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Saturday, 28 May 2016

I was Enlightened.

During this month's midweek Bible study, I was given a booklet by a very good friend of mine. Issued by the Bible Society, the title of the booklet was The Servant Queen and the King she serves, which was published to commemorate her 90th birthday. It tells in full detail how her lifetime on the Throne had always been devoted to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Although I was fully aware of Her Majesty's Christian upbringing, I was until now unaware of her personal devotion. Instead I have always likened her to that of a figurehead which had decorated the prows of sailing ships of times past, to give each vessel its specific identification. So that was how the Queen had always presented herself - the figurehead of the State Church of England, of which she is the Supreme Governor.

But the booklet has revealed the more hidden side of her reign which the Media does not make so obvious - her love and servitude to Jesus Christ, and even quoting Scripture, particularly Luke 10 and the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which she has quoted in full frequently. It remains unfortunate that the booklet gives very little detail of her pre-Coronation existence, whether there was a time when she first believed, whether she prayed "the sinner's prayer" in the privacy of her room, or whether she grew up in such a strong Christian environment, that she took it for granted that she was born Christian, and that salvation was her automatic right as future heir of the throne. Whichever case might have been, reading about her devotion to God through faith in Jesus has definitely enlightened me from her being a likeness of a figurehead to that of a committed believer.

It was this devotion which enabled her to keep her character impeccable throughout her reign, with her stoicism not going unnoticed. She was never late for an appointment, and she has always at work at the palace, dealing with paperwork and different correspondences. I have come to realise that she, through the power of God in her, has displayed a character which unfortunately, seemed to have failed to pass on to her offspring. For example, the scandal surrounding her eldest son Prince Charles' attitude towards his marriage to Diana, their divorce, and her death by a car accident in Paris in August 1997, has shaken the reputation of the Firm to its foundations.

But why did my friend give me this booklet in the first place? I then asked him whether I came across as being Republican, or simply anti-monarchic. As a reader and follower of this blogger page, he gave a hesitated hint that this was the case. Probably I have an idea where he was coming from. I have admitted that my late father was a Republican and a devout Labour voter, and henceforth I grew up in an environment where concerns for the hard working wage-earner was much greater than the welfare of the rich, the big corporations and their bosses, and that of the monarchy. This upbringing has most likely had percolated through these blog posts from time to time. So where do I actually stand?

It was because I became a believer of Jesus Christ as Saviour at still a tender age of twenty years that I have remained a supporter of the monarchical system. Although I can't be dogmatic on this, had I remained unconverted, it would have been possible to follow my Dad and end up as a Republican. Instead, my support for the Royal Family stems from the Bible's testimony that this Jesus who was crucified, will be one day King of kings and Lord of lords. I have learnt this quite early as a believer, with the emphasis that Jesus will be the King of Israel, sitting on the Throne of his father David. But as I understand it, although I admit of being a Monarchist, I would never bring myself to being a Royalist. I believe there is a difference between these two terms. "Monarchist" defines the role of the Queen in a political sphere, that is, she is able to keep the UK better united, along with a greater economic stability, than a President would. A Royalist is one who actually worships the Queen and her siblings, even filling his house with royal ornaments and trinkets, as well as standing bowed outside Buckingham Palace. That is my view based on what I have seen over the years. Your view may be different.

Princess Diana was loved by the nation.

Although the booklet has brought out a greater admiration for the Queen than I had for her before, due to her devotion to Jesus Christ, I could not help in taking note about her opinions of other faiths existing in the UK. To her, all faiths are welcome to reside here, and she promotes the unity between them as they exist side by side. This train of thinking has made her very popular among advocates of all faiths, notably among the Jews and Muslims. The result of this multi-faith co-existence had made her loved, even adored by all - not just here in the UK but worldwide.

Not quite the warning Jesus himself had made to his followers:

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belong to this world, the world would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of this world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19.

Perhaps its worth noting the word if, he uses here to open his statement. Many a Christian meeting I attended, particularly in a house-group, there were discussions on why we were not treated with the hostility we were expecting. And why we don't suffer any persecution as was promised to those who wants to live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12). Various suggestions were put forward, such as being harassed by the boss, yet failed to impress. We even asked ourselves: Are we really living such godly lives in Christ Jesus? I must admit, the lack of persecution in any form as caused me to question my spiritual health in the past. But looking at the wording in Scripture, Jesus said, "If - the world hates you..." I don't believe that being hated by unbelievers is a necessity for godly living, for Paul later writes: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18.

If the unbelieving world is not persecuting us, then this should be an extra blessing, shouldn't it? In some ways, the Queen seems to be playing her cards right by accepting people of all faiths to live in harmony with each other. By contrast, Jesus had said some bigoted things that would stir up the mud, or kick the dust into the air: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6.  

Supposing the Queen insisted that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, and that Mohammed was a phony, how would the Muslim community respond? Suddenly, the Queen would be no longer held with such respect, let alone loved. Or turning to the Jews living here and saying that the Law of Moses has been fulfilled in Christ, and they must believe in him or perish. Much love lost, I guess. Now it is a possibility, by reading the booklet, that the Queen may embrace Creationism over Darwinism. Suppose she came out with this, declaring that the 6 x 24-hour literal Creation is truly historic, displacing Evolution as a sham. No doubt the vast majority of the academic world would be mortified! But being the Queen, the worst she could experience would be Media coverage, swaths of newspaper articles and even live debating on the TV. But nothing worse than that, if it comes to that. Meanwhile among the Muslims, Jews and scientists, rumblings of discontent would quite possibly sound under the veneer of respectable silence.

As for us ordinary citizens, (yes, citizen, much preferred over being referred to as a Queen's subject) - to declare that Jesus Christ is the only way could well stir discontent to a greater or lesser degree. Here in the UK, causing little more than a raised eyebrow, maybe a passing dirty look, but nothing more. But go to a Muslim country such as Saudi Arabia or Iran, then to publicly exclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to God would bring more than just a dirty look. Such was the case of Stephen within a Jewish community (Acts 7). What he said about Jesus being the Christ had cost him his life.

I guess that is what Jesus was referring to when he warns his followers that the world would hate them. For bigotry. For insisting that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to God the Father. Nobody else. Not through Moses. Not through Mohammed. And certainly not by self effort, even if given a boost by God himself. Even throughout the centuries free grace versus self effort became the cause for the Reformation, along with other dissent within the churches. and so, what I call the threefold pillar of salvation, would be disputed by not a few within the Christian realm.

Soteriology, the study of salvation, is a wonderful topic, yet no subject brings dissent as much as this one. As with the Trinity, many who claim to be Christian deny the truthfulness of a Triune God. But with the truthfulness of salvation, there are still many who believe wholeheartedly in the Trinity, but deny the full threefold power of salvation given to the believer as a free gift from heaven. So what is this threefold gift?

The first is Justification by Faith, or forensic acquittal. This involves forgiveness of all our sins, past, present and future. Since we were all born many years after the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, his Burial, and his Resurrection, then every sin we would ever commit would also be after his Ascension. Therefore his forgiveness must cover the whole of our lives, from birth to death. The second is Imputed Righteousness, that is, having the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed into our account. This result in a new creation, regeneration, being born from above. The third is Eternal Security, or Once Saved Always Saved. This is simply because at the moment of conversion, the believer is forever adopted into God' family, itself the reward to the Son from the Father for giving himself up on the cross. Since God is omniscient, nothing can take him by surprise. So it is easy to conclude that when it came to foreknowledge and predestination, God knew exactly who will respond, and decided from eternity past who would make a good gift for his Son. As I once said some years ago, God the Father would never give a naff present to his Son as a reward!

I have experienced dislike, to put it mildly, by those who reject the concept of Eternal Security. Instead they argue that salvation can be lost if the believer sins excessively or turns from his faith. I refer this as not the free gift of salvation by grace alone, but a probational salvation proved by the believer's own worthiness. The snag with that idea is not only the believer has something to boast about for eternity, it also denies God's omniscience. If God already had known that the believer would have fallen away and be lost again, would he have taken the trouble to save him in the first place? Would God give his Son such a "gift" for his sufferings, only to turn out that this particular gift was naff? Furthermore, we are saved - not for our sakes but for his sake. We are a gift from the Father to the Son, approved and sanctioned by the Holy Spirit. We are saved for the very glory of God. Salvation cannot be lost!

I do not know how much the Queen knows about the study of Soteriology. I do not know whether she believes in Eternal Security or not. I do believe though, that the Church of England leans towards Arminianism, that is, holding the concept of Probational Salvation. If so, as Supreme Governor of the C. of E. it might be possible that's the bedrock which underlies her impeccable devotion to God. But she remains duty-bound never to admit or deny this matter. The same goes with her attitude towards different non-Christian faiths. Whatever her true feelings might be, she will always remain quiet.

But having read the booklet, may I say, "God bless her Majesty the Queen."  

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Pride and Prejudice

Let's go back to Spring 2011. This was when Prince William married Catherine Middleton. An enormous crowd lined Pall Mall to catch a glimpse of the happy couple. Across the British Isles, people were watching the wedding ceremony by the zillions, including ourselves. Hardly a house can be seen without the TV switched on at that particular hour. Then that evening, without doubt, many of the men across the country went to their local pub to celebrate, enjoy a social and a drink.

But eavesdrop on any conversation between the lads and listen in. Would the subject of discussion be centred on the wedding dress the bride wore? Very unlikely, I would say. May I dare go a little further and ask the chaps what colour her wedding dress was? More than likely they will give a blank look, while one of them reaches for his mobile phone in his pocket, click a key or two, then mumbles, "White." I know by my own experience. For me to get the answer right, I had to Google "William marries Catherine" on the Internet to bring up the images on the screen. Or else, I too would have muttered, "Dunno, I can't remember." 

Like a majority of men, I believe, I don't give much time or concern about women's clothes or fashion. And particularly her shoes. Of all the social groups and discussions I have taken part in, I have yet to hear a debate, for example, whether women would look better, more trendy, or even more authoritative wearing high heels or flats. It was something which had never entered my mind.

Until recently.

That was when a female employee, in her late twenties, refused to wear high heels while at work as a receptionist at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, or PwC for short, a City accountancy firm. Not only was she sent home, but afterwards she launched a petition which attracted enough signatures for the Government to take note for discussion at Parliament. Not surprisingly, PwC had to give in and since then, had relaxed this particular dress code. After all, she did have a point. Hours of the day spent with the heel raised from the ground would have eventually caused some physical discomfort. But I can't see that as the whole issue. Rather it looked to be more of a rebellion against male authority by a new breed of radical feminist. At least that was how it came across, as emphasised by one female newspaper columnist.

One significant observation I have made within the last couple of decades. It came at our local superstore, Sainsburys. There is, and has always been, a uniform policy for all employees, making each worker instantly recognisable whether in store or out. But in former years, all male workers had to wear shirt and tie. Then, as if all of a sudden, most of the younger males were wearing a casual, open neck shirt, of uniform colour, although the more senior employees still prefer to wear ties. Was the Head Office in Central London feeling generous, or sympathetic, or having concern for the welfare of its staff, nationwide? Or rather, did the big boys at Head Office cave in to their demand for a change in uniform? And that considering that the majority of workers are in their twenties, an age bracket, according to my observation, who have a general lackadaisical attitude about wearing ties. Such demands, protests, and cries for change were kept secret from us, the customer, to such an extent, that the silence was deafening. All I saw was that their uniform had changed literally overnight. 

I have always been intrigued over uniform. Quite often, an article appears in the national newspaper about a school pupil sent home because she wasn't wearing the right regulation clothing. Whether the skirt was too long, too short, tie wasn't straight, or the shoes weren't the right colour, the student was sent home. It also looks to me that the majority of students sent home due to improper dress were female. But if adult workers did not like their uniform, they rose to protest, and was often heard. As far as I know, there is no record of any school pupils arising en masse to protest against their uniform. Whether this has been due to their love of  such clothing, or fear of punishment from the staff, I can't be sure, maybe it could be a combination of both.

Then as history shows, rebellion and protesting has always been inbuilt into the human heart since the dawn of history. From the disobedience of our first parents, their antediluvian descendants, and later, within the house of Israel, rebellion has always been on the forefront. For those who had religious education at school, or regularly attend church, who has never heard of the famous rebellion against God on a national scale, when the Israelites built a statue of a calf in solid gold, worshipped it, and to it offered sacrifices? (Exodus 32). Or that time when Korah and his mates stirred a significant number of leaders to rebel against Moses and the Tabernacle and encouraged Israel to return to Egypt? (Numbers 16). Or when the whole nation of Israel demanded a king - (1 Samuel 8) - and therefore rejecting God's sovereignty? Then the most significant, the cry of the crowds at the forecourts of Pilate's palace, demanding that this imposter, who calls himself Jesus the Christ, be crucified.

Then sometime after Pentecost, believers began to see the free grace of God as something difficult to swallow, and a very subtle form of rebellion was beginning to show at some churches in the region of Galatia, when teachings such as the need for male circumcision was necessary to confirm the believer's salvation. Paul had to write a whole letter to them, rebuking such teachings. But over the centuries, this form of works-based soteriology crept into the churches on a gradual basis. It was a very subtle form of rebellion against the free gift, in preference for some credit for good works done. It is strange in a way, that the most glorious free gift one could ever receive, without works or without any form of earning, would be rejected in favour of personal merit. And this train of thinking is with us to this day. Even among those who claim to be of the Reformers, the concept of Once Saved Always Saved is scorned in favour that salvation can be lost if the believer doesn't remain faithful. This form of rebellion against free grace is known as Arminianism, after Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius, who was the first to teach this concept publicly.

Rebellion or protests does not have to be violent or mouthy, as was the case of the crowds baying for Christ's execution, or for that matter, the loud protesters at the 1980's national miner's strike. Instead, protestation can be very quiet and pass on unnoticed, as I believe, was the case of the staff at Sainsburys, and among theologians and Christians alike. 

There seems to be quite a bit of fist-shaking and published demands for the UK to leave the European Union at the referendum next month. Not only as Tory newspapers such as the Daily Mail are campaigning for us to Vote Leave, but individuals are posting support for leaving on Facebook, constantly dishing out such advantages for having our national sovereignty back. This is where I squirm. History has shown us that nationalism creates prejudice against foreigners, even home born, such as myself as a defenceless youth. During those days I was teased by grown-up men for merely being Italian - something I have absolutely no control over, as I wasn't able to choose my parents before conception! How such prejudice eclipsed common sense. Then not to mention the well-documented records of racism and prejudice against the influx of Jamaicans arriving here in the 1950's and '60's, followed by the Asians in the 1970's and '80's. Street violence often broke out, often involving whole families of women and children as victims of national and ethical pride. On top of all that, the famous "Rivers of Blood" speech made by Tory Enoch Powell in April 1968 had only created further hostilities the indigenous whites had against non-white immigrants and settlers.

That's why, as I'm not afraid to admit here, I'll be voting Remain. Being fully Italian, having experienced teasing and prejudice thrown at me, I strongly favour internationalism over nationalism. But on top of this, I don't believe that the European Union is a mere work of peace-seeking secular politicians. Rather, as it looks to me, that this could be part of the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy prior to the Return of Jesus Christ to reign from Jerusalem. The existence of the sovereign nation of Israel plays an important role here. During the Nativity, the fate of the Lord was clearly foretold, that he would be the King of Israel, reigning on the Throne of his father David. Before the Lord can return, Israel as a nation must be in existence (Matthew 2:2-6; Luke 1:31-33). For many years, scholars have debated over two related prophecies found in Daniel 2:31-46 and 8:7-9. Authors such as Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and Norman K. Robertson, who all had written books about prophecy during the days when the European Common Market having less than ten member nations, and therefore they believed that a ten-nation European superstate will herald the Second Advent. I was taken in by that theory as well. With as many as 28 member nations in the Union at present, obviously the ECM was not the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy! And I admit that I was mistaken too.

The theory now stands that ten superstates may exist globally prior to the return of Jesus Christ, the present European Union being merely one of them. But this time I won't be so dogmatic on the issue and accept that God alone will know the time and date of the Second Advent. In the meantime, our trust is in God alone, through faith in his Son Jesus Christ. It is him alone we need to focus on, who is above every bickering politician.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

I've Put My Foot In It...Deliberately.

One of the sporting highlights of the week wasn't premier football of any kind, as it is the usual case here in the UK. Rather it was a few days of the Invictus Games held in Orlando. Founded by Prince Harry in 2014, it is a form of a mini-Paralympics, except that these games were reserved for athletes who have suffered both physically and mentally while serving in the Forces, particularly in the Middle East conflict during the past decade.

Unsurprisingly, photos of the fourth heir to the Throne were splashed across several pages of on-line newspapers, all of them showing a very cheerful, casually-dressed Royal who would not hold back his emotions towards the disabled competitors he was there to support.

Prince Harry with U.S. Elizabeth Marks

Straight away I could see that his feelings for the athletes were genuine, showing an affection towards them which he did not hold back in displaying. So by scrolling down to the comments forum, way down below from the headline, nearly all who contributed wrote positive statements, say how affectionate the Royal is, and not only won their hearts but even suggested launching a petition for a national referendum for him to be our next King. Such an example of his willingness to spend time with the athletes is illustrated above, having a chat with U.S. swimming champion Elizabeth Marks. However, I believe that the Prince would have looked better clean-shaven rather than sporting a beard, but then again, that is just my own opinion, and not necessarily that of the nation as a whole.  

And it's all about that. Appearance. So I wrote this at the message board underneath:

As a Royal, Prince Harry should have been wearing a tie. After all, he is the Queen's representative.

After this I went out for a while. A few hours later I returned to the forum to see whether I had attracted any response. I did. This was the Daily Mail forum with a green arrow/red arrow system. On my latest check, I have collected nine green arrows - and 171 red arrows, the meaning is, that amount of people had the courage to express their disagreement, representing a much wider readership. I was rather surprised. A generation ago, surely, I would have collected 171 green arrows of approval for making the exactly the same statement.

The next day, just before toddling off to the gym, I decided to turn the screw a little. At a different messaging board but still under the same headline, I typed in this:

As a Royal, Prince Harry should have worn a suit and tie, and be more distant, with an element of aloofness from the athletes. He is the Queen's representative, for heaven's sake.

Then off to the gym I went, and did not arrive home until the evening. Somewhat to my surprise, after much of the day, I have collected only four greens, and what actually surprised me, another 170 reds. With a statement like that, I thought the number of reds would have approached a thousand. But checking many of the other comments, all expressing praise for the Royal, the vast majority were blessed with greens. It looked to me that my two comments had collected the most reds in the entire forum, along with the replies, which totalled nine - three for the first statement and six for the second, all of them negative and rebuking, and confining me as a miserable sod from the sewers, so to speak. With the majority of comments published without collecting any typed response, the average run of replies is probably less than one per comment. With up to nine, my contribution looks to be something of a record breaker.

The whole exercise was of course, an experiment. Prince Harry's casual, down-to-earth attitude, and openness at the Invictus Games provided an excellent opportunity for me to test the waters of public opinion regarding stuffiness, formality, and the stiff upper lip, for which all members of the Firm are world renowned. My conclusion of the research was that by being himself, Prince Harry has won the heart of the nation, not far below that of Her Majesty, but above all the other Royals.

And what seemed to have delighted the nation was Harry's willingness to embrace openly and publicly. There was no embarrassment, no protestation of Britishness, no hint of sexual stimuli. Instead, he is a shining light from a land where showing affection in public just isn't done. I have been rebuked for hugging other men in church, a place where I thought public affection could be expressed freely without censure. How I desire that everyone would hug like that, with less reservation in showing affection, especially in church. Without anyone looking on with a self-righteous judgemental stare.

Prince Harry hugs a male competitor

The Royal's easygoing attitude has won the heart of our nation, according to the Press, but not only here in the UK, but from all competing countries, including the USA. It is quite a phenomenon, which got me to think how Jesus Christ himself expressed affection during his time of ministry. Did he hug anyone during those three years? It is a pity that the Gospels say very little about this. But he had a way of drawing in the crowds, such power the Pharisees lacked. If anything, the "tax collectors and sinners" might have, out of obligation, paid some form of respect to their religious leaders, but I wouldn't put it past them that they disliked the Pharisees, at least secretly. Too many trifling laws and customs. You must do this, you must do that. Quick to judge and punish. Like forgetting to wash hands before eating, or carrying a mat on the Sabbath, even the healing of the sick on that day.

Jesus must have shown some level of affection. The case, for instance, of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Jesus must have spoken to her in a gentle way, at least to win her heart. She took it for granted that she, along with the rest of her people, were hated by the Jews, and therefore I wouldn't have been surprised that when she saw the Lord sitting there, she was about to leg it as soon as her jug was filled. Instead, he was able to create an atmosphere which kept her mesmerised. The picture above of Prince Harry sitting closely to Elizabeth Marks, engaging in such a friendly conversation, strikes a familiar note. Such an image, in my opinion, is a perfect reflection of Jesus and the female Samaritan.

His ability to draw children is another clue to his tenderness. Parents brought them to be blessed. Did he allow them to sit on his lap? We can't be sure, but according to Mark 10:16, he took them up in his arms. So there must have been some degree of hugging. Try that today with other people's children. The police would be on the scene in next to no time, and charge you with paedophilia! Then what about many others who were healed of their infirmities, had devils cast out, even raised from the dead? Can we assume that everyone who was healed just simply walked away without a single hug of thanks, throughout those three long years?

Hugging was not the only way the Lord expressed his affection. He wept publicly on at least two occasions (Luke 19:41, John 11:35). The first occasion was about the fate of the city of Jerusalem, knowing that in less than forty years it would be razed to the ground by the Roman armies. His weeping has shown his love for the city and its people, to which he says that he was willing to gather in his arms in the same way a hen would to its chicks. Then in the case of Lazarus, who died recently. He wept over his loss. Mary wept too, and although the narrator does not say so, I wouldn't be at all surprised if she wept on his shoulders. Jesus and Mary in a tight hug, both grieving over the loss of her brother. Even the Pharisees were moved, which must have said something. Here in the UK, for a man to weep, especially in public, he would be considered weak, unmanly. Such is our traditional culture. However, supposing Prince Harry witnessed a tragedy at the Invictus Games. Would he weep? My guess is that he would, and with the favour of a majority here in England. Such seems to be the cultural shift.

Another occasion appears in John 13:23, and only in the King James version. It is where the narrator describes himself as "Leaning on Jesus' bosom." All the other versions puts it as merely "He reclined". So I checked the verse in the Greek/English Interlinear. There is a Greek word in that verse for "Reclining". It is the word, Anakeimenos. The verse also contains the Greek word Kolpoi, which is "Bosom". So we have John leaning on Jesus's breast, most likely sensing that something bad is going to happen, and therefore feeling upset. His position had no effect on the other disciples, with Peter tapping him on the shoulder for a clue to who the traitor will be.

Then, immediately after his resurrection, Mary meets Jesus outside the tomb, thinking that he is the gardener (John 20:11-17). When his true identity was revealed to her, she cried out, "Rabbi!" and ran to throw her arms around him. But Jesus told her that he can't be touched for the time being, for he has not yet ascended to his Father. This gives me some clues here. It does look as if Mary did hug Jesus in the past, before his crucifixion, and she was about to do it again. When was the last time? Was it at Lazarus death and burial? Indeed, was she the same woman? Whatever the case might have been, it does indicate that she was in his arms some time before.

Going by the Gospels, it does look as if the Lord was not too reserved to show affection in public. The same goes for Prince Harry. Both have won the affection of the ordinary people. But in the case of Jesus, it was the religious leaders who successfully persuaded the crowds to turn against him. Before then, they were even ready to make him King (John 6:15) which is the same desire expressed by some commentators for Prince Harry. The popularity of both Jesus and Harry were not generated by religion, nor giving of the law, nor even keeping to the culture of the land, but showing love. And showing it publicly.

It is a crying shame that throughout the centuries after his Resurrection and Ascension, the Church has insisted on law-keeping - do, do, do, do - with any thought of God's love slowly being cocooned out of sight from the masses who, while still alive, instead suffered the terrors of Purgatory and eternal Hell. And so the Dark Ages came and went, along with the Inquisition, followed by the Reformation, then finally the Eternal Security debate. Little wonder that the vast bulk of the population, then as now, are not drawn to the Lord at all, instead, a deep awareness of guilt has always been felt, with efforts made to alleviate it, by the development of Humanism, Uniformitarian Geology, Darwinism, and other godless philosophies.

Prince Harry has shown a lot of affection to the competitors of the Invictus Games, and drew the affection of the nation - to the extent the such a bastion of British culture - the suit and tie - is quickly discarded in favour of his personality and charismatic character. Jesus Christ has shown love to the world, the common people loved him, but the religious leaders hated him. And to this day, many religious leaders in the churches continue to hide the love of Christ from those desperate for him, and therefore turn to to the likes of Prince Harry instead.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Based on a True Story.

At school and among her friends, Jackie was a pretty, happy-go-lucky girl. Already in her teens, she could be the life and soul of the party. She can talk about anything she knows about without hesitation - that is, except about her mother Victoria. She never mentions her mother. And she would be too embarrassed to accompany her while shopping at a supermarket. She would blush with shame at the thought of accompanying her in the street in case they would be spotted by one of her friends. As a result, Jackie would shout in defiance whenever her mother would ask her daughter to accompany her outside.

Facially, Victoria still retains much of the beauty of her younger years. Neither has she gained any significant amount of weight except the normal filling-out after childbirth. At a passing glance, Victoria looks as normal as any other suburban housewife. Except for her hands. They were both twisted, shrivelled out of shape, and they are the source of enormous embarrassment to her daughter Jackie, who stands physically unblemished. As the mother's misshapen hands created such shame and hostility in Jackie's attitude towards her, her mother just kept everything to herself without ever a protest.

Then one day, after spending a considerable time sensing the tense, distressing atmosphere between the two females, Jackie's father called his daughter aside with a request for a talk. He then explained how her mother's hands got to be they were at present. When Jackie was a newborn, an accidental mishap caused the baby to fall towards the open coal fire. Immediately, her mother instinctively sprang forward and caught her in time, but severely burnt her hands in doing so. When the adolescent learnt the truth, she burst into tears and ran into her mother's arms, apologising and begged for her forgiveness. Thereafter, Jackie accompanied her mother whenever any shopping needs to be done, and asked whether she can bring her friends home to allow them to see for themselves the proof her mother's heroic demonstration of her maternal love.

Victoria's hands had not changed since her father's talk. They were just as shrivelled and distorted as they had always been. But her daughter's attitude had changed in such a dramatic fashion, that what she previously saw before as an embarrassment, now they were the source of pride and eternal thankfulness. During her father's talk, she saw for the first time ever her mother's sacrificial love, and her own life forever changed.*

Coming to think of it, there seem to be a strong correlation between love and the preservation of life and welfare of another. Conversely, selfishness can, and does, destroy the welfare and happiness of another, and could even take a life rather than preserve it. One good example is theft, whichever form it takes. Within the last week, after my beloved hinted that she would love to set foot in France, along with my own desire to experience the Eurostar, we made a booking for both return train seats and hotel reservation. At was after all payments were made and all bookings confirmed, that I decided to check up on Paris Gare du Nord terminus station where the Eurostar will come to its final halt. Written by other travellers, the TripAdvisor website carried far more negative reviews of the French terminus than positive, with a large proportion as mere average.  

Paris Gare du Nord

Perhaps it may be a natural reaction of the human heart to either exaggerate or understate a matter to make the review a lot more striking, but the majority of these reviews point to one major social disease - theft. Travellers have written about the presence of pickpockets, vagrants, pushy taxi drivers, and other distractions aimed at the tourist who may be well-strapped with cash, but remaining unfamiliar with such surroundings, making them prone to be vulnerable targets. My excitement for the coming trip turned to anxiety, despite that we have to wait until October before travel. And anxiety leads to fear. All because there will be some people there who love themselves far more than others, and will find ways to gratify their own desires on the tourist's expense, causing suffering and distress to the victims.

For such a one as myself who has experienced foreign travel, why this anxiety? After all (if I may boast a little) I know what it's like trying to sleep in a cockroach-infested squalid room at a backstreet hotel in central Manhattan, while listening to a brawl between various Afro-Caribbean groups outside, around two in the morning. So much for living on a shoestring. Or to walk through the seedy East 7th Street of Down-town Los Angeles towards the Greyhound Bus Station, while groups of suspect characters hang around the front doorsteps of residences. I have been approached by aggressive beggars, and in Italy I was a victim of a pickpocket whilst standing in a crowded train from Pisa to Florence, and I had to get through a whole weekend totally penniless. Oh, the ins and outs of solo backpacking! So why the anxiety now?

Because I am not alone any more. Instead, my wife Alex will be with me, confined to a wheelchair until we arrive at our hotel. That makes us both feel very vulnerable, especially at the station. The very thought of any harm aimed at my beloved is the stuff of nightmares. But with us, we know that God is on our side, and nothing can happen unless the Lord grants permission, and such would only be for our own good, according to Romans 8:28. I suppose the "downers" I have experienced as a lone backpacker over the years has reminded me of three important issues. And that is, I have never came to any physical harm, neither did I go hungry, nor did I ever find myself owing to a loan-shark creditor. God has always been with me, and any negative event coming my way was always "filtered" by my Father in Heaven. This is the hope we must both have for the future.

To be realistic, I tend to comfort myself with such Biblical truths rather than rejoice in my security in them. Like a kind of opium in an attempt to put my mind at rest. I can't help recall one of the late Cilla Black's songs, What the world needs now is love. This song was released in 1965, over half a century ago, but it is just as relevant now as on the day it was written. It contains a verse which strikes a familiar cord with my backpacking days:

Lord, we don't need another mountain. 
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb.
There are oceans and rivers, enough to cross,
Until the end of time.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love...

The popular song is actually a prayer, and it's sung to the Lord himself. The singer's heart coincides nicely with the desires of my own heart - the want of a much greater virtue of love in this world to add to its natural beauty. The kind of love that would turn thieves into benefactors, pickpocketing into acts of genuine kindness, offers of a taxi without the exorbitant price they are presently demanding, the want for safety and security, the ability to enjoy the sights of Paris without periodically tapping the sides of my pockets or for my wife to keep our valuables tightly concealed whilst in her wheelchair.

I can't help thinking about that verse which is constantly in my mind while I type this. It is John 10:10:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

It is quite a contrast between the triune deeds of the unregenerate heart, to that of the heart one the believer in Christ. Indeed, the prayer in Cilla Black's song is not so far-fetched from reality as the writer might have supposed. If only the Gospel can go out en-masse on a large scale! If only such hearers were converted by the multiple thousands! Yet Paris has one of its finest attractions: The Notre Dame (Cathedral of Our Lady) which draws in tourists by the thousands each year. But it fails to preach the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Instead it preaches the possibility of salvation through works and continual faithfulness, or be eternally lost. The most unfortunate result of this line of soteriology, is that this does not generate a love for God at any way near as Jackie's love for her mother. Yet it has hold on the majority in Christendom.  

Petty theft, including pickpocketing and bag-snatching, is also prevalent in other major cities including Barcelona in Spain, as well as in Rome, home of the Vatican. The city of Barcelona, according to the Media, is one of Europe's worst for petty theft, followed by Rome. Yet the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and of St. Eulalia, a female saint martyred at that location by the Romans, attracts as many visitors as the Notre Dame, along with even bigger numbers to the Vatican itself. Yet they leave such buildings with their hearts remaining unregenerated, even if very impressed with both the exterior and interior artwork. And so the weariness of loss through petty theft goes on. If on the other hand if it looks as though I'm letting London off the hook, pickpocketing goes on at the most touristy areas as well, even if the two major churches - St Paul's and Westminster Abbey, are both Protestant-based Anglican establishments. Like with the others, tourists leave these buildings without hearing and believing the true Gospel.

The true Gospel includes the sacrificial love of God for all mankind through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. True faith, or believing, must produce a changed life, just as the teenager experienced when finding out about her mother's injury. When the truth was out, she repented from her former attitude and her love for her mother was overwhelming. Our love for Jesus Christ should be the same. But I suppose to have someone there, visible and tangible, makes her object for love much easier than to love someone who is not only invisible and intangible, but died and rose again some two thousand years earlier. I think that this reality of lack of tangible substance together with such a long passage of time make the need to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit an absolute necessity.

A poster found on Facebook

Victoria burnt her hands while saving her newborn daughter. The hands of Jesus Christ were nailed to a cross, along with his feet. Victoria immediately withdrew her hands from the fire, and she lived. The hands of Jesus remained on the wood until after death. Both were of sacrificial love, and both have engendered a response, with many laying down their own lives for the Gospel.

If only the fragrance of the Gospel would waft across Paris. Only then I will be assured that Gare du Nord station will be truly safe for vulnerable tourists such as us.  


*Although based on a true story, the characters presented here are fictional.