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Saturday, 29 August 2015

An Explosive Breakthrough.

Bank Holiday Weekend is upon us once again. Or at least that's what we call it here in the UK. Maybe where you live it's Statuary Holiday, or something similar. It simply means a day off work sanctioned across the nation by the Government. But unlike the other State holidays throughout the year, there will be no meeting at my particular church this Sunday. This is because seventy of its regular attendees are camping at a big Bible convention, or more precisely - a festival near the city of Exeter in Devon, within the West Country region. Hence, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to work out why this three thousand-strong gathering of Christians from across the South of the UK is referred to as West Point.

It is a far cry from what I have believed to be church during boyhood. I recall a massive building, open daily to the public, and a service held every Sunday and Holy day attended by the faithful. A congregation where nobody knew each other stood, sat, and knelt along the ordered rows of pews. Then the monotone chanting of the priest, with his back to the congregation, lifting a white disc, known as a monstrance, high above the altar in front of him. Candles burn all around, and the atmosphere within the vast cavern remains gripped with the feeling of melancholic solemnity. To add to this, talking loudly was discouraged, but from time to time a squeal from an infant pierced the air and echoed from the high and gloomy mausoleum-like ceiling.

Westminster Cathedral

The venue referred above is Westminster Cathedral, not far from where we lived during childhood. Except that far from any provincial Catholic church, this was the home of the Bishop of London, a Cardinal second only to the Pope in Rome. And so, as he carried out his duty while dressed appropriately in a gown and flowing robe, I couldn't help pointing, and asking Mum rather excitedly:
Mum, is that God?

Her negative answer somewhat surprised me, but ever since, I grew up with what church was meant to be, with the feeling that God, along with Jesus Christ and his saints, were all aloof, way above me, and not at all pleased with my shortcomings. Perhaps it was that sense of melancholic solemnity which made me feel that I'm in danger of defiling the air, and the need to dress formal and immaculately, as were all others around me, helping to offset this feeling of inadequacy. But one thing I do remember, that the cathedral was always open every day of the week, so anyone can enter to pray if needed.

So the massive change of church perception could not be more profound until after conversion in the early 1970's. It wasn't long before I began to accumulate and enjoy listening to spiritual songs on the now obsolete cassette tape. Artists such as Jimmy and Carol Owens, with their classic, Come Together, was the talk of the town among churches during those early days, along with their other two; Tell the World, and If My People, the latter which starred the 1950's and 60's singer Pat Boone. Another cassette I had was Scripture in Song, by David and Gale Garratt. This became such a favourite that in time I wore the tape out and I couldn't use it anymore. But what made it very striking was that the tune allowed me to memorise Scripture from the more obscure parts of the Bible. One good example, which helped throughout some of the tougher moments in life, was Habakkuk 3:17-19. Put this into a song and it wouldn't be so easy to forget. These were the songs which, when combined, gave me the inspiration to visit the Holy Land for the first time as a sole backpacker in 1976.

But to put it all together, these cassette tapes were a stark contrast to what I had thought to be "religious music" which were traditional hymns which were always sung with the deep, solemn sound of the church pipe organ. As this tend to bring out the awesomeness of God in public worship, I did feel at first that these "modern" cassettes, with drums beating and the casual rock feel to the music and lyrics, had a watering down effect on religion to the level of pop. It was by reading the Bible itself that I became aware that the church pipe organ never existed during King David's reign, instead he used a psaltery - a stringed instrument similar to a harp, or even guitar of our day.

During the 1970's, the Dales Bible week was our fellowship's annual Summer event, which took place up North, on the Yorkshire Dales. This involved camping, something I had never done during boyhood, and therefore had no appeal for me to attend. I was able to imagine how vulnerable the tent would have looked perched on a windswept field with lashings of heavy rain, particularly at night, and the heavy clatter of raindrop impact would have kept me awake, cold, damp and shivering, partly with anxiety that the gale-force wind would have been strong enough to unearth the tent structure and guy ropes. Such are the joy of British Summers. It was in 1978, while my Christian friends were traveling to Yorkshire, instead on that day I was more than 35,000 feet in the air, on a flight to New York.

The Dales Bible Week was soon replaced by the Downs, that is the South Downs in Sussex. Although the Summer climate was somewhat more amenable, the location being close to the South coast, this too also involved camping, and therefore I stayed away. But also taking place was Spring Harvest, held at a holiday camp in Minehead, Somerset. Since this area had chalets instead of tents, I was more keen to go, and to see for myself what these festivals involved. Being who I have always been, a cycling fanatic, therefore instead of traveling by car driven by a church friend, I cycled the 150 miles from my home town to Minehead in two days, spending the night at Bath City Y.H.A. It was a testing but satisfying experience. When at last I arrived at the holiday camp, and was given the key to the chalet, I found myself sharing the accommodation with three other believers from two different churches. The explosive climax of the long cycle ride was the welcoming meeting at the Big Top, which accommodated as many as two thousand people. Singing praises to God with so many people within this massive tent was one of the most exciting moments of my life!

Therefore the contrast between childhood religion and adult faith could not have been any more different. The contrast is magnitude, and I happen to live long enough to experience both sides of the coin - probably unlike many younger believers who grew up in the modern version of the faith without any first-hand experience of tradition. But maybe with the likes of television, not all of tradition is lost. Every Sunday evening the BBC broadcasts the thirty minute programme, Songs of Praise. This is something I don't mind watching from time to time, but I remain distant from being addictive. Although some efforts were made to show a modern charismatic church in full swing, with hardly a shirt and tie to be seen, however, most Songs of Praise editions involved the traditional church worship, with men and even boys donned with immaculate suits and ties. It makes me wonder about the message getting through to the masses of unbelievers who comes across it, even during the process of channel switching.

I am very aware of the deep resentment felt towards the church, with myself falling into this trap as a teenager. Many may perceive Christians to be incredibly backwards academically and mentally addled. That gives the unbeliever a good excuse to stay away from the church. Aware of his own sins, the last thing he wants to hear, or be aware of, is divine judgement. And even subconsciously, the idea of Divine Creation is intrinsically tied with Judgement. Such a person, in helping to cover up his own guilt, may associate Christians with the Flat-Earth Society, along with the foolishness of Divine Creation, and the Young Earth theory that goes with it. At present, they enjoy laughing and making mockery as believers are looked upon as nutters rejecting "the mass of evidence for Evolution presented as reality by sensible modern day scientists." For me to call myself an advocate of Young-Earth Creationism would carry a degree of embarrassment in the street. Even the Pope, along with the Vatican hierarchy, now denies the historicity of pre-Abrahamic Scripture in an effort to save face among the academic world and keeping the average Catholic within its fold.

As a result of all this, the average unbeliever is not drawn to the church, at least not here in the UK. This is a tragedy! Because God's will is that all men everywhere should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). In this sense, repentance means a change of mind concerning Jesus Christ, with a heart-acceptance of his Death, Burial, and Resurrection (Romans 10:9-14, 1 Corinthians 15:1-5) to atone for the sins of all mankind. With such a promise of the Gospel offered, the church should be the most popular place to go to, with thousands arriving by the week to hear the Good News and be cleansed from all guilt.

I think Bible festivals such as West Point, New Day, and Spring Harvest, are great to attend, with plenty of time for fun and fellowship between meetings of worship and preaching. To my mind, there is something electrifying about a huge crowd of believers singing out their hearts in praises to God, for his awesomeness, majesty, and mercy. But the one setback to all that is that such festivals are very in-house. It looks to me that not many outsiders are aware of them, and even if some were, still fail to draw them in.

So it is in my mind that these festivals should be broadcast through secular media. Even in Newscasts, where a section is often devoted to the arts and sport, time slots could and should be devoted to such Bible festivals, along with documentaries such as the BBC's Panorama and Horizon not only showing worship, but intervals given of individuals, one at least, from every social class, academic level, vocations, age groups, and gender. Let some of the top doctors, barristers, and lawyers, along with window cleaners, refuge collectors, builders, even the unemployed, all share what Jesus Christ really means to them, which takes in their admission that they are not embarrassed to believe in Divine Creation as historical.

If  paying a large fee just to spend a week in a flimsy tent under gale-force winds, lashing rain, feeling cold and damp, and foregoing sleep, to testify the truthfulness of the Bible and to sing praises to God, and to enjoy fellowship, then there must be something about the reality of the faith.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

O Come All Ye Faithless...

Of all the decisions I have made throughout life, there are three which I have made without ever regretting, for these three were the very best decisions I could have made. They were:

1. Turning to Jesus for salvation, 
2. World backpacking,
3. Marrying Alex.

And these three are arranged not by priority but in chronological order. And not even flying the nest is included, as there were times when I realised that by staying at home for a few years longer, I could have traveled far more extensively. That is, instead of working just to buy food, pay the rent, and seeing to all the bills, I would have given an agreed portion of my income to Mum, and saved up the rest, then kept on making my way to the airport while holding a long-haul air ticket. Instead what has happened has happened.

Then I could have asked: How could I have gotten the weeks off full time work in order to fulfill such wishes? No doubt, if an employee is not that committed to his company, it's tatty-bye from them and he would have been sent packing. On the other hand, a professional who wanted to take a sabbatical has been known to make a planned agreement with his employer for his later return to his desk. Or for a graduate allowed to take a gap year before commencing employment. As for me, such long term arrangements would have been far less likely. So remaining at home under my parent's roof would have involved leaving one job altogether, go on my travels, then return and look for a new job. Not so difficult for a qualified and experienced pro, but for someone scarcely above the status of unskilled labourer, such constant changing would have ended with holding a very unimpressive Curriculum Vitae.

So self-employment was the perfect answer for such a dilemma. As it was, I was able to take as much time off to travel as I wanted. I worked hard, saved up hard, and by golly, I played hard! Such was the life of an unmarried male who lived alone at a rented apartment. But during those days, as I gradually watched myself losing the freshness of youth, there were times I felt lonely and pondered over old age. Would I die a lonely old man, with no family relatives nearby, in the very apartment I would have rented for decades on end? Such was quite a point. After flying around the world in 1997, then in 1998, hosteled in New York, and then at Boston Massachusetts, I was already laying plans to fly to Cape Town, scheduled for the year 2000, and then from there to Perth (Western Australia) - when I crossed paths with Alex. In the weeks to come, indeed I arrived at the crossroads of life. Travel or marry? After careful prayer and self-analysis on how I felt towards her, I chose marriage. And that had turned out to be the better of the two options.  

From a lifetime of travel, by the end of the day, all I would have had to show was a fatter photo album library, which would have been of no use to anyone after my demise. But life as a married man is very different in the sense that I am not living just for myself anymore. Instead, the purpose of living is to give all to my spouse. All, not merely fifty percent. And I have come to learn by experience that giving all result in greater fulfillment and happiness.

Like all other marriages, ours had high points and low points. One of our highs was when Alex suspected that she might be pregnant, so she bought a home test strip. One morning she submitted herself to the test, and came up positive. I nearly went through the roof with excitement! Then, when she was eighteen weeks pregnant, we went on our trip to the Holy Land to celebrate our first anniversary. As we rented out a room with a marriage bed at a small backpackers hostel in the heart of the medieval Old City of Jerusalem, I watched her kneel and give thanks to God on just about every Christian holy site we visited. Then the lowest of the low, a few years later, when both our daughters were taken away from our home by the State, and given for adoption, due to our mild autism. The emotional distress, eventually followed by physical illness and partial disabilities had made some people in authority rather surprised that I did not walk away from the marriage to re-start a new life as a divorcee. Our first social worker, perhaps the nastiest female I had ever come across, had expressed her astonishment at our insistence that my wife and I will remain together.

And our marriage had blossomed ever since. I made sure that our union was founded upon the Rock, from which we could never be moved. Without trying to sound too spiritual, all I can say is daily devotion to God by morning reads of the Bible has given us both the love and the will to be devoted to each other. I would never dream of looking at another woman, let alone court her, and likewise Alex would never look on another man for the same reason. Like a stamp on an envelope, so we stick together through and through.

So it came as a surprise that the Internet features a website which is designed for adulterous affairs behind the spouse's back. Known as the Ashley Madison website, this facility has around 37,000,000 profiles from all around the world. Of these, the site boasts 1,200,000 Britons, of which 179,129 are Londoners. Of British people, 1,176 are university students, 124 email addresses are from British Government officials, 92 are from the Ministry of Defense, 65 works for the local education authority, while a further 56 email addresses are from N.H.S. staff. Profiles from other professions include bankers, civil servants, United Nation peacekeepers, firefighters, BBC journalists, police officers, even Vatican employees.

World distribution map of Ashley Madison site members

The map above shows the global distribution of Ashley Madison website members. Leaving out other adultery sites, along with many more who had affairs but are not on any Internet site, this looks to be just a small proportion of those who indulge in extra-marital affairs without the spouse knowing. The statistics also says that the website members are predominantly male, and judging by the list of professions listed above, mainly middle class. Also the chart shows the preponderance of offenders live in richer countries, such as the USA and Western Europe, with the east coast of South America following close behind.

Italy looks to be almost entirely covered in orange. And what is so ironic about this is that the Vatican is located on this peninsula. Vatican City, which is an independent State in its own right, is the head of the largest Christian denomination in the world, but even within its boundaries, it's employees don't seem to be free from having affairs. Even history reveals this can of worms, including at least two medieval Popes who were both murdered in bed by furious husbands when caught sleeping with their wives. Not to mention the numerous occasions when cardinals, bishops, and priests were caught in someone else's bed over the centuries. How true this may be, I can't say, but is there an indication here that the teaching of salvation by works rather than faith in Jesus Christ alone encourages sin?

And sin it is, even though it's taken lightly by quite a high percentage of Western society. Sometimes the offender is seen as something of a hero, a Lothario whose power over women would delight a theatre audience, or make good TV drama, stirring admiration among the females, and most likely envy among the men. Then to add to this, social status seem to play a huge role in affairs. Is there something alluring about an executive, dressed in suit and tie, which speaks a great deal about success? I once read a story in a newspaper about a very handsome and physically fit London barman complaining about how one customer - considerably older, overweight, and balding, attracting a number of women who were keen to strike a conversation with him. It was then explained to the curious barman that this fellow was a senior executive of a large corporation, and took home a very respectable income. This seems to collaborate with a conversation I once had with a graduate who came to my apartment for coffee.

As a bachelor, particularly in the 1980's, when travel was limited due to a small income earned from a fledgling business, there were times I felt despondent over my bachelor status whilst already in my thirties. My friend gave an illustration of a window cleaner and a computer programmer, both standing a few metres apart from each other. He imagined a group of young women who were told to pick one of the two whom they prefer to marry. All of them went straight for the computer programmer, with the other left standing alone. That is, until just one female went straight for the cleaner. It was a good illustration. Because being a singleton in a church with a high percentage of graduates, I had to watch one graduate after another getting hitched, while I remained on the shelf, not just into my thirties, but right up to my late forties. But as my friend predicted, Alex came along at the right time - years after my guest, himself a computer programmer, had met and married his wife.

Then as I have already mentioned, we are devoted to each other as husband and wife. Yet from outside come stories of adultery and affairs. This, along with a plethora of divorce cases, with the celebrity world looking to be the hardest hit. I suppose with high status comes power, to prove his virility, his youthfulness, and his red-bloodiness. Then, after the act, unable to understand his underlying sense of guilt, a lacking of satisfaction  or achievement, along with constant secrecy which will eventually lead to massive rows, betrayal and separations. As the TV soap operas portray so well. And those who profess a Christian faith don't seem to be exempt, as I knew of two different pastors who were disrobed because of adultery. And I have heard of stories of unfaithful Christians and their divorce cases. Indeed, sin is the great destroyer of happiness.

According to our experiences, drawing upon God for his love and strength is the real basis for a happy marriage, along with being filled with the Holy Spirit. One of the secrets we have come to learn over the years is to see my wife and to love her in the same way as Christ loves the church. If the Lord loves his church so much that laying down his life for it was a necessity, why can't I be the same?

Our natural sin natures will keep on rearing their heads on a daily basis, and therefore making our marriage less than perfect. And that is another reason why I'm an advocate of Once Saved Always Saved. If salvation was secured only by our performance, there would be no hope of eternal life for any believer, for we all fall short of the mark. Without eternal security, there would not be a single person in Heaven right now. But instead, our experience in this concept has been the bedrock on which to build a happy marriage, incorporating apologising and forgiveness.

Wonderful virtues which Ashley Madison could well learn about. 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Bias in the Sauna.

As a completely naked slim young man of just 23 years old, I pulled open a door of one of two sauna cabins and nervously saw a space on one of the upper tiers. I entered and instinctively closed the door behind me, and climbed to sit at the vacant space, to sample the heat rising from a small stove at the opposite corner. Someone threw a ladle of water onto the hot coals. The harsh hissing and a sudden rise in temperature, as well as a fresh waft of eucalyptus filling the air had made me an instant convert to this form of leisurely relaxation, as the sweat started to pour down my torso. So was such a first ever visit to a sauna during the Summer of 1976, after receiving a recommendation from a work colleague.

The environment was far from sedate however. About half a dozen men, all entirely naked, were engaged in a loud conversation, with plenty of swear words, coarse jokes, smut, and of general criticism of any eccentric males, lousy workers, erratic car drivers, the general habits of all women, and just about anything of interest which could transpire into a full-blown discussion. It had a very working class, club-type atmosphere where everyone knew each other well, which I felt as an outsider, could be intimidating. So I sat there, somewhat on the shy side, quietly listening in, and smiling at their smut. Not to do so, or to display any moralistic or judgmental attitudes would have courted disaster, even if I was a believer in Jesus Christ back then, as I had been for the past three and a half years. These guys were all manual workers, married and with families, and considerably older than myself. The most dominant was Harry, a builder, overweight and sporting a beard. He was the chief speaker, the life of the party, a powerful extrovert before whom I cowed, therefore treading carefully in his presence. Those were "the good old days" of sauna attendance, when men and women bathed on different evenings of the week, and being a single sex facility, we were allowed to bathe starkers, and to free ourselves from any self-reserve we would have had on the streets outside. 

And yet was hard to believe that in the very next sauna cabin, which was smaller and slightly cooler, the more intellectual of the male population bathed, along with the gays. The entire suite was the only one in town, while the more popular mixed facilities at Coral Reef Water World existed only on the Council's drawing board. Yet I had never seen any skirmishes erupting between the two parties. On the contrary, my physique had attracted the attention of homosexual men, who were drawn to the suite through an advert posted in a gay magazine or newspaper by a staff member. Apparently, I was the only one of Harry's group to be amenable enough to court friendship.

It was many years later, while I was bathing alone at Coral Reef Sauna World, when Harry entered the cabin and sat on a lower bench. Not that Harry was ever a regular there. Rather this was due to the closure of the old sauna facility a mile down the road, as a result of a massive renovation of the original suite, transforming the area into a pristine, American-style spa centre. The old atmosphere would never be the same again, as many of Harry's former mates had passed away, and others having moved to different locations, the swanking new sauna cabin no longer has the more intimate club-like feel within it - as it began to draw in members of the wider public with the introduction of mixed bathing and the need for compulsory swimwear.  

So Harry and I sat alone together at the sauna one late Saturday afternoon, when I asked him:
What do you think of Jesus Christ?

He flew into a rage as he delivered his answer, explaining that he was brought up as a Roman Catholic, and as he spoke, I felt no need to be told, as I could clearly feel his deep antagonism he had felt against his church. I fully understood, and I knew where he was coming from. As a former Catholic myself, I have always been fully aware of the highly fickle God who needs the Virgin Mary to constantly intercede for us, or there is no chance of Heaven after death, but only the terrors of intense suffering in a fiery hell. I too, have always been familiar with the need to confess our sins to a priest, to do penance as a result, to consciously refrain from sinning, and the utter necessity to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy day. Failure to attend without a proper reason, along with any mortal sin committed, and the grace of God is forfeited and it's hell for ever. But just as frustrating, even if the Catholic lives a holy life, he would still suffer a temporary hell known as Purgatory. It has always been slavery to the Church, with the burden of hell hanging over anyone who would walk away from the faith.

Let's face it. It is utterly impossible to love such a fickle deity! Fear him, yes. But to love him as a wife loves her husband - well that is something altogether different. - Although many a Catholic may deny this. The husband/wife relationship makes a good illustration. How would a wife feel about her husband who is constantly reprimanding her, and withholding his love for her until she performs to his exact standard? He may be absolutely perfect, but the problem lies with her - she isn't perfect, therefore she's constantly under his wrath. How long would their marriage last? As soon as another man arrives who shows unconditional affection, she'll be gone from her husband's presence like a shot, only to be found in the arms of his rival. Her willingness for adultery would not be so much out of love for his rival as her own underlying hatred for her husband, and her desire to get even with him.

Associating with gay men at the old sauna suite back in the seventies has allowed me to be gay-friendly rather than having a judgmental or a high moralistic attitude towards them. Therefore once the Internet became very much part of our lives, I found a gay sports and fitness website, and registered as a member. In their forum posts there is a column set aside for spiritual matters, and it's here where I have found their postings most intriguing, and rather depressing.

The hatred towards God by the LGBT is quite outstanding. Their defense of Darwinism is very strong, whether they can present adequate evidence to support such a theory or not. When I admitted my beliefs in Creationism, I was ridiculed for being something of a lunatic, was called a "fundie" - and I was generally ostracised by other members. This is weird in a way. If, for example, I were to say something about their Democratic president suggesting the idea of reeling in welfare to help save the nation's economy, I might have received some postings rebuking me for such a daft idea. Then again, I might have even received some replies of agreement as well. But either way, it would have remained unlikely for me to have been ignored afterwards. Or perhaps question the rights the Palestinians have over Eastern Jerusalem - such could begin a long thread, with one side supporting the rights of the Palestinians, while the other favouring the Jews. Such an ongoing thread over this controversy had occurred on this site in the past, and has stretched over several pages.

But suppose I was to contribute my support for the Republican Party. Already, so to speak, I would receive dark looks, and probably have a thread of nasty postings trailing my opening post, along with being looked on with suspicion. I am already aware of at least one gay Republican who has been ostracised on the website. Why would this be the case? Could it be that there is a closeness of support between the Republicans and the churches, particularly the fundamentalist kind?

As what I have seen over the years, it seems to be the churches which has driven a wedge between God and the homosexual, making them bitter, even angry, with the faith. One pastor had reached a high level of national infamy within America's gay community, and that was the late Fred Phelps, of Westboro Baptist Church, in the Kansas town of Topeka. He paraded his street placards emblazoned with God Hates Fags, God will destroy America, and Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, along with other insulting messages of hate and bias against homosexuals. All that has made him an object of hypocritical disgust, and I believe, had played a major role in making God and the Christian faith such a object of revulsion, that very seldom would a gay find salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

Leviticus 18:22 reads:
Do not lie with a man as a man lies with a woman; that is detestable.
And Leviticus 20:13 is even more specific:
If a man lies with a man as a man lies with a woman, both of them has done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be upon their own heads.

Ammunition for Fred Phelps and his ilk! Strange, however, that he was a lot more quieter when it came to mediums and spiritists, (20:6) the cursing of parents, (v.9) adultery, (v.10) incest, (vs.14,17) bestiality, (vs.15,16). Then not to mention the sowing of two different crops, or the wearing of clothing made of two different materials, (19:19) eating of meat with the blood still in it, (19:26) visiting the barbers, (19:27) or calling at a tattooist, (19:28). Then there is the case of observing the Sabbath, (19:30) and not to discriminate against foreigners living in your country, even immigrants, (19:33-34) and cowboy contractors, especially in the building trade, are condemned by God as well, (19:35-36).

Too often we tolerate to a certain level just about all the others which God considers sin, along with those which are passed over as small or insignificant, such as secretly lusting over a woman not your wife, holding a grudge against someone without forgiving them, and so on. As such, we look upon homosexuals as perverts, objects of contempt, and they become victims of gay-bashers, even murdered, under the guise of "Christian culture" or "Church bias." If pastors such as Fred Phelps had a seat in Government, he would have made every effort for the death penalty for every homosexual in America. Little wonder that the average gay hates the churches and ridicules the Christian faith, especially in its belief in Divine Creation.

And so we go back to Harry, and his underlying bitterness he has over the Catholic faith. Really, there is hardly any difference between the likes of this heterosexual extrovert of a builder, and that of a closet gay who is too timid to "come out" in case he becomes a victim of his church-going society. Neither would ever see the light of Christ if they believe that pleasing God is by abiding with the law, whether by Moses or by the local church.

I have been going through the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. What I have found intriguing was the whole of chapter eight. In it, Ezra, Nehemiah, along the rest of the leaders, read out the Book of the Law of Moses to a vast crowd of Jews who had assembled in Jerusalem. These Jews had returned to their own land from exile in Babylon, and had rebuilt their Temple and the city wall. As they stood and understood the Law of Moses, they began to weep (Nehemiah 8:9,11). The weeping, I believe, came from their realisation that they were unable to keep the Law, and they were afraid of further wrath of God coming upon a future generation. So Ezra exhorted the whole nation to feast, eat well and rejoice in their deliverance.

And that is what I feel every unbeliever needs to hear. Yes, the reality of sin and alienation from God, but also the one and only solution - the love of God through Jesus Christ crucified. I would even go as far to say that the average homosexual does not need to be told that he is guilty. He instinctively knows. Paul the apostle writes:
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified...
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
1 Corinthians 1:22-23, 2:2.

Paul says here that the message of Jesus Christ crucified is universal, it's for everybody, straight and gay alike. None of us need moral high horses shouting judgement down on us. That does not bring us to God. Instead, we all need to believe on the One crucified, was buried, and resurrected on the third day. The Resurrection is the most important of the three. It has proved that this Jesus, who was crucified, is God, Lord, and King, and all who believe this in their hearts receives a new birth, becomes a new creation, and adopted forever into the family of God, bathing in his love for all eternity.

And that's much better than bathing in a sauna with an angry heart.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A Lesson from a Tribal Boy...

The scene was set at Telur Cenderawasih, a comparatively small area of the Indian Ocean. This area is just off the northern coast of the Indonesian island of Papua, on the western half of the large mass of land north of Australia (the other half being Papua New Guinea.) The huge bay embracing this stretch of ocean is over 250 miles wide at the mouth. Also across the mouth, there is an elongated strip of land forming the island of Selat Yapen, together with some smaller islands making up an archipelago which stretches a good way across, giving this area of sea quite a resemblance of a near-enclosed lagoon.

It is here, where the water is remarkably deep, a rickety wooden raft floats on the calm ocean. Known locally as a Bagat, it was captained by a young man, who looks to be still in his teens. Six other lads, all younger, were with him, the youngest being only nine years old. The captain, dressed in just vest for a top, and shorts, was out on a mission. He had to present an elaborate gift to the parents of his girlfriend, as part of his tribal tradition, as proof of his ability to support his future wife and family adequately.

They spend months on the raft, catching very little amounts of fish per day. There were times when everything looked hopeless, and the captain believed that he would remain single for life. Yet they kept going, lowering their nets into the sea, and bringing up a paltry catch. In addition, just by living on the raft acquires a good level of skill in balancing while walking along a floating grid of narrow planking, or else fall into the sea. Not if that mattered too much, as they were excellent swimmers. There seems to be good relations between all the boys, as they remain committed to fill their large caskets with fish they then can sell back on land.

Then one night, a miracle occurs. From the depths below, a huge whale shark swims to the surface, the world's largest known fish. With it comes massive schools of smaller fish, and the boys don't hesitate in letting down their nets. In the matter of days, their caskets were full, they return to land, sell the fish at a local market, and with the money raised, the young suitor can buy a gift to present to his girlfriend's parents.

I was intrigued by the maturity this teenager had demonstrated. With no adult supervision, this fellow was in full charge of a crew of seven. Whether he had any schooling or not, we were not told, but the presence of children, all boys within school age, spending their time on the Bagat instead of in the classroom, seems to indicate that it was experience in practical skills, such as fishing, being far more important to their survival than acquiring a stack of academic certificates. And this applied in particular to marrying and raising a family. Then again, if I had been in his presence, I would not have felt threatened, not even a feeling of alarm or discomfort. Probably the opposite. If I was in any distress, this young teenager looked to be the type who would come and help bring me through. Walking on the raft would have been a good example. I lose my balance and fall into the sea. In normal circumstances I would swim to the nearest point of the frame and hoist myself up. But supposing leg cramp tightens the muscles in severe pain, and I was clearly in trouble. Any one of the crew would have dived in and towed me to safety. And I wouldn't mind betting my bottom dollar that not a single teasing remark would be heard anywhere on the raft.

Yet, during an interview with a member of the BBC filming crew, the youngster admitted with an element of pride that the whale shark was his distant ancestor, therefore the marine giant honoured by him, if not worshiped, as part of his tribal religious upbringing. Maybe this chap had never heard of Charles Darwin, and religion and science can be poles apart. After all, here in the UK, as well as in the USA, many people with academic qualifications, together with many more commoners, would laugh down at the idea of Divine Creation in favour of Darwinism. And so we see ourselves as the Master Race, advanced in academia and therefore creating a scientifically-based civilization. And yet there is a strong correlation between us and the tribal teenager on the question of our origins.

Without a doubt, it was no coincidence that the whale shark swam to the surface. Normally hovering near the seabed, I truly believe that it was God himself who directed this huge marine beast to the raft, itself a tiny speck on a vast area of ocean. God knew the lad's desire, the honour of marriage, and his immediate need, so out of grace and mercy, he directed the whale shark to the raft floating above. We as Christian believers, however, can argue that none of those boys knew God. But more likely than not, there animistic religion was something handed down by their parents, generation to generation, over thousands of years. Yet God was still good to them.

All it takes is for them to hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus, his death by crucifixion, his burial, and his resurrection, and to believe with their hearts, and they would be born of God, inherit eternal life, and be part of God's family, sealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who himself acts as a guarantee of their salvation. That's all it takes. A change of heart over a revelation, and their eternal destinies changed for ever. But afterwards, would they need to give up their lifestyles as fishermen, to attend school or college, then find a job in an office? (Dressed in a suit and tie, of course!)

As my experience of the Christian faith over forty years can testify, that's the way it looks. Here in the UK, the vast majority of believers spend their lives holding down an office job, a result of excellent schooling which opened up a chance to attend University. I can't help feeling that, after conversion, these boys will seek out a school "to better themselves."

Because woe to the ones who fail at school! Like a News bulletin item broadcast just a few days ago. In it, a fit young man was walking to a superstore at an English holiday resort of Bournemouth. In front of the store doors, a group of teenagers were lingering around. Totally unlike the boys in Papua, these youths looked menacing. The young man had good reasons to feel apprehensive. The youths blocked the chap's path and asked if he would buy them come cigarettes, as they were under age. The man refused, and quite right too, as this form of purchase was illegal. Then one of the youths pulled out a screwdriver, and with it, pierced the victim's skull. He spent months in hospital, and remained in a coma for over four weeks. Doctors believed that if he wakes out of his coma, he would be left with a mind of a two year old. He was very fortunate to miss death so narrowly. But he managed to pull through over the months, with his mind fully intact. Later, he began to train as a para-triathlete, and he is now competing alongside able-bodied athletes.

But as for the youth who carried a screwdriver, it would have been very unlikely that he ever saw the inside of a university. More than not, he most likely left school early, with no qualifications. The memory of defeating another person, even in the most cowardly manner, is enough to give himself a sense of power. And that little story is a copy of a more famous incident which took place in South London, April 1993. Then a well educated black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, was murdered by white supremacist Gary Dobson and his mates. Being less educated than his victim, racism gave him that extra sense of power. Yet I wasn't surprised that Dobson appeared in Court dressed immaculately in a suit, shirt and tie. As so he appeared in all the newspapers and TV bulletins.

The model Englishman, white, dressed in formal clothes, and gloating over his power he had over the black teenager. With a sense of patriotism, would he had been happy to sing such songs as Rule Britannia, Britannia Rules the Waves... or even, And did those feet of ancient time walk upon England's mountain green? Probably not, for to sing such lyrics would call for some intelligence and culture alike, neither which such a thug as Dobson could be imagined as ever having possessed. At least at present, this white-skinned patriot is serving life behind bars.

Which comes to another observation I have made over the years. It looks to me that the vast majority of prison inmates were failures at school, for I can't imagine a fair size number of graduates behind bars. In fact, I can't imagine any of the well educated serving in prison. But I do see them fulfilling their professional careers in taking home a respectable income. So the majority of church-goers also attended university, and fits in well with such cliche. Perhaps there is an element of truth to the old adage, that Britain is a Christian country, and as such, received the God-ordained commission to conquer the world and establish an Empire, setting up colonies and ruling over the indigenous within their own borders. After all, any race or nationality which holds to the delusion that they are advanced in evolution, education, and culture would feel the right to conquer other lands. But for any of the conquered indigenous to come over here - well that's different altogether. How dare they infiltrate our land with such diverse races and cultures!

As for the lads fishing in the waters of  Telur Cenderawasih, yes, my heart would be delighted if they became children of God through faith in Jesus Christ crucified. But I would also plead with them,
Please, please, remain as fishermen and carry on demonstrating the virtues which comes with the job. Reward yourselves by diving into the pristine ocean and experience the love and respect you have for such giant fishes as you swim among them. Yes, I envy you, but also admire you at the same time. But stay away from education and office professions. They are not so paved with gold as they first appear. Working in an office does not prove your faith in Jesus!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

A Common Issue Over Salvation.

Some weeks ago, when I listened to a preach in London endorsing the truth of Once Saved Always Saved, I wanted to stand up and allow my praises and thanksgiving for God's mercy to explode out of my spirit. Rather than allowing a licence to sin, the opposite was true - why would I want to sin, or even just to live for myself, if I had such an awesome, merciful Saviour, to live for, who suffered and died for me, so that I can enjoy his presence for ever? So here I type in an article in response to some who objects to this concept, preferring to believe that I could still end up lost if I were to walk away from the faith. This idea is held by not a few people, some who are members of the church I attend, among others who I know personally from elsewhere.

Such a concept of Once Saved Always Saved seems to be embraced by a very small minority of all who holds the Christian faith, while at the same time, it is totally rejected by Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and by many other Christians, even by Atheists. Even within Christendom, (including Catholic countries) the idea of Eternal Security of the Believer is held by only a few by comparison, while it's totally unknown in many other lands. So much of the teaching of Once Saved Always Saved being "the Devil's doctrine" - as claimed by some. If such an adversary, also known as the Prince of this World, has full control of the minds of the religious - (John 14:30) - then how ironic that he wasn't at all successful in deceiving the world that Once Saved Always Saved is a doctrine to be universally accepted and believed. 

Therefore anyone can ask: How did I become such a firm believer and advocate of this doctrine of Eternal Security? Perhaps that I grew up as a Roman Catholic played a major role in this, not by agreeing with it, but in strongly denying it. After conversion to Jesus Christ as Saviour in 1972, I began to see a discrepancy between the Catholic faith and my new faith. This puzzled me for quite a while.

Then one Saturday afternoon in 1974, I was browsing at a Christian bookstore which was located close to St. Paul's Cathedral in London. I have discovered that shop by chance, and nearly every week I can be seen browsing and buying literature. On the shelf I came across one book, False Doctrines Answered from the Scriptures by Dr. John R. Rice, D.D., litt. D. I picked it up, and it fell open on the first section, Errors of Romanism. After a brief read, I bought the book. However, to see such a book on sale here in the UK was very unusual, and I have not come across any other book written by this author, despite that he wrote quite a few other titles. Dr. Rice was once a professor at the Dallas Theological Seminary, known for its toughness in selection of its students. Later he became the founder of the Sword of The Lord Publishers, a para-church organisation in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, of which literature was produced for the American market. So for such a book to be sold here seemed out of the ordinary.

But as I studied the book, I have come to learn why I don't worship God in a Catholic Church. The discrepancy between the Catholic and biblical faith became clear, and I knew which side I was on. John Rice was also a strong advocate of Eternal Security of the Believer, or Once Saved Always Saved,* and he explained why, and where and how it's taught in the Bible. Such study began to change my outlook of the faith, and gradually began to undo what I have been taught as a boy. But this was far from easy. It had taken many years for the reality of God's love to sink in, and to dispel such an image of the Deity having a look of discontent for every misdemeanour I was unfortunate enough to commit. Over time, Dr. Rice became something of a mentor, even if I had never met him personally. By reading his book with a mind open for serious study, he became my home tutor in the faith. 

Some years later, while sitting in a pub with some friends, a Christian I met for the first time offered me three books for nothing, as he was not interested in them. I decided to accept them. One was The Cup of Trembling, another was Global Peace, and the third, How Close are we? All three were written by Dave Hunt, founder member of The Berean Society, Hunt, like Dr. Rice, was also an advocate of Eternal Security, and in his book, How Close Are We? he had given me a wonderful insight of the accuracy of Biblical prophecy, even though my fondness of the subject had already made me rather familiar with it. His other book, The Cup of Trembling, opened up a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the Muslim faith, its relationship with Israel, the Jews, and in particular, the city of Jerusalem, at present, a bone of contention between the Arabs and Israel, and its future fate. With such intrigued reading, I eventually bought two more books by the same author, Occult Invasion, with a wonderful insight of the impossibility of Darwinian Evolution, with the genome given special attention, and finally, A Woman Rides The Beast, giving a thorough history of the Roman Catholic Church as compared to Revelation chapter 17.

As accepting these two well-learnt men as mentors, no doubt had brought wonderful benefits, increased my knowledge, and certainly helped with my understanding of the Bible, including my acceptance of Once Saved Always Saved. But I have also became aware of a small but still a potential danger, the dependency on these two scholars in expense of reading the Bible unaided for myself. So I began to set aside times for Bible reading, and I have found that early in the morning, before getting up to face the day, to be a very suitable time-slot for daily Scriptural devotion. In it, there are very assuring chapters - not just an isolated verse or two - strongly implying Eternal Security. For example, how could I disregard the truth of John 10? After all, those were the words spoken by the Lord himself. Double safe in his own hand and in his Father's hand. Held tight, secure!

Then there is John 17, Jesus' prayer to his Father for the safekeeping of his immediate disciples, their converts, and to all believers worldwide throughout the ages to come. In this prayer there is a statement declaring that it was the Father himself who had given these believers to the Son, verses 2 and 6. This in itself makes the idea of being lost again rather ridiculous, as this not only denies his omniscience, but also weakens his omnipotent power, and makes God less than what he claims to be.

And this brings us to Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In the first two chapters, the apostle emphasises several stages of an individual's conversion, beginning from eternity past, when God foreknew the decision the person will one day make. Then he predestined him to to be adopted forever into God's family, and to receive the Holy Spirit, and finally to enter glory. This is further backed up by the apostle's letter to the Romans, particularly chapter eight. Here he writes of his conviction that neither death nor life, angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

That is wonderful! It coincides with what Jesus had spoken about his hand, and the hand of his Father. It is impossible to walk away, because it is God himself who keeps him. But I wish that those who deny this truth begin to think for themselves instead of latching onto a public speaker on stage or at a pulpit, wearing a suit and tie, and therefore looking well educated. Think for a moment. If you are walking away from God's hand, does this not mean that you are going somewhere, in a particular direction? And don't you have eyes to see? You are walking towards something or to a location that looks appealing. And I let you work out who it was who drew your attention to that which you find appealing, thus walking out of God's hand and losing your salvation.

Echoes of Adam and Eve in the garden. They too were drawn to a delicious fruit hanging from the branch of a certain tree. But it wasn't God who drew them there, it was the serpent. And under persuasion, they took of the fruit and they died spiritually. Now if this is all true with us today, then all the above quoted Scripture comes to nothing. And that annoys me. We live in a culture where whoever dresses smartly and claims to have been educated at Oxford or Cambridge, then stands on a speaker's platform, whatever he says will be taken as gospel-truth, even if what he says contradicts a long-standing belief. People will follow him with unswerving trust - I have seen this in my own church, and I have seen this happen to other Christians too. The fact that it is easier to latch on to someone rather than take the trouble to check out the Scriptures for himself is endorsed by my own attachment to Dr. Rice and John Hunt as home mentors, and whatever they have said, goes.

Then there is one other chapter that prove the validity of Once Saved Always Saved as a valid truth, this is the twelfth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. Here the writer instructs that God disciplines his children, and this discipline is not bullying or to get even, as may be the case of many earthly fathers, but it is done so the wayward believer will partake in God's holiness. In other words, God punishes for our good, because we are his adopted children and together with being secure in him and never to be lost again, he also wants the best for us. To partake in his holiness on a day to day basis is the best we can have, and to do so brings out the best in fulfillment in our lives. And God wants us to have it, not only for ourselves, but also as bearing a testimony for outsiders to see our holiness and to want it for themselves.

And it was from this letter that I received this quote:
If we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice of sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who had trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the spirit of grace?
Hebrews 10:26-29.

Now I do not believe that the Bible is inconsistent, neither does it contradict itself. If this applies to a believer who carried on willfully sinning, and somewhere along the line he had lost his salvation, and had become a recipient of raging fire, then this would contradict every Scripture I have quoted above. Since I don't believe that the Bible is inconsistent, neither are there bits of Small Print to be found in God's plan of salvation for helpless sinners, those verses must call for a different interpretation.

First is the title of the letter, Pros Ebraious - To Hebrews. It looks to me as if the title could have read, To all Jews everywhere. It has always been us Christians who have added in the word believers, or Christians into the title. Then the letter opens anonymously, without the normal greetings to a particular church or individual, as was the case of all Paul's letters. Could the writer have been addressing a universal letter to all Jews everywhere? However, its the theme of the letter which really holds the key to its meaning and intent. It is about how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ had superseded all the Temple ordinances and animal sacrifices imposed by Moses. The Covenant of the death of Jesus is a better one than the old, making the old one obsolete. Therefore the Old Covenant no longer has the power to cover sins, as it did before.

However, there were many Jews who had heard and understood the Gospel, but had rejected it in favour of the now-defunct Temple ordinances. These rejections did not come from honest or unsure doubting, but from a hostile reaction to what they knew to be true. Such classic examples of this hostile rejection of the Gospel of Christ can be found in Acts chapter five, and particularly the reaction of the Jews towards Stephen in Acts chapter seven. By their rejection, they have trampled the blood of Jesus Christ under their feet. That does not describe a wayward believer who has drifted into sin. But what about their sanctifying, found in verse 29? Does this prove that they were at first believers?

No, it does not. In the Gospel of John 1:4, Jesus shines a light to all men. So everyone who was ever born is aware of the existence of God. Then in John 16:8, Jesus assures his listeners that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement. So the Holy Spirit will be at work among men, and what more than those already called by the Father, that is, the Jews. This is especially when a Jew in particular, enters a church of true believers, and tastes the goodness of the Word of God. Despite the conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit, he rejects the Gospel altogether, and returns to the Temple. His heart will harden against any knowledge of Jesus Christ being their Messiah, making him impossible to come to repentance.

There are many other Scripture quotes which at first appear to contradict Once Saved Always Saved, but to quote them all would make this blog far too long. But a quick word about Matthew 7:21, were a group stand outside the door of heaven and cry out, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name cast out devils, and in your name done many wonderful works?"

These guys were not believers, but had trusted in their own works to earn their way into heaven, and had nothing to do with the saving power of Christ. The very words the Lord uses to answer speak for themselves, I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you. That does not describe a fallen believer, or else Jesus wouldn't have been honest here. If any of them had been believers, then they would have been known by the Lord at that time of believing.

There is a good Scriptural backing for believing in Eternal Security. And no advocate of this concept would think that it would result in a license to sin. My own testimony bear this out. All I wanted to do was to praise and give thanksgiving to God who loved me so much as to take the trouble to save me.


I have spoken to various people who, although accepting of Eternal Security, tend to feel queasy with the phrase, "Once saved always saved." This kind of differentiation looks to me that the latter phrase opens up a license to sin, not giving any consideration for the consequences. But I believe that the two phrases mean exactly the same thing, to be eternally adopted into God's family through faith in Jesus Christ, and as such, experience a rebirth of the spirit, and actually become a new creation which is fit for heavenly residence.