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Saturday, 28 November 2015

Frenzy For What?

It was only a year ago that another date on the calendar has entered my vocabulary. Something like Black Friday? Or is it now called Bleak Friday according to the Media? An American terminology, it's supposed be be the day after Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November. It is a public holiday very much parallel to Christmas Day, when many families settle around a table laden with roast turkey and its trimmings, the only difference being the lack of gaudy decorations wrapped around a fir tree, and no exchange of presents. Many American businesses feel that it's uneconomical to trade on the just one day following, so a four-day weekend is enjoyed, with the Friday evolving, so I believe, to be the first day of the Christmas shopping season - a boom for retailers.

So we have a saying here in the UK - Whenever America has a fit of coughing, Britain harrumphs its own throat soon afterwards. So with Black Friday, it has become established here too, along with the Americanisation of our towns and cities, the invasion of McDonald's into the once sleepy UK market of Wimpey's, the burger invasion long preceded by the introduction of para-orthodox faiths and cults (Watchtower Society, Mormonism, Christian Science, etc.) along with para-medical practices such as Chiropractic treatments. But without the public holiday, as the British version of Black Friday, although falling on the fourth Friday of November, remains within a full working week. Then I recall a telling off I received from an English church-goer for using the word diaper instead of nappy in a conversation about our newborn daughter. Perhaps he should be grateful that our Queen's English has so far has not (yet) been invaded by words such as Crosswalk instead of Zebra Crossing, along with Rotary Interchange instead of Roundabout, the rear Trunk for a car instead of the Boot, Smokestack for Chimney, Cookies for Biscuits, and Comfort Station for Public Convenience. However, the American term Airplane looks to have crept into the Queen's English as if through the back door, and remained unnoticed except by the sternest of newspaper journalism, who insist on the English word Aeroplane.

Although, in my point of view, the start of Christmas preparations, including the installation of Christmas lights, should be within the month of December itself without spilling into November, I still find something nostalgic about Christmas and everything that goes with it. That is the one day of the year bringing excitement of new toys to us as children, and one of the occasions of the year free from daily hassle of routine and potential disagreements between adults, when relatives arrive to spend the season together, and that unique cigar smoke filling the air following the main dinner of roast turkey and potatoes, Brussel sprouts (which I was very fond of, believe it or not!) - along with the Christmas pudding being served literally on fire, lit table candles, crackers with its useless trinkets and dreadful jokes, walnuts and hazelnuts with just one nutcracker among a table of six, plenty of Torrone (an Italian nougat), Motta Panetone, and a seemingly unlimited supply of chocolate. A great way to celebrate the Lord's birthday.

There is nothing unbiblical about a national celebration to welcome the birth of our Saviour. The exchange of presents, I believe should not be confined to Christmas and birthdays, but at any time of the year, which help revive flagging relationships and further strengthen already healthy unions. But it was this time last year that I saw, via newspaper and television, something which I thought would never occur here in the UK, and would have caused previous generations to sink their heads in sheer national embarrassment. That is, the frenzy to buy goods at a reduced bargain price. Across the nation, stores selling electrical goods in particular, attracted large crowds, many after the same item. The result were fist-fights - the fruit of the me-first attitude instead of considering the welfare of others, as the Bible teaches.

The greatest bone of contention among merchandise of reduced cost seemed to be new television sets. Wow! All of a sudden, everyone wants a new TV set! What was happening? Isn't it true then, that just about every household here in Britain owns at least one TV set? And with my former occupation, I was fully aware of a TV in each bedroom in addition to the one in the main living room. Why the cry for new TV's all of a sudden? And what is it about buying one at a reduced price, when no consideration for it would have been given at any other time? (For the record, this blog was composed the day after Black Friday 2015, when by a massive contrast, most shoppers stayed away from the discount stores, and instead, ordered their purchases online, resulting in the dubbing of the day - "Bleak Friday".)

It seems to me that possession of physical wealth does not lead to contentment, but the cry for more, more, more. And with our modern culture, if the next door neighbour has something new, than the other must have it too. A good example of this, during my working days, was the re-paving of the front driveway. When one household had theirs done, it wasn't long before the neighbours also had theirs done too. As with computers, play stations, even type of car parked outside, if he has one, I must have one too. With the latter, I tend to think that some who own posh cars parks them outside to show them off to their neighbours, and announcing to the world of their achievements. Then again, others park their vehicles well away from view in fear of vandalism and theft. It is rather extraordinary, come to think of it, that only a few generations back, a typical Christmas present, for instance, was a pair of socks, or even a treat like a bar of chocolate (or equivalent) which was gratefully received by the recipient. Hmm. I dare any parent to buy their pre-teenage son just a pair of socks for this Christmas, and see how grateful he would be for the present!

I suppose there is something about owning and displaying possessions. Does it symbolise status? Or financial success? Or success in one's career? Or do they cover the feeling of inadequacy? This "I must have that or else I'll be seen as a pariah of society" - could this be the reason behind the want for possessions? To keep up with the Jone's? Then to add that the advertising world is designed to make you feel odd if you don't have this particular product.

Jesus had quite a bit to say about owning possessions. One example is found in Luke 12:15 - Watch out! A man does not consist on the abundance of his possessions. That was his answer he gave to someone who asked him to arbitrate between himself and his brother over an inheritance. He then tells a parable about a rich man whose harvest was bountiful, and decided to enlarge his barns before retirement. But that very evening God said, You fool! Tonight your soul will be required of you. Then who will get what you own? To be called a fool by God, I think, is the worst scenario that could occur to a person. This is an interesting case. This was in times when a wealthy man was thought by others to be righteous before God, as it was believed through Moses that wealth was a reward from God for his obedience to his commandments, such as found in Leviticus 26:3-13, Deuteronomy 11:13-15, and 28:1-14. Each of these verses assures the reader that abundant crops is the reward for righteousness, and therefore regarded as wise and respectable among his fellow Israelites.

As a sign of being truly righteous before God, the rich man in the Lord's parable, instead of planning  to enlarge his barns, he should have considered the poor living around him, and give away his stock, trusting in God for his daily needs. Imagine the joyful fellowship he would have received from his neighbours, the growing of a good reputation in society. These, I believe, are the true treasures of heaven, and it's eternal. Maybe he was afraid of thieves, a fear surely everyone of us feel from time to time. But even if his abundance did fall into the hands of thieves, this would still have been a lot better than being called a fool by God. In fact, Jesus zeroes into this matter, found in Matthew 6:19-21. Here he advises us not to lay for ourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupts and thieves break through and steal, but to lay for yourselves treasure in Heaven, where moth and rust does not corrupt, neither do thieves break through and steal.

Faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour is the only solution to the problem we have, along consideration for others. I think that true riches is the agape love that flows in us and through us. And that can only come about through the Holy Spirit in us. And this is also a promise from the Lord Jesus himself. The Holy Spirit is there for the asking, not merely to believers, but for everyone:-
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!  Luke 11:13.
There seems to be no conditions there. There is no "First you must believe in me, then you can ask to be given the Holy Spirit." Instead, the Holy Spirit is being offered to people who are evil, with unregenerate hearts. As I see it, this is parallel to "The Sinner's Prayer" of asking Jesus into the heart. As God exist as a Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet there are no three Almighty Gods but just one Almighty God, then providing that the attitude of the heart is right - knowing the need for God in one's life - he can call upon any of the Trinity, and God will hear his request.

Serving God and loving others is a direct opposite of grabbing wealth and fighting with others to get it. To serve only self brings discord with others, amounting to fisticuffs, as already demonstrated in the stores at last years Black Friday. Although there may be a short term feeling of personal satisfaction by serving himself, this positive feeling usually does not endure, and longer term misery is often the end result. Indeed, King Solomon has noticed, and has recorded in Proverbs 14:20 and 19:4, that the self-serving rich has many friends, while the poor has few if any friends. Actually, the word should be in inverted commas - "friends" - as all they are of interest is their hope of gaining something. It is false friendship, and I believe that the rich man himself is also aware of this.

After all, we are here to revel in God's love, and to have this love shine out to others. This is why we are here, and not to reach out to grapple for what we want, on the expense of fighting and creating enemies. In my mind, the difference between loving someone and putting his interest above oneself is as far different from taking something in expense of another's welfare as Heaven is from Hell. 

God is willing to give us everything to enjoy. In him, there is no necessity to strive, against the will of others, to grab what's there. For me anyway, God himself is my desire. How much I want him, more and more. And believe me, no one will be hurt by this.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Magpies, Stars, and Terrorism.

I saw a cartoon printed on a newspaper page one day this week. It was divided into two frames: the one on the left featured a presenter on television asking the question to the viewer: How can we relieve ourselves from the fear and anxieties of our current affairs and situations? The frame on the right showed the smiling viewer having just turned off the television. Sometimes I feel that I'm with the viewer. Day in, day out, I can't escape the bombardment of the recent Paris atrocities spooned into us from the TV, radio, newspapers bought at a newsagents, or browsed online. Just when I need to get on with life, we remain constantly reminded.

Don't get me wrong, what happened on that fateful Friday has to be taken seriously. I feel full sympathy for all the families of those killed and those severely injured. Then again, the Paris bombing took place during the evening of Friday November 13th. Many consider Friday the 13th to be a very unlucky day, especially for traveling. So I can imagine myself boarding an airline that Friday morning, checking into a hotel by mid-to-late afternoon, then that evening set out "to paint the town red" - that is, to enjoy the diversity of entertainments on offer, and not to shed or spill blood!

Later that evening, several gunmen burst into the club I happen to be in and shoots, taking many casualties. Friday 13th has struck full time. Fortunately I escape, and make my way back to the airport several days later, trembling from head to foot, deciding never to travel on Friday 13th again. Superstition, yes - to you maybe and perhaps for me as well, just silly superstition. Or was it? Were the terrorists aware of our extra caution taken on Friday 13th? Was our superstition known to them? After all, Friday 13th was also a title of a successful big-screen movie released in 1980, with eleven more installments until the latest version was released in 2009, the 12th so far. Even if the movie was banned from being shown in the Middle East, surely it would have been impossible for it to be shown across the Western world without somehow attracting their attention.

Superstition is based on fear, the fear that something bad might happen in the near future. Like the apprehension I feel about magpies. By walking or cycling, but never driving, (I don't have a licence) if I see a single magpie, alone and without a companion, tension arises. I then tend to recite something like, It's only a bird, created by God, in whom I trust. If I see two magpies, (as I often do) then I tend to feel a sense of relief that something good will happen. But even then, I remind myself that God is sovereign, and all good things comes from him, and not from the two birds. Just in case you are unfamiliar with the magpie superstition, here in the UK we use to have a ditty: 
One for Sorrow, Two for Joy. Three for a Girl, Four for a Boy. Ma-a-a-a-agpie!

And this song was the theme for a children's programme of the same title broadcast on TV during the 1960's, at the peak of my schooldays, and it was ITV's rival to the more popular BBC show Blue Peter. But by becoming familiar with the song, an awareness about the bird began to develop which wouldn't have done otherwise. But any reasonable person can blow holes through the superstition. Sure enough, I have seen three magpies together, and I have three daughters. But I have also seen four of the birds together, but I still have no sons. But what about if I see five or more together? Does that mean anything? Or supposing I pass by just one bird, but turn a corner and behold, there is another. What would be in for me? Sorrow or Joy? And what about one or two pigeons, robins, or for that matter, a hawk, night owl, or eagle? Don't they have any superstitious powers? What of a variety of these birds together at a certain area? Would the one magpie among a flock of seagulls bring sorrow? Or would two magpies among pigeons bring me joy?

Perhaps the same with astrology. The stars column appears in all newspapers and magazines, or at least it used to anyway. These daily or weekly personal predictions are very generalised, and can mean a host of happenings. I have once read that they are mainly computer-generated, a long list of data stored in memory, and each for the twelve signs of the zodiac is taken from the database at random. Normally the devotee does not notice that his day's reading had already appeared under another sign some months previously. But I have also heard stories of these predictions coming true to those who believe in them. One of these stories included a church leader in America who wanted to demonstrate to his congregation that astrology is nonsense. So he began to read them each day to prove his point. To his horror, his readings began to come true. He had no alternative but to drop to his knees and confess his sin to God before he was set free from its power.

But is there a common link between superstition and religion-inspired terrorism? I think there is, and it's fear. Fear of the future, fear of Hell, the want of salvation. The attacks, of course, could also be revenge for the bombings and military action in the Middle East, and also for the support in the West for the State of Israel. But aside of these things, I believe that the want of salvation is the bedrock for not only Islam, but for all religions.

It had the same effect on Christianity over the Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic Church had its Inquisition, when those who disagree with its teachings were branded "heretics" and were tortured on the Rack and other dreadful instruments. We can't deny that the Church of Rome has blood on its hands. One notable example was the execution of Bishops Ridley and Latimer, both burnt alive at a stake in Oxford on October 16th, 1555. They were just two among multiple thousands of men, women and children who were executed for posing a threat to Roman theology. When Martin Luther first believed in Justification by Faith alone, taken from Romans 1:17, the Catholic Church was up in arms, and called for the Council of Trent during the mid 1550's to reaffirm that salvation is infused into the sinner by the grace of God, and must be sustained by human effort, including participation in Church ritual and catechism. This "salvation by works" combined with the denial of the Cross, along with the fear of Hellfire, has been the basic cause for relentless persecution over the centuries, including warring conflict between Catholics and Muslims throughout the Crusader days of the 11th Century. Really, coming to think of it, men of faith has always suffered persecution by those who think they can make their own way to God. From the time when Cain murdered Abel, all the way through to the stoning of Stephen by the Jews, the killing of the apostles and many other believers, right through to the present day.

The Church of St Peter, Vatican City

And as the bloodshed by the Catholic Church recede into history, I see people of the present throwing up their arms at the horror of the recent massacre in Paris, carried out by the Islamic State. Cries that this terrorist group is posing a threat to our national security and calling for the Syrian refugees not to be let into the UK, I believe, will not solve the problem. As long that there are people who believe that salvation can be earned, then I think that social unrest and persecution will continue. Also I believe bombing the Islamic State to oblivion will only cause the rise of other groups to carry out revenge attacks in the future, with their belief that their acts will earn them a place in Heaven.

This may seem odd to you as one reading this, and you may not even agree, but my awareness of the magpie, the popularity of astronomy, and the practice of religion (not just Islam) all boils down to fear and insecurity. Whether its fear of what might happen tomorrow in this life or what eternity holds for us after death, fear holds sway in them all. I also believe that this same fear can rise among true believers in Jesus Christ as well. Thoughts such as, Did I believe the right way? or Did God really save me when I asked Jesus into my heart? or If I'm truly saved, then why am I still committing sins? or even Can I sin myself out of my salvation?

Lately, I have been reading posts and blogs posted by those who have an inkling for Universal Salvation. I have to admit, I find these blogs incredibly edifying, even causing me to think, Wow! If only this is true, that God was in Christ, reconciling the whole world to himself, not counting their sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). God being seen as so loving to helpless mankind that although the first Adam brought sin and death to many, how much more has the second Adam brought eternal life to many? (Romans 5:12-21) This gives the impression that if the work of the first Adam brought death to "the many" - by asking how much more has the second Adam brought life to "the many" - that the work of Christ exceeded that of Adam on a quantitative scale, a basis for Universal Salvation. Really, I wish that the idea of a fiery Hell could be eradicated from our minds, to love and serve a wonderful God totally without fear or apprehension. It is thought by them that if the second "all men" - found  in verse 18 - and if the second "the many" - found in verse 19 - are not the same as the first "all men" - found in verse 18 nor the first "the many" - found in verse 19, this must mean that each of these two sets of the same words have different meanings. 

But wonderful is the idea of Universal Salvation looks to be, I do find problems with it, and that could be the reason why the apostle adds a condition found in verse 17 where it says, "those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness" seem to indicate true believers only. But there is more to this. When I consider the evil these terrorists have done - alongside the acts of pedophiles, impatient drivers, fraudsters, thieves emptying your bank account, burglars invading and wrecking your home, those who committed murder, and even snobbish people, isn't it true that the thought of them going to Heaven after death seem insulting to the spirit? Would you rather see them get their comeuppance instead?

But here is where I believe the wisdom of God is different from ours and much greater. His desire is to bring these people to himself, and he has given us believers the privilege of such a commission. There are times that I wish that I could enter a room filled with these terrorists, ready to go out to kill every non-Muslim, and to tell them that the difference between Jesus Christ and Mohammed is that it was Jesus Christ who laid down his own life to atone for our sins, was buried, and on the third day rose bodily from the dead, and he is now sitting fully alive at his Father's throne in Heaven. Mohammed did not die for your sins, but died like any other man, and his bones are with us to this day, buried in Medina. This is a full denial to the popular belief that Mohammed rode to heaven on a horse from Jerusalem. By repenting (changing their minds about Jesus Christ and accepting him as their Saviour and therefore, God) they too can receive eternal life and enjoy totally changed hearts.

That is the true solution to all the world's problems, including fear and terrorism, along with false religions. The turning of the human heart towards God our Saviour through faith in Jesus Christ.

And appreciating his creation, including the magpie. 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Bread, Benefits, and Diamonds.

Fred wheeled himself out of the back door of his house to appreciate the lovely flowers in full bloom adorning his garden. He leans forward to reach out and enjoys the sweet aroma from one of the blooms. Unfortunately for him, out of the window of the house backing on to his, Deborah Ville gazes at Fred with a level of smug satisfaction.

Fred is a victim of a muscle disease which gradually restricted his mobility to a level where he had to be confined to a wheelchair. Having lost his ability to stand, walk and run, he lost his job as a contractor, and afterwards lost his wife too, still in her thirties, to a dishy colleague she met in the office, and to whom she fell in love. Fred, feeling angry and crushed by the loss of his spouse, also had to fight tooth and nail to claim his Disability Allowance, the only source of income with which he is able to live reasonably well.

Deborah is convinced that Fred is a Benefit cheat, milking on the taxes paid by hard-working professionals. As a sour-faced spinster, past middle age and who had never dated, and remaining childless throughout her life, she considers herself a model of moral idealism, and she can be seen at her traditional Church of England service every Sunday morning, dressed in her best finery and topped with her favourite decorated bonnet. She is disliked by her neighbours, and one of them overheard her giving her name to an official, as Miss D. Ville. No doubt, her nickname became known along the street, and so she remains referred to by her initial and surname.

Deborah turns back from her window before Fred has a chance to spot her. She heads for the 'phone and dials the DWP. She reports that this "disabled" Fred at such-and-such an address has been spotted as less disabled than he claims. A couple of weeks later, he receives a letter through the post announcing that his allowance has been stopped, as a result of a tip-off. Suspecting this might have been the work of Deborah Ville but unable to prove it, he heads back to the benefits office to prove his case. No success. He is analysed as fit to work, and he should consider himself lucky he did not face a Court prosecution. In the weeks to come, as he watches his bank account slowly diminish as both his stomach and the pursuing of his fuel creditors continue relentlessly with their demands, he looks for adequate employment, only to be turned away by one potential employer after another.

Deep depression sets in. He suffers loss of appetite and sleep. He turns on the radio to listen to the latest news bulletin. The headline was about the sale of two diamond jewels to a total of £50 million, bought at an auction by a Chinese businessman for his seven-year-old daughter. Never mind that this rich fellow had a five year prison term passed upon him for money-laundering. By staying out of the country where he was convicted, he can live on as normal, avoiding jail. All this to Fred was rubbing salt into the wound. He had already read about the fat cat lifestyle enjoyed by high flying management, especially of the Police, the banking industry, and the NHS, with their sky-high incomes, bonuses, golden pensions, and early retirement. Not to say good health as well, luxury yachts in the Mediterranean, round-the-world travel, posh cars, luxury homes away in the country and not among the terraced estate where he resides. Fred just could not understand why there is such gross inequality this day and age in the 21st Century. 

Fred felt his depression intensify as he watches his bank account go into negative equity. As he watches the figure with its minus sign in front grow bigger and bigger, so did his fears grew. After receiving yet another letter of rejection from a potential employer, he felt he had enough. With the pittance of a cash reserve he has always kept on the side, he buys a bus ticket to the coast, where there is a high cliff. Positioning himself, he wheels himself over the cliff edge, crashing onto the rocky strip of beach many feet below. Meanwhile, on the following Sunday, Deborah Ville makes her way to church, totally unaware of the recent tragedy. Feeling smug that she had fulfilled her moral duty, under the guise of prayer, she starts to thank herself for her high morals, not like that scum of a neighbour who milked the taxpayer with such a "dishonest" claim.

Although I have fictionalised the above story, I have wondered what God says of this when I read media statistics of not a few suicides among the disabled that had taken place due to situations similar to Fred's circumstances. As for Deborah; back in 2005, when I had to reduce my working hours to sit through a six-month parenting assessment, we claimed Housing Benefit until the assessment was over and I returned to full-time work. About three to four months into the assessment, we received a letter saying that not only the benefit had stopped, but we had to pay it all back, due to an anonymous tip-off. So began the tribunal defending our cause for claiming, and we lost the case. Fortunately, the benefit officer was a compassionate female who allowed us a three-year payback interval instead of the twelve-month period which was the norm for failed or dishonest claimants. At least I saw this as an act of mercy at a time of great distress, when the State decided that our mild autism, or Asperger's Syndrome, deemed us unfit to raise our own daughters.  

But I was praised even by our Social Worker for adopting the "Ethic of King Solomon." This was based on the Biblical story of the two prostitutes who presented themselves to King Solomon with a living infant and a dead one. Solomon had to decide who was the mother of the living child. Since each of the two women claimed that the living child was hers, the King ordered a sword to be brought to him, so he could divide the living child in two, so both can have half each. The real mother fell at the King's feet and begged him to give the living child to her rival, but not to kill him. Her rival instead agreed to the kill. Solomon then knew who was the real mother (1 Kings 3:16-28.)

The same is true for our three daughters. Although our hearts grieve over our loss, we now feel that it was better for our daughters to grow up in an environment where they would get the best of everything, rather than miss out under our care, loving and sincere as it might have been. But our hearts continue to grieve, and I believe that has affected the health of both of us. Alex had lost her full mobility, and has become lame. Although she can manage her housework without too much difficulty, whenever she goes outdoors, it has to be in a wheelchair. To see her in that state breaks my heart, but she is a lot more stoic than I am. She takes it all well in her stride. As for me, I would not be at all surprised if there may be a connection between the loss of our daughters and my heart condition. I needed open heart surgery to replace a regurgitating aortic valve. As a manual worker cleaning windows and the need to lift and transport heavy ladders on foot, (I don't drive) I have lost some of my vitality after the procedure. Fortunately, when my 63rd birthday came around just a few months later, I felt this was a good time for retirement, a move backed not only by our Church Elders, but by the majority of my clientele, even with the statement, "It is about time!" uttered by a couple of them.

To some who has always worked and have never been on benefits, I guess it is easy to believe those on benefits to be workshy scroungers, milking the taxpayer. I can understand Deborah's point of view, which is a view seen by many in our country. But to those thinking that retired life is all about ease and leisure, Pension Credit, which we are now receiving, is a benefit which is different to State Pension, which I'll get when I reach 65 years of age. My present benefit enslaves me somewhat to the extent that if my savings exceed £10,000, I have to tell them. Likewise if my wife is taken to hospital, a care home, divorces, or dies. We cannot leave the UK, even for a holiday, without first telling them (although we are not barred from leaving the UK). It is a bit like living on a knife edge. It makes me ashamed in a way, living off the taxpayer, even if I have paid tax throughout my working life. Sometimes I feel immoral by not working, although I comfort myself with the knowledge that 47 years of working since I left school in 1968, is generally longer than one who graduates at university at 21 or 22 years of age, and retires at sixty, after just 38 or 39 years sitting at a desk (although many who receive a doctorate work for even a shorter duration.)  

And here's the point. It was only two years ago that I felt confident enough in my health to work past 65 years of age. I had my own domestic window cleaning business which I was wholly committed to, and fiercely guarded against intrusion by rivals. So to be diagnosed with heart failure during the Summer of 2014 came as a real shocker, believe me! But now as a retiree, I can't help feel a sliver of guilt. Never mind that the Chinese businessman buying diamonds for his daughter is fact, making news headlines, and not fiction. Never mind that there are thousands of those in managerial positions who retire in their fifties with a massive pension. I still can't help feeling at times a sliver of guilt, combined with a feeling of insecurity.

But is benefits Biblical? I believe it is, and the relevant Scripture can be found at Leviticus 19:10 and 23:22, where both verses instructs landowners harvesting their crops, particularly of the vine, not to go back to glean what was left behind, but to leave these grapes for the poor to take freely. This has been written twice by Moses in the same book, emphasising the importance of such a command. This is God ensuring that the needs of the poor are met, and it should be done in love. Likewise, in the New Testament, Paul instructs Timothy to ensure the elderly widow's needs are met (1 Timothy 5:3-16). This is more in line with the present benefit system, but on condition that the widow has no family members to support her, and that she lives a godly life in Jesus Christ.

And that is how I should view the benefits system - as an act of compassion rather than compulsory giving. But then again, had my vocation had been in the office or non-manual, I guess I wouldn't have even considered retirement at this age. Instead, I would have returned to work after my heart operation, and not consider retirement until the proper time.

Especially if I was a jeweller working on expensive diamonds.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

God Is Absolutely Faithful!

I stood upon the level ground of Al Haram Al Sharif, better known as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem, one hot August day in 1993. Not for the first time though, as I stood at the same spot seventeen years earlier in June, 1976. On both occasions I admired the beauty of the Islamic Dome of the Rock with its blue and white octagonal marble structure, topped with a golden dome, covering the precise site once occupied by the Temple built by King Solomon, then later the Second Temple which was so familiar to Jesus Christ and his disciples.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

As I stood to admire the structure, I couldn't help asking myself, Why did the Muslims build their mosque right on the very spot where the ancient Jewish Temple once stood? I found this to be both intriguing and puzzling. It was while I was meditating on the goodness of God in allowing me to visit such a location, when a thought entered my mind. The reason why this mosque was built on this very site was to block the Jews from rebuilding their Temple. The Jews rebuilding their Temple, which must be at that very site and nowhere else, would this time serve as the throne of the Resurrected King Jesus, according to Ezekiel 43:1-9. The blocking of the construction of the Jewish Temple by the presence of a mosque allows this time of grace to flourish. Until Israel is ready to receive Jesus as their risen Messiah, the grace of God at work in the churches will continue when people worldwide are born from above and enters God's family. I think it would be safe to say that the Lord will not return to sit on David's throne until the Dome is taken out of the way, at least. Whether the Temple will be rebuilt before that great Day is another matter. But until then, the Dome of the Rock is serving an important purpose, allowing many to turn to the Lord for salvation.

Consider also that Israel is the only nation in the world that has a fortress built over the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. This cave entombs the graves of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with their wives Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah. There must be something about this fortress which seems to serve as a sentinel, a witness and testimony that the land belongs to the children of Israel, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The fortress was built by Herod the Great, and completed some time before the birth of Jesus. This is another indication that there may be a future for Israel as a nation. Furthermore, no other nation in the world has a monument over the tomb of its founding fathers standing high, passing the test of time and surviving wars such as the one which razed Jerusalem to the ground in AD 70.

But this whole Third Temple scenario, to me, beggars belief - why on Earth the need of a Temple, with its animal sacrifices? Didn't the Lord Jesus Christ become the final sacrifice to end all Jewish sacrifices? But reading on Ezekiel's narrative, there is much about the Levites "bearing their own sins" along with the sons of Zadok "sacrificing sin offerings". I have to admit, there are many things which remains beyond my understanding, however, one possibility being Israel's deliberate rejection of Jesus as their Messiah for at least two thousand years. But the main clue that all this is still future from our point in time lies in Ezekiel 47:1-12. Here a river flows out from under the Temple, eastwards towards the Dead Sea. Where the river is only ankle-deep at first, after four thousand cubits (a little over a mile) the river is deep enough to swim in (probably after cascading waterfalls and the slower flow of the river within the valley east of Jerusalem.) Such a geological phenomenon does not exist at present. There is no river flowing out of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea is called that because of its high salt content, and therefore unable to sustain life. Yet the prophet writes about the Dead Sea being home of a variety of fish species.

But further clues are given by the prophet leading up to the description of the Temple. Ezekiel devotes two entire chapters on the return of Israel to their land - chapter 36, where God talks to the mountains, hills, and ravines of the land of Israel, and chapter 37 where the revival of the house of Israel is likened to a valley of dry bones coming back to life, and the joining of the two sticks - the northern tribes of Israel with the southern tribe of Judah - into a single nation. Over and over again the writer refers to the house of Israel literally. In Ezekiel 36:24-28, the Lord talks about the regenerating of the heart, sprinkling it clean and filling it with the Holy Spirit. According to history, that has never occurred so far to Israel on the national scale.

This runs parallel to what the prophet Jeremiah has written (31:31-34) which is quoted by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, that is, about a new covenant God will make with the house of Israel (Hebrews 8:10.) This looks to be partially fulfilled in the seventh chapter of Revelation where 144,000 Jews, 12,000 from each of its twelve tribes, will evangelise the whole world shortly before the Return of Jesus Christ, resulting in a harvest so large that it cannot be numbered, converts from every nation of the world. Again nothing of the kind has ever occurred throughout history, and concluding that this must be a future event. The fact that the Holy Spirit through John has named each of the twelve tribes of Israel for this future crusade indicates that all twelve tribes of Israel are with us to this day. This seems to concur with a statement which Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, that eventually all of Israel will be saved, that is to say, on a national scale, fully endorsing the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Romans 11:26.)

Sentinel of Israel -the Cave of Machpelah, Hebron 

So what has brought me to write about this subject? It was after listening to a preach delivered by one of our Elders last Sunday, which featured a chart showing that out of the house of Israel, only one tribe remained, the tribe of Judah, from which the word "Jew" originated. All the other tribes remained lost, marrying into their surrounding nations, leaving the churches as the sole possession of God's people. In other words, a belief that God is forever finished with Israel because of their constant sinning and their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. Instead, the churches of our day remains God's only people, but any Jew who turns to Christ for salvation becomes a member of the church as well. This theory is known as Supersessionism, or Replacement Theology, and although our Elders believe in it and preach it, they are by no means alone. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church believed and taught it, along with many Protestant churches. Supersessionism is accepted in many Anglican churches and I believe, many charismatic churches as well.

But does this theory of Replacement Theology really draw me closer to God? As a matter of curiosity, how would I perceive the character of God if he is truly finished with Israel as a nation, and now only the God of Christians only? My perception would be that God himself is not wholly trustworthy to stay true to his promises. Since God has made an eternal covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that their descendants will inherit a specific land, instead I see God rescinding on his former promise by throwing Israel out, and starting again with a new group of people, that is, the Church. Roman Catholicism teaches this, and even Martin Luther and the Reformation also held on to this. On a parallel case, Islam insist that Allah was the God of the Jews until the seventh Century AD, when the prophet Mohammed insisted that Allah was done with the Jews, and prepared for the rise of Islam, which ended up becoming Israel's sworn enemy. 

Supersessionism had brought some quirky ideas about England in the last few hundred years. William Blake's poem, And did those feet in ancient times referred to the whole of England as the new Jerusalem, and that after believing that God is through with the Church in Rome! Since Jerusalem was the actual capital city of Israel, maybe this was the thinking that enforced the building of Empire. If England is the new Jerusalem, as Blake believed, then I can't see why the Empire itself couldn't have been perceived as the New Israel. Perhaps fortunately, the Empire folded in on itself in the 1960's, and England perceived as the new Jerusalem might have passed on, in theory at least. But the hymn And did those feet continues to be sung in various institutions and in international sporting events such as rugby. There was even talk of making this hymn the new English National Anthem.

But the main point of this blog is that God cannot be trusted fully to keep his promises if Replacement Theology is proved to be Biblical. Consider this: If God in the past has, in a sense, dumped Israel as a nation of God's people in favour of the Church, then what could stop him from dumping the Church for something new? After all, Blake believed that the original Church in Rome was dumped for England. A similar idea is believed by every Christian-based sect. All of them - Mormons, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unification Church, even the Church of Christ - all believing that the early church went astray after a few centuries, and God called out a new group of people. Even among more orthodox churches, the idea that they are the Israel of God is taken from Galatians 6:16. But I don't think Paul was referring to Gentile Christian churches here. After all, I don't consider myself Jewish at all, and I have never met a non-Jewish Christian referring to himself as Jewish. Neither do I consider myself an Israeli. The "Israel of God" Paul mentions must be referring to Jewish believers of his day, who we call "Messianic Jews" today.

I doubt if anybody here would call himself a Jew!

And that is the same referred to the one who is a "proper Jew" in Romans 2:29. In verse 17, the apostle addresses those who "call themselves Jews," who have the Law and attempts to keep the Law of Moses. He concludes that even a man who isn't circumcised but has faith is more akin to Abraham than a Jew of genetic link but does not have Abraham's faith. To conclude, a real Jew has both Abraham's genetic link and his ancestor's faith as well. 

And finally, I can ask myself: If God has dumped Israel in favour of the Church, then who can stop God from dumping me in favour of somebody else for salvation? If God is seen as having finished with Israel, then he can finish with you and with me - if we depart from the faith or allow our sins to pile up. 

It looks to me that we have gone the full circle. Namely this: If God has finished with Israel in favour of the Church, then you as an individual can lose your salvation if you depart from the faith, and give it to someone more faithful. But if God's promises to Israel remains standing, and will in the future restore the nation physically and regenerate the Jewish heart on the national scale - as foretold in Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:24-28, and Romans 11:26, then you too will remain eternally secure in your salvation - you will never lose it (if you are a true believer) because God will always be the same - yesterday, today, and forever.