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Saturday, 31 October 2015

A Cruel Slave Driver

You sit back and relax as the 'plane awaits takeoff at Boston Logan Airport, Massachusetts. While waiting for the all-clear runway signal to come on, you find yourself getting engaged in a conversation with a suited businessman sitting next to you. It wasn't long before he asks you what your interests are, after realising that there is no common denominator between his occupation and yours. This influential Boston banker is flying to Los Angeles to seal a business deal. You are flying to the same city for some fun at Disneyland, after deciding to take a short break from your job as an assistant at Boston Aquarium.

Boston Aquarium, visited 1998.
In answering your companion, you begin to share your testimony of God's love through faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, just as the airline gathers speed on the runway and soars into the air. You feel your spirit warm as you recall your dependence on the Lord during rough times and how you enjoy thanking and praising him when everything is going well - and also admitting that you still have a long way to go. 

The banker turns towards you and asks, Are you a Creationist? 

You reply, Yes most certainly. The Gospel of Jesus Christ would be totally meaningless if the Earth with all its life, including us, were not created by divine intelligence.

The banker bursts out laughing. I'm wasting my time talking to the likes of you! Divine Creation. Indeed. Six thousand years? Not only are you disputing many of the world's top scientists, but you are likening their established geologic time span to that of New York City being only a couple of metres away from Los Angeles. You religious types are a laughing stock in the community. Nobody takes the likes of you seriously these days. 

You then emphasise that faith in the risen Lord is far more important for him than the debate over Creation versus Evolution. Meanwhile the 'plane soars westward over the Eastern coast of the USA. Then all of a sudden, five Arab men rise from their seats and make headway for the pilot's cabin. Realising what's happening, some of the passengers screams. There is a lot of scuffling heard from the cockpit. Two of the hijackers come out of the cockpit and begin wrestling with passengers attempting to intervene. One of the passengers is stabbed. The plane swerves and begins its descent. Soon the twin towers of the World Trade Center appears directly in front. Amidst screams, there is a sudden judder, and a massive ball of fire rockets through the airline. The next moment you find yourself in the arms of the risen Lord, as he greets you. He then directs you into a city so astonishingly beautiful, that by comparison, Disneyland wouldn't stand a chance. You also notice six more souls from the flight of 92 people are also with you. But there is no sign of the banker. Despite your attempt to search, he is nowhere to be seen.

Of course, this is fiction based on the historical event of 9/11. The five hijackers were from the extremist Muslim group Al Qaeda. Of a group of nations who believes that Allah is the only true God and there is no other. They are so devoted to this entity, that only earlier this year a young Muslim jihadist was ordered against his will to blow himself up in his tank he was driving to a nearby enemy city. How one Muslim group could be enemies with another of the same faith can be puzzling to me at least, but more likely it's to do with Sunni versus Shi'ite. The youth burst into tears at the thought of imminent death, and the terror of passing. But he went his way to become a suicidal hero. This is a reflection on how many other terrorists, including those of the 2005 London bombings, are committed to sacrifice their own lives for Allah, with a promise of Paradise with its harem of virgins.

According to them, Allah is a moon god who does not even have a son, let alone an advocate to atone for their sins. Their salvation is based on works, with the hope that sufficient works outbalancing sins will take them to Paradise. It is a motive based entirely on fear, without a shred of agape love which characterise the true God of Israel, the Church, and the Bible. Allah is an angry god indeed, who will either have all unbelievers converted to him or put to death. Perhaps you may be thinking, Thank goodness I wasn't born in the Middle East or in any Muslim country. That is the very line of thought that I still live under. The same applies to all other non-Christian countries, and to Catholic nations as well. I came to believe that only those born in Northern Europe (e.g Germany, Denmark, Holland, Scandinavia, United Kingdom) and North America have a far better chance of hearing the Gospel and believing.

Being born in a non-Christian country and growing up there must be the nadir of bad luck or misfortune, as the average Western Christian may see it. There is even a long-held belief that England is the New Jerusalem, from a poem written by William Blake, along with the crackpot theory that Britain is the lost tribe of Ephraim and America is the younger tribe of Manasseh, despite that there is not a shred of Biblical evidence to support this. That is how far the British had gone in the past centuries as they reclined in the couch of spiritual self confidence. Rather, in a converse sense, it looks to me that being born in the West has no guarantee of salvation, as the banking businessmen in the above story can testify.

I sense a kind of invisible force in the air which is, and has always had, fought for every attempt to keep the average sinner blinded from the truth of the Gospel. Every effort has been made to hide the truth of justification by faith alone, whether it's the aggressive spreading of Islam, the more peaceful religions of Hindu and Buddhism, or even within the Christian faith, away from simple believing, towards a whole convolution of works, whether it's Roman Catholicism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, Uniformity, Christian Science, or even debating whether one's salvation is eternal or not. Such a divisive image of Christianity presents a laughing stock to a mocking unbeliever. Then going back to the banker on the flight to Los Angeles. A fictional character he may be, but he is the accumulation of many real people who thinks that Creation is too ridiculous to be factual.

In the Western world, the theory of Evolution hold sway over almost the entire population, and especially here in the UK, the home of Charles Darwin. Ironically enough, Darwin's work is based on the work of another Brit, Charles Lyell, who wrote Principles of Geology, and founded his theory of Uniformitarian Geology (as opposed to catastrophism, as taught in the Bible). Little wonder that in the UK, and particularly here in England, Darwin's theory is taken as factual history by virtually everyone, including a large percentage of church-goers. Nothing robs the Gospel of Christ Crucified of its power more than the relegation of Creationism to the level of fanciful myth.

The Bible insists that the one who truly believes is fully acquitted from his sins and the righteousness of Christ is imputed into his account. Because Jesus himself had never sinned while here on Earth, his righteousness is perfect. As a result the believer cannot lose his salvation. He has the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed into his account. But there are many who believe that salvation can be lost if he departs from the faith or commit too many sins. There are many from top universities who graduate on this idea. And most likely unknown by many, this "losing of salvation" theory, prominent in some Protestant churches, had its origins from the Vatican.

Paul the apostle, in his letter to the Ephesians, writes about the principalities which are at work within those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:2, 6:12) and the only work which these forces can achieve is to convince the mind that attempting to reach God is by human effort, salvation partially by works, or kept by the believer's faithfulness rather than the righteousness of Christ. This runs parallel to the Edenic Lie, which promises human effort for an upward attainment to godhood as depicted in the theory of Evolution. This, I think, is the essence of disobedience: not to accept the complete righteousness of Christ, but to infuse works or any other effort into God's covenant of salvation, and to reach the state of divinity on the basis of self-effort.

If I were to die now, my entry into Heaven will be on the righteousness of Christ alone. However, I do believe that the grace of God will cover everyone who earnestly called on the Lord to save them. As a result, I do believe that an element of Roman Catholics are saved, along with remnants of all other Christian-based faiths and cults, including Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. They are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus, and not by any doctrine they may hold on to. God's desire is for all men everywhere to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9) and anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).

It is a crying shame to see everyone else under a cruel slave-driver being deceived with the idea of a works-based salvation. Then this same slave driver insisting that works alone is not enough, but martyrdom with the taking of other lives will secure a place in Heaven. All of this is a lie, and a lie which brings fear, hate and anger towards everyone else, but especially towards Christian believers.

The opening story is based on historical fact - the total death toll of  2,996 people (both in New York and at Washington D.C.) including all nineteen hijackers. But the disaster was not only the responsibility of the hijackers, not even just the responsibility of their leader who ordered the plot, Osama bin Laden. Rather it was the prompting of the real slave driver, invisible, but not lacking in power.

The good news however, that this power has already been defeated by Jesus Christ on that morning he rose physically from the dead. Christ's Resurrection has already sealed Satan's doom.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

An "If" on Facebook.

As one who is committed to blogging on a weekly basis (or any other basis), there are times when, as the weekend approaches, I find myself pacing around the room asking myself, What shall I write about this week? - as I try to look for inspiration. Then, at the last moment something comes up, even at the most inappropriate places, which cause me to think, Ah! Consider this graphic which appeared on my Facebook wall, posted by a good friend of mine:

I guess the one giving directions is an American Police Officer or a Sheriff (there is nobody in the driver's seat otherwise) who gives the impression that he would be far more committed in following either the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys, or the Chicago Bears, rather than in religion or spiritual matters. And what he answers to the inquiring driver looks at first to be a catchy phrase. After all, it was none other than the Lord Jesus himself who brought up the parable of the two roads: to put into American terms, the Boulevard and the Trail (Matthew 7:13-14).

The illustration speaks even more than its initial implication. Anyone can drive a car along a boulevard, but driving a car along a trail would be nigh impossible, if I understand the American meaning of the word. It has always come to me as meaning a hiking trail, or footpath - as we call it here in the UK. And probably the best hiking trail I have ever navigated was the Bright Angel Trail leading from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. 

Bright Angel Trail at Plateau Point, Grand Canyon 1995.

And that what makes hiking on a desert trail such an exhilarating experience - no cars. Just the sound of wildlife and of my own footsteps breaking the otherwise utterly still silence. Nearer to the river, the continual, non-stop screech of millions of crickets and other bugs brings the environment to life, along with the backing sound of the river as it flows over the rapids. The sounds that either cannot be heard in a car, or it is restricted by traffic noise.

If trail hiking could be seen as exuberant as Heaven itself, then that is quite a point. Of course motoring has its advantages. It gets you over a long distance from A to B with very little effort, and you can travel in all weathers with minimum discomfort. Sure enough, hiking under the hot sun without an adequate water supply, along with a shortage of electrolytes and food can lead to heatstroke, even hyponatremia (if not adequately supplied with electrolytes) or hunger. There is a record of death among hikers in the Grand Canyon who proceeded with their journey without proper provisions. And I myself watched as I was overtaken by a ranger leading a distressed hiker on a mule back to the park village. But having said all that, hiking is without doubt a very rewarding experience, taking in the sights which would never be seen from a car window. Then there's the hassle of driving itself  - the morning commute to work in the pouring rain, stuck behind a slow-moving truck, caught in a long stationary traffic line, another driver cutting in, horn blasts, lights forever on red, gasoline costs, oil and maintenance, breaking down at the middle of nowhere, tax and insurance, feelings of frustration, foul temper, collisions - often fatal. Such are the joys of motoring!  

But the point the sheriff was getting across, I believe, was about leaving the car behind at the trailhead. If I have a proper understanding of American terminology, you cannot drive a car on a trail or footpath. Such being the case, it is implied in the graphic that the car is left behind at the trailhead, and the believer continues his journey on foot. I see some good Biblical parallels here. The car represents the easy life of self-centredness, the cause of sin, and in full control of one's life. The highway is broad, smooth and fast, leading to the possibility of a fatal collision. At the turning, one sees the Cross and believes, leaving the symbol of his former life behind, and following a trail, littered with boulders perhaps, but already appreciating the beautiful flowers blooming on the edge, together with fantastic views, both of which he had never noticed before. Sure, the Christian life is not all plain sailing, as the boulders represent, but with God's help, they can be overcome.

A good illustration, or maybe a lousy one - it's up to the reader to decide. But one thing I did see which caused my face to drop in disappointment, and that was after the Gospel was delivered, the sheriff rambled on: I guarantee that if you stay on it, it will take you to the gates of Heaven. The reason why my face dropped was because this implied that the grace of God is not enough for salvation, human effort is needed to supplement God's free gift, and to add to this, the Cross did not impute the righteousness of Christ into the sinner's account, as the Bible teaches (Romans chapters 3, 4, and 8). Instead, all it did was to wash away all his past sins, making the believer wary of not straying off the set trail. This reminds me of a painting based on the parable of the two roads, one leading to death and the other to life. And the painting depicts a third path branching off from the way to life, and leading to death as well.

The trail passes through rocky crags, Grand Canyon 1995

John Bunyan, in his 17th Century book Pilgrim's Progress, depicts this turning off the road to life, onto a path that looks more easier to walk on and looking less unpleasant, but afterwards finding himself in a difficult or threatening situation. Arminian scholars has used Bunyan's work as endorsement to their insistence that a believer can lose his salvation if he strays away from the faith. The illustration above also says it well. However, after some discipline the author had to go through to learn his lesson, he finds himself back on the road to life, and not ending in death. But more relevant to this, the Lord only used two routes in his parable, not three or more. The third path was added long after Jesus was crucified and risen, and long after the churches had become established in Europe and elsewhere. The idea of a third path was added by man, and it has never been part of the Bible itself. Yet it seems to be accepted by many Christians to this day.

If my experience has anything to go by, I have seen many Christians who believe that salvation can be lost living their lives more seriously and less joyfully than those who believe in eternal security. There were times when I had questioned whether they were the most pleasant people to have around, and to my dismay, often (but not always) they were not. In the past I have found the atmosphere heavy by their presence, which bid me to leave, and not return. Back in 1994, one fellow looked at me with a fierce expression when I said I believe in Eternal Security, and made no effort to hold back in rebuking me for such blatant "heresy." He was often seen praying aloud as he paced back and forth in the living room in front of his young daughter, for whom I felt much pity. Furthermore, also back in the 90's, I felt helpless when a friend of mine was verbally bullied by the entire home group for believing in Once Saved Always Saved. Even the leader's wife rose from her chair with anger. Not long after this, the group dissolved. More recently, I know of at least one person with the same beliefs who actively dislikes me, and even foretold my eternal fate with the Lord's words:

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the Kingdom of heaven...Many will say to me that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!"
(Matthew 7:21-23.) 

The very fact that this fellow used the Lord's words to actually wish me to Hell for all eternity says a lot on his own perception of God. I have learned that it is not difficult to see how a fellow believer perceives God's character. Just watch how he relates to others who may not agree with him, especially in matters pertaining to salvation. However, try to picture yourself in that crowd to whom the Lord was addressing. You just heard him saying that not everyone who calls him "Lord, Lord" will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He then adds that they will be many who performed amazing works who will also not be let in. How would you suddenly feel? How would you respond to such declarations? Would you instinctively ask him, What must I do to do the works of God? (John 6:28.)

Looks familiar, doesn't it? And this took place roughly in the same region as the words depicted by Matthew. This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent - v.29. Although the New testament does not say this, such two discourses could fit into each other as one conversation. The Lord's initial declaration and the natural human response go together. And the Lord answered that it is the work of God. If it is God who does the work, then he won't be making mistakes. Yes, I could stray from the road of life, but because of his love, he would bring me back on track. Just as was the case with John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Or the trail inside the Grand Canyon. At Plateau Point, the trail begins to cross a level area known as Tonto Plateau. If I strayed from the trail at this area, I would be able to walk on the level ground for a while, but to ascend back to the rim, I must return to the trail. There is no other way up unless I endanger myself.

Bright Angel Trail (centre) seen from South Rim, 1995

Hiking is to me at least, a good illustration of the Christian life, a walk with God. Although I chose the Grand Canyon, having hiked it myself, there are many, many natural wonders around the world which are magnificent hiking areas. Each is unique, having its own beauty. But one of the basic truths with trails is that cars, or any other motorised vehicles, don't use them, as in most cases they cannot. I guess the same applies to justification by faith. With this, the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed into the believer. Since Jesus had never sinned, this makes His righteousness eternal, making us fit for Heaven, where sin cannot go. As the Sheriff should have answered,
Leave your car here, and start hiking the trail with the Cross of Christ at its head. Heaven is guaranteed! 

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Lord, I Just Don't Have It!

Despite that too many people in this country play down the Bible, calling it a book of myths, fiction, or merely a collection of allegorical stories to boost morality, there is some advice which, to be honest, can be astonishingly accurate. It is considered important enough to be recorded twice: in Matthew 23:12 and Luke 14:11, and the wording is exactly the same in both cases - 
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Even if it is believed that the writers of the New Testament has wildly exaggerated their "miracles" Jesus said to have performed to add a bit of colour to what might otherwise been dull documentation, nothing could have brought out the truthfulness of the advice given than by watching Alan Sugar's The Apprentice, (the British version of The Apprentice USA, with Donald Trump.) What makes this business selection process such popular entertainment is the continual humbling of the eighteen candidates, each vying for the £250,000 investment prize to launch a new business. Each of these candidates - nine men and nine women - have enormous egos, and believing that they can make themselves multi-millionaires, even billionaires by investing the prize money to start a new enterprise which would attract customers galore. Their self confidence, arrogant "me first" attitude becomes a sitting duck for the most appalling ridicule, the butt of jokes, and ongoing teasing. One male candidate boasted that he is the modern Alexander the Great, out to conquer the world of business and enterprise. As things turned out, he was the first of the eighteen to be fired.

Apprentice candidates in the Boardroom

Yeah, right...

At the end of each episode, when the fired candidate walks solemnly out of the studio, the national population watches with glee, a degree of gloating in which lies the expression, serves him right. Not quite so high and mighty now - as melancholic music plays over the defeated candidate as he or she climbs into one of Sugar's limousines to be driven home. But none of this deters the fierce pride and competitiveness among those who return to the house. Instead, these remaining candidates looks to me to be the very backbone of Britain - London and the Home Counties in particular. This was aptly demonstrated a few years ago when the male team named itself Team Empire. Indeed to conquer the world of trade and enterprise, and to hold dominance.

This sort of oozing self-confidence has made me wonder if church leaders would vie to have such a candidate stand at the pulpit on a Sunday morning. There is something intrinsically alluring about having a fellow in a business suit delivering a preach - whether it's expounding the Bible, giving an exhortation, or merely testifying of his missionary accomplishment. For some reason or another, a chap who wears a suit to work depicts status, a good education, along with a mental and emotional capacity to hold down a profession carrying responsibilities - and is perceived by church leaders as the only kind of vessel from whom the Holy Spirit can minister to the listening congregation.  

The best teacher is experience itself. One example of this occurred in 1997, soon after returning home from a ten-week Round-the-World trip. As I stood at the front to testify about my travel experience, I made a mention about the Second Advent of Christ as King, suggesting that this may be soon in human history. After the service was over, I asked a friend why he stood up in defense of my speech. His answer was that he became flustered by the whispering among the seats behind. They were asking among themselves how could I possibly have any knowledge of eschatology if I was a mere labourer, who earned a living cleaning windows. Indeed, manual labour and higher education certainly don't mix! Or for that matter, a few years earlier when our Elders (not with us any more) refused to let me teach a class, in favour of someone who worked in an office. 

But does one with a higher education really make a better vessel for the Holy Spirit? As was the case of one graduate who I know reasonably well. Here was someone young enough to be my son, yet with a much higher level of education than myself and with a far more eloquent speech to match, delivering a preach about Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam. He opened with a statement that, according to his studies, around four thousand years separated the Flood from Creation. I thought, What? Where did he get that from?

After the service, upon my request, he explained that our use of Greek numerology was very different from that of the Hebrew language. Indeed, that is true. The numbers in Hebrew are represented by the letters of its alphabet. But than again, it looks to me that the ancient Greeks did not use numbers. Instead, the measure of quantity was written in words. One good example is found in Revelation 7:4 which in the Greek reads: Hekaton tesserakonta tessares chiliades - quite a mouthful really, just to say 144,000. But I think the point is missed here. Really, no matter how the quantity is expressed, 2+2, as far as I understand, will always be 4. The real issue lies in the number of years between the birth of Enoch's son - Methuselah - and the Flood itself. It is not that difficult to work out. Methuselah was born during the 65th year of Enoch's life. When Methuselah was 187 years, his son Lamech was born. After the birth of Lamech, the narrator then stated that Methuselah lived a further 782 years, making a total lifespan of  969 years.

When Lamech lived 182 years, he became the father of Noah. Lamech lived a further 595 years before he died, making his total lifespan of 777 years. The interesting case I find here that if Methuselah lived for 782 years after the birth of his son Lamech, then the father outlived his own son by five years. Now if the narration has any credibility, Noah was born 369 years into Methuselah's life. If Noah's grandfather lived to 969 years altogether, than on the day he died, Noah must have been 600 years old already. And according to Genesis 7:6, that was his age when the Flood came.

The real punch to all this is the actual meaning of the name Methuselah. It literally means When I die, the waters will come. This seems to me that while his father Enoch was alive, God himself instructed him to name his son with a prophetic name. There remains the question of the period between Creation and the Flood. Just add all the numbers of the father's years when each son was born. And including the age of 600 years of Noah's life, this brings the total of 1,656 years separating the Flood from Creation.

Am I very pedantic? Why am I so engrossed with such detail? As I myself admitted to the graduate. This is not to show how clever I am, for it does not take a rocket scientist just to add up a few numbers. Rather it shows how factual the Bible really is, and its ancient writers had a far more advanced mathematical knowhow than many of us wish to give credit for. What I have read in the past, during the days of Abraham, children attending school at ancient Ur were learning about the square root, the cubic root, geometry and other mathematical wonders. Transport such a child through time to the present, and I would not be at all surprised if he would make a successful graduate at Oxford. Such a little fact as this puts paid to any idea that modern grads of the present are any way academically superior!

For everybody who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. The trouble with the Western world, including Britain and its church leaders, is that those who have exalted themselves would be exalted even more. Great institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge Universities, two of the finest centres for education in the UK, if not the world, provides a constant pool of candidates ready to take on the mantle of full time church leadership. It does not matter whether the graduate is a true believer or not. If he had passed his exams for a doctorate, then the churches would be more than keen to thrust him into leadership.

Am I pursuing church leadership? By no means, as I have never testified of the Holy Spirit leading me in such a direction. But I have exhorted others in home groups for quite a number of occasions. To be realistic, church leadership is not for me at all. Rather, what I really need is for the Holy Spirit to fill my soul with agape love for others. And it is here that I fail, along with everybody else. There are a few believers who has taken a dislike to me. Not many, just a few, and a few too many. One example is when a request a friendship connection on Facebook with another believer, and in response he blocks my request rather than simply say "No." This leads me to search my conscience, to see whether I might have created some issues with him. Nothing. My conscience is as clear as crystal.

I ponder whether I am even an embarrassment to these middle class believers. For example, my wife assures me that "I look gorgeous" - and I know for sure she means it wholeheartedly. But as I see it, both the mirror and camera disagrees. I also have a peculiar accent in speaking. Therefore I would shy away from hearing my own voice recorded on tape or video. This gives the impression that I'm a very slow learner, having a low I.Q, incredibly gullible, easily fooled, therefore making me an easy target for potential fraudsters. Furthermore, I am aware that I have mild autism, which impares my verbal communication skills, leaving other believers with difficulty in fellowshipping with me.

I have a need which I'm fully aware of. Not a need for a higher level of education, status, fame, or riches - but in need of God himself. The agape love of God, and such divine love flowing out to others. Not at all easy when I don't think highly of myself. But the need is there. The Lord God - Majestic, Almighty, my Rock and my Fortress. Indeed, in my flesh I shall see God. With my eyes, my own eyes, and not with the eyes of another, I will see Him stand upon the mount. I think this is true humbleness - recognising my own emptiness and seeing how much I need the Lord for everything, including salvation, and then giving credit to him for all the strengths I do have. The same as Abraham referring to himself as dust and ashes, David seeing himself as a flea, and Isaiah crying out, "I am undone".

And how much I long to see this same train of thinking and believing sitting in the hearts of everyone, especially in the household of God. If everyone becomes aware of this need, then all criticism, rejection and judgement would melt away. It's called, standing under the shadow of the Cross. I am in desperate need of it, along with everyone in my fellowship, and in all churches worldwide.

If that was to happen, I can guarantee that the BBC's The Apprentice would vanish like a dream does when the sleeper suddenly wakes up.  

Saturday, 10 October 2015

That Vital Thing Missing.

I recall when Alex and I were celebrating our seventh Wedding Anniversary in Sicily. While sauntering along the promenade of Ortygia, the medieval town capping an island just off the modern city of Siracusa, we came across a vacant garden seat, positioned to look out over the gently lapping waters of the Mediterranean. On it was an item looking like a lost wallet. I picked it up to take a look, and found that it was a wallet indeed, containing cash totaling well over a hundred Euro, along with some bank account cards. Now, I could have easily taken out all the cash, then abandon the wallet where I had found it. After all, despite a stream of passerby, no one paid any attention, at least so far as I could see.

But as tourists, we had no idea where the nearest police station was located. So looking around, we spotted a very high class restaurant with a booking or reception desk located inside the foyer in front of the main entrance. In broken Italian, I managed to explain to the receptionist that we found this just outside, and not knowing where the police station was located, asked if she could hand it in instead. We felt a rush of relief when she gladly took it off our hands. But with the feeling of relief, I tried to put myself into the shoes of the one who had lost it. Had he realised that his most important lifeline was missing? If so, how did he feel? On the level of sheer panic? Bordering on to hysteria? Breaking into a sweat as he paced the streets, tracing every location he had recently been to? I even muttered a prayer under my breath for the wallet to return to its rightful owner. And that was when we later pondered: Was the handing in the wallet to a nearby establishment a grave mistake? After all, the victim might have been a few metres away, quickly making his return to the seat. When he arrived and saw that his precious possession had gone, no doubt that he would have taken this as a matter of course that it had fallen into dishonest hands. A totally ruined holiday or business trip. Or for that matter, a short walk to the local shops. Devastating.

I tried to kid myself that all this was a set up, purposely done for the benefit of a hidden television camera. As a matter of fact, to this day I still hold to this likelihood, especially after watching the BBC put on these street shows to test the level of honesty among the public. And one street test, if I recall, was about a lost wallet or sum of money.

Ortygia, Sicily

So what has inspired me to write about this, a good several years after it happened? Only yesterday, after alighting at Reading station, and walking through a busy thoroughfare, I discovered that the zipper of the small rucksack pocket was open - and empty of the wallet I always keep there. Fortunately, I never keep cash in it, but I had no other option but to call at the Reading branches of my two banks and cancel the missing debit cards. And I was frustrated and angry, as I had my old wallet stolen from the same pocket a few years earlier. Angry at the sneak who whipped away my lifeline, so indiscreetly that I was aware of nothing when it happened. This was the time I wished that Hell was as hot as tradition makes out to be, and the sneak and his gang would be thrown into it as soon as possible! Not that this incident was a new or unfamiliar experience. Along with a previous wallet stolen, as well as a book of travel cheques whipped away by a pickpocket in Italy, I have also been a victim of bicycle theft several times. One occasion involved a near-new expensive racing machine back in the early 1980's. Like a fool, I left it outside the church, unsecured, as this was a hidden corner from the street. After a good service praising God, I came out of the building only to find the bicycle gone. This was the lesson I had to learn - the hard way - about security. And the need to secure our possessions actively demonstrates that there is something vitally missing in this world - Agape love.

Agape love. The highest form of love that could ever exist. It is the love God has for all men. 1 Corinthians 13 describes it well, enough to substitute the word love for the word God, and it with he, and the meaning of the chapter would remain intact. Because God is love (1 John 4:8).

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

This is also the love we were meant to have for God and for each other at Creation. Our perfect love for God and for each other would transform this world into paradise. Unfortunately, universal sin has negated this love, making it impossible to have unless imputed by the Holy Spirit.

It is this lack of agape love which places love of self above the welfare of the other person. The thief would happily steal an unsecured bicycle because the profit he would make by selling it has a much greater appeal than the loss the victim would feel. The same as stealing wallets or pick-pocketing. The thief does not care about the welfare of the potential victim because he has no agape love for him. Instead, he pictures himself driving a fast car or going away on exotic holidays. Or even to fund his drug habit in order to constantly feel ecstatic. Whichever way, he places himself above others - a direct opposite of God's character and his original intention for all mankind.

Earlier this week we watched a documentary broadcast on BBC Three. This channel is beneath BBC One channel in priority viewing, therefore drawing in a smaller audience. The journalist wanted to investigate a new political right-wing organisation known as Britain First. What brought Britain First into the interest of the BBC was that it is the first political right-wing organisation to have a female vice-president, Jayda Fransen, a former English Defense League member whose full time occupation is that of a Lawyer. Above her is the former British National Party member Paul Golding (or Goulding, depending on which newspaper you read.) It is Paul who holds the strings, from which Frasen remains submissive, despite her loud calls and aggressive behaviour. Their cries were against the building of Islamic mosques here in Britain, and insisting that England is a Christian country. There was even a scene where a B.F. member warned a Muslim of Hell, and the only hope he would have is faith in Jesus Christ. 

Sounds impressive? Maybe he learnt that from a true believer. But the Muslim listener remained unimpressed. And it was easy to see why. There was not a flickering of agape love to be seen or felt in the "evangelist". But furthermore, as I listened carefully to the protests against Islam and its defense for the British Christian Constitution, there was one article of creed that remained stubbornly missing throughout the whole program. That was the truth of the Lord's physical Resurrection from the dead. This, I believe, sets the true Christian from the phony - a heart belief of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And this was totally absent from the creed of the British First Party against Islamic Britain, along with the absence of agape love.

As for the churches, who could have possibly accumulated so much infamy as the late Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church of the Kansas city of Topeka. Far from displaying the agape love of God's character, he was a man of judgement, generating hate for American homosexuals, as well as America itself as a country. In turn, he was hated by all gays, and became the focal point of teasing from the LGBT community. As far as I know, there is no record of any homosexual ever turning to faith in Jesus Christ as a result of Phelp's ranting. Rather the opposite. The large proportion of the LGBT community hates God himself, and deny his existence. And all Fred Phelps had done was to rub much salt into the cultural wound. Although my research on Phelps was limited, even what I have noticed was the conspicuous absence of the Resurrection, particularly at his street rallies.

One of many Phelp's street rallies

With the like of such fanatics, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to convey agape love of God to the world. Yet it was none other than Jesus Christ himself who instructed his disciples to love one another, as Christ has loved them, so that the world will know that we are his disciples (John 13:35). What is so impacting? Agape love. And I think that it was no accident the the Lord Jesus was nailed to a cross. He could have been stoned to death - the Hebrew mode of capital punishment. He could have been pushed off a cliff, (Luke 4:29) or even killed by Herod (Matthew 2:13). Instead, the cross, with the upright vertical beam, I believe, standing for God's love to man, and in turn, man's love for God. The horizontal cross-beam pictures man's love for each other. It could also be seen as a symbol of eternity, with one arm pointing into the past, and the other into the future. Also it could be said that on the cross he atoned for the sins of both the nation of Israel with its twelve tribal heads, and for the Church with its twelve apostles. I love seeing the threefold power of agape love right there on the cross, the full Trinity at work, reconciling the world to himself. The cross says a lot about God which no other instrument of death can match.

But at this side of the grave, it would be impossible to be as perfectly loving to God and to each other as Christ had been. We live in sinful bodies, and our minds as a result, are still tainted with sin. Churches here in Southern England subconsciously cover their shortcomings by being very reserved. And that was concluded after visiting twelve different churches, one on each Sunday, back in Spring and early Summer this year. Hugging is not encouraged, which to me is a crying shame, as even in the medical world has proven its benefits for both body and soul. Instead, our national culture of self-reservation and stoicism is ingrained within us all by such a great depth. Therefore it is extremely unlikely that the Lord would bestow blame on any church or individual whose intent is to love and serve God and each other with best intentions.

So was I a victim of someone's lack of agape love? This what happened while walking to the town centre this morning on the next day. I felt a strong presence of God while walking down a hill. Aloud but unheard by anybody else, I called out to God, thanking him for his salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I felt the longings to be filled with Jesus, and to be in Jesus. The feeling was euphoric. As I approached the station, I stopped to look at it. I had that innate desire and a feeling of compulsion to ask one of the staff members whether my wallet has been found and kept safe. Very embarrassing, and I couldn't help feeling such an idiot. So I went in anyway, and among a queue of people behind me (I had to stand in a line myself) I made the enquiry. The lady behind the counter then responded with, Here you are, Mr. Blasi, and produced my wallet, its contents fully intact!

My wallet was never stolen. The loss was of my own fault, being very absent-minded when buying the ticket, and leaving my lifeline lying on the counter while walking to the platform.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

16 Years of Love.

Everyone who grew up in an environment, particularly here in the West, that has a Christian-based constitution celebrates three special days each year: Easter, Birthday, and Christmas. While Easter and Christmas are national holidays centered on the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the birthday is totally personal, and the date random enough to fall even on a holiday, such as on Christmas day - a phenomenon which such a child would consider to be so unfair, and which he has no say in or no control over. But married couples have one extra occasion: their wedding anniversary, the date of such a celebration being fully under control the moment the date of the wedding is proposed. So it was with us.

And so we hold so dear, and I think this is because I married so late in life, at 47 years to be precise, that is, less than a month after my birthday. But as we stood that morning at the front of the church and exchanged vows, I knew that life would never be the same again. All the wonderful things I achieved as a bachelor - world travel, which I held so dear, closes for good (so I thought) and a new chapter opens, one which, after the honeymoon is over, will present challenges I sensed as I placed the ring on her finger.

So, sixteen years to the day, I pushed her wheelchair along what I consider as my favourite area of London - the South Bank Walk. This is the only area in a major city where it is totally traffic free. But it is also the area where I experienced something of a culture shock - although it shouldn't have come as a surprise to me - the reality hits home as we crept close to the edge of a large three-dimensional mural directly under Southwark Bridge. It was a wonderful work of art, so much so that it drew a crowd - tourists in particular. Everyone, including ourselves, kept to the narrow walkway surrounding the mural - except for two men dressed in pinstripe suits and ties. These two walked directly over the graphic, with not a smidgen of consideration for either the artwork or the people taking photos of it. Aware of their wrongdoing, they looked straight ahead with sheer determination. It gave me the impression of how Britons expanded their Empire within the last four centuries, treading underfoot the indigenous they have conquered, looking down at them and forcing them to submit to their rule without any consideration to their needs.  

3D mural under Southwark Bridge.
And this took place just a week or so after someone I know well has criticized me on how negative remarks about our national culture sometimes appear in my posts. Indeed, there were many men wearing office suits milling past us, as this was during lunch period. And it came as a surprise to me that the majority did not wear ties, but had their shirts open at the neck. And in the midst of Autumn, our British weather was sunny but rather cool. Therefore I was left wondering whether all this hint of casualness was normal throughout the working week, or was it the Friday dress-down? Or maybe a combination of both? But as for these two smartly-dressed fellows who were together, I saw the epitome of our cultural attitude, and I couldn't help letting out a rebuke which I had hoped was within their earshot. And so made this anniversary as unique as all the others, which as made me ask: Does wearing a tie really bring out a sense of superiority, if not a hint of nastiness? 

On the subject of uniqueness, at last year's anniversary, I found myself bathing in the sea at Bournemouth under warm Autumn sunshine, the year before that I found my wife lying unconscious on her ward bed at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, after arriving by train and bus, thus making our 14th the least enjoyable anniversary of the entire marriage. The year before that, we were at Malta, where I suffered a mild foot injury on some razor-sharp rocks, and the year before then, on our 12th, we were given a sharp rebuke for eating our own sandwiches on the beach at the Greek island of Kos, thus posing a threat to the family-owned beach cafeteria nearest to us.

Seeing my wife, the person I love most, in a wheelchair can be very distressing, especially on our anniversary. Memories of such wonderful moments we had when we fell in love with the Greek islands of Rhodes and Kos, as well as recalling a night spent at a London hotel, hiking on the Southwest Coast Trail, even standing in the rain at a bus shelter at Penzance in Cornwall, and just merely eating out at a restaurant in our home town of Bracknell. Those were wonderful anniversary memories, and also in a way, the most haunting. Because throughout those earlier years of our marriage, Alex was fully mobile - with the ability to walk, run, skip, and dance. Dancing in particular, she loved it. Now with mobility limitations, whenever we leave the house, I have to push her in a wheelchair. 

And it's this which made our sixteenth a mix of both good and bad. Good in a way that our day trip to London to be by the Golden Hinde made it an exhilarating experience for Alex. The famous tall ship is a replica of the one sailed by Sir Francis Drake, who navigated the world in it during the 16th Century. How we spent some considerable time in that area, enjoying coffee at a cafe right next to the ship. Then our day ended by standing by the Palace of Westminster, which also exhilarated her. 

The Golden Hinde, London
It was while on our way to the Palace of Westminster that I gave in to a strong temptation to visit a travel shop near Covent Garden. To get there, we crossed an area of cobbled stones which shook Alex's wheelchair and putting excess strain onto her back. The result was that she went down with a severe backache, disabling her from all household chores, on the following day (today) - something she has always been fully capable despite her current lameness. This was the spoiler of this year's anniversary, if not as bad as the 14th. 

At least we are not entirely alone. Throughout my Christian life, I have known two very devoted husbands who also pushed their wives around in their wheelchairs. Different times, different churches, but the same devotion both men had for their lame spouses. I say "had" because both men are now widowers. One went north to his native Scotland, while the other went to stay with his daughter in South Africa. However, while they were both around, I had to admit how impressed I felt over their devotion to each other. In those days I was still single, not having met Alex until several years later. Therefore, in a culture where divorce is ten-a-penny, especially among celebrities and Hollywood icons, I could only conclude that the devotion these two men had shown to their wives was of the power of God in their lives. I would never have dreamed for a moment that I would suffer the same experience as they did.

It has always been a mystery to me on why God allows such situations to develop. After all, wasn't it the Lord Jesus himself who commanded his disciples to ...heal the sick...? (Matthew 10:8). How come that despite prayer delivered heavenward has brought no result? Where have we gone wrong? Could it be that our prayers were on the wrong track? Not only ours, but for the two others who watched their wives die as well? Questions. Indeed, by reading about Peter's healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3) - the real reason for this was to prove to the Pharisees that this Jesus is the Christ. All throughout his ministry, the healing of many were always for the same reason: To demonstrate that the Jesus among them is their Messiah they have been waiting for. And by believing, they could have eternal life, for this life is in the Son.

And this is the truth which brings hope to both of us. I am convinced that the same truth was the power within the other two husbands before me. And now we are dependent on this same power. It is God who is using Alex's disability to teach us to rely totally on Him, and not to lose heart. The offshoot of this ministry is the strengthening of our marriage. Only today, while attending a men's breakfast at a local church (not my regular fellowship), I had heaps of praise and commendations directed at me by someone who has seen us together. Such praise was edifying, but rather than make me feel proud, I was able to give thanks to God for his work in us. The glory goes to God. Even though, deep in my heart lies the distress in seeing my beloved in such a poor condition. And my foolish decision to push her over cobbled stones and hurting her back at the same time made me feel angry at myself. Perhaps a good demonstration of the well-being felt by walking in the Holy Spirit, followed by the destruction brought when the flesh butts in and we fall in to fulfill its desire. We thank God for the abundance of forgiveness Alex has in her heart which led to my restoration of fellowship with the Lord and with each other.

I don't know how I would have faced the future if I did not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The realisation of being married to someone who is lame would have been very daunting indeed. Without the love of Christ in our hearts, would I have walked out of our marriage in favour of the airport, alone? I can't pretend that such thoughts had never entered my mind. They had. But as I look at her beautiful face, especially while asleep, and considering how her submission to me has given her that sense of security, I ask - how could I be so brutally heartless to desert her for selfish pursuits? No I could never do a thing like that! When I look at her, all I can feel is love flushing out of my heart and the desire to take her into my arms, like a mother to a newborn baby. Is the love of God like that too?

Our 15th Anniversary in Bournemouth

I thank the Lord for giving me such a wife as Alex. I could see that she was born just for me, as God found pleasure to direct fully in his will. Only the Lord knows how many anniversaries still remains in the future. Lame or healthy, one thing I am aware of, and that is knowing that God works all things for the good for those who love him, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Now that is where I can rest my case.