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.
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.