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Saturday, 27 June 2015

A Mere Coincidence?

The Greyhound bus cruised smoothly along the Pacific Highway heading in a South-Easterly direction along the coastline of Queensland, Australia. As this vehicle was one of a brand new fleet of coaches recently acquired by the company, eating and drinking on board were strictly forbidden - except the sucking of peppermints. Little wonder that the sale of Trebor and Polo mints were high on the agenda, with tuck shops heavily stocked with such confection and little of anything else.

So the pleasant imagination of this free and single British backpacker was allowed unlimited access to his mind, as he ponders on his recent adventures. Like that beautiful tropical beach at Sentosa Island, Singapore, thickly lined with palm trees, among where a wooden shack which served as an outdoor bar has given the area a real Copacabana-style atmosphere. After a lengthy swim in the warm Indian Ocean, the backpacker then finds himself sipping a very pleasant-tasting locally-brewed alcoholic drink, a pint glass from which a Singaporean sitting next to him was also drinking, and from whom the traveller, who had dampened his wooden seat while wearing wet shorts and yet a dry singlet, had gotten his inspiration to try out the beverage. 

And then, a little later, after an overnight flight across the Oceania Islands such as Indonesia, and perhaps over the tiny island of Timor-Leste, the travel enthusiast, after settling down at a Backpacker's Hostel in Cairns, then took the morning catamaran to Low Isles from Port Douglas. Here at the Great Barrier Reef, not far off the coast of North Queensland, he hired snorkeling gear, and with a purpose-designed, single-use underwater camera purchased on board, he took photos of the fabulous coral reef with its abundant marine life just off the island's coarse sandy beach.

And then afterwards, after spending a further few days in the tropical "Winter" heat of Townsville, which was a gateway to Magnetic Island with fantastic hilltop views of its imposing and wild Radical Beach, he was once again heading South, towards Arlie Beach, the gateway to Cook Islands, a part-sunken mountain range, hence dubbed "Continental Islands" as opposed to "Coral Cay" as was the case with Low Isles. One of the islands in this archipelago - Heron Island - has a luxurious fringe reef which featured the famous Brain Coral, as well as giant clams, and schools of brightly-coloured fish, particularly of the striped Zebra variety. Not only the backpacker felt that he was already in Heaven wearing goggles and snorkel, but also became an enthusiastic convert to marine biology.

There was something absolutely wonderful about long-haul independent travel! Not only were all his daily responsibilities left well and truly behind, but his family, along with all friends and acquaintances were far, far away - some 11,000 miles 17,800 km distant, a fact confirmed by just looking up at the cloudless night sky, where the Southern Cross constellation was backed by a distinct hazy band of the Milky Way coursing across the heavens from horizon to horizon. Not the sort of view seen from the Northern Hemisphere, or at least certainly not from the British suburbia. As such, half a world away from anyone who knew him, he sat alone at a table at a bus station restaurant, consuming a snack to satisfy his appetite before re-boarding the bus. Then pulling in from the opposite direction as it journeyed North, another Greyhound bus emptied its passengers into the self-service buffet as it also stopped for the one-hour on-route service. Then about five minutes later:-


He jolted from his semi-doze, and looked up to see a young backpacker looking straight down at him. 

"You know me! But who are you?"
"You don't remember? That hostel in St Louis?"
"Yes, I stopped in St. Louis on my way to San Francisco nearly two years ago."
"Then you don't recall when I gave you that map in the kitchen?"
"By heck! I do recall the incident. When I was without (a Greyhound route map of the USA) you gave me a spare one. I recall. What are you doing here?"
"I guess the same as you. Travelling across Australia."
"And you picked the same place and the same time of the year to travel. And we meet again, purely by chance. Amazing!"

Just then the announcement came for us to board, if I wanted to continue with the journey. I said goodbye and proceeded to the waiting coach. The wonder of backpacking, which is very different from an escorted coach tour, the latter in which the entire group stay together throughout the whole trip, and led by a ranger who decides on the location and duration of each stop. In my case I was alone, and had to book in advance for every leg of the journey from Cairns to Sydney. Then to add to this, I could choose any destination, choose any hotel or hostel, do my own shopping, cooking, and use of the launderette, and stay at any one stop as long as I desired. If I had found the venue to be inspiring, it would have been easy for me to extend the stay by booking an extra night or two at the hostel. If not, then providing that a seat is available on the next bus out, I can leave on the same day, maybe even after a couple of hours. That's the wonder of holding a national bus pass, normally available only to travellers from overseas.

Backpacking Australia, 1997

The conversation in that buffet was a meeting by pure chance with someone I became friends with nearly two years earlier, when I backpacked across the United States in 1995, using the same method of travel by holding a Greyhound Bus Ameripass ticket, which for a month, allowed me to travel freely to any part of the country. That particular trip also held wonderful memories. This included hiking into the Grand Canyon in Arizona, where at the bottom I stood at the banks of the Colorado River, unseen from South Rim Village where all the tourists flock. At night, while standing by Bright Angel Creek which flows into the main river, I looked up to see a magnificent display of stars and constellations of the Northern Hemisphere I had never seen before in my entire life!  Wow, no wonder God had challenged Abraham to count the stars (Genesis 15:5) - "So shall your offspring be."

It was at the Huckleberry Hostel in St Louis, Missouri, when this guy and I found ourselves chatting away in the kitchen while cooking our evening meals, and I was moaning that I had left the Greyhound Bus route map at home by mistake, a silly thing to do, I guess, because it came with the Pass ticket, which I was careful to pack. Fortunately, this fellow helped me out by giving me a spare map. Strange really, but during that chance meeting in Australia two years later, he recognised me straightaway. But I didn't recognise him myself until he identified himself. 

Pure chance? A coincidence? No, rather I believe that God himself has a sense of humour, and predestined this meeting from eternity past. Not only that, but had actually arrange with precise timing and location of the encounter, brief as it was, which took place in June 1997, about eighteen months before I met my future wife Alex. And I could see a connection between these things and that of an incident which occurred in London only last Sunday. 

At present, I'm still on a self-imposed "exile" from my home church in Ascot when, on the ninth Sunday of my sabbatical, I paid a visit to Westminster Chapel in London. I have fond memories of that particular church. Early in our marriage, before our first daughter was born, I took my wife there for a "Prayer for Israel" all-day Saturday Conference, headed by the late Lance Lambert, an expert on Biblical Prophecy, particularly on God's future dealings and blessings for the nation of Israel. Lambert, unlike my experience with the majority of Messianic teachers, believed in and advocated Eternal Security of the Believer, making his teachings on God's promises to Israel particularly powerful. 

But this Sunday, I wanted to sample a typical weekly service. I found my experience both glad with a lace of sorrow. Glad to feel the strong presence of the Holy Spirit, and the friendliness of those who greeted me and spent time for a chat. But sad about the abundance of empty pews, along with totally deserted balconies. The building could have easily have held three to four times the size of the congregation which was present that Sunday. One explanation was that many of the students (primarily of the University of London) had finished their term, and had gone home. For this, I'll most likely return, probably in late October or early November.

But the sense of the presence of God could not be mistaken, as the preach was about Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, with an emphasis on Eternal Security. I felt so moved, as if I was floating on air! Here was something so edifying, so uplifting, that I could have stood up and shouted praises to God. It was after the service had ended and I was heading back to Victoria Station to board a train home when something rather unpredictable happened. Along the route from the chapel to the station, the Westminster Cathedral stands majestically. This is the seat of the Cardinal of London, second only to the Pope in Rome. More than that, this was the church where I was baptised as a Catholic in 1952, when I was a few weeks old. So as I passed it, I decided to take a peek inside.

The interior was huge, cavernous, and gloomy. The very high ceiling was blackened, as if soot from the many candles which burned for centuries around the sanctuary had slowly accumulated over the ages. Above the Altar, an enormous Crucifix hung, with an image of the dead Jesus Christ painted on it, his lifeless head slumped over his chest. In one of the side chapels, a service was taking place, or rather a musical chant, the same words sung over and over again which had a mesmerising impact as I listened:

Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy,
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy.

So the chant went on and on, without deviating. As I strolled out of the building, I found myself walking along through Victoria Street, chanting away - such was the mesmerising power it had on me.

But was this all a coincidence? How can I connect this incident with the chance meeting back in Australia? Basically, both were unplanned by me, and both was the result of off-chance timing. Yes, the walk into the Cathedral was a decision on my part, as was the route I chose to travel on Down Under. But the chance meeting, along with my ignorance of what went on inside the church were occasions beyond my control, but neither they were coincidences. Rather, as I believe, they were both fore-planned by God himself.  

But why did God had wanted me to see and listen to the chanting? Immediately upon hearing it, I sensed something was not right, although at the time I could not put my finger on it. I could not let go of such a rhythm, because it had such a powerful hold on me. Rather it went round and round my head. Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy...

It was during the working week which followed that something of an answer to this mystery began to dawn. It's was all down to one word, Acquittal. I visualised someone who was standing in front of a magistrate in Court. His crime was burglary, stealing valuable goods to try to contribute towards a massive debt he could not pay, for his bank account was overdrawn by several thousand pounds. He was sentenced to prison until his debt was paid, which would take many years. Then someone very rich like John D. Rockefeller arrived and not only paid the defendant's debt, but also credited over a million pounds into his bank account. No longer overdrawn, the defendant can buy anything he wants.

And that's where the chanting was so misplaced. How would Rockefeller had felt if the defendant pleaded with him for mercy, after his debt was paid off, and in addition, so much imputed into his account? All the defendant had to do was believe and accept what he had received, and to demonstrate his faith, simply to say, Thank you so much, sir. No amount of chanting can change the situation. He was free, and nothing can add to his freedom.

God knows best. And if he can make things happen against all odds, I'm sure we can entrust our futures into his hands, no matter where we are.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

God's Promises Will Stand.

A few days ago I requested an appointment to see a Doctor at our local surgery, for two issues. The first was that of a development of a bruise on my upper arm, a solid black circle about an inch in diameter, which had formed for no apparent reason, since being over the bicep area, a site unlikely to receive any blows or other forms of external injury. Despite the total lack of pain accompanying the bruise, my wife was more alarmed at the site than I was, and pleaded me to see the G.P. The other issue was at the base of the left foot, just above the ankle, when around mid-afternoon onward, a sharp searing pain envelopes the joint, making the use of the ladder at work very difficult indeed, as well as having to limp along instead of walking properly.

Perhaps there is that masculine trait in me about not wanting to see the doctor. Basically, I have that hunch about wasting the G.P's time, when he has other patients with far more serious complaints to deal with. Yes, I have read posters about people crowding the Accident and Emergency department of a hospital, even for something as trivial as a headache, but wasting valuable N.H.S. resources is something I was determined to stay clear of. After all, I don't want either myself or others around to see me as a whiny wimp who runs to the Doctor every time I cough, belch or fart. But the reason for my wife's concern about the bruise was because I take an anticoagulant medicine on a regular daily basis, which I must for the rest of my life, or risk suffering a stroke. On the leaflet which comes with every packet of pills, under possible side effects, I was warned to see a Doctor straight away if bruising occurs, short of an external injury. I suppose there was something about not visiting the Doctor, despite my wife's pleas. Perhaps it was not wanting to receive a telling-off from such a professional, instead to be told to man up, don't be so whiny, and stop wasting his time.

Like about twelve months previously, when I woke up about two or three o'clock in the morning gasping for air, like a man who had just ran a foot-race and crossed the finish line. This, together with rumbling of the chest and feeling of a drowning sensation, which threefold symptom repeated itself night after night for a couple of weeks. Back then, my dear wife persuaded me to visit the Doctor, even when I believed it was nothing more than a bug which would eventually get fed up and leave. But she won the argument, and I reluctantly went, only to be eventually diagnosed with a heart problem and in need of an operation to put it right. Whiny indeed!

So it came as not a surprise when I called at the surgery's reception, only to be told that there was no appointment available that day, and all time slots were fully booked up. And that was not even on a Monday or a Friday when the surgery is particularly busy. Instead, by submitting my mobile phone number to Reception, the Doctor would contact me as soon as possible. And so he did. He called me in to have a blood test done straight away, for I might have gone over the limit with the anticoagulants, making my blood "too thin" - hence the cause of the bruising. As for my foot problem, I gave an accurate description of the symptoms as I possibly could have done. He seemed rather familiar with the complaint, for he came back with Arthritis as the cause of the problem. Arthritis! The "old man's illness" as it is so traditionally believed. What amazes me was that as recently as eighteen months previously I was considering the possibility of working right up to my seventieth birthday, as I felt on top of the world, even though milder symptoms of arthritis in the feet were already being felt. But back then, I thought all these were a passing phase. 

Things look so different now. With such a recent cardiac procedure, a lifetime on medicine, and now arthritis in the feet to contend with us well, I have arrived at the crossroads for early retirement. But not just for my health's sake but that of my wife as well. During the three months convalescence, one thing which has added further joy and strength to our marriage was my role of carer, and I won't beat about the bush here, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the return to work I saw more of a set back rather than progress. Maybe, as one of our church elders had put it; it is time for me to retire from work to spend more time together, and to enjoy the rich blessings God has for us. However, for what I can see and have experienced over the last few years, our Doctor's surgery has always been very busy, with patients of all ages, gender, and social class packing the waiting room in front of Reception.

And where we live is at a typical middle-class suburbia. We have neighbouring streets where not only every home is a detached house with private front and back gardens, but with average ownership of two to three cars. Around here people are generally well-off, and have professional careers, yet the number of busy surgeries dotted around the district testifying that the health of our nation isn't that great. And we are not even the worst. Nearer to London there was a media report on one surgery that was so busy, that patients literally queuing up outside the doors, with a hope of seeing a doctor face-to-face on the same day. Not to mention Accident and Emergency departments of all hospitals across the land where the average waiting time is four hours per patient.

It makes me ponder why, in such a rich country, there is such a high rate of illness and the need for treatments. Even I can testify of a two-week delay with my own cardiac procedure, due to the intensive care ward being chock-a-block, and therefore receiving two cancellation notices, each a week apart, prior to the operation. As I have mentioned in earlier blogs, the combined emotion of worry, anger, and fear are the "big three" health-wrecking emotions, together with the feeling of frustration, along with the British perception of sharing emotional talk as weak and unmanly. Uncertainty of the future is one of the major cause of anxiety, as in my case, as well as not being sure which direction our present Government is leading our country.

Fear is the biggest enemy to health, and it comes with various levels such as terror, worry, and anxiety. Fear of the future - the fear of job loss, prolonged unemployment, illness, the threat of poverty, ending up in a Civil Court over a dispute about benefits, failure in mortgage or rent payments, or anything which threatens our peace. All these can make a strong person end up as a hospital patient. As retirement is very close to my mind at the moment, would our present Government move the goalposts, forcing me to work for an income until a later age? Would they do away with Housing Benefit, a wonderful godsend for those tenants struggling with high rents? And so-to-speak, would our leaders snap a whip across my back to get me to work into old age, even while physically impaired, so that the rich can be spared from paying too high taxes, if any taxes at all? Should I feel pity, if not deep anxiety for my daughters' future? What kind of a world are we handing over to them?

Yet despite all this doom and gloom, there is a wonderful source of hope!

One of our wedding songs sang during the church ceremony was Father God. The first verse goes like this:
Father God I wonder how I managed to exist without the knowledge of your parenthood and your loving care? Now I am you son, I am adopted in your family, and I can never be alone 'cause Father God, you're there beside me.

This was sang by us and by the congregation at our wedding, and to me at least, it's one of the most assuring songs ever written, and it is my wife's favourite. The chorus goes:
I will sing your praises! I will sing your praises! I will sing you Praises! For evermore -
And this is repeated as many times as one desires.

And this song is based on the surety of God's promises, as well as through day-to-day living. One of the best examples of this took place in the Garden of Eden, at the dawn of history. Immediately after the Fall of Adam and Eve, God passes judgement (Genesis 3:14-19) which contains the promise that the serpent's head will be bruised by the seed of the woman, who in turn will have his heel bruised in the process - verse 15 - which is a good description of the Crucifixion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then the calling of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through whom the seed is promised. The institution of the Jewish Passover further endorses this promise, which comes up repeatedly throughout prophecy, such as Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and Zechariah 9:9, and many more. God's promise to restore Israel as a nation in the future from this point of time is assured, particularly in Isaiah chapters 11 and 66, Jeremiah chapters 30 and 31, Ezekiel chapters 36 and 37, and Zechariah chapters 10 -14. All of these promises, and many more, are solid-rock certain, they will be fulfilled. Therefore if God is all sovereign, and he is fully omniscient as well as omnipotent and omnipresent, then surely not only does he have the whole world in his hands, but the very exact number of days we have has already been determined by him. He knows our thoughts, our feelings, our joy and our anxieties. He already knows what we will say and do in the future even before any of them come to pass.

As one of the sermons I have listened to in recent weeks, God knows best, and everything which happens to us works for the good for those who love him, that is to say, for every believer. But this does not leave us without any choice. For Peter himself writes in his letter:
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you 1 Peter 5:7.

That is a promise that I should look upon in times like these. God cares for me. So if I want to retire two years before the official age, why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't I revel in the goodness and blessing of God while caring for my lame wife, and adding further strength, romance, and sparkle into our marriage? I think God has already said "Yes" to such a move. Signs seem to point to this. So why not? Should I accept "slave status" from the present Government simply because I happen to be working class, poorly educated, and a mere average earner, as opposed to being a rich company executive or a celebrity? No, I won't accept such a status! Instead, I'll go by what God has said of me, that as a true believer, I am his, I am adopted into his family, and I can never be alone to face a cruel world. It can be said that the world may go as far as kill my body, but it can never change my mind.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Reminisce - A Sporting Trinity

Earlier this week I had attended my final rehab class, in a course of twelve sessions following a cardiac procedure back in February. As I was sitting at the bank of the River Thames, watching the flocks of swans, ducks and geese hanging around the water's edge in anticipation of a feed from a benevolent human, I mused over the future, the coming days, weeks, months, and years, and what could be lying ahead. I thought of retirement from my daily grind as a self-employed window cleaner, and anticipated the many occasions when I can sit by the river and blissfully watch life carrying on without a care in the world. Maybe that is a wonder about growing old, and letting the more vigorous younger generation bear the world on their shoulders, as I have done for nearly half a century.

But for me it's far from having one foot in the grave as I rose to make my way to the Leisure Centre. Behind me, at Alexander Park, something very unusual was shaping up. Rows upon rows of empty scaffolding, already set up, along with billboards and direction signs still lying on the grass waiting to be positioned accordingly, booths and other paraphernalia all testifying that just two days hence, the 25th Windsor Triathlon will have its transition centre right here. I was fortunate enough to find myself in a conversation with one of the organisers, a dear elderly fellow in his eighties, yet could pass as someone in his fifties, as he himself was an active athlete in his heyday. He told me how he got involved in setting up the facilities needed for the smooth running of the event, and how he was also involved in the 2012 London Olympics. He explained to me about the entry fee of £100 per entrant, with an already full capacity of a thousand competitors, with more triathletes "on standby" should a no-show occur on the day. Wow! With a revenue of £100,000 raised out of entry fees alone, it was of no surprise to me that the organisers could splash out on every feature and facility one can imagine, including the closing of roads to traffic during the event. 

Then he made me feel how I was left behind when he explained about the fashionable bicycles each competitor owned, nearly all running into thousands of pounds to buy, and would never be seen leaning on a lamppost in the High Street - with more of the idea of "keeping up with the Joneses" rather than just practical purposes, together with wetsuits, high performance running shoes, along with other expensive regalia to ensure that the modern triathlete is "with it" and not feeling left behind when fashion moves on. Indeed, we both came to an agreement that the Triathlon has evolved into an elitist, rich man's sport - practically all participants in highly lucrative professional careers which to them with such high salaries, competing in a Triathlon is merely "ten a penny" throughout the Summer season.

All this I could not help but reminiscence back thirty years when Triathlon, with an average entry fee of about £12, was within easy reach of Joe Public. I was a typical competitor during mid to late 1980's, very much a Mr Average man in the street. But this triple-discipline event of swimming, cycling, and running bestowed upon me the highest level of physical fitness, mental health, and as a believer, spiritual stability - all three combined - I have ever enjoyed throughout life. I recall reading the story of the birth of the sport, in Hawaii, back in October 1977 when three athletes were having a discussion in a bar to which of the three activities resulted in greater fitness - swimming, cycling, or running? Unable to draw a conclusion, a solution was conjured up - why not combine all three into one event? So the first Ironman Triathlon was held in February 1978, consisting of a 2.4 mile sea swim, immediately followed by a 112 mile cycle ride, then finished off with a 26 mile marathon run. It was won by Gordon Haller in just under twelve hours.

This event spawned many others, particularly scaled down events across America, including the Tinman, before catching on in Britain and Europe. The inaugural UK Triathlon took place in Newham, East London, in the Summer of 1984. Just less than two years later, after running half-marathons to raise funds for a charity, I was introduced to the sport in Spring 1986. This opened a door to a very exciting opportunity for physical fitness, together with the camaraderie which came with it, an almost street-party-like festive spirit as each one of us dared to stretch our bodies to extreme physical endurance. And where the fun lies was that the Triathlon was not in any school curriculum, therefore there was no regimented coaching and serious competition which characterised the mood of school participation.  And that was back then the whole object of the sport - to attract the general public to a challenge and its resulting euphoria. There were no wetsuits, each competitor had normal swimwear, which to me was a pair of shorts only, to begin with. As for bicycles, any roadworthy mount would do. For around £30 from a second-hand bicycle dealer, my first two or three triathlons were completed using such a machine. In one of the events, there was even an elderly gentleman leaving the cycle compound on an old-style traditional roadster, complete with shopping basket under the handlebars. Such was the spirit of the day.

Not long afterwards, I bought a new bicycle from a catalogue, a lighter and a more faster racer, along with a lycra Trisuit. This odd-looking one-piece garment allowed me to swim, cycle and run without having to change clothing during the two transitions. But as the eighties gave way into the nineties, I saw a gradual change within the event itself. I believe it came with a few words spoken by the reigning American Ironman champion, Dave Scott, who shouted, This is not mere endurance. This is a race! Those words, I believe had changed the sport forever, separating the elite from the public, with the latter dropping away in droves, while attracting more of the super-fit. 

Competing in a Triathlon, 1987.

But as one who believes in Jesus Christ as Saviour, there was another dimension in which I perceived the Triathlon as a sport. That is as a Trinity, and therefore associating it with the Triune Godhead. Unlike the Pentathlon, the Heptathlon, and the Decathlon, where in each of the three totals up points over a set number of events that can cover several days, the Triathlon is one continuous event consisting of three distinct disciplines to complete a course, and with non-stop timing and monitoring from the marshal's stopwatch. As I see it, this Triune sport reflects the Godhead, and to add to this, three benefits are achievable - physical fitness, mental health, and spiritual wellbeing if the competitor is also alive in Christ. And I believe that back in the 1980's the Triathlon had a sense of fulfillment which, as I found out to be, not existing in any other sport I participated in. 

The Trinity! Not only is this the essence of the Godhead, but can be perceived in space and time. For example: the Past, Present, and Future are so familiar to everyone, as a length of string, a sheet of paper, and a solid brick. As with the brick, or any cuboid solid: length, width, and mass makes up the solid, and interesting enough, no matter what the cuboid is - whether a cube, a brick, a closed book, or even a piece of furniture - you can only see up to three sides regardless of from which angle it is seen from. The same applies to the circle, which circumference is always able to pass through three points making up a triangle, no matter how these points are arranged, or how far the third point is from the other two. A perfect picture of the Eternal Trinity.

But the Biblical story I have always found moving, yet could not clarify the work of the Trinity any more explicitly, is to be found in Genesis 24. Here is a story of the aged Abraham, who sends his head servant east to find a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham does the sending, the unnamed servant goes on a journey, and eventually ends up at Laban's house, who is related to Abraham. Laban has a sister, Rebekah, whom the unnamed servant pleads for her to journey home with him. She was willing to go, and becomes the bride of Abraham's son Isaac. That is how God calls us. The Father sends the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin, and to bring us to the Son, Jesus Christ. After cleansing us and giving us eternal life, one day we will be the Bride who will be joined to the Son as well as being in the presence of the Father himself. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, like Abraham's servant, leading us to Jesus Christ, at the Father's command. It is such a beautiful story on how the whole Trinity is involved with our redemption.

This is just one of many Biblical stories which as connections with the Trinity, but to me, this one is my favourite. As with the Triathlon, this is tied with the Triune Godhead as well, and perhaps unlike most of my fellow competitors, the sport has added an extra dimension which, I think, only a true believer in Jesus Christ as Saviour can perceive. 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Sliding Back To The 19th Century?

At least a quarter of the British population are now happy, mostly the English living in the South of the country, particularly the Home Counties - the leafy suburban, doughnut-like area surrounding the capital, but in a rather ironic sense, London itself has less than 25% happy, so I have read, due mainly to a large percentage of immigrants living and working there, along with the ethnic minority. When considering the 75% or so, who did not vote Conservative in the last General Election just a few weeks ago, and this includes all those who abstained from voting altogether, as well as all those, including myself, who voted for a representative from another political party, our present occupant of number 10 Downing Street got in there due to a small majority over one main rival party, but by no means over all the parties combined. It's the first past the post polling system. With such a system in place, it seems that the resulting victory for the Tories was something of a fluke.

Although it is of my opinion that capitalism, and the freedom of choice which goes with it, is a better system than socialism with its bureaucratic red tape strangling the life out of it, what I have seen arising from so called "pure capitalism" is greed, and that on a brutal scale. Our recent political history is riddled with corruption, with our cross-party Members of Parliament having their snouts in the trough in the name of "Expense Allowance" - a purse sustained by the tax-payer, therefore a benefits system with a posher-sounding name. Meanwhile, those in the banking industry in particular had their reputations stained by announcements of huge bonuses, so huge some of them were, that it would take literally a hundred years to make on my income! Right-wing newspaper journalists shower praise on these executives for exhibiting "talent" - despite a number of cases of bad or shoddy performance - and so it is held that without them the economy of the whole country would go to pot, so whichever Government is in power, whether Conservative, Coalition, or Labour, such would be terrified to reel in such payments, as this, as they believe, would drive the industry overseas, robbing our nation of the very backbone of its existence.

So to me, as I see it, a limited level of socialism acts as a restraint against capitalistic greed, and also acts as a guard against exploitation of workers, particularly manual workers, by their profit-minded bosses. However, our national mentality deplores the red tape which makes private enterprise stumble over seemingly unnecessary obstacles. Therefore one of our Prime Minister's manifesto promises is to free up businesses of this dreadful "red tape" which make day-to-day running so unnecessarily difficult. On the face of it, this proposal looks fair, and well thought out. But in reality, it is removing any rights for the workers, ushering in the "hire-and-fire" mentality of the bosses without any real consideration of the worker's welfare.

It would be like going back to Victorian times, as one recent BBC docu-drama so explicitly demonstrated. To film such a programme, a group of celebrities, of both genders and of different ages, was brought back in time to the Nineteenth Century, when the vast majority of the population worked long hours to the ground, often in stinking filth and similar rat-infested environments, just to eat and keep a roof over their heads. There were a number of cases when payment of wages was withheld by their employer or site owner if the end product fail to satisfy, and that despite the hours of hard graft put in by those workers in their attempt to produce it. Little wonder the Trade Unions came to existence under Christian conviction, along with the newly-formed Labour Party. Would this revived Victorian work environment and ethic be the final destiny, over the generations, if the Tories continually have their way?

And although our politicians love to get their hands on Expense Allowance to lace their already high incomes, at present the minister for the Department of Work and Pensions is committed to reduce benefit handouts to the barest minimum, if not abolish them in its entirety, if this fellow gets his way without opposition. Over the last few months, I have found one benefit, the Employment and Support Allowance, a wonderful Godsend while recovering from a major cardiac procedure. It took away any threat of impoverishment while we saw this period of convalescence to that of a sabbatical. Here I won't beat about the bush. We both thoroughly enjoyed the sabbatical. It has added further strength to our marriage, gave extra comfort to each other, and gave me opportunities to remain active - walking, cycling, fulfilling outdoor chores, as well as creating opportunities to take my lame wife out of the house to board the train to various historic venues or destinations of natural beauty. I tend to see this period of convalescence more of a life-changing phase than that of the operation itself. Really, there was no time for boredom.

And yet there was reported earlier in the week of one shocking incident concerning this minister of the D.W.P. That was when some leaders of the European Union expressed anxieties about the way our welfare system is being needlessly attacked, so it appeared to them. The minister laughed and declared his intention to continue with the cuts. It is this ferocious arrogance of this Catholic ex-military schoolboy which has sent shivers of terror down my spine. Here is a man who had never faced the prospect of unemployment, nor had he ever done a day's manual labour. Instead, he sees the ill, the incapacitated, and the lame as burdens on the state economy, and are pushed to find work against their will. Furthermore, there are many employers who are not keen to take on such disabled workers, and as such, there was also a report of a rise of suicides among them. This minister is also the one who stereotype the benefit claimer as a leeching lout, workshy and determined to let others support him, without any knowledge on why such a claimant had ended up in such a situation, and that each person is unique, and has his own set of circumstances. I can't help but see such a politician as a brutal Victorian who not only has a lack of any trace of compassion, but given a chance, would have children return to the mine shafts and operate heavy machinery in old-style cotton mills. What I also find shocking is his lack of respect for the elderly, insisting that they should retire later in life, and remain at work instead. Then to add a sting to his tail, he wrote a novel, The Devil's Tune, which had received critical reviews, but fortunately, it was not published on paperback. This very book seems to be the epitome of this minister's character.

This "Britain Working Together" nonsense is also the reason why our Prime Minister wants to introduce thousands of free childcare facilities across the nation. What fails to dawn in him is the importance of mother and child bonding. The mother is the infant's most important person to be with, and the natural bonding between mother and child is what give the offspring the best start in life, including doing well at school, landing a fine career, and with a greater likelihood of staying clear of drugs and crime. But no. Instead, our state leader's obsession with young mothers returning to the office would mean that many a toddler would be left reaching out his hands for his mother and screaming, as she dumps him into the hands of strangers, while she drive off to the office, in a hope of climbing the career ladder.

Sorry to say this, but there is something abhorrent and deeply sinister about our Government's manifesto, and at first it looks to be a mystery on why so many had placed his cross on the Conservative candidate at the polling booth. But according to one report, it was not because there was no suitable alternative, neither was it done out of public admiration. Rather, the many who abstained from voting altogether, if they voted for the main rival party, they would have kept the Tories out of power. Also the masses of the undecided on whom to vote for, at the last moment placed his crayon on the Tory candidate's box for no other reason but to "play safe." The present Government does not reflect the nation's desires, not by at least 75%.

So as I am now considering early retirement, most likely at age 63, mainly to care for and to look after my wife full time, the next few years does pose a lot of uncertainty, perhaps even threatening. But this is where the truth of the Gospel steps in. Romans chapter eight is a good start. Here is a promise that neither life or death, nor angels or demons, neither the present or the future, nor any (Tory) powers, neither height or depth, nor anything in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, verses 38-39.

Elsewhere the Bible says that he who makes his refuge in God will be happy and blessed. Psalm 125 is one example of the promise to those who has faith in him:

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken, but endures forever.
As the mountains surrounds Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and for evermore.

Psalm 20 is also worth reading, exhorting us to call upon God when distress comes, and he will fulfill our desires. For the believer, such as myself, there is a God in Heaven who is compassionate, and even laughs at the plans our Government wish to fulfill. Those who are true believers are as firm as a mountain when it comes to security. As it is impossible to move a mountain from its place, so the one trusting in the Lord cannot be moved either. And I can testify that God has never failed to take care of me, even during my teenage years when I didn't know him.

In Heaven, the apostle John sees the risen Jesus Christ as KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. This is wonderful assurance. Who am I to fear, if we have such a God we can trust. Human plans will fail, but the perfect plan God has for us will stand forever.