in comparison to the highly festive days celebrated with carnivals and a party atmosphere found in other countries, especially in Asian and tropical regions. Could it be that our conservative self reserve, the stiff upper lip, and our stoicism, along with a large dollop of pessimism, be connected with our lousy, unpredictable climate? After all, a chilly wind accompanied by driving rain is pretty well normal for August, when the kids take their Summer leave from school. Then to add to this, living on an island, cut off from mainland Europe by a minimum twenty miles of sea, does give us a false sense of an ideal society over the centuries at least, along with the delusion of being chosen by God, and his divine approval to go out to sea and conquer the world for him.

Oh, the irony of it all! We have St. George as the patron saint of England, yet this guy, whether historic of mythical, wasn't even an Englishman, but imported from either Georgia east of the Black Sea, Cappadocia in Turkey, or from Libya. Other things we so consider traditionally English includes tea, imported from India. Then the most English of all takeaways, fish & chips, being a convenience meal originating from a group of Jewish refugees, and the traditional pub or tavern was also common throughout the ancient Roman Empire, so according to a recent BBC programme. Little wonder that the English have really, little of their own to celebrate, and maybe can't be bothered to make any commemoration at all.

But come the World Cup football tournament, or any other national or international event, whether sporting, or pageantry, then many St. George Crosses begins to appear across the land - upon bedroom windows, gardens, tied to the aerial of cars, clothing, and even tattooed permanently on the (usually male) body. Yet it was only recently that I have learnt that the red cross of the English flag is depicted from the Roman Catholic crucifix. If there was a time that I wished I had a much keener interest in history at school, I might have learnt about such an elaborate story brought back to England by the Crusaders during the eleventh or twelfth Century. Something about the legend of a brave warrior who bartered with the local pagan population to slay a dragon living in a nearby cave, who had received a young maiden as a sacrificial offering, in exchange for a mass conversion of the people to Catholicism. When the local population agreed to the conversion, George took his crucifix with him, along with his sword, and successfully slew the beast. Afterwards the people were baptised into their new faith.

A very charming story which does not seem to have any historical verification, but I guess it was a good one to enforce the morale of the Crusaders themselves, as well as boosting the credentials of the Catholic faith to the general population of Europe and Britain. However, as one who believe that most, if not all legends, have a kernel of truth embedded within, it is likely that such a character named George did exist, in much the same way as Bishop Nicholas of Myra, a historical figure, known for his generosity and goodness towards the poor, giving rise to the eternal festive character of Santa Clause riding high upon a sleigh flown by airborne reindeer. So in truth, this fellow named George might have been a valiant soldier who had performed an outstanding act of war, or rescued a maiden in distress in similar ways that a fireman would rescue someone from a burning building. He might have even slain a more realistic beast such as a lion. Unfortunately, a lion is far less romantic or mystical than a dragon. But whatever the historical character might have been, he is portrayed as strong, courageous, and brave. And these are the triple virtue every Englishman wants to see in himself, as well as by others.

And maybe that's it. If I was to see myself as strong, brave and courageous, then why the need to trust in God? I would have everything I'll need, not just to survive, but also to prosper, and in a way to be my own saviour. Could this be the underlying factor which has built self confidence in lieu of faith in God? The snag with this philosophy is that it can be very difficult to hold up in the real world. Anger, fear and anxiety are the three harmful emotions which not only are so detrimental to the soul but also to physical health as well. I am aware that most men can keep their emotions under check in public, at least to a certain limit. But I am convinced that keeping emotions bottled up under a stiff upper lip, then be told to man up when things go wrong, is not the solution. Instead, Peter instructed all believers to "cast all your burdens upon him (Jesus, the resurrected Lord) for he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

Strong, Bravery, and Courage, three virtues that are good qualities in a person's character. But if centred on self, as was the case of George and all his followers, than they could be a blockage to having faith in God, instead creating self-confidence and pride, along with a self-set standard no one can honestly keep. When failure comes, the one who thought he had these characteristics may arrive at the point in believing he is weak, cowardly, and timid, resulting in developing a low self-esteem that can last a whole lifetime, even leading to severe depression, and eventually, the possibility of suicide.

King David of Israel was very strong, very brave and very courageous. Whenever there was a threat from a strong enemy, particularly from the Philistines, he led his forces into battle, and always won, bringing victory to Israel. But he did not depend on his own strength to win these victories. Instead, he wholly trusted in God. One of the best examples of this dependency is found in 2 Samuel 7:18-29, where David prays to the Lord after God had delivered a set of promises through Nathan. Another is Psalm 40, where is faith in God is fully testified. David was filled with the Holy Spirit, who came into him at the moment he was anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 16:13). Throughout the rest of his life, David allowed the Holy Spirit of God to produce the fruits, including courage and bravery.

But while great men such as King David depended fully on God and has gotten his strength by trusting in him, that is not the case with the natural man, who has only himself to depend on, and is the basis of pride and self-exaltation if success comes his way. This happens individually, as a group or company, and as a nation. While in the past, the English might have had something to be proud of, and to boast about, mainly over imperial success and victory in warfare. Nowadays, there is little to be proud over, and the shameful defeat and humiliation of the England squad in the last World Cup tournament, for example, caused the nation to mourn silently while remaining stoic among other nations.

There is only one alternative, and that is to believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead, proving to the world that he is the Christ and Lord. By believing, you allow the Cross of Christ to slay the self-controlled Old Man, to give birth to the New Man, born of God with new desires to love and serve God and other people, and to love the brethren, that is, fellow believers. It was Jesus who has shown us how easy it is to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Just ask, and his Father in heaven will gladly give (Luke 11:13.) If you believe in your heart enough to ask God to fill you with his Holy Spirit, then he will send him, no strings attached. And that promise is from none other than Jesus Christ himself.

There is a test set out by John the apostle to prove whether you are truly born of God, and is this: Do you love the brethren, your fellow believers in Jesus? If you do, then you are a true believer (1 John 4:7-8.) God's love in us does not allow room for pride, haughtiness, conceit, snobbery, or the feeling of ethnic or racial superiority, neither does it seek for heroism. Instead, it seeks for the interest of the affairs of others.

Without the need to slay any dragons.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

A Disaster on the Keyboard

In my last blog, Handcuffed! I opened the article with a story of myself being arrested at home for potential benefit fraud, taken to the police station, and thrown into a cell for a couple of nights. After the blog was posted, not only a couple of comments were submitted with the indication of believing that the story was real, but I also received a phone call from an long-standing friend asking me how I was in my state of health and well-being, after going through such an experience. So at the foot of the comments forum, I posted a note saying that the police arrest was fiction, a story made up. In other words, the arrest had never taken place. I suppose the narration was presented as convincing enough to be taken for real, as one friend posted in Facebook saying that it was too close to reality. Perhaps I may make it to become a fiction writer one day. Who knows.

But why did I type it in, even knowing full well that it wasn't true? Because it was to drive home a point - that despite the Government-run Benefit Office knowing everything about us as claimants, right down to the last detail of earnings, income and expenses, including rent and all other outgoings - a few weeks later another letter came in asking to see all the proof documents again. It was from this incident that we felt like criminals. Hence the dreaming up of the story. However, my apologies to you if you had received the wrong end of the message. I won't do this kind of thing any more.

But something did happen earlier this week, and a true story at that, and that was an attempt to make an online application for my wife's passport renewal. When filling out the online form, I typed in everything correctly, went through the verification check, then paid the full fee using a debit card. But unfortunately, I don't have a printer here at home, so I was given a username, written in block capitals, and a password, in lower case letters. I very carefully noted these on a sheet of paper, then off to the local library I went, to print out the documents and having them signed and dated by hand before dispatch. But while trying to retrieve the online documents, I set the computer keypad to upper case to type in the username. Then I typed in the password. To my horror and bewilderment, the password was rejected three times. Then one of the staff, after being called over to help me out, asked me whether the keyboard was set to upper case mode. When I suddenly realised the error, it was too late. The account was locked, and unable to be reset. It looks to all the world that the rather large fee paid is lost forever.

Phoning the Passport Advice Line failed after over a dozen attempts. Obviously, at first I thought that being within early to mid-Spring, there would be a long queue of applicants desperate to receive their passports as the annual holiday season drew near. But after a dozen attempts to contact the office, a realisation came that not only were the online documents locked, but having submitted our phone number, this looks to me that this was blocked as well. After all, it isn't nice to be told over and over again to put the receiver down and try again. Neither had I ever experienced this kind of response from any other source either, whether private, commercial, or statutory phone numbers.

I felt overwhelmed by a crushing sense of sheer stupidity and clumsiness, together with anger at myself for the apparent lack of simple office skills. Here I will admit, I have no one but myself to blame. How on earth could I have been so forgetful to tap a key just once, which would have brought the task to its proper conclusion? This was to renew my wife's passport. And the irony of it all is that, in her present state of health, overseas travel would be difficult for her, being wheelchair-bound while out of doors. But nevertheless, I wanted her to hold a valid passport. This was in line with her acceptance to travel even in her present state, after watching wheelchair-bound passengers board an airline before now.

And it is situations like this that I remind myself  knowing that in all things God works for the good for those who love him, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). But this is the time when I don't feel any emotional love for God, at least not at the moment. But it's very good to realise that God's love for me remains stable, and through his omniscience, he knew from eternity past that this very day was to come. But maybe God is using this very situation to allow a light to reveal what's really in my heart. What is it that I love and cherish so deeply? The thought of foreign travel? The lack of consideration for my wife's condition as I bid her to board an airline? A feeling of security? Perhaps the idea of a golden opportunity to quickly book a flight and take off? Or take a cross-Channel ferry or train to France? Really, am I putting my own interests before those of God and my wife Alex?

What would happen in the immediate future? Personally, I would prefer to let the matter rest for a while, and let the dust settle. Even the act of typing out this blog is a tonic in itself, allowing me to dig deep within and rekindle my love for the Lord. Like this, I would be better prepared to make the right decision, whether to make a fresh application, this time in the library where the documents can be printed out straight away - or make phone calls elsewhere. But even if I have to pay again, making the passport double the original price: Would I be willing to do this? Would I feel such a deep sense of loss?

During a moment of despair, Alex reminded me of Job, an Old Testament saint whose faith in his God remained strong and intact despite the loss of everything he had, including his own health. His losses included his sons by death through a freak accident, and the theft of all his livestock when his land was raided by an enemy force. And his illness brought him near to the brink of death. Yet when his wife tried to entice him to ditch his faith, he remained firm, uttering a promise with certainty:

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And when my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27.

Gosh, what a magnificent demonstration of faith! And that how I would like to be, too. Maybe I should be glad of these situations, at least that's the theory. But for something that was my entire fault, the situation looks different. To have an unbeliever rail at me because of my faith in Jesus is one matter. To bring a disaster upon myself out of sheer clumsiness and forgetfulness seems a totally different matter altogether. But there is one truth that acts as an umbrella for both, and that is I am alive, and enjoy reasonably good health. The Bible says that the very breath of life is from God, along with a heartbeat, the digestion of food, and other involuntary body functions. Sustained by God until the moment he calls me home.

And that underscores all my thinking, believing, and my hold on everything I have, including money. If there will be no other alternative but to make a fresh passport application, along with a new payment, so be it. After all, throughout my entire life, including the early days as an unbeliever, the Lord has sustained me well. So a sum of money is lost forever, but I'm still here, so is Alex. I guess that is what being born again in the Holy Spirit is all about. The slaying of the old man, which includes holding tight to all that I have, in order to live for God whose Son was given up to be slain - to make atonement for our shortfalls. But in daily reality, when making tiny errors carrying such huge consequences, or suffering loss, I can suffer severe depression. But it's not just down to money. Rather, to see my beloved suffering in her lameness, and watching her constantly taking her medication brings greater sorrow to my heart as well as fear of uncertainty of the future.

And all this came about in the same week a BBC Panorama documentary: Suicide in the Family, was broadcast to the nation. Its presenter, Simon Jack, was having a remembrance day over the death of his father by suicide forty years earlier, when Simon was still a young boy. With nearly five thousand men committing suicide every year here in the UK, most of these victims had nowhere to go to share their troubled emotions. Citing the example of his own father, he spent the last years of his life alone and aloof, despite sharing his home with his family. This was due to male stoicism, according to the narration, which was very much part and parcel of being British. For a man to share his troubled emotions was considered sissy, unmanly, or wimpish. So unable to cope, he ends his own life instead. A terrible tragedy - and one shared by many others throughout the decades.

Perhaps it's no accident where the Good Samaritans had gotten the name for their charity, set up to offer help and advice to potential suicide victims. It was from one of Jesus' parables (Luke 10:25-37) teaching an important lesson about showing compassion to a fellow human, even if he may not be of his nation or share the same culture. If only all volunteers working as Samaritans were true believers in Jesus Christ - would there be a source of a much better hope for anyone contemplating suicide?

I think the faith Job had in God would make a good bulwark against all temptation for any man to take his own life. Here we must remember too, despite his acclamation and certainty that he will see God stand upon the earth with his own eyes, almost his entire discourse with his three friends was melancholic, most likely from a deep depression felt over the loss of his wealth, his sons, and his health. If there was such a potential candidate for suicide, Job would have been prime suspect. He was depressed, he cursed the day he was born, then spent his entire vigil wailing to his mates about what sin he had committed to anger the Almighty, so much as to end up with such a fate, and furthermore, a brass-like silence from heaven which antagonised his despair even more intensely. And yet he persevered, even though his three companions insisted that he committed some sin. They kept on prodding his tormented soul to try to get a confession out, and to seek forgiveness. But with no sin in his conscience despite his set of circumstances, he felt cornered - and in a ripe state of mind for self destruction.

Despite what we may think of the three friends who added more pain to his already tortured soul, the sheer loyalty shown by these guys: sitting in Job's tent for a whole week, in torn clothes, and with dust on their heads in mourning over their friend's fate - is unbelievable to today's standards and culture. Personally, I believe that their presence was a deterrent against potential suicide. After all, Job was human too. Who knows what he could have done had he borne his burden alone. Yet such a setting provides a magnificent example and model for fellow church members when they see someone in distress. Maybe not so much as a week's vigil in dust and ashes as with the compassion of Christ shining through the Holy Spirit in us. How much more will those in despair would benefit?

Even if they may, from time to time, tap the wrong key on their computer keyboard. 

Saturday, 11 April 2015


Earlier this week three police officers burst into our home, pinned my hands behind my back and handcuffed them, immobilising the use of my arms.  Then one of them declared, 
You are under arrest for potential benefit fraud! We are taking you to the station to be detained. You don't have to say anything, but whatever you say will be brought up in Court. My wife flew into hysterics as I was escorted to the waiting police van, an imposing vehicle with a blacked out window on each side. Just my rotten luck that three of my neighbours, one family living next door to my right, and two other families living to my left, happen to have gathered for a neighbourly rendezvous at next door's front garden. All mouths were silent and all eyes fixed on me as I was led to the van.

At the station, I was held at Reception, from where I was told that I had to be kept in custody for two nights rather than the normal one, as the Benefit Fraud Investigation Officer will be taking the next day off to take her kids to Thorpe Park amusement resort. Ah, the effect of schools being out for the Easter break. But again, I could not help detect an edge of sarcasm in the Receptionist's voice, as if such inconveniences would bring a level of disruption to what would otherwise have been a smooth running of legal matters. I then cried in a panicking tone why can't the Officer look into the matter straight away. Their answer to that was, she was busy dealing with the same case with an inmate in the cell opposite the corridor to where I would be confined.

I was led to my cell, pushed in with such force that I ended up sprawled on the floor, next to the dismal mattress lying on a metal spring frame positioned up against the stone-grey wall. Then the heavy steel door slammed behind.

As if..! 

When the dust began to settle midway through convalescence following a major heart operation, all I needed was a temporary benefit to tide us over until I return to work. So how unsettled we both became when an official letter arrived through the post, requesting me to attend an interview, bringing all documents such as bank statements, proof of earnings and outgoings to what appears to be a question mark over the genuineness of our claim. We were both upset and frustrated, and I might as well have faced arrest. How much more do they want from us? On initial application, I attended interviews and filled in enough forms to decimate a forest of its trees. But I am aware that it takes just a tiny clause in the conditions to be overlooked, and this whole system of benefits can go pear-shaped in an instant. I have heard about Court cases and massive pay-back debts, even arrests and imprisonment as a result of benefit ineligibility, or even fraud. 

And that is the point. Claiming benefits can be like walking on eggshells. All it takes is for one faceless clerk at the desk to spot something, and my eligibility is called into question, which can result in a tribunal preceding paying back all what I have already spent on day-to-day living. So off I sauntered to the Benefit Office, a walk of a couple of miles as part of my healing and post-op rehab. The officer I was appointed to see arrived twenty minutes late, but one glance and somehow I sensed that I was in no danger. She then explained that there was a dispute in the office whether I was at a pension status, and if so, would I want the benefit to be backdated well into last year. Had I said yes, then the interview would have proceeded, and I would have had to submit all the proof documents. Instead, I told her that I was working throughout the whole of last year, and therefore I didn't need the extra money. She looked pleased, and the meeting was over, assuring me that the present benefit we were currently receiving will remain unaffected. What a relief!

But now and again, I guess that such incidents are trip-ups which spoils what is otherwise a calm period of convalescence following a major heart operation. I can look at this restful period in either one of two ways. I can either see it as a time of anxiety, fearing whether I still have a window cleaning business to return to, along with the possibility of enduring the last three years of my working life as unemployed, and facing a grim future of being called in to the Job Centre to attend frequent interviews for eligibility in claiming Job-seekers Allowance. Or to see this period as more of a sabbatical than a time of recovery, and enjoy the benefit of work abstinence.

And I'm honest to admit that I do see this period as a sabbatical, and making the most to enjoy it. I think that the first thought of returning to work would make me feel downhearted, but having similar past experiences shows that once back at work, I don't look back. And what I find so enjoyable about sabbaticals is that they are not only endorsed in the Bible, but specifically commanded by God through Moses to the nation of Israel. In Leviticus 25:1-7, Moses writes that for six years the whole of Israel, who are mostly landowners, may work on their land - sowing, reaping, and harvesting their crops - but on the seventh year, no work must be done on their farmlands. Instead, the land must rest for a year to the Lord God. During that time, the landowner has little to do but to rest and enjoy the experience. So serious God was in this matter, that throughout the whole period when Israel was a kingdom, from the start of King Saul's reign at approximately 1080 BC, to the end of the reign of King Zedekiah, some five hundred years later, the nation disobeyed that commandment, working the land continuously over the centuries. With seventy years of rest the land owed to God, the last of Israel, mostly of Judah, was exiled to Babylon under its king, Nebuchadnezzar, for seventy years (2 Chronicles 36:17-21.)

We as Christians are not bound by this sabbatical ruling, mainly because God has not given any land with specific boundaries to the Church as he did with Israel. Rather, all believers in Jesus Christ makes up a nation within nations on a global scale, without any land of its own. But furthermore, if any Christian believer attempts to keep this law, even in his own back garden, then he is obliged to keep the whole Law, according to what Paul has written to the churches in Asia (Galatians 5:3).

Yet having said that, I think there are wonderful benefits in taking a sabbatical after so many years of work and daily routines. Unfortunately, during this election campaign, if any political party leader suggested giving sabbaticals to every long-serving employee, every business leader would throw up his arms in horror! This was already hinted on when one party leader suggested three paid days off every year for voluntary work for all employees. It was no surprise that company bosses were quickly up in arms over such a proposal.

God commanded every Hebrew landowner to take a sabbatical every seven years. With me, I'm taking one now due to health reasons, and I have experienced the benefit of taking such a long break. The last one I took was 18 years previously in 1997. This was when I had taken just over eleven weeks off work, out of which ten weeks were to backpack around the world, visiting Singapore, Australia, and California. The 1997 sabbatical was carefully planned. I made sure that I landed back at London Heathrow Airport on a Wednesday, exactly ten weeks to the day after taking off from the same location. This allowed me four clear days to get over post-holiday blues, which in my case, was quite severe, before getting out of bed the following Monday morning to start work.

This sort of travel has been something I would love to do, together with my wife. However, at present, Alex being confined to a wheelchair while out of doors makes such a proposition very difficult, but not impossible. While waiting to board a flight from Palermo to London in 2006, we watched two or three passengers in wheelchairs board the 'plane before the rest of us. This was something I had never forgotten, and it offers us some hope for the future where flights are concerned. But as we discussed between us on several occasions, slow travel across Europe by train and ferry has a strong appeal for me in particular, but Alex is happy to go along with it. I recall back in the early 1970's when I boarded a boat train from London Victoria to Rome Termini, alighting at the Kent port of Folkstone to board the ferry to cross the Channel before disembarkation at the French port of Boulogne, from where the easy recognisable Ferrovia di Italia train awaited us for the long journey across western Europe to Rome. Unfortunately, over forty years of rail travel development has eroded the rather awkward yet such memorable mode of slow travel, which no air travel can equal such nostalgic experiences. 

I thank the Lord for living at a time when both advance medicine and the welfare system are in place to help someone with the likes of myself overcome a serious cardiac condition. Perhaps we tend to think of ourselves as the fortunate generation, one of the post War-born Baby Boomers, who perhaps enjoyed the best of things in human history. But as a counter-thought, I also wondered whether we as a society has somewhat became sissified with the advance of technology. For example, while we were happy to play in the street as schoolchildren, today's youth seem to remain indoors, addicted to playstations and computers. We did not mind being outdoors unsupervised, whether playing by a stream or in a more serious game of street-side cricket. Now, what I have heard at least, kids are not allowed out to play without some form of adult supervision. Schoolchildren in my day cycled to school each morning, or walked, like I did, if they did not own a bicycle. No boy at least, would even think about a school run in Mum's car, as that would have been considered wimpish to the extreme.

So likewise benefits. My father who has worked all his life to support us as children, had never claimed benefit throughout his days. Maybe if I had followed the same route as he did, and built a nest egg for a rainy day, I too could have gone through the whole cardiac procedure and convalescence without drawing a single penny from the State. Perhaps I would have travelled a lot less than I actually did, but I do wonder whether I would have made a better achievement in life than at present.

And with no possible fear of arrest.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Living on the Edge.

A wonderful testimony appeared in an article published in the Daily Mail newspaper today (Saturday). It featured this prisoner at a Soviet Union labour camp. Absolutely exhausted, he was driven to the end of his endurance. He threw his shovel down to lay for a rest on a nearby bench, expecting the guards to arrive to give him a severe beating, as he had seen done to others who took a rest without permission. Instead, an emaciated prisoner arrived to where he was lying down, and with a stick, drew a cross in the mud beside him. He looked at the cross, believed, and found the energy to resume work before the guards arrived.

Born again right there and then. No Bible readings (this was banned in the Soviet Union), no church attendance, no altar call, no confessing to a priest, no man in a suit booming out a sermon on repentance, not even a "sinner's prayer" uttered from his lips. Just a crude representation of a cross drawn with a stick in the mud. And his eternal destiny changed forever, never to revert to his former spiritual state. Such as the wonder and the simplicity of God's grace!

And how I wish this simple faith can be seen a lot more, not only in this country, but on a global scale, and particularly in the Middle East. If all the Muslims saw the Cross and believed, surely this would be a far, far better world to live in, would it not? At least mainstream terrorism would have been dealt a fatal blow. And that's where the present unrest in the Western World had originated, not just from the Middle East where different sects of Islam fight each other (Sunni against Shia, for example), but their belief in Jihad, compelling them to fight non-Muslims altogether. Then the awkward little fact that the prisoner in the labour camp had no need to investigate different sects and beliefs within the Christian faith - whether the Catholics were truer to the Bible or if Protestants were. Then this niggling but rather huge debate whether a saved person is eternally secure in his salvation, or not. None of these things either stirred his faith nor muffled it. Instead his faith came by a crude cross etched in the mud. That was all.

This testimony was found in a much large article on why our nation has become so secular, which was about embracing materialistic comforts rather than meditating on our sinful condition and realising our need for Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected. One prime example is seeing Easter as a time for ceasing work, enjoying a holiday, shopping, and the emphasis on chocolate eggs as well as bunnies for the kids, rather than a reflection on the Resurrection of Christ. And this came on a day later, after an online article was posted at the same newspaper, by atheist David Fitzgerald of San Francisco, who wrote that Jesus Christ as a person had never existed. Part of the basis of his assumption was the idea that the Bible, particular in the four Gospels, was inconsistent with how this man was presented, contradictions on one thing upon another. 

What we have been through in the last few years, knowing that Jesus Christ was Crucified, buried and Resurrected is absolutely vital for our faith and well being. As one popular chorus (one of our wedding songs) goes:- Father God, I wonder how I managed to exist without the knowledge of your parenthood and your loving care...the record of Jesus Christ as the Son of God must be as solid rock upon which our faith rests. As for the case of David Fitzgerald, as with Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, no matter how much I know the Bible, I would not be able to stand up face to face to them unless some miracle, whether in speech or action, takes place - but even then, like the Pharisees of old, once their minds are set, nothing can change them. And unfortunately, they seem to draw the masses along with them into eternal darkness. Again as I said before, this happens out of celebrity, academic, or social class worship. Therefore I too have felt earthquakes in my own faith over many years, with both my knowledge of Scripture challenged along with adverse circumstances.

Since my conversion towards the end of 1972, I remained settled with the idea that Good Friday come round every year simply because Jesus was crucified on a Friday. It made sense: Three days in the tomb - Friday evening, all day Saturday, and a tiny bit into Sunday. Even if I knew about the Hebrew marking of time, their new day starting at sundown, my opinion of a Friday crucifixion would have remained unchanged, as the last few hours of Friday would have been counted as the first day, as would have been all the small hours of Sunday morning. This originated from the Catholic church, and had been ongoing throughout the centuries, and it was what I grew up with. Like the vast majority of the Christian public, I never questioned the essence of Jesus crucified on a Friday.

That is, until I came across Matthew 12:40 which reads:-
For as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be for three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

If ever there was a verse, and the only one in the whole of the New Testament at that, which throws a spanner into the works of a long-standing creed, surely this must be it. In my younger days as a believer, it was just one of these things I had to swallow, hoping I wouldn't get bellyache afterwards. That was until I was walking through a street at a South London borough of Brixton in 1974 with a good friend of mine, that he mentioned the idea and his support for a Thursday crucifixion. Ouch! But even then I wanted to believe, since this made far better sense. Jesus Christ crucified a day earlier. It would be goodbye to Maundy Thursday. And opposed to centuries of Church tradition, as well as going against a statutory national holiday. But this is why I don't mind believing a fringe theory, or living on the edge. If Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, he then would be dead for three actual days: Thursday evening, and all day Friday and Saturday. And as the three nights would have fitted in, these would have been Thursday night, Friday night and Saturday night, as Jesus had already risen before daybreak of Sunday. But even considering the Jewish reckoning, he would have been dead for the small hours of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings.

But what seems to be more vexing is the apparent contradiction between Matthew and John concerning the Passover. In Matthew's account, Jesus sends his disciples to prepare a room where they can eat the Passover (26:17-19, along with Mark 14:12-16, and Luke 22:7-13). All three of the four Gospels record that it was already the first day of unleavened bread, and Jesus sends his followers out to prepare for the Passover. But it was John who recorded that when the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate, that the Roman governor had to come out to them, for their refusal to enter his palace was because they did not want to defile themselves, for they have yet to eat the Passover. So according to John, the Passover wasn't eaten yet (John 18:28.) And this was the morning after the Last Supper was eaten.

No wonder the Bible must be a treasure trove for the leering scoffers! And yet, as I see it, John must be right on this account. The morning of the day, according to John's account, Jesus was brought to Pilate, the Passover lambs across Israel had not yet been slain. This would explain why Paul referred Jesus as the Passover Lamb in his first letter to the Corinthian church (5:7.) If this is true, then Jesus must have died at the same time as the Passover lambs were slain among all the Jewish families across the Middle East. It was John too, who made a quick statement, as in parenthesis, that the day following the crucifixion, was "a high day" (19:31) - his equivalent of a bank holiday. It was a special Sabbath, not the normal Sabbath, but rather the first day of unleavened bread, which fell on a Friday. So if this is true, the crucifixion took place on the Thursday, Jesus died three hours later, at the same time all the Passover lambs were slain and roasted, and by nightfall, the Passover festival began, which by then it was already Friday. 

The only way, as far as I can see, is that according to the first three accounts, the Last Supper took place after sundown, which was already the same Thursday as the Crucifixion, his death, and the slaughtering of the Passover Lambs. But the meal they had that night was the Last Supper, in which the New Covenant was initiated by the Lord himself. If John's account is to be believed, when the Last Supper was feasted on, all the Passover lambs were still alive, waiting to be killed.

Then another issue where sneering atheists would love to throw the book at, is the apparent disagreement between Mark and John over the time of day Jesus was crucified. In Marks's account (15:25), it was "the third hour" that Jesus was crucified. But in John's account, by the sixth hour, Jesus was still before Pilate (19:13-15), pleading to the baying crowd to change their minds, but to no avail. If we understand the third hour being nine in the morning, and the sixth our being midday, then clearly a discrepancy exist between the two writers. However, Luke's recording of Pilate sending Jesus and his accusers to Herod seems to back John's record, rather than Mark's. Even if Herod was in Jerusalem on that day, allowing up to thirty minutes to cross the city, then another thirty minutes to return to Pilate, this would have given Herod at least a full hour to interrogate Jesus, still leaving ample time for the Roman governor to plead to the crowd on Jesus' behalf.

Does that leave the possibility that an error has crept in with a later copying of Mark's Gospel? Personally, that's how I see it, unless a justifiable explanation can be offered. This seems at first at least, to give victory to the atheists and the academics, who point their finger at us for insisting that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, entirely without error. And according to some, particularly with a Church of Christ member on this website, God is seen as fully able to protect his Word over the millennia, especially with modern translations. If that tiny discrepancy in Mark's Gospel proves to be an error in ancient copying, then this will open the floodgates for the academic scoffers to destroy its credibility.

But the main thing is that all four accounts record the death of Jesus by crucifixion, his burial, and then his resurrection early that Sunday morning, before daybreak. And upon this record my faith rests. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, proving once and for all that he is the Jewish Messiah who came to reconcile the world to himself, not counting our transgressions against us. And no other man who ever lived and died had enjoyed the privilege of a physical resurrection, defeating death forever. And furthermore, no other man fulfilled Old Testament prophecy with such startling accuracy than Jesus of Nazareth. One only need to read Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Zechariah 9:9, 11:12-13 as examples to see how Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy written hundreds of years before he came.

Old Testament prophecy fulfilled is the greatest testimony of Jesus being the Christ, of God himself we call the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. God became man to atone for our sins, bringing us to the Father and making us citizens of his Kingdom in Heaven. This is the greatest news no other religion can offer, totally by grace, and free of any works.

Happy Easter to you all. Enjoy your chocolate eggs, for its sweetness is a good symbol of the Gospel, and the start of a new life, in which the confection represents.