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Saturday, 25 July 2015

A Mystery So Puzzling.

As this is the weekend when the America's Cup Boat Race starts at Portsmouth, nothing more could be so characteristically British. The oh-so-familiar reminder that all the schools across the nation had broken up for the long Summer break:- when the skies turn steely grey, the wind picks up, the daytime temperature drops, and the heavens open. Not just an occasional blustery shower, but a continuous downpour lasting the entire duration of the day and even well into the night. With the streets glistening with rainwater, umbrellas up, mackintoshes flapping in the wind, and the waterproof fabric clattering with the impact sound of the raindrops, the public carries on with its business undeterred by the weather, as so demonstrated by one female who arrived in Portsmouth to watch the celebrations for the start of the race. When asked to comment about the dismal Summer, her face broke into a wide smile and answered, It's all about being British.

Maybe so, which could explain why in a single day at the start of the school holidays, up to 130,000 people passed through security at Heathrow Airport alone, up on the average daily 100,500, along with another 120,000 passing through London Gatwick. No doubt about it, we Brits crave for a spot of sunshine so much that the stresses of air tickets, passport control, security, waiting in queues - as well as the potential for flight delays and industrial disputes are all accepted stoically as mere risks. Added to these is a risk to health - particularly the attack of the runs due to unfamiliar food, poor hygiene, dirt, or whatever, coupled with the risk of sunburn, tenderising the skin into an intensely painful cherry-red area. Not to mention in addition: pickpockets, petty theft, being ripped off, needing to call in at a clinic, or even ending up in a police cell when a drinking bout gets out of hand. Yes indeed, it is the start of the season when the pursuit of the annual dose of the Four S's becomes the norm of British necessities - Sun, Sea, Sand, and Sex.

Not that any of these are merely textbook propaganda. In my travelling days, I have experienced just about all of these, including ending up sitting at the interview room of a local police station - no, not for drunken behaviour, but to report a theft of all my funds - in the form of a book of traveller's cheques - a big one for the sly fingers of a pickpocket's hand. So leaving me marooned literally penniless for the weekend at the Italian city of Florence back in 1981. And how can I forget 1995 with the dreadful symptoms of hyponatremia which bid me to visit a clinic in Arizona. I was fortunate enough that a cup of electrolyte provided free by a nurse was all I needed for recovery. A visit by a Doctor, even if only for a moment, would have set me back hundreds of dollars.

Eventually, the presence of British stoicism is put to the test as the reality hits home. He enters the front door of his house, bathed in an almost eerie silence after night after night of clubbing, dining out, strolling through streets thronging with thrill-seekers in the warmth of the night, or even engaging in conversation and making friends at hostel socials. As his family begin to unpack, he creeps upstairs, and opens the wardrobe to see his suit, clean shirt and tie, all hanging neatly from a rail. Such attire reminding him of the daily office grind resuming on the very next day. So much of, as I like to call it, Touchdown Sunday, back to work Monday.

Such as I have tried to avoid when returning to my front door from a backpacking trip. I recall 1997, after flying overnight home from Los Angeles, which concluded the Round-the-World trip, including touchdown at Singapore, and then at Cairns, at the Australian state of North Queensland. I have carefully arranged to land back at London Heathrow on a Wednesday, exactly ten weeks to the day after taking off. Like this, I had more than four days to re-adjust to normal life. On the day of arrival back in the UK, I felt so run down by post-holiday blues, that a visit to a friend's house to chat about the experience was a necessity much needed even before considering returning to work on the following Monday.

And so in my final years of bachelorhood, while attending a service at my church in Ascot, I recall one of the Elders looking directly at me while delivering his sermon, classifying some people as living from holiday to holiday. I knew he was right. If there was a time when travel had such a hold on me, it was in the 1990's. This was most likely due to the fact that I was already in my forties, and living alone without a family to support. Of course, as a Christian believer, I was familiar with the New Testament of the Bible, and particularly with Paul's letter to the Ephesians, but I still felt that I have missed out on something in life. Travel was an attempt to fill in this void, which was caused, I believe, by not having a lifelong companion to love and to love me, to support each other, and to share everything in life together.

Yet Paul was different. Unlike the vast majority of Jews in his day, he never married. It was after the Damascus Road experience (Acts 9) that he saw the real reason for living. Enjoying a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The realisation of God's eternal love through his Son fulfilled Paul's every need - physical, mental, and emotional, without any worldly excitement added to stimulate his well being.

I can see, even feel the excitement in the Apostle's heart when he wrote to the church in Ephesus, including statements like being predestined to be adopted into his family, becoming recipients of his grace, wisdom and understanding, lavished upon us unreservedly, to the glory, thanksgiving, and praise, and in line of the inheritance promised to us, which God through Christ is willing to bestow upon us. So he goes on, we are saved by grace, without works, according to the riches of his glory.

Paul remained single throughout his life, contrary to Jewish custom of the day, but by reading his letters, it is easy enough to see the wonderful relationship Paul had with his God. And this despite the many sufferings he went through, including imprisonment. In Acts 16:25-34 we read about Paul and his new companion Silas, thrown into prison without a proper cause. Their backs were welted from the lashes they both received earlier, therefore they must have been very uncomfortable and suffering pain while held in confinement. But did they whinge and moan? Did they wish they could have headed for the airport for a transatlantic flight to Disneyland? Or for that matter, to hike the Grand Canyon? Far from it! Instead they were singing praises and thanksgiving to God. It was infectious. The jailer, instead of bullying them, became convicted of his own shortcomings, and he too asked how he can enjoy the same relationship with God as these two enjoyed.

Did Paul and Silas believe in Eternal Security? Or Once Saved Always Saved? According to his letter to the Ephesians, as well as Romans chapter eight, this seems to be quite a point! The only snag is that neither the statements "Eternal Security" or "Once Saved Always Saved" appear anywhere in the New Testament, let alone the entire Bible. But does this make these statements untrue? After all, the word "Trinity" does not appear in Scripture, neither does the phrase "Prodigal Son" appear either, but no true believer would deny the truthfulness of these statements. But according to my own experience, believing in Eternal Security does have a big impact on my spiritual life. This was felt just a few weeks ago while visiting Westminster Chapel in London. The preach was about Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and there was an emphasis on the truth of Eternal Security. I wanted to stand up and shout my praises to God there and then. Fortunately, the service ended with singing, and through this I was allowed to release my thanksgiving and praise. It was electrifying. What better tonic is there to the spirit than knowing that you are adopted into God's family forever. No wonder Paul and Silas felt exuberant while in prison!

Is God any different today? If so, then how can we trust a God who is not eternally consistent? But if he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever, then what went horribly, horribly wrong? One does not need to be a rocket scientist to give an answer to that question. It is false teaching beginning to percolate into the churches after the death of all the apostles. In fact, the churches in Galatia were already becoming infected while Paul was still alive, and John wrote of "many antichrists that are already in the world" (1 John 2:18-27, 4:3). Antichrist simply means Instead of Christ, and nothing more appropriate could be applied to false teachings. These are the teachings that any form of works are added to faith to either earn, merit, or even to keep our salvation. Such teachings deny the Father and the Son, because the Son did not atone for sin to the extent that the believer is once saved always saved. So the believer becomes his own saviour, or at least a partial saviour, instead of Jesus Christ being the only and true Saviour.

I personally believe that this is the greatest mystery ever recorded in history. How could it possibly happen? Paul's letter to the Ephesians (and to other churches as well) were meant to be the greatest message of good news to be revealed to the world. God having reconciled the world to himself not imputing their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19) - somehow God has always been seen as metamorphosed into a fickle monster who is constantly examining our faithfulness to see if we are worthy for heaven. That how it looks to me. Little wonder, that when the great Protestant-based British Empire expanded, India for example, remained stubbornly Hindu, while the Middle East and parts of Africa remained Islamic. It seems that trading one set of rules for worshiping a god for another set of very similar rules for some other deity was never seen as worthy enough to strike a deal.

Many churches here in the UK rely on Oxford and Cambridge Universities for the gene pool of future leaders and ministers. I think it is a crying shame that many of these future leaders do not believe in Eternal Security, and therefore discouraging their congregations from believing the greatest message the Gospel has to offer. Little wonder that not only our churches had failed to convert Muslims, but many Christians have also embraced the theory of Evolution, which denies the truth of the Gospel, and internal strife between leaders and their members has been ongoing for many centuries.

How could it all happen? God through Christ and the apostles have given us the greatest message of salvation in all history, and it's well preserved in Scripture. So how could such distortions occur, and so soon too, while the apostles were still living?

It's a mystery so puzzling.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

What's with the Neck?

It was one of my backpacking trips to Italy in 1982 that I visited the excavations of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Its well preserved ruins are still nestling near the coast, and overshadowed by the outline of Mt. Vesuvius which looms nearby, the source of the city's destruction in AD 70. This was when the peaceful looking mountain blew its top in what the vulcanologist refers to today as a Plinian Eruption, after it was recorded in detail by eyewitness Pliny the Younger. At least he was fortunate enough to survive by escaping from the scene of the disaster in good time. As with me however, this 1982 visit was not my first, I actually set foot on the site nine years earlier in 1973, when international backpacking was to me a very new and exciting experience, and a source of a wealth of knowledge.

According to archaeologists, there is evidence that an election was looming when the disaster struck. Like at present, candidates posted their credentials with the intention of meriting votes for the local Senate, the equivalent of a Member of Parliament in the UK at present. Of course, I was familiar with the ancient Roman Government. Statues and busts of prominent people were plentiful in Pompeii, and coins had the inscription of the current Emperor, just as our currency carries the head of our Queen. But none of this had connected with the reality of the Roman Senate - until I came across a picture of the city's Council.

To be honest, back then I gasped at the image. When considering politicians of the present day, I automatically dress them mentally in a suit, shirt and tie. This is because, as I have seen throughout my life, that was always the way a fellow in such a calling had dressed, as I have taken as normal without question. So to see an equivalent of Parliament, members of Government, dressed in Roman Togas with loose necklines, was something of a culture shock. But much of this culture shock was from a failure on my part to properly connect the numerous bronze and marble busts found preserved in Pompeii with the reality of Roman life in the 1st Century.

I can't imagine any of our members of the Cabinet sitting at Parliament dressed in a Toga with such a loose neckline as depicted by the bronze figure above. But back then it was as normal as breathing and nobody batted an eyelid.

So I was rather amused at a couple of scandals, both reported by the Daily Mail newspaper, which took place within a week of each other, which prompted me to write this blog. The first case was about the British motor racing champion Lewis Hamilton. During the tennis tournament, he received an invitation to watch the Wimbledon men's final at the Royal Box. He was dressed in a colourfully patterned shirt buttoned up to the neck, but with no tie or jacket. He was refused admission, and had to watch the match from the nearby hospitality enclosure. Speculation arose among the online comments forum whether he was offered a jacket and tie, or at least a tie, and refused to accept them, and so the debate raged on, with the vast majority of contributors laying the blame on Hamilton himself. Shortly after, the England World Cup football player Gary Lineker, rose to defend the humiliated celebrity, only to be set upon by the baying crowd for daring to accuse the Wimbledon officials of snobbery and remaining stuck in the past. Ah! Such as the benefit of reading a newspaper article online instead of from the actual paper. On the computer, the reader's thoughts and opinions are fully displayed, as opposed to the hidden silence, only slightly disturbed by the rustling of pages while on board a commuter train or in a public library.

The second incident was very similar to the first, and it was about the BBC cricket journalist Jonathan Agnew being present in the Long Room of Marylebone Cricket club with his shirt open at the neck and without a tie. The media reported a telling off in a form of a letter delivered to him by a club official, however, this may have been done more in jest rather than a serious accusation of breach of the club's dress code. But this did not stop the long trail of vilifying comments aimed at the besieged reporter, accusing him of falling standards, a lack of respect, scruffiness, without discipline, and lacking of class. Not to mention the degradation of Britain as a one-time great Country and Head of Empire. So according to these online comments, it was the custom of an average man wearing a tie during his waking hours that had made England a great country, was it? Pity the Romans then, who did not know any better.

The fact that such, what I would consider as insignificant trivia, making it into the Press speaks volumes about our national attitude over something as simple as a tie. A few years ago, this same paper was very critical of the BBC News team allowing their reporters overseas to appear on camera wearing shirts open at the neck. So the paper launched an appeal to all its readers to send to its editorial office a spare or unwanted tie, and they will dispatch the load to the BBC, to be distributed to all its reporters. Unfortunately, the result of such a project was never disclosed, and since not only has foreign correspondents continue to report "looking scruffy" in front of the camera, but many home journalists are at present appearing dressed down as well. Perhaps the paper's intended project was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Like in a pre-Christmas article which appeared in the same paper last December. Although written with an element of light-heartiness, it advised anyone planning to throw a party not to insist invited men to wear ties, as men don't really like wearing ties. But what I have seen over the years, many a truth is spoken in jest.

There has been no other place where I watched the fervent decline of the neck-tie throughout the last two decades than at my home fellowship, Ascot Life Church. And this was not confined to the younger generation either, but right across the age board. This was something I felt as a sense of relief, having no qualms. But until recently, I always thought that our fellowship was the most radical in casual wear throughout Sundays, on the principle that implementing or even suggesting a dress code would put off many in the street from attending church, and therefore blocking any prospects of receiving salvation through faith in Christ. A twelve week sabbatical has proved my conclusions about Ascot being unique, wrong.

In the last twelve weeks I attended a different church each Sunday. This consisted of six Baptist churches, four Anglican churches, one Pentecostal church, and one Independent Congregational church. Of these, I saw a few older than myself wearing ties in a couple of Anglican churches, and in one Baptist church I saw a few there. It was the Pentecostal church where a saw a greater number of mature men wearing ties despite this being the smallest congregation. But I'm not understating when I say that the number of younger men wearing a tie in church was virtually zero, as was the case in all twelve churches.

The principle that casual dress in church to make the Sunday service less unappealing to the younger generation can be verified by my own experience as a boy. During the early to mid 1960's, it was mandatory for a Catholic youngster to take First Communion, and to be Confirmed. In both these cases I wore the Sunday Best - a formal suit, white shirt and tie. A picture taken at First Communion sees me having a stark resemblance of a groom about to marry. On Confirmation Day, I had to be accompanied by my late godfather, Dad's older brother, who not long before gave me a severe telling off for going out to the shops "looking scruffy" on a Saturday morning. He then insisted that I wore a tie in his presence throughout the weekend. So the Sunday Best was obligatory on Confirmation Day under my Uncle's eager eye. Even one morning at school while at the boy's changing room adjoining the gym, the P.E. instructor thrust his finger down the front of my shirt, and growled,
Why aren't you wearing a tie?
Frightened, I could not answer, but I made sure that I arrived at school properly dressed since then.

What was the final outcome of all these things? Did I become a devoted Christian, fully committed to Jesus Christ? No, rather I went the opposite way - I spent my teenage years as a devout atheist. But although I called myself an atheist, and even encouraged my younger brother to be the same, I knew in my heart that God existed and I hated him! Throughout those years I refused to go near a church, any church. I even recall when I first entered college on day release in 1968. In front of the main hall, which was also used as a student restaurant, there stood what looked to be a pulpit. I felt my heart drop and my body shudder. Not those dreaded morning school assemblies again...

Perhaps it's no coincidence that while this blog is typed out, there is a two-part drama series broadcast on the BBC, The Outcast. This movie is based on a novel by Sadie Jones, and set in 1950's England. It is about a young boy who had lost his mother in a drowning accident. But what was so devastating for the lad was that his father met and married another woman while his mother's body was still warm in the grave. On one occasion, the distressed boy wrapped his arms around his father's waist in a hope for some consolation. Instead, the senior pushed him away with the words of rebuke,
Now, son, we'll have none of that!

The scene could not be more English than that depicted here. For a distressed boy to show any level of emotion was simply not British, and certainly thought as unmanly. Meanwhile Sunday after Sunday saw the lad packed off for the morning service at a nearby Anglican Church, where all were dressed up to the hilt. And whether what happened later in his life, during late adolescence, is recorded in history, here I can't say. But the author was certainly able to identify with my own heart as a disillusioned teenager. At eighteen years of age, the young man crept into the deserted church in the middle of the night and set fire to all the furniture within, starting with the Bibles. Eventually the roof came down, the windows exploded, and the building was completely destroyed.

So how do I feel about wearing a tie? These days I would wear it if the occasion calls for it, such as at my father's funeral last year. But the main reason why I don't like ties as a whole is because of its tightness round the neck, making me feel constricted and therefore generally uncomfortable. But worse than that, the neck-tie has the social stigma associated with it. I believe that I would be far more accepting of the tie, if it was not such a symbol of social status, respect, discipline, class, and as proof of the wearer's higher academic profession as opposed to manual labour.

The ancient Romans may have gone about their daily lives with a loose neckline, but we can't deny that many saw the love of Jesus Christ within the churches of the day, were drawn in, and were saved.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Father God I Wonder...

The moment I walk out our front door, it is impossible not to see and hear parents with their young children. Like just a couple of hours before typing this, when I went to do the weekly grocery shop at our local superstore, there was this toddler constantly screaming his head off, his high pitched voice piercing the air and drowning any normal-tone conversation. Eventually, his mother took him out into the car park even as the child constantly remained restless, while the father (I assume) continued with the shopping alone.

Just another family, one of countless others I see each day, whether at work (never far from a primary school) or at a leisure attraction, as well as at the shopping mall. Such one attraction, Coral Reef Water World, just a few minutes walk from my home, has always been a haven for screaming children, in most cases as expressions of joy and excitement with all the fun features the venue provides, but never without an occasional cry of frustration as the parent or guardian refuses to let the little one have his own way. (For me, at least, I go straight to the Adults Only section for a gym workout and relaxation in the sauna, where not a single whimper from a child's mouth could be heard.) And it's the same where ever I go, parents constantly keeping their young offspring to conform to the environment they are in, often with the adults feeling the frustration themselves, usually with the rest of the crowd apparently staring. I suppose that is natural enough. A sudden loud cry from an infant usually turn heads, does it not?

So it looks to me that the average Mum and Dad takes their children as if for granted in the Western World. Yet I can still imagine the sheer exuberance when a young man (or the not-so-young, as was the case with me) finds out that his wife is pregnant for the first time, either vocally or from a urine test strip showing a positive result. In my case, I was tempted to shout out from the window, but being British, I don't do things like that, tut-tut, I know. Instead I all but burnt out the 'phone line with calls to our relatives and friends. After the birth, my daughter was the apple of my eye, a darling I just about worshiped. I think that becoming a father for the first time at an age approaching fifty intensifies the bonding between father and daughter to a level which younger fathers tend to see as more of a right than as a privilege. So I have always believed.

So there were no negative feelings when I took her out to the superstore, to the town centre, even boarding the train to various other locations, including the coast, as well as on holidays, even on ferry sailings to the Channel Islands. I loved the moments when I spoon-fed her, often when eating out. Each night, around three in the morning, she would wake up and cry. I have never felt a moment of burden in getting up and seeing to her needs, diaper change, hugging and holding her in my arms. I cant help thinking of Stevie Wonder's classic hit Isn't She Lovely? coming to mind as she falls asleep in bed with her in my arms as my wife sleeps soundly on.

So sometime in the past there might have been a mother in her early thirties, named Rachel. She was devoted as much to her infant son as I was to my daughter. The main difference being that not long after the birth of the child, her husband died of an illness. So after months of mourning, she was left with his offspring. And therefore unhindered by anyone else in her household, she devoted herself to her upbringing of her son. She always made sure he was adequately fed, bathed and wrapped in clean clothing. Then night after night the two of them shared the same bed, with him fast asleep in the comfort of her arms. Then during the daytime, it was never rare to see the infant sitting on her lap while she sang and made baby sounds to him.

But one particular night, Rachel was bewildered at the unusually bright star in the heavens, which was directly overhead. Was the star a messenger of glad tidings, a bearer of good news? Or could it be an omen of something dreadful about to happen? As her eyes were transfixed to the sky above, she sensed that rather than being ominous, it meant that something wonderful was about to happen, if it had not happened already. Could the birth of someone highly important, such as a king, had just occurred?

It was a couple of days later, when she was cooking in the kitchen with her son playing on the floor nearby, when she began to hear the screaming of women within the town, along with angry shouts of men. As the menacing noise grew louder and nearer, suddenly a Roman soldier burst into the house, carrying a sword. He searched around the tiny house and he saw Rachel reaching frantically for her son. But the soldier was quick, and thrust the sword through the child's small body. The sword-bearer then quickly left, as if deeply hating the task he was ordered to carry out. Left with the tiny corpse, Rachel's screams joined those of other mothers in the streets of the town.

For weeks, even months, Rachel was in a dreadful state emotionally. She being a devoted Jewess, could not understand how her God could allow such catastrophe to occur in her personal life. It was even worse than her neighbour's. At least some of her neighbouring mothers had other children who were older than two years, and as such, escaped the slaughter. In addition, their husbands were still alive, and some of the women affected by the slaughter had become pregnant again. But not Rachel.

Instead of cursing God for her lot in life, she spent time in prayer, believing in her heart that somehow something good will come out of this. She believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day, as was the general belief among the Jews, and she had an inkling that she would be reunited with her deceased son, and maybe her husband too. So instead of cursing and throwing her wrath heavenwards, she gave thanks, and managed to worship God at the Temple precincts whenever she can make the journey. And on one occasion, while praying at the Temple, someone handed her a parchment with a portion from the prophet Jeremiah penned on it. This is what was written:

This is what the LORD says:
"A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more."
This is what the LORD says:
"Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,"
declares the LORD.
"They shall return from the land of the enemy.
So there is hope for your future,"
declares the LORD.
"Your children will return to their own land."
Jeremiah 31:15-17.

When she read the script, her eyes widened with hope, and reading her own name gave her a feeling of joy. She knelt down and heartily gave her thanks to God, along with a beast to offer as a sacrifice of thanks at the Temple. Then she returned home, knowing that her all loving Father in Heaven has heard her cry, and has responded favourably to her.

So earlier this week, a solicitor came round to our home to discuss about making a Will. I suggested that all of our assets should go to our three birth daughters at the death of both of us. But the visitor warned that this may be impossible, because of their different surnames, unknown by us, and growing up to couples not related to us at all, yet they having all legal rights to them as parents. At this point my poor wife broke into tears.

I recall the dreadful night early in 2005 when the Police and Social Services ran into our home at three o'clock in the morning and took away our two daughters. The entire operation took just a few seconds. Yet, how my dear wife screamed and screamed, just like Rachel did two thousand years earlier. Despite my effort to comfort her, I knew that our lives would be changed forever. The shame, the embarrassment, kept us quiet about all this for a decade. Only now we tell it as it is. But why did this happen in the first place? What was it that deemed the State to judge us unfit to raise children? Did we commit a crime? Drugs? Alcohol addiction? Abuse? Neglect? No, it was none of these things. To summarise, the reason why we were judged unfit to be parents was because we both suffer mild autism. And in the wake of national scandals of child abuse hitting the headlines, our daughters were taken into care, which means that never to set foot in our home to this day. At least it gave us a crumb of comfort to know that the Social Worker involved had lost her job over the incident.

So what has been our response over the years? Did we curse God and turned our backs on him? Rather, we ran towards him, as the righteous runs into the Strong Tower, and they are safe. It wasn't long after that someone in our church fellowship came up to us with a revelation that our children will return. Then, not long afterwards I was browsing through Matthew's Gospel, and came across the story of the Innocents. My Bible cross-reference directed me to Jeremiah chapter 31, and by reading the Scripture, I felt strengthened, knowing that God is my heavenly Father who looks out for the welfare of his children. It is amazing what Scripture mixed with faith can accomplish. Not only the source of edifying myself spiritually, but it has been the source of strengthening and encouraging Alex, and also added new life to our marriage, binding us tighter together in Christ, even to the extent that my wife can be the source of encouragement when my chips are down, and that despite her emotional suffering being more intense.

God is our heavenly Father, we ourselves adopted into his family. By law, our daughters are no longer our family members, even if every genome, every chromosome in every cell of their bodies, are Alex's and mine combined. No amount of paperwork, not even as high as Mt. Everest, can change the genome of a single cell in them. But they are legally the offspring of those who have adopted them. We do not know their new surnames, let alone knowing where they live, which schools they attend, which shopping mall their parents take them to. But God knows. All we can do is commit them to his care. But all this is good news for us. We are adopted into God's family through faith in Jesus Christ. Just as our daughters cannot return to us before coming of age, so we cannot return to the adversary's domain for ever. Furthermore, we are born into God's family through regeneration of the spirit, making each one of us temples of the Holy Spirit, who will dwell within us for all eternity, according to John 14:15-17.

So it can be said that our adoption into God's family is much stronger and a lot more secure than the legal adoption of our daughters, because when of age, our daughters can return to us if they desire. But we cannot be disfranchised from God's family because this is more than mere legal adoption. It involves a rebirth of the spirit, making us a new creation altogether, perfectly fit and suitable to heavenly life with Jesus Christ.

These are wonderful, wonderful truths! It is these truths which allows us to look upon the world with open eyes, to commit ourselves to each other in marriage, as well as to God as our heavenly Father. These truths allow us to live our daily lives without upset or mourning over our loss, to give thanks for what we do have, to enjoy some travel together, to commit ourselves to our roles as husband and wife, and most important, to edify each other when things look grim and unbearable.

Rachel found her strength through faith in God in Scripture. The same applies to us. Our encouragement to you is to read your Bible, and believe that all things work for the good for those who love God, and are called according to his purpose. Like that you can be a source of strength to those who has also suffered distress.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

A Minute Truth...

A comment I posted recently on a blogger friend's post has given me further thoughts about a powerful waterfall thundering over a precipice. There has been only one such phenomenon I have visited personally, and that was Niagara Falls on the Canadian/American border way back in 1977 as an aspiring backpacker, and with such opportunities, I have learnt to gain experience of this form of travel.

It was rather ironic, come to think of it. In the months leading up to this getaway involving my first transatlantic flight in my life, I was engrossed with the iconic TV police drama which dominated the 1970's: Starsky and Hutch, two casually dressed detectives played by actors Paul Glaser and David Soul respectively, with the theme based in downtown Los Angeles. The script allowed this pair of unmarried men in their thirties to tease each other, up to a certain point, but like with crime-fighters Batman and Robin, aired on our sets a decade earlier, these two cops never became embroiled in bitter disagreements. And as young women around me as well as across the nation alike, swooned at the sight of David Soul playing the romantic and soft-spoken hero, the city of Los Angeles became the "must see" location to visit sometime before I die.

I was already a Christian believer at the time for at least four years. By then I had developed the deep want of visiting the City of Angels. But back then I had a problem. In those days an American visa stamped in my dark blue British Passport was absolutely necessary even just to peek into the USA from Canada, before the introduction of the visa-waiving Green Card in the 1980's. It was in 1977 when the engineering firm I was working for was about to close down, to be relocated near Plymouth, and I was one of many who had to go and find another job. As expected, the officials at the American Embassy in London became very stroppy about issuing me a visa, and the failed application form returned with the page entirely struck through. Some weeks later, a convincing letter embossed with the company's logo was presented with a fresh form, passport, and other necessary documents in person to the Embassy, and I was told to collect my passport in person several hours later. This meant that the period of interlude was spent enjoying the sights of London. When I called in to collect my passport in the evening, I leaped with joy to see the much-wanted stamp on one of its pages.

But the booking was already made for a return flight to Toronto instead of to Los Angeles. Disappointed with the first visa refusal, I chose Canada as an alternative, and decided to visit the area around the Great Lakes. For the British citizen, no visa was required for entry into Canada. 

And so with the issue of the USA visa, everything changed. What was meant originally to be a single-location holiday in Southern California, with a fanciful hope of bumping into Starsky and Hutch, it turned out to be an across-the-continent backpacking trip with an international crossing. And soon after arriving at Toronto, I went to look for a hotel, as back in 1977, hosteling was still unknown to me, and after settling down for a couple of days, my first venture out of the city was to visit the Niagara Falls from the Canadian side.

The Canadian Horseshoe Falls was mighty and impressive! As I stood just feet away, I felt the ground beneath me constantly tremble as the waters of Lake Erie tumbled fifty metres into Lake Ontario. I even had the opportunity to hire a special raincoat and to stand in a tunnel which opened just behind the falls, with my fingertips at full stretch just a foot or two from the cascading curtain. Another feature which was in existence in 1977 but which, I believe is no longer there at present, was a footpath which crossed from Canada into the United States over the Niagara River, with the actual boundary painted across the footpath. This path ran alongside a road bridge into New York State from Canada.

Backpacking North America, 1977.

Perhaps acting like an excited teenager as I straddled the boundary, I was yet to learn of the willingness of God to bless and richly fulfill the lives of everyone who has received his Son. Even back then, God had much more for me to experience and enjoy, including less than two weeks later, when I found myself walking through Hollywood Boulevard and along Disneyland's USA Street. But travel would become an eye-opening and God-glorifying set of experiences in the years to come. And that was after flying home from Toronto a month after arrival, thinking that this was the one and only lifetime experience. God had a lot more up his sleeve, as I was to discover.

I spent a day at Niagara Falls. It was relatively easy to get to from near my hotel by bus, which offered views of Lake Ontario along the route to the Falls. Standing by the cascading Falls as it flows over the precipice, because the sun was shining that day, a permanent rainbow arched through the mist which rose into the air as the waters thundered down. And the science underlining all this makes for me at least, a far greater wonder than the majestic powers of the Falls themselves.

Talking about Disneyland, the most prominent symbol of Walt Disney's enterprise is the head of Mickey Mouse - consisting of a large solid circle with two smaller ones attached fairly close to each other.

It is that sort of image from which models of Mickey has flooded the market, and easily recognisable, and just by walking through the theme park, it would be difficult not to see any children holding the string of such toy balloons, along with other souvenirs and trinkets on display at the park's many shops and kiosks. But the way I also see it, it has a startling resemblance of a typical water molecule, as any schoolbook would attest. That is one oxygen atom with two hydrogen atoms attached to it. As each hydrogen atom consist of one proton nucleus with a single electron whirring around it, the comparatively massive space between electron and nucleus makes up the main body of the atom. Every atom of every element has that same component, a nucleus with electrons whirring around it. Among complex elements there may be a nucleus consisting of many protons and neutrons, with multiple electrons whirring around it, but it is the space in between which determines its size. In other words, if the space between the electron and nucleus which makes up every atom of the human body were to be removed, then each one of us would be no larger than a grain of salt! It is hard to image that we, along with everything else in the Universe, consist mainly of empty space.

So I can't imagine the actual number of water molecules which had tumbled over the precipice at the Niagara Falls over, let's say 4,000 years. Of course, we would think such a number is infinitely far too great, and therefore impossible to calculate. But whatever that number could be, it is certainly small if compared to the probability that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy entirely by chance, without any divine guidance. For example, even circumstances beyond the Lord's control were fulfillment of prophecy. Situations such as the time and place of his birth, his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, the exact amount of money offered by the priests, the throwing of dice by the Roman soldiers over his clothing, the manner of execution, and the place of burial, were all prophesied hundreds, even thousands of years earlier, without the Lord Jesus himself having his hand in any of these.

It has been worked out that the chance of the entire life of Jesus Christ, and connecting circumstances fulfilling all prophecy by chance alone, is one in one, followed by 181 zeroes. According to studies, this huge number is equivalent to a ball of tightly packed electrons. It's the size of such a ball that really hits home, for it would be around five hundred quadrillion times the diameter of our known Universe! Now if one electron was marked out, then mixed thoroughly into the ball, and a blindfolded man was sent into the ball to pick out that single electron, The probability of him picking out that one marked electron on his first attempt is the same as all prophecy fulfilled in Christ purely by chance, and without divine inspiration, guidance and sovereignty.*

All this makes the Niagara Falls micro-minuscule by comparison with the love, power, and sovereignty of God. Could this be the reason why I should trust in God alone, and not fear the thoughts and actions of men, whether good or evil? As I approach an important crossroads of my life, what does the future hold for me, for my wife, for both of us? Like Peter before us, am I looking at the stormy waters and finding myself sinking? Or am I looking to Jesus to sustain us? Again, I could ask: Why am I afraid of men, and their decisions? Aren't we all sustained by the very life of God himself, everyone of us, both good and evil? If God were to withdraw his power, would we all implode and become like grains of salt?

God knows best. This is why I should not fear men, especially those in authority. That is why I'm a firm believer in Once Saved Always Saved, or Eternal Security. The Sovereignty of God. His power. His love. The Giver and the One who sustains all life. He is the one I can trust, and to him alone I must give an account.

Maybe that's one point both Starsky and Hutch should seriously consider.

*Henry M. Morris, The Bible and Modern Science, Moody Press, 1968, pages 119-120.