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Saturday, 30 May 2015

Self-Imposed Exile - a Blessing.

When I wrote last week's blog, it had never crossed my mind just how controversial it would so quickly become! Within a couple of days after posting, it has collected more hits from readers than most of my recent input. I suppose that every one who had read it came away with his own conclusion, but again, it would not surprise me too much when the matter of health becomes an issue. Let's face it, nobody wants to be ill, unwell, or age rapidly, and like any other human in his right mind, any elixir promised that would promote health and longevity would, without doubt, attract attention.

So I had made a suggestion about hugging, as part of bromance, as being beneficial to health, and according to recent research, this form of natural affection between two or more people causes a hormone, oxytocin, to be released from the pituitary gland, which among other benefits, help beat depression, one of the greatest emotional causes underlying various physical illnesses and diseases. With men of faith such as Joseph, his brother Benjamin, David, his best mate Jonathan, and even the apostle John, all living without ever having to make an appointment to visit a Doctor's surgery, I have wondered how they have existed without the need for medicine - although long before John's day, the great medic of the ancient Greeks, Hippocrates, was already dispensing medicine from a hospital, then known as the Asklepeion, on the Greek island of Kos. This brilliant scholar had correctly connected physical illness with emotional imbalances, while the general theory of his day was that diseases were punishments bestowed on erring mankind from the plethora of bickering divinities populating Heaven. Such an achievement Hippocrates made towards modern medicine, along with the respect and care shown to each of his patients, that right up to this day, I believe, the Hippocratic Oath is taken by just about all medical students, and every Physician treating you at present has taken the modern version of the Oath, which is secular, omitting the vow promised to the ancient deities. The page header photo of my wife posing among some restored Roman columns was taken at the Asklepeion.

But we did not have to fly out to Kos to learn about Hippocrates in order to conclude that natural affection had always been beneficial. Rather, I was already aware of this years before I even met Alex my wife. One far more recent medic, Dr S. I. McMillen, wrote a book, None of These Diseases, which emphasised that obedience to the Bible as the Word of God leads to a happier lifestyle which is the key to better health. And the central theme of obedience to God is to love one another. In fact, Jesus emphasised that the whole world will know that we are his disciples if we love one another. (John 15:12-13) and that is the commandment given to all believers, which was meant to set us apart from the rest of society. 

But it is a terrible misfortune in the western world, and particularly here in the UK, to associate any affection between males as homosexuality, and that despite such a term only began to exist in the early twentieth century. We live in a world where the sight of two men giving each other a prolong hug as something rather distasteful, even abhorrent, and assuming to involve sex or any other perversion. Yet we happily read our Bibles and expound it every Sunday at church, yet not give a moment's thought that a number of saints are recorded as greeting each other in precisely that way. Let me make one thing clear: Bromance is not Homosexuality, it only becomes that if such an interpretation is read into it. Very much like reading Hell-fire into James 2:17 when nothing of the kind was meant, but rather how one's faith would be evaluated by another person or group of people. 

Therefore, ever since my conversion to Jesus Christ as Saviour back towards the end of 1972, hugging another adult has always been my norm, as it was from a hug in a disused jam factory at an East London district of Bromley, that has helped change my course of direction to follow Jesus Christ. This, I believe, was a link which came just a few months after I was dumped by my fiancee, and finding myself on board the train home literally weeping with shattered feelings. How that hug benefited me! But afterwards, learning to embrace and not to embrace was something which took longer to learn. For example, I quickly learnt how not to hug an unwilling recipient, and that was when he crossed his chest with his forearms and pushed outwardly. It was a very embarrassing moment, and one I was eager to avoid repeating. But it took me much longer to learn not to hug another willing recipient, and that is really cultural - the possibility of others seeing it as a perversion and bringing the reputation of the church to ruin - instead of others longing for a hug as well, especially the lonely, the broken-hearted, or the destitute. I wonder how they would have thought of God's love if they were warmly embraced? But then all this is just an issue. Most churches tend to be middle class, a well-educated gathering of worshippers, who have prosperous careers, have families, and lacking for nothing, together with a high percentage of senior citizens. Not much room for the lonely and the destitute.

But issues with reputation, the possibility of Social Services intervening, or some other scandal percolating into the fellowship was the cause of going into temporal exile. It wasn't any dispute with the Elders that was behind my decision. Rather it was what came afterwards, in an email sent to me by one of the Elders. In it, I read of behind-my-back reports to the Elders about my hugging warmth, delivered to them secretly by anonymous members of the church. In other words, I was under secret surveillance without any word of it coming back to me. This made me feel very uncomfortable, and virtually impossible to worship freely. So I went into temporary exile until I feel ready to return.  

Did my faith fail as a result? Not a bit of it! Instead, every Sunday I have visited a different church. Such included a Pentecostal church, a couple of Anglican churches, and a couple of evangelical Baptist churches. And what I have found so striking in particular, were how similar the two Anglican churches had become to the more charismatic evangelicals. No longer with the image of stuffiness, if you know what I mean, such as dismal-looking and befuddled men dressed up in suit and tie, and with each of the ladies sporting the finest dresses while matching a rather sour countenance, or  for that matter, a small group of mainly elderly females huddling together in otherwise a hall of vacant pews. No, it was none of any of that! Rather all the churches I visited so far were vibrant, and filled with people of all ages, even if the elderly made up a large percentage. At one Baptist church in Guildford, I wasn't alone for long, as there was always someone interested in me as a newcomer. But furthermore, the preach was about the Sovereignty of God, and that God knows best when we hit troubled times, or when prayer remains persistently unanswered. This was a sermon which struck home in the midst of my heart, and by believing, I felt blessed. And at an Anglican church, the subject was about Romans chapter eight, which I consider to be one of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible. In both Anglican churches, I was greeted warmly, and had people approach to find out who I am, and about my spiritual health.   

I also discovered that my own fellowship was not unique after all when it came to casual dress. Rather, in both Anglican and Baptist churches were the ties worn by the men seldom seen, as I have always thought that my own church was the only one so casually dressed, as if in full rebellion against tradition. Only the Pentecostal church had more men wearing ties, and many of the women had their heads covered with a scarf. And this was the church with the smallest congregation I have seen, with no more than about thirty people in all. Indeed, visiting different churches, one for each Sunday, was certainly a eye-opener.

As for hugging, only in the first church visited did I receive an embrace, and that was from an old friend I knew for many years. But with the other four churches I visited afterwards, nobody came to hug me, and guess what? Neither did I approach anyone to hug either. Being a newcomer at every church meeting, I felt a newness of worship, fresh and untainted from any form of bias, surveillance, or monitoring. It was a wonderful feeling - the freedom to worship God with joy and thanksgiving, and to receive his message without any trace of hangups, in the way I felt bound up with in my own fellowship prior to my exile. By being a newcomer in every church visited, I have found it much easier not to hug anyone, unless they come to me for a hug. I'm not the one who would cross my forearms over the chest and push away. For going by my own experience, I'm aware that such a motion would crush the spirit of one who may need an embrace.

But as I see it, maybe hugging is not necessary in this part of the world. For example, one Anglican church I paid a visit to is set on the outskirts of a small town, barely larger than a village, among a gated residential area with beautiful roadside gardens boasting healthy Mediterranean palm trees. This area spoke volumes of wealth. It would not be the kind of area where down-and-outs would loiter, let alone enter the church. A brisk handshake was all that needed, but at least I wasn't ignored. The Baptist Church in Guildford fronts a lovely garden park, which through the River Wey tumbles over a weir, as it winds its way to join the River Thames, the park itself being the added enhancement to a historic city with a high reputation of wealth and prosperity.

Meanwhile, my exile continues for a few more weeks, with more churches on the list to visit. Then when I feel that I'm ready, I'll will return to my home church, I hope with a fresh start.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Bromance - For Better Health

A new word has entered the English vocabulary, which looks to me to have originated from the LGBT community, and more especially from gay men, and that is the word Bromance. Apparently it is so unfamiliar to everyday usage that while typing, my computer has underlined the word in red, indicating a spelling error. And this is from an American spellchecker, ironic as it seems, as without doubt the word looks to have its origin in the States. Yet anyone with a mild knowledge of semantics would see straight away that Bromance simply means brotherly romance. The gay community defines such a relationship as a strong bond between two males, but falling short of any sexual involvement.

After having received unsuccessful seduction attempts by gay men back in the 1970's when I was a strapping young man in my twenties, I have always held an interest in the homosexual world, and that from a Christian perspective, having being converted to Christ just a few months after my twentieth birthday in 1972. So I can claim to have enough knowledge of it to demonstrate what Bromance is not. For a start, cruising (out looking for a sex-partner in hope of a one-night stand) is not Bromance. Since the diagnoses of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was discovered to have originated from the HIV virus infection within same-sex relationships between men (and later became widespread among promiscuous straight sex as well), the habit of cruising has become far less widespread among homosexuals since the 1980's. Cruising was far from being a joyful experience. It was purely about sex, without building any interpersonal relationship with the potential partner. By the following morning, the two men were just as much strangers as if passing each other on the street. Also with cruising, there is always that lingering fear of being picked up by a macho butch who inflicts physical pain in an attempt to gratify his own sexual urges. Such brutal acts are well recorded, in a quest for more, more, more, but never finding ultimate fulfilment. None of these have any love between such partners, and therefore aren't anywhere remotely classed as Bromance.

I type this blog while a referendum had just taken place in Ireland whether to legalize same-sex marriage, which is already legal here in the UK. The idea of long term same-sex relationships, I believe, was a development from the AIDS scare of the 1980's, and reflects the need for the two partners to get to know each other, and particularly their sex and medical history, before consenting. But again, that is not Bromance. Rather, it is homosexuality, a dire world where unfulfilled desires, rejection by other gays, stereotyping and physical beatings by heterosexuals, loneliness, alienation from God, want of a flesh-and-blood family, unhappiness, and a very high suicide rate, all dominate in one way or another. Although the term Bromance was coined in the LGBT community I believe, it is not what it is.

Yet it is coming from gay men that the Biblical relationship model between David and Jonathan is quoted, and they see this as a good example of Bromance, and to a certain extent I share their opinion. But as some homosexual men would like to include these two as engaged in secret sexual activity behind King Saul's back, just by reading the Scriptural narration is enough to establish that both these guys were straight, and kept their sexual activity confined to their wives. But the case of David and Jonathan is an excellent case of Bromance. And no other verse in Scripture highlights this than in 1 Samuel 20:41:-

After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together - but David wept the most.

It is easy to imagine their parting scenario. These two were in a tight hug which lasted for a considerable time - maybe twenty minutes? And that is what I believe Bromance includes - hugging, the end result of a strong brotherly friendship. Apart from David and Jonathan, I can easily refer to two other men who actually were biological full brothers: Joseph and Benjamin, the sons of Jacob and his favourite wife Rachel. In Genesis 45:14 the narrator records Joseph and Benjamin locked in a tight embrace, and both weeping on each other's necks. Then there is the Bromance between the fisherman John, and Jesus himself which was manifested during the Last Supper, found in John 13:23 in the KJV, which reads:-

Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.

Unfortunately, the word bosom (Greek, kolpo) is not used in the NIV or other modern translations, where it just says that John was reclining next to him. I think much as been missed from the one reading the New International Version, and other modern translations. To read about the head of a future apostle resting on the Lord's chest speaks volumes of emotion. It was when Jesus himself acknowledged the sadness his disciples felt over the news that he was leaving them to return to his Father, e.g. John 14:27. Like Joseph, Benjamin, David, and Jonathan before him, John sought comfort through physical contact with Jesus himself. And the very dynamism of such tenderness together at that table is vividly contrasted with Revelation 1:17 where the same apostle took a glimpse of the resurrected Lord, and fell down as if dead. The very same bosom where he rested his head so many years earlier appears in such brilliant glory that he could not barely look at, let alone rest upon.

Then how can I not mention the intimate eternal Bromance which had always existed within the Godhead. The three "Persons" of the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each having a perfect love for each other which is entirely free from any disagreement, sorrow, or tears. Probably locked in an eternal embrace, the Father loves both the Son and the Holy Spirit with equal intensity. Likewise the Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit with equal intensity. And the Holy Spirit himself have the same love for the Father and the Son. It is a wonderful, beautiful setting, absolutely perfect, without even an atom of sin whatsoever. And it has always been God's intention that his radiant triangle of love be shared among mankind, which has always been the chief reason why we exist.

Contrary to our British culture, there is nothing amiss about two men locked in a tight hug. It is the rest of us, who deem such an act as wrong, homosexual, or sissy. Here in the UK, we prefer, at best, to merely extend our hand in an (often limp) handshake. Our local culture, particularly in Southern England, does not even allow anyone to just walk into a neighbour's home without an invitation for an appointed time, let alone walking into another's personal space for a hug. We even have a saying, "An Englishman's home is his castle." That is not the language of Heaven! But, as I have recently found out, prolonged hugging is actually beneficial for health. It is due to the hormone Oxytocin, produced in the Pituitary Gland as a result of intimate human contact.

Due to a recent research, I have found out that oxytocin, among other benefits, has the ability to reduce depression, a cause of many known illnesses, including cancer, and even cardiac arrest. Its benefits, originally thought to be confined to breast milk production and feeding, it seems that something such as a prolonged hug - more than twenty seconds in duration - enjoys a level of benefit from the same hormone, which is also found in males. If Biblical characters, such as Joseph and David (Joseph lived to 110 years, and David saw his 70th birthday) had enjoyed health to a level of never having to visit a Doctor's surgery, then they must have done something right. Could the showing of emotion without the British reserve be the clue here? It is food for thought.

Now I want to imagine what our national health would be really like if everyone was far less selfish, far less reserved, have a trembling lower lip instead of a stiff upper lip, have a far greater love for each other, and there were no issues with prolonged hugs. How would the National Health Service fare? Would it be so under-used, that there would always be a hospital bed immediately available should anyone fall ill? Rather than being so overstretched, as it is at present? In fact, would the N.H.S. be a lot smaller, with smaller budgets and not so much spent on staffing and administration? If there is less depression in the individual, would this result in a happier lifestyle as well as a healthier one? Really, what I'm asking is: If Bromance and prolonged hugging were more socially acceptable, would this become a better world all around?

As a married man, I guess that I'm one of the more fortunate ones. I can prolong-hug my wife as much as I want, and she likewise. But one needs to take into consideration that I didn't marry until I was 47 years old, which is well beyond the national average age to marry. Throughout my long single life, other than the privilege to travel - many, many times I had a longing for a prolonged hug every day. Amazingly enough, during my bachelor days, I had persistent back trouble - forcing me on several occasions to crawl on the floor instead of walking. Thinking about it, over a period of time, my back problems all but disappeared since I married Alex. But I could have remained single throughout my life, as I know a few who has. Generally speaking, medical records show that not only married people enjoy a fuller life and better health, but they tend to live longer than those who remain single.

God does not only have love, he is love. Any breach of this love is sin. In order to enjoy perfect health eternally, we need to love God and each other as intensely as the three "Persons" of the Godhead. But because of the sinful heart, often shaped by culture (emotions bottled, no hugging, etc.) - sickness and death will continue until our final redemption arrives.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

End of a Wonderful Sabbatical...

The past three months was one of the nicest periods of my life, other than holidays and long haul backpacking trips. These three months, although rather turbulent at first, began to quieten down as the days and the weeks progressed. These weeks made up the time of convalescence, following a major cardiac operation back in early February. The procedure was having a new tissue aortic valve replacement, as the one I was born with had a problem with regurgitation - that means that instead of the valve slamming shut and totally preventing the blood flowing back into the heart cavity, the aortic valve kept failing to shut properly, allowing the blood to seep back into the left ventricle. Eventually, my heart was signalling to me that it has had enough, as the problem was known to be very long term, with the likelihood of having been born with the condition.

Such signals consisting of waking up in the middle of the night, finding myself literally gasping for air, like an athlete who had just finished a race. Alongside this gasping, there was a sense of drowning, caused by the presence of fluid in my lungs, which was also the cause of my chest rumbling while breathing. Night after night this went on until my wife, alarmed at the phenomenon, begged me to visit the G.P. I had to overcome my masculine pride as I submitted my symptoms to this highly educated female professional, young enough to be my daughter at least. But it wasn't long, after a series of tests, that valve regurgitation was diagnosed as the bottom cause of the symptoms, and I was in need of open heart surgery.

The operation itself came early February. For details of the procedure and of the days which followed, click on to one  of my older blogs, In the Darkness, posted February 14th, 2015. But in the weeks to follow after discharge, I was told to rest for three months by the medical team, as my job as a domestic window cleaner involved lifting heavy ladders. And here is the rub. Had my occupation consisted of office or clerical activity, chances that I could have returned to work only after a month of convalescence, maybe six weeks at the most. I had enough financial reserves to have seen through such a short period of rest. But a duration of three months was rather different. So we (my wife and I) decided on a temporary State handout to help us through the period. The mountain of form filling, attending interviews, and receiving unexpected mail asking for more details, or to settle a query, were humiliating enough to make us feel like criminals, which was rather upsetting, as well as ironic, when considering that our politicians had their snouts in the trough where State-funded Expense Allowances were concerned. On the other hand, when even our church elders offered some financial help in the beginning, we felt right to turn this down in favour of State benefits. Eventually, after the first month, the incoming benefits started to arrive at last.

There were hardly any hiccups after this, and I began to see this time of rest as more of a sabbatical rather than a period of post-op convalescence. There remained, however some concerns. One is that, while before the procedure, I was told by the Consultant that the op was the "be all to end all" concerning symptoms, like one of my clients, older than me, who had exactly the same procedure for the same cardiac problem, yet his cheerful disposition testifying that he is no longer on medication. With me, when I complained of continuous shortness of breath, I had a electrocardiograph and an X-ray, which confirmed an irregular heartbeat, which means that I have to be on medication, including Warfarin, (an anticoagulant) for life.  And then my nearest and dearest, who is also on medication. The sabbatical has allowed me to take her to hospital for an appointment, renew her medical prescriptions, as well as having to take her to her G.P. without all of this to have eaten away into my working hours. In short, I was free to nurse her to the full.

With all that aside, I'm not hesitant to admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed the long respite, and I can't help feeling sad over the thought that this is the final weekend before I return to work on Monday (i.e. May 18th), together with the long-range forecast predicting cool, lousy weather as well. Let's face it, there is something about not having to get up early each morning to face the day. But on the other hand, bone idleness has always been far from my liking. During the earlier days of the sabbatical, I went out on walks, starting with short distances, then increasing them each day, as exactly instructed by the Physician. So every day began with a long walk. Then by the afternoon, I set my mind upon one of those challenging 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles, the one I had to piece together without the master picture on the lid, because there wasn't one. Then quite a considerable time browsing the Internet.

But way above all this, is having the time to take my wife out in her wheelchair. Being lame rather than totally immobile, we were able to get about without too much hassle. One including a walk along the river Thames passing through some woods. The weather was sunshine and warm. Being together in such a lovely environment was as close to paradise as we could get. And I guess that's the main gist of such sabbaticals - for us to spend time together on a daily basis over a period of prolonged time rather than just on weekends and comparatively short holidays. It seems to have added extra goodness into our marriage.

And sabbaticals were far from being unbiblical. On the contrary, the regular sabbatical was part of Old Testament law delivered to Israel by God himself through Moses. In Leviticus 25:1-7, God instructs Moses to tell the whole nation of Israel that on every seventh year, every landowner must allow his fields to rest from growing of any crops. This includes ploughing of the ground, as well as sowing, reaping, and harvesting. As Israel was mostly agricultural, this means that every landowning family must cease from working his fields of one whole year out of every seven years. Before the operation, I have often wondered what all this means to the household. Would they get crushingly bored or frustrated over twelve months of enforced idleness? After all, day trips to the beach was unknown to them, let alone international travel. Neither did they have anything remotely like all the commodities we take for granted - TV's, music centres, computers, even sports equipment - all were unknown.

But God must have known the human psyche enough to usher in such a law without it being detrimental to any of the families. In fact, musical instruments were known, along with the ability to read, write, and possibly with a reasonable knowledge of math. In addition to the land enjoying a full years rest, it was most likely that God also intended rest and recreation in the home. Just as I have found ways to avoid boredom during those three months in convalescence, so it was more than likely that the ancient Israeli farmer took that year as a time of rest, recreation, and rejoicing.

The fact that by the time Israel had become a kingdom with King Saul being the first monarch, the practice of the seventh year sabbatical was all but abandoned and forgotten, most likely due to a lack of faith in God's provisions. By the time King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had sacked Jerusalem in 586 BC, there had been 490 years of kingdom rule where the seventh year of sabbatical rest was never observed across Israel, and therefore the land owed God seventy years of sabbatical rest, hence the seventy year Exile which the King of Babylon unwittingly ushered in.

Rather than getting into deep Bible study here, it is worth mentioning that taking a sabbatical sometime during one's working life is psychologically healthy, endorsed by God himself, and I believe that to this day, every working family, couple, or single person should take a sabbatical. Yes, I'm aware that you as a reader me throw up your arms in horror and ask, "What about our finances, our bills to pay, our food and drink, and our general welfare?"

I bet those early Israelites must have gasped the very same kind of question. "How then are we going to eat? Or trade our goods if we don't plough, sow, and reap our harvest?" But that's where their trust in God comes in. If he is not able to meet their needs, surely he wouldn't have passed the law in the first place. As King David said to the two criminals who thought they were doing him a favour, he declared:
As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of all trouble...2 Samuel 4:9.

This was not my first sabbatical. Back in 1997, I took eleven weeks off work to do a little travelling, and flew to Singapore, Australia, and California. And I can declare, without an iota of exaggeration, that not only God watched over my window cleaning business as it lay fallow, which is to say, no loss of clients - but my bank accounts remained stable, my apartment wasn't broken into, and while I was away, I remained healthy and free from any illness, I didn't come to any harm, neither was I mugged or robbed, and actually returned home with some change, and remained free of debt, except for a credit card payment for a bed at a hostel, and that was due to shortsightedness on my part when the Queen's birthday meant a bank holiday in Australia, and I had forgotten to cash a traveller's cheque.

But I can testify of God's care throughout the time I was not at work, and this post-op convalescence was no different. True enough, it was very difficult to have gotten the Benefits going, but I had never ran low on finance, neither had we gone hungry, or ran up debts. Rather, under God's loving care, we both enjoyed being together, and as I return to work on Monday, so God's loving care will go on as long as we live. 

Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Lone Figure Knocks on #10.

Gosh, this has been quite a week! A week of shocking unexpectedness as David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, walking back into number 10 Downing Street. The surprise came after weeks of speculation on who will win the 2015 General Election, and form the next Government. So the pollsters went out canvassing - in the streets, at the front door, via the phone, on the Internet, and all concluded that there would be no clear winner, and so they - the pollsters - then speculated a coalition: either between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats as was the case of the last Parliament, or that of the Labour Party in coalition with the Scottish National Party. And so, right wing newspapers pleads with the electorate to vote Tory, while newspapers with a left wing leaning exhorted us to vote for Labour.

Boring stuff? Or are you sick enough of British politics to have it spilling out of your ears? Yea, I felt that at times too. But the Tory victory has sent shock waves across the nation, and pollsters running round like headless chickens while pondering on how they missed the target by such a wide margin when it came to predicting the final outcome. According to the Press, the win by the Conservatives was not because they sent a high level of inspiration during the weeks of campaigning, but rather for two reasons: first, the idea of a left wing socialist party allied to a further extreme left wing Scottish party, had no appeal to Middle England. And secondly, there were many "shy Tories" who either weren't truthful when asked by a canvasser, or were genuinely undecided, and plunged for the Tories at the very last moment when standing alone in the privacy of the polling booth. It was the "shy Tory supporter" who probably made a considerable impact, as such a political group are often referred to as the Nasty Party, or the Party for the Rich - was more likely to lie to the pollster just to save himself from embarrassment.

Than the case of Edward Miliband, former leader of the Labour Party. Known as "Red Ed" for his Marxist Socialist standing, he has now resigned from his post. Back in 2010, he "stabbed his brother in the back" so to speak, to win the vote for the job of party leader. David Miliband, Edward's elder brother, had a centre-ground standing in the political arena, and he was against the Trade Union paymaster's demand to go towards the Left. Instead, his younger brother took the helm while David dropped out of politics altogether to take up a post at a charity in the United States. And that has changed political history for a long time, at least. For it is generally agreed, even by right wing newspapers, that David Miliband would have strolled into victory with little challenge, and with greater enthusiasm from the electorate. So as it looks, to me at least, it was not the Englishman's love for the Conservatives that had got them back into power, but a case of having the devil they knew, rather than the devil they did not know, to govern their country.

So all this drama of political infighting would make for a good TV soap opera, would it not? No matter how extensive each political party is committed in making our livelihoods better, or to turn this nation locked in turmoil into something of a Utopia - for many millennia, human governments, with all of them believing that they have the right answers, had failed to achieve their Utopian ideals. Amazing isn't it? Thousands of years of practice and nobody has ever got it right. Realising this, on polling day itself, I posted a message on Facebook saying that a lonely figure was standing at the famous black door of 10 Downing Street, gently knocking, and with what appears to be a wound at his hand. I was rather surprised at the small response such a statement had collected, since most of my Facebook friends are believers. But I'll be honest here, my statement isn't entirely original. A few decades ago, someone had a vision of the United Nations Building in New York City. In his vision, a gigantic figure of Jesus Christ was standing outside the shimmering glass edifice, gently knocking. Such a vision became the talk of the town.

Meanwhile, there had been something of a controversy over a painting hanging inside St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The artwork was created by William Holman Hunt, and the picture depicts the Lord Jesus knocking on a door which looks as if it had never been opened. The controversy was between one group of Bible students versus another group. One group believed that the painting depicted John 8:12, where Jesus calls himself the Light of the World, and is seen here holding a lit lamp in one hand, while with the other he knocks at the door, and he was calling the resident to come out of his house and follow him. The other interpretation is taken from Revelation 3:20, where Jesus is seen knocking at the door of a man's heart, and asking to be let in, and have supper with him in his own home. 

I recall December 1972, on a cold wet Saturday night, walking through the Strand in central London when I was stopped by two young men in the street, and asked my opinion about Jesus Christ. Being wet from the rain, I invited them into a nearby bar, where it was warm and dry, and I bought them each a drink. It was there in that pub that they took out a Bible and had shown me Revelation 3:20, along with a number of other Scriptures, mainly from the Gospel of John, and explained to me about "asking Jesus to come into my heart" - nowadays known as the sinner's prayer. It was the first time ever that I heard of such a concept, but in throughout the 1970's it seems to be the rage, originating, I believe, from America.  But it was later in the same decade that I heard the pastor of one of my former churches debunking Revelation 3:20 as a conversion verse from sinner to saint. So what does that verse actually say?

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and sup with him, and he with me.

The pastor's argument was that this verse was addressed to a church of believers in Laodicea, a city in what is now Western Turkey, and a renowned centre for medicine. The church there had lost their zeal they once had, and had become lukewarm in their commitment to the Lord. If they didn't mend their ways, then Jesus would "spit them out of his mouth" - a reference of the demise of the church as a local assembly of believers, and not meaning the loss of individual salvation as some have interpreted. Maybe it is this pastor's interpretation of the text that has been the basis of putting off many from responding to my Facebook post. To them, the idea of Jesus knocking on the door for admission does not seem to be Biblical, and even among our present church elders, the "sinner's prayer" as we know it, is not accepted by them as a means of conversion. 

But I have heard and read numerous testimonies on how "asking Jesus into the heart" has changed the lives of those who had said the prayer, and how they grew up spiritually to become mature Christians. This has made me think that the onus is not so much on the words spoken as on the attitude of the heart of the person praying. Personally I believe it is okay for a person to recite such a prayer if it's based on his new found faith. I would not say it is mandatory for conversion, neither would I say that not praying it means a non-conversion. There seems to be many conversions recorded in the New Testament which does not seem to include the prayer - the conversion of the three thousand Jews at Pentecost is one example (Acts 2), and the healing of a lame man at the Beautiful Gate seems to be another (Acts 3). The Ethiopian eunuch, after being shown the Scriptures by evangelist Philip, simply confessed that Jesus is the Son of God. That was enough to merit baptism in a nearby pond, testifying to the genuineness of his conversion (Acts 8:26:40). 

And concerning the above mentioned church leader, here is where I find the rub. Apart from Revelation 3:20, there are other verses in the New Testament which indicates that Jesus dwells in the heart. Obviously not in the physical blood pump located in the chest, but in the human spirit. In Ephesians 3:17, Paul exhorts his readers to allow Christ to dwell in their hearts by faith, as in John 14:23 where Jesus promises the entire Trinity dwelling within him who loves God and keep his commandments. But I believe that it is wise to pray the "sinner's prayer" at conversion, and there is a verse, spoken by Jesus himself, which strongly encourages this. It is found in Luke 11:13, where Jesus makes a solemn promise that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to all who asks of him. And this promise is unconditional, given to men with evil hearts, but with enough faith to believe in the willingness of God to grant their requests.

It is of my opinion that Luke 11:13 is the most demonstrative verse in the entire Bible about God's free grace. And straight out of the mouth of Jesus himself. Because we believe that the Father is Almighty God, the Son is Almighty God, and the Holy Spirit is Almighty God, but that does not make three Almighty Gods but one Almighty God. If one has enough faith to ask for the Holy Spirit to enter into him and the request is granted by the Father, according to the Son's own testimony, such a request is exactly the same as asking Jesus himself to come into the heart. I have even read the testimony of one asking God himself to come into his heart, and the resulting change in his life provided edifying reading. Little wonder that many who testify to the sinner's prayer have enjoyed changed lives. 

The vision of Jesus knocking on the door of a person's heart is not a fluke, according to Revelation 3:20. Neither is the gigantic version of Jesus knocking on the shimmering skyscraper of the United Nations building. Nor is it weird to think of Jesus Christ knocking on the door of 10 Downing Street. The truth is: every man and woman alike is in a desperate need of God to fill their lives, everyone without exception. That is the reason why we are are here. To know God, and to partake in his infinite love already existing between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The existence of human government is because of our fallen natures, our evil hearts spoilt by sin, and as a result, governing authorities were a necessary placement by God himself to keep evil under restraint, according to what Paul writes in Romans 13. We can conclude, therefore, that the main principle of our Prime Minister's duties is to keep evil under check, so that men can live in peace with each other, and the Gospel can be spread without hindrance.

Regardless on who wins and loses the Election.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Test of Patience.

Sitting in the waiting room at the local surgery, my appointment was at 10.40 on a typical Monday morning. But not to see a doctor, but one of the two nurses on duty, to give a blood sample for an I.N.R. test, in preparation for a lifelong course of anticoagulants, such as Warfarin, as a result of suffering from Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation, or to translate into English, an irregular heartbeat, following the cardiac procedure of having a new Aortic Valve sewn inside my chest back in February.

While one patient after another was called in to the office of one of the nurses, I remained waiting - and waiting - near the main reception. Then about half an hour later, another patient walks into the building and registers his appointment, then sits in the waiting room two rows in front of mine. My guess is that he was in his mid thirties. He was unshaven, maybe using his stubble to emphasise his look of feeling unwell. This must have done the trick, because just five minutes later, the nurse came out of her office to call him in by name. And that's the rub. Calling him in personally by name. Normally, the large computer screen on the wall does the calling. But not that morning, for the computer crashed yet again, which seems to be rather frequent in that particular surgery. Oh well, next time I have an appointment there, I'll make sure I don't shave beforehand. Because there was another half-hour wait before I was eventually called in, during that time I watched our unshaven friend leave the office and the building altogether and heading in the direction of the car park, while another patient, a female who spent her time moaning about her delay in returning to work, was called in by the same nurse a good while before my turn came.

What was the cause of a full hour's wait, when I should have waited just somewhere between five to ten minutes? First the computer crash screwed up that morning's schedule, keeping us waiting longer than was necessary. And secondly, and this is where I felt the real pinch, was that the nurse who eventually tended to my treatment was not the nurse I was booked in to visit. Rather, what she was doing was tending to all the remaining patients who were scheduled to see the other nurse, to whom I was originally booked in to visit. 

Once inside her office, she took the blood sample so vital for the correct medication. But keeping calm in this situation was not easy, believe me. She herself expressed her anger and frustration, almost taking it out on me, as I cracked a joke in an attempt to ease the tension in the air. Her pent up feelings was aimed at her colleague literally next door, who had tended to just one patient to what must have been close to a full hour, if not longer. I could not help but ponder: What the heck was going on in that consultation room? A full scale operation? So it seemed. But that morning was one of the severest tests of patience I had to endure for a long time.

And that's the whole gist of it. So many people needing treatment, or of needing attention one way or another. Like the hell of superstore checkouts.  As earlier in the day, when I went out to do the weekly shop. There were queues of shoppers waiting to pay for their items at the few checkouts that were operative, while there was a large area of deserted space testifying to the greater row of unattended tills, I believe, in some money-saving scheme. Then, lining up to be served, there is often so much unnecessary waiting while the (usually female) customer quibbles with the teller over the validity of a voucher meant to save her a few pence from the overall payment. But at least we are at present living in better days with the advent of the electronic bank card. I recall the dread of the old days when the customer being served reached into her handbag and fished out her chequebook. That was when I knew that I should have brought in my tent to set up camp there!

Then again, I have much to be thankful for. For one who does not own or drive a vehicle, I have managed to avoid hours upon hours of the daily commute. I recall a friend having to take me to hospital, either to visit a consultant, or for my wife to attend treatment, during the morning or evening rush hour. The unavoidable traffic congestion up ahead did pose a very real threat to the appointment, and I have wondered how one manages to get to his workplace on time every weekday morning. The frustration of it all when I consider the sheer lunacy which came with the invention of the motor car. I bet the original inventors had never foreseen or predicted the lines of traffic at a standstill due to a truck jackknifing when an impatient car driver swerves to overtake another, or due to some other miscreant. Or the natural habit of rubbernecking - a traffic snarl-up caused when curious drivers slow down to turn and look at something unusual on the other side of the road, or on an adjoining field.

Oh, the insanity of having such a huge, motorised box to move just one person from one location to another, when the same capacity can hold four, maybe five people at the same time. But then with such a convenient commodity, I guess there is something magical about the privacy of lone travel, and the full control of the wheel, which is not quite the same while having passengers, and certainly not while sitting in a train or bus. But being stuck in a jam, or even frustrated by a slow car driver in front, or that of an articulated lorry, or worst of all, held back by a slow crawling tractor on a narrow winding road is surely enough to blow the fuse of not a few drivers, yet as it has always appeared on the outside, there are hardly any instances of road rage. At least not over here in the UK, where narrow country roads are prevalent. On the other hand, out in the United States where freeways are wide and straight, there does seem to be far less snarl-ups, at least when I became aware of this while travelling interstate on the Greyhound bus network.

But here in Britain we are either icons of infinite patience, or perhaps our British stiff upper lips make us the most stoic nation in the world! And this was no better demonstrated as during the morning rush hour earlier in the week, when a power failure caused one of the busiest rail systems into London to have come to a standstill for up to five hours. According to the Press and related video clips, there was not a stir within any of the stranded trains except some mild complaints from one or two females over the stuffiness caused by trapped heat inside the carriages. A video was also shown of a train stuck in the middle of nowhere releasing all its passengers over a makeshift ladder attached to one of its doors. Each passenger might as well have been a zombie, as their faces were just as expressionless. 

Which was a reminder, had I have been one of the passengers on that line, stuck for hours on board a train. One of the system's lines was the one linking London with Gatwick International Airport, then onward to the coast. Suppose I had a flight to board at Gatwick? That had occurred several times in the past. How would I have felt? Panic? Frightened out of my wits? To be honest, I have doubts whether I could have sat like a zombie throughout the ordeal, knowing full well that any chances of boarding the flight would have been scuppered. All sorts of thoughts would have passed through my mind. Would they let me board another flight later in the day? Or perhaps the next day? Or even a week later if they also allow me to return home a week later as well? If none applies, would I get enough compensation to make a fresh booking? I doubt that I would have been able to contain my emotions. I'll be wanting to talk, to hear an expert tell me the outcome of a missed flight. Anything but the dreaded silence of British stoicism.

And talking of Gatwick Airport, I recall 1978. What a blood curdling experience I had when I witnessed patience running out completely and the strong, stiff upper lip had melted. It was during a strike by the French Air Traffic Control workers. As a result, all flights across Europe were delayed or suspended. That morning, a group meant to fly to Spain stood waiting at the departure gate, ready to board the 'plane waiting outside. Then the intercom announced through the spacious corridor to all passengers for that particular flight to return to the departure lounge. Apparently, they had to be called back several times within the last few hours, possibly even overnight. A young man, about my age, suddenly let out a series of demonic screams, and I felt my hair stand on end. Such what happens when patience runs out. Fortunately for me, who was close by, my flight out to New York was unaffected by the strike, and it took off on time. But that scream was something I have never allowed to be forgotten.

The young man's scream at the airport was a direct opposite to the apostle's instruction to "Count it all joy when tribulation comes" (James 1:2-3). And I'm convinced that the British stoicism such as shown in a stranded train was not from James' writings either, as this stoicism is from the flesh, earthly, borne from unbelief, and as such, not from the Holy Spirit. Nor being stuck in traffic, or at a superstore checkout line. But at the doctor's surgery, I have found praying to be a good tonic. That was why I had it in me to try and cheer the nurse up after I was called in. Okay, so I got it wrong, but it would have been considerably worse had I allowed my natural feelings to predominate.

To be joyful in a hostile situation is as far from being natural enough to be classed as a miracle. Only being filled with the Holy Spirit can bring peace in a situation, for example, when being stuck in a stranded train while on the way to the airport. Through the power of the Holy Spirit comes the realisation of God's sovereignty, and that he is not only aware of the situation, but he actually planned it, for my own good. (Romans 8:28). Know of the omniscience, omnipresence, and the omnipotence of God would replace despair in my situation with a level of peace, if not actually with feelings of joy.

This is not mere words on your computer screen. I have known what it was like being stuck at the airport departure lounge for six hours, as I waited to board the airline for Israel. The delay was due to a part within the airplane in a state of disrepair, and in need to be replaced. At first I felt myself falling into despair. Then I watched a group of orthodox Jews taking in the situation calmly, then some in that group actually fell asleep. And here was I walking around the departure lounge like a beast in captivity, walking round and round the cage. The only way I could calm down was to pray, and ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Only then did I feel a greater sense of peace. That was in 1993, and it was a lesson well worth learning, as far more serious tests were to come in the years ahead.

Patience is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. As a natural man, the lack of patience is one of my main weaknesses. The Holy Spirit provides strength to meet every weakness in my natural self. And one of the strengths is patience, and it is there for the asking, since the Father in heaven is more than willing to give the Holy Spirit to whoever asks. He is glad to answer such a request.