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Saturday, 28 January 2017

A Boy Among Doctors.

He was only twelve years old. But his remarkable intelligence has certainly impressed the doctors he was sitting among. The academics asked the lad many tough questions, and the boy managed to answer them all. But it wasn't just one-way asking. The lad also asked questions and received appropriate answers from those he was with. Furthermore, the youngster never became impatient, neither did he rebuke anyone in his presence for asking what he might have considered to be an idiotic or inappropriate question. Not that he or any of the doctors he was with would have wasted their time with foolish matters. Rather, the subject centred around the Law of Moses and other Scriptural issues found in what we would call the Old Testament today. And plenty about prophecy. Prophecy foretelling of the coming Messiah and his credentials, long awaited by the Jews, even in his day.

So impressed were the doctors with the conversation, that the whole discourse lasted three days. Although we are not told where he spent those nights in the absence of his parents, I can only assume that one of the elite took him into his own home until his desperate parents return to collect him.

The youngster was indeed remarkable. Even on his biological level. Whether he knew that every human being carries 46 chromosomes in the nucleus of every cell in his body, for a boy of twelve growing up in a very unscientific but highly religious environment, this is a matter of speculation. I wonder how much he did know in this particular stage in his life, that for a woman to conceive: Her ovum, which has only 23 chromosomes, must be fertilized by a male sperm which carries a further 23 chromosomes before a new life can begin. To qualify as a full human, he must have had all 46 chromosomes. If he didn't, then he wouldn't be truly human. The snag being that this child has no biological father. So whilst still an ovum inside his mother's fallopian tube, where did he get those other 23 chromosomes from? Since this has happened only once throughout the whole of human history, I guess science will never have an answer.

But there is more about his early childhood. From birth onward he never had to be disciplined for wrongdoing by either Mum or Dad. I guess he wasn't fussy with his food either, but as an infant he ate everything without ado whatever Mother spooned into his mouth. Perhaps the only time he let out a piercing scream was on the eighth day after birth. That was the day he had to undergo circumcision, a law given to his father Abraham centuries earlier - by the boy himself. As he grew up, he carried out his house duties without a fuss. Surely his parents must at times were left wondering: What kind of a child is this? Especially if his four younger male siblings, James, Judas, Joseph and Simon all growing up as normal boys who needed discipline, objected to household chores, and often refusing to eat. And all of them disliking their eldest brother for being such a perfect goody-two-shoes! And on the subject of Abraham, did he, as an adolescent accompanied by his parents, pay a visit of pilgrimage to his ancestor's tomb located in Hebron, an otherwise insignificant town far south from his home town of Nazareth? If he did, he would have looked at the very same fortress I looked at myself some two millennia afterwards, as Herod the Great successfully completed this iconic structure shortly before the boy was conceived.

And so there he is at the Temple, deep in conversation with the doctors. How much knowledge he had at that age one can only speculate. Was he already aware that his main mission on Earth was to suffer and die a criminal's death to atone for the sin of all mankind? This shortfall having entered the world through the transgression of Adam after giving in to Eve's seduction to eat the fruit of the tree God told them not to eat from. And so as one man transgresses, so sin has infected all mankind, separating each person from God, from each other, and even from himself, and ending in death. Yet this twelve year old at the Temple - was he already aware of the Three Trees of human history: The Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, and the Tree of Calvary? And by dying whilst crucified will reconcile each man to God, with each other and with himself? Was the boy already aware of the result of his destiny? And his physical Resurrection after three days buried in the tomb? Furthermore, was he already aware that one day there will be no distinction among believers between Jew and non-Jew, no distinction between a free citizen and a slave, and even no distinction between male and female, as so well narrated by Paul in his letter? - (Galatians 3:26-29).

Did the lad at the Temple knew already what the result of his destiny would bring? Not only the giving of eternal life to all believers but reconciliation and unity with each other whilst still alive here on Earth? I think he already knew. He knew very well about this. Such a lad of tremendous intelligence and knowledge, yet in turn would not reject other people who don't match his model, neither would he stand offish, or look down on any of his friends and colleagues of his age range, even if such other boys may have had non-Jewish births, have different colour skin, or having come from different nations.

Perhaps you may disagree. After all, as an adult, he sounded quite abrupt to a Canaanite woman up north in Tyre when she made a simple request for him to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). He actually called her a dog. It would have been an extremely unusual scenario had it happened in our day. The Canaanite woman might well have protested with no small anger, using words such as:

How dare you! You arrogant swine! I'm not a dog, I am a woman! How dare you Jews insult us just because we aren't Jewish ourselves! It's about time you learnt a little more respect!

Instead, she accepted her foreign status in the eyes of the Jews and then proceeded to demonstrate that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from its master's table. Out of his love for her, proceeded to heal her daughter and at the same time grant eternal life as an additional free gift to both of them. What a man this boy grew up to become!

Reconciliation of fallen man to God, with each other and with himself. I am convinced that this lad already knew of his destiny by the time he reached that age. And he was determined that, at the right time, he would set off to give himself to the Cross, and accomplish his mission of reconciliation to the level which the apostle later wrote - no more distinction between Jew and Greek, slave or free, male and female. An astonishing accomplishment!

How I wish I had the capability for time travel. Yes, I have travelled the world in my time but never had the capacity to travel back in time. Because I would have loved to have witnessed for myself this boy's wisdom and intelligence. In fact I would have very much desire to be at his presence on three primary stages of his life - shortly after his birth in Bethlehem, at the Temple in Jerusalem twelve years later, and finally, standing at the foot of the Cross. I can imagine myself being in the Temple at the presence of such a company, watching and listening to this lad as he speaks and ask questions. Then, probably before the third day is spent, I would cautiously approach him, fall on my knees and bury my face onto the ground just in front of him, hoping, just hoping, that he will reach over and gently stroke the back of my head with the palm of his hand.

Because I would explain to everyone around that from where I came from, much of the population remains alienated from God, from each other and from themselves. For example, this idea of having evolved by chance from primitive organisms over multiple millions of years is now accepted as scientific fact, therefore discrediting any historicity of Divine Creation. Even among Christians, especially among those who has received further education, there is this rather absurd notion of Theistic Evolution, a line of thinking which would still discredit and destroy the truth of the Gospel. After all, if sin entered the world through one man Adam, and death to all men result from this one man's sin, then if Adam and Eve had parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, all the way back hundreds, maybe thousands of generations before looking distinctly ape-like - and if all of them had died before Adam and Eve were ever born, sinned and died, then death did not come by one man's sin at all, and the Atonement becomes totally meaningless and ineffective. Then to make matters even more complicated, one would have to ask where in this long generational line is the point of demarcation between non-human and human species, and how far back was this before Adam's time? Yet, as I would tell them in the Temple courtyard, there will be many highly educated Christians who will adhere to such a peculiar notion. 

Then we are suddenly experiencing the rise of neo-nationalism, both in the UK and in the USA, as these nations will one day be called. The leader of the then most powerful nation in the world will be set upon building a 2,000 mile wall on the border with its neighbouring country Mexico, to keep those Mexican people out. These isolationist principles, together with the UK leaving the EU, raises the likelihood of international war breaking out further into the future, resulting in turning natural rivers into rivers of blood. Not to mention the on-going hatred between Western civilisation and Islamic terrorists, the latter bent on killing all non-Muslims as heretics. Then I will conclude on this matter that his mission to reconcile all men to each other seemed to have disastrously failed, with the addition that even within a single church, from time to time, there will be a degree of prejudice and distrust among its members, especially between social classes, along with an influx of false doctrine which will drive divisions even further.

Donald Trump - "I will build a wall at the Mexican border."

I will go on to explain to the boy and his accomplices the rising numbers of cases of mental illness, together with a rise of suicides. The feeling of a low self-esteem by comparison with the successes of others around, especially in the area of academic achievement, together with a feeling of inferior complex, and an awareness of personal failure, real or imagined, has become epidemic in my time and in my generation. If anything, the lad's future mission to reconcile the majority of mankind with God and with themselves has failed as well, and as I can see it, it's getting worse. I will also explain the direct link between negative, stress-induced emotions and physical illness, a large variety of diseases, with heart failure and cancer being the two biggest maladies induced by excess stress, worry, and lack of personal value, the latter caused by believing that we are all mere accidents of evolutionary chance. And also the same belief in evolutionary chance being a contributing factor, and probably a major one at that, for the collapse in marriage, the rise in divorce, the rise in adultery and unfaithfulness, sleeping around, and the consequential result in the rise of sex-induced diseases - all in a vain attempt to boost self-esteem and to be more in control.

Then, after I have finished, the lad would instruct me to return to my own time zone, and keep trusting in him, and know that because of him I have eternal life, and that through faith in him I am a son of God, adopted into his family, and I will never be lost again, because I'm in his hand, and I will never be plucked from his Father's hand, because he and his Father are one (John 10:29-30). He then explains to me that when the time set by his Father arrives, he will return to redeem every believer and put the whole world to rights when there will be no more tears, no more pain or sorrow. A perfect world which he alone can restore to its original Edenic beauty. 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Am I Being Morbid?

Being retired from work does give me several privileges. Aside from going to the gym up to three times a week, there is also the opportunity of visiting Bracknell Town Centre during a typical working day, especially around the time of the lunch period. And the fact that over here in what the Americans may refer to as "Downtown Bracknell," much of it is a huge building site, at a midst of a major redevelopment project, featuring a new shopping and leisure mall which will attract retailers and businesses which have not existed here before. 

Last week I passed a group of workmen who were milling around during lunchtime, and I overheard one calling out some instructions to another - in a foreign language, probably Polish. Suddenly, my perception of the construction project, the issue of immigration, and the result of the Referendum, all seemed to have come into focus. Many of the builders, if not the entire workforce, are no longer of the traditional English working-class builder, known for his drum-sized mugs of tea, a half smoked cigarette carefully poised between his fingers, and his casual humour as he wolf-whistles a passing young female, or as they say in their language, "a nice-looking chick." Rather, it looks to me that the redevelopment of Bracknell town centre is carried out by foreign workers who keep themselves mostly to themselves.

Reconstruction project at Bracknell town centre.

Like the time when we had a complete kitchen and bathroom overhaul, a project which lasted three weeks. Several different contractors were involved. The first took down all the old plaster and fittings, the next dealt with the plumbing, another took care of the electrical rewiring, another re-plastered the walls, still another installed all the new furnishings, another re-tiled the flooring, and the final contractor re-painted the walls and ceilings. Quite a number of workers we had in our house every weekday, and I'll be the first to say that they all done a magnificent job, up to professional standard. Yet every worker involved in the project were foreigners, even with a level of difficulty in speaking English.

So the cry of the indigenous Brits as we voted whether to remain in the EU or to leave and regain our national sovereignty - we voted to leave by a narrow margin. One of the main issues here being immigration - people from the European Union coming here and taking our jobs, often with low pay. As a consequence, employers are to be blamed for paying such low wages whilst at the same time the foreign workforce seems to be content enough not to protest and withdraw their labour, as the British workers were reputed for doing so on such a large scale. It was even noticed globally, particularly back in the 1970's, with the Winter of Discontent of 1978/9 reaching the pinnacle of the crisis, something I remember well. Maybe it was these Capital-versus-Labour conflicts which were a factor to this widespread immigration. Then after watching Degree-Inflation beginning to creep into the academic world during the 1990's, with more and more students choosing Further Education in preference to vocational apprenticeships, a culture of occupational snobbery began to rise. Young men in particular wanted to match their female colleagues in the professions, and therefore turned up their noses at traditional vocations for a desk in the office.

And so the dominant Prime Minister of that decade, Labour leader Tony Blair delivered his mantra: Education! Education! Education! - with Universities becoming the new yardstick for personal and occupational success. The Labour Government of the 1990's was also responsible for the Open Doors Policy, a relaxation of our national boundaries to allow greater freedom of movement across Europe, including into and out of the UK. No doubt, small businesses, retailers and farmers took advantage of the inflow of Europeans with a promise of accommodation and "a reasonable pay" - which although low by British standards, it was still higher than these workers would have received had they remained at their home countries.

And so with an added excuse of the NHS becoming clogged up with "Health Tourists" coming into the UK with their expectation of free treatment, when former Prime Minister David Cameron called for a Referendum to ask the nation whether to leave or remain in the European Union, the Vote to Leave won. And that despite that the clogging of the NHS was due mainly of the ageing indigenous population rather than health tourism - which makes up a tiny percentage of the patient flow - there is a certain high feeling of optimism, even excitement as not only the UK regaining its own sovereignty, but with great expectations of great glory equalling to imperial days. Indeed the modern Tower of Babel will one day be completed! 

And so with the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, is hardly completed when a group of highly professional, right-wing English Media journalists gets in on the act. This being the case of the gloating and sneering attitude towards us who voted Remain at last year's Referendum. One good example of sneering is quoted here, word for word, from Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn, in his article praising the victory of the new President. He writes:

One of the great joys of watching the unlikely rise of The Donald has been witnessing the deranged reaction of his opponents, who have behaved exactly like the hysterical Remain camp at home.

They still can't accept that they lost and will do everything in their power to prevent Trump (and Brexit) from succeeding. But they are doomed to failure.

A phalanx of Democratic politicians boycotted the inauguration, in a playground gesture of dissent. Like our own Remoaners, they saw everything which they disagree as "illegitimate" or "undemocratic".
The Daily Mail, Saturday January 21st - Page 17, emphasis mine.

This is totally untrue, we have not behaved like the protesters in the streets of Washington DC. Instead, Littlejohn looks to be exaggerating so to throw a stronger punch. In what way? Well, first of all, the majority of Remainers still believe that the result of the Referendum was democratic enough for the divorce from the EU to proceed. Secondly, and more to the point, I cannot recall even a single reported incident of Remainers causing violence in the streets here in the UK, throwing rocks, setting cars alight, and breaking glass shop-fronts of banks and McDonald's restaurants. These violent protests were against the rise of Donald Trump and this took place mainly at 12th Street of Washington DC. Yes, we might have made a verbal protest or two, but it looks to me that the vast majority of us who voted Remain accepted our loss with a level of grace. On the other hand, the murder of Labour M.P. Helen Joanne Cox in West Yorkshire by a deranged would-be Brexit voter just before the Referendum, is kept rather quiet by columnists such as Richard Littlejohn.

Scenes of the Anti-Trump protests in Washington DC 

I voted to remain in the EU, and after suffering the loss, all I did was make a few comments on Facebook. That was all. I certainly did not go out onto the streets to protest, not even on a peaceful level, let alone violently! Furthermore, I am against any idea of a second Referendum, as proposed by both Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. Rather, we all have already voted. A result emerged. Those who voted Leave has won the vote. So let's get on with it.

Right-wing newspapers are glorifying both the victory of Brexit here in the UK and the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Both groups of supporters are extremely proud, self-confident, and optimistic for the future. I could even add that there were many evangelical churches in America who persuaded their members to vote for Trump. And here is the rub. Churches vying for a political leader. Quite contrary to how the Apostles felt about their leaders of their day.

Because although I voted to remain, I am also aware of the imminent: Death, which could happen at any moment. Especially as one retired, I have become more aware of this unstoppable journey to the grave. The apostles knew this as well, and lived as if each day might be the last. Suddenly, with such a realisation - everything in this world becomes irrelevant. What use is it for me if we leave or remain in the EU if God will call me home tomorrow? Oh more important, if my unbelieving friends, colleagues or neighbours were to die tomorrow without Christ in their lives? Yes, what then? Am I being morbid?

In Romans 13:1-7, Paul writes that there is no authority which has not been established by God. Therefore as Christians we are obliged to submit to those over us. The American believer has a duty to submit to Donald Trump as President as it is for us to submit to Theresa May as Prime Minister, whether we all agree with their policies or not. It is what Paul the apostle has written. Peter backs this up, exhorting us to fear God and to honour the King (1 Peter 2:17) - even if the Roman Emperors in Peter's day were at their peak of wickedness, and guilty of murdering potential rivals and family members. Both Paul and Peter knew that God himself has placed each one on the throne for the purpose of keeping evil in check. In this sinful world, the need for authority is a necessity.

There was something glorious about the ancient Roman empire. Despite the wickedness of its ruler, the Pax Romana has made the empire look glorious to the average Roman citizen, including richly aesthetic public buildings, marketplaces, forums, theatres, and of course - the public baths, so beautifully decorated, and areas of public gardens and its numerous fountains to delight the eye. Indeed, there was a lot of beauty in the ancient Roman Empire along with its economical and political stability. The kind of world which Donald Trump has aspirations for the USA, and for Brexiteers have for the UK. The wanting of the heart of every human being to restore his lost paradise, bathed in glory and earthly splendour, the Garden of Eden lost at the dawn of history. 

And that how poor Demas must have felt. Demas was a companion of the Apostle Paul out on an evangelical mission, along with Cresens, Titus, and Luke. In 2 Timothy 4:10-11, Paul writes that only Luke remains with him, after the departure of Titus to Dalmatia, Cresens to Galatia, and Demas having gone to Thessalonica, having loved this present world. 

With the richness and man-made glory of the Roman Empire, I can't blame the attitude of Demas, on how he was overcome by the beauty, political and economic stability of the world he lived in. But a few years ago I have read an online article written by one of the leaders of an evangelical church in the Californian city of Sacramento. This church, like I do, believes in Eternal Security of the Believer, and therefore I value many of its teachings. But one teaching I have objections with is that concerning Demas. According to this church, Demas was never a true believer, or else he wouldn't have deserted Paul for the love of this world, according to their reasoning, the promise of the true believer being kept by the power of God, as stated in 1 Peter 1:3-5. Therefore this church has classed Demas as a false convert, still in his sins, along with any other like-minded church-deserters as false converts. This is utter nonsense. Not only does this deny the beauty in the truth of Once Saved Always Saved, but also becomes a form of Lordship Salvation. Only in this case, a life of continuous performance being proof of salvation. Failure to perform adequately only leading to grave doubts whether he is truly saved, hence becoming a sitting duck for adverse spiritual forces. Surely, this kind of thinking can place an unbearable yoke on the neck of the believer.

Jesus advises us to seek the Kingdom of God and not to love this present world. This can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit within. It is an act of love. An act of love for God and his Kingdom which will surpass everything that is good in this world. Not only it's the work of God in the heart, but it also take time for such love to be reached, and it's easy to fall back from time to time. But that does not make us false converts. Rather, it's part of spiritual growth.

To the apostles, along with the majority of early believers, the Kingdom of God and its glory was so close to their own reality, that all the glorious things of this world had become like shadows by comparison. They honoured the Emperor in full knowledge that God has put him there to keep evil in check, but still their hearts yearned to be in the presence of their True King, the risen Jesus Christ who has atoned for their sins and has credited his own righteousness upon them, and made them children of God and heirs to his inheritance. Donald Trump cannot achieve any of these for his followers. Neither can Brexit bring such salvation to us either.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

A Heart-Touching Story

Going back to an unspecified number of years, there was a medical student from a poor background who was struggling financially, and therefore had to knock on doors to sell merchandise in order to keep up with his college payments. One day, as he was walking along the street feeling hungry, with the last dollar bill in his pocket and unable to afford a restaurant meal, he decided to knock on the door of a house with a hope that whoever lives within may be kind enough to hand out some food.

So as he knocked, and the door was answered by a young woman, he spontaneously asked if she could spare a drink, probably with a realisation that asking for food was perhaps a little over the top. She went back inside and then returned to her front door holding a tall glass of milk.

"How much do I owe you for this?" asked the grateful student.

"Nothing," was her answer. "It doesn't cost anything to be a decent human being."

Some years later, at a hospital ward, this surgeon arrived to discuss a procedure to one of his patients who was in a critical, life-threatening condition. He recognised the patient as the kind-hearted woman who was so generous to him during his student days, and then had her wheeled into the theatre on a gurney to proceed with the operation. Some weeks afterwards, she received her bill. On it, it read:

"Paid in full with a glass of milk."

This story, which appeared in Facebook and which I then shared, reminds me of a song by Rolf Harris which was released in 1980. Its lyrics were about how two boys, each were playing on his own wooden horse, when one of the toys broke, leaving its owner Joe distressed. Then the other boy Jack beckoned his friend to come and share his horse, as there was room for two and he can go just as fast with two riders. 

Years passed by and the War came so fast. During the heat of the battle, a horse dashes out onto the battlefield to arrive at a fellow soldier who was lying on the ground badly injured with his life slowly ebbing away, and urgently needed to be taken back to base. The rider recognised the casualty as the one who offered a ride on his toy horse so many years previously after his own one had broken, and asked:

"Did you think I would leave you dying when there's room on my horse for two? Climb up here Jack, I can go just as fast with two."

Although the first story is actually true while the second is fiction, both I have found heart moving perhaps even a tear rolling down my face, seeing such kindness in action - the concern for the other's welfare above our own as a result of agape love. Just as one of many maxims spoken by Jesus during his ministry:

And whosoever shall give to drink unto these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
Matthew 10:42 AV.

He shall in no wise lose his reward. Maybe the promises Jesus makes here in this life are more true than many assume? But the best reward I can experience in helping someone in distress is the feeling of exuberance, as if freed from all the worries of this world and desiring to skip along the sidewalk like any happy child would. There are many things I come across which I find soul-stirring. One example is an elderly lady or gent struggling as he walks home from the shops or some errand, even with a help of his support stick. Seeing such people, in my opinion, puts to shame those owners of expensive fast cars who purposely rev up their engines and step harder on the accelerator whenever they see a bicycle. If the driver is a man, I tend to smile, pitying his microscopic genitals and resulting frustrations in the bedroom! If the sports car driver is female, they are usually young professionals in their attempt to send out a message that they have graduated at University and at present holding down a high-income profession. Since the female seldom step on the accelerator at the sight of a bicycle, I seldom smile, but woe betide me if I unintentionally stray into her lane. She'll make sure who is the boss.

Climbing the social ladder seldom impresses me, if such success impresses me at all - especially when showing abuse behind the wheel. But on the other hand, I certainly don't believe in the old English edict of "minding your place in Society." However, climbing from rags to riches can only be good if others benefit, even if it's only to hand out a glass of water. Another issue I tend to find soul moving is bereavement. Not so much as the death of a celebrity as, for example, the death of a wife or girlfriend. This image also came up on my Facebook wall and I saved it for easy access on my profile timeline:

I spent quite some time fixated on the image, and at the same time listening to a very beautiful and sad piece of instrumental on You-Tube: BrunuhVille Pirate Love Song - Black Heart, which is fully appropriate, as the music depicts the broken heart of a pirate who has lost his loved one. That's one of the marvels of the modern computer: in addition to Facebook which is already on the screen, I can click on to You-Tube, then click on to the video, and then re-click onto the Facebook image, and look deeply at it whilst the music is playing. It makes me think about my own sweet wife, and how thankful I am for her being here with me. Nevertheless, whenever we go out together, I have to push her in a wheelchair. This for me is a distressing sight - to see my nearest and dearest in such a situation when I clearly remember when she was not only fully mobile, but was able to sprint - she always outran me - jump, and dance, for the first twelve years of our marriage.

Yet her condition has spurred a greater faith in God. Through this experience I have discovered something about suffering, whichever form it takes, and the milk of human kindness which meets with it. What is it about love, the tender compassion shown by one to another, the grieving with someone who is grieving at the loss of his loved one? Or at least being aware of many around the world who are suffering one way or another, say from hunger, warfare, or certain diseases, but will never have the opportunity to meet them personally. I thank the Lord that there has always been a group of Christians who have dedicated themselves to helping out these victims of circumstance. And this is where my privilege of giving lies. If I can help from the distance, the opportunity is there. And nothing could be so exhilarating than to see a distressed child break into a smile and say "Thank you."

The wide, bovine eyes of a frightened child is certainly not far and few between. And I think of the thousands, yes millions who are born never to hear the true Gospel of salvation - simply because they were born in a Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu country. I was sharing this very matter with a student friend of mine at church. Astonished on how one can perish eternally just because he happen to have been born in the "wrong" country or continent, a matter of no fault of his own. I was stumped for an answer. And here in the so-called "Christian" Britain, children attend school where Darwinism is taught in lieu of Creationism, and will grow up never understanding the truth of what the Gospel really is, and simply pass it off as fables, fictional ideas of ignorant men of ancestry who didn't know any better. And even among true believers, there is that tendency to advocate "Theistic Evolution" to hardened unbelievers, so not to sound like a nerdy ponce in their belief in a literal six-day Creation.

As such, these forces which exist in the air do their hardest to keep the individual from the truth of God's love (Ephesians 6:12) seem to be quite successful in their endeavour. Very successful I should say. And so I was unnerved by an incident which took place at our church last week, which lies behind the inspiration for this post. Near the end of the service, the Elders thought it was wise to sing an old English patriotic hymn, I vow to thee, my country - something I thought to be a sore point considering being at present in the midst of the Brexit-Remain political controversy. However, our Elders dismissed the first verse out of hand which glorifies earthly military might for King and Country, to skip straight to the second verse which aims for the better country as depicted in Hebrews 11:13-16 - an eternal city prepared by God to be the permanent habitation of the faithful.

I turned to see a couple several rows behind me, looking very disappointed, a picture of sorrow. Then after the single verse of the hymn was finished, the wife began to "pray" aloud for the welfare of our Queen. I use speech marks here because her contribution sounded very much like a rebuke to the Elders for daring to dismiss verse one in such a way they did. When considering the short lives of many around the world, living in fear, starvation and illness, the Queen has never had it so good. Already in her nineties, she has outlived a great many, including my father. This English church woman praised the monarch for being "a devout Christian" who suffered nothing more than a cold over the Christmas period. And this female has revealed the true fear within the hearts of many here in the UK - that one day the Queen will die. Such a passing away bringing some Armageddon-like catastrophe not only to Britain, but to the whole Commonwealth, and maybe to other nations too. To be truthful, it has always been my opinion that throughout her entire reign, she has done an excellent job as monarch with a full, whole-hearted and unwavering commitment. But we cannot hide under the carpet. One day the Queen will die. That is certain. The only thing we don't know is when. God alone knows when she will be called home.

Then, after her death, the institution of the British monarchical system will not end for the UK, unless the people want it to be so, which I think, is very unlikely. Prince Charles is ready to claim the throne, and if he happen to be unlucky enough to kick the bucket whilst his mother is still alive, then there is her grandson Prince William. Indeed, as long as it's the will of the people, the British institution remains as firm as a rock.

It's this kind of hypocrisy which had dominance in the Church of England in centuries past which sprouted the likes of Richard Dawkins, Bertrand Russell and Charles Darwin, along with many other "Thought Bombs" who had an impact in shaping our national society to such a level of unbelief I see to this day. It is distressing. Bertrand Russell, in his book, Why I'm not a Christian, aims his guns mainly at the Church of England of his day. With one chapter titled Nice People, he gives a candid description of a typical wealthy female attendee, herself a lifelong spinster but a rather bossy Aunt to her relatives. Each Sunday there she is, at church, dressed in her Sunday Best, and having a respect for the rich and the noble, not to mention her devotion to the King, but also having disdain and strong dislike for the poorer, uneducated class, the pariahs and dregs of society. Such a person can be cruel and disrespectful even to her own house servants, but lavish in her own standing before the King, Country and God himself.

Most likely such an attitude, its existence also endorsed by classic novelist Charles Dickens, can be put down by their central soteriology of Arminianism - the Catholic stance of salvation being decided upon human choice rather than God's sovereign grace, and as such, salvation is looked upon as a lifelong probation rather than as the free gift given eternally to every believer. That is to say - Arminianism, first taught by Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius to counter the teachings of John Calvin in the 16th Century - insists that a believer can lose his salvation if his faith weakens, a condition every believer is seen as in potential danger of falling into, as well as a piling of unconfessed sins. The result of this line of thinking is to ensure that one's faith remains strong, along with efforts to remain holy and undefiled in the presence of God, really, out of fear of eternal punishment. The fruit of Arminianism includes the liability to lead the believer to become judgemental towards others who disagrees with him, together with a greater respect for social class, and an attitude of self righteousness. The aforementioned couple who "prayed" for the Queen are devoted Arminians.

Hence either the diminishing or even the absence of agape love. The milk of human kindness which motivated the householder to hand out a tall glass of milk to a hungry student. The kindness shown by one young boy to another when his toy horse broke. The tears running down the face of the bereaved as he stands at his girlfriend's grave. The sort of stuff which can cause me to shed a tear. Something so wonderful, so endearing, so awe-inspiring. The very thing churches everywhere, including ours, so desperately needs. To see the lifting up of a distressed child, her wide, tearful eyes narrowing as she breaks into a grateful smile, to witness someone come to Christ by faith as a result of seeing love at work. To see hope restored in those who had no hope. To see the real love of Jesus Christ shine out of our hearts.

And the test of real love? It is shown to those who are different. Having different opinions, being of lower social class, having a manual job, being less educated, arriving from a foreign land, unable to speak good English, of a different race, poorly or scruffily dressed, even physically deformed by disease, disabled. True love covers everyone who does not fit the mould, as well of those who does.

God loved all of them enough to send his Son to die for them all. With God there is no favouritism. It is an impossible realm to reach by self effort. Only the Spirit of Christ in us can bring us up to that level. Jesus promised that his Father is very willing to give the Holy Spirit to everyone who asks (Luke 11:11-13) - and no self reformation is needed before the asking for the Holy Spirit. Every human heart is evil, and it is to the unreformed evil heart where God enters in!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

A Wise Exhortation

Just two weeks before Christmas I attended a Sunday nuptial of the daughter of a long-standing friend of mine who is also my accountant. Being a Sunday wedding, it commenced within an hour after the end of our normal church service, at our own church building approximately two miles from the spacious Ascot Racecourse restaurant where we meet each week, hence necessitating a cycle ride between the two venues, as I don't hold a driving licence. Thus, as I sat next to a smartly dressed, lordly-looking elderly couple, I surveyed the fully-packed sanctuary, and saw that I was one of just three adult men who wasn't wearing a tie, and by the looks of it, the only one not wearing a suit either. 

It wasn't so much an act of rebellion against stuffy English custom as suffering an unpleasant sense of neck constraint whilst cycling and creating body heat and eventual opening of the sweat pores. Well at least nobody, as far as I was aware of, looked on me with a condescending countenance. As I sat there, perhaps with a feeling of being out-of-place at such a formal occasion, I made an effort of introducing myself to the elderly stranger I was sitting next to, his halitosis testing my own stoicism not to screw up my face in repulsion. As I waited for the bride to be escorted into the church by her father, I was pondering on how the wife of this gentleman sitting next to me can share his bed each night in each other's arms without being put off by such bad breath.

The ceremony itself went smoothly according to plan. Then, after the address was delivered by a graduate of Royal Holloway College, an annexe of London University, it was time for anyone in the congregation to deliver a prayer, a prophecy or anything God has laid on his heart for edification to the newly-weds. This was the moment I felt a strong urge building within me, and had I restrained myself out of politeness or some other English etiquette, I would have felt deep regret over a missed opportunity.

Without standing up so not to attract visual attention, I warned the nuptials that after their honeymoon is over and they have returned to the real world, in addition to enjoying good things, their marriage will be tested to the limit, but  their ability to overcome and become victorious depends on how much they are committed to each other and to God. So by addressing the groom by name, I exhorted him to love his wife with 100% of heart, and then encouraged her to be submitted to him as head of the household, just as Christ is the head of the church. Then I encouraged them to read the Bible every day. Because it is through daily reading of the Bible is where victory in a robust marriage has its roots. Then I wished them God's blessing of a successful marriage.

Perhaps I should have added that there are strong opposing forces in the air which would give their hardest to break up their marriage, a truth which would have opened further encouragement to put on the armour of God, as Paul had instructed the church in Ephesus (6:10-18). I needn't have worried. There were a number of other guests who approached me after the service in commendation for the exhortation, indicating that it must have carried some punch. Rather than to give in to temptation to feel proud, I acknowledged the power and the grace of God to speak through me when he could have easily chosen somebody else - someone who was more appropriately dressed for the occasion.

Indeed, God chose me out of undeserving grace, but I could ask why I was chosen, and how was it that my exhortation carried such a punch. It does not take rocket science to answer that one. It was out of experience of my own marriage to Alex for nearly two decades. Adverse forces in the air could have destroyed our marriage some twelve years earlier. That was when I was given a choice by a social worker that I could raise my two daughters on condition that I separate from my wife. I had refused to separate, having stuck to the vows we made before God and to the congregation in the very same church at our nuptials. All these dreadful events were due to the assumption made by our child supporter that Alex was not up for parenting due to her being on the mild autism spectrum, as I am too. This is why I have a long-standing hunch against the self-confident, well-educated professional. They have the legal power to destroy a family, and if they see fit, they can obtain a Court order. As it was, the Social Worker responsible was incredibly arrogant, self confident, even patriotic, as well as downright nasty, yet she was still unable to discern our autism despite her university degree and training. As a result, I was very reluctant to respond and even on one occasion ordered her out of the house.

My raging anger towards that professional career-girl lingered for months afterwards as I was wallowing in shame as I watched Alex occasionally break down into tears. It took several years before finally forgiving her in my heart. But before then there was one thing that I would never let go, and that was having faith in God. And this faith in God was sustained by daily Bible reading, normally after breakfast whilst still in bed. This became the bedrock for a robust and healthy marriage between us after the loss of our two daughters. 

Daily reading of the Holy Scriptures. Like the noble Bereans checking their Scriptures to verify what Paul was preaching concerning the crucified Jesus of Nazareth being the risen Christ (Acts 17:11). Perhaps the Bereans missed out on having devotionals such as Every Day with Jesus, or something similar. I am aware that there are many Christians who start their day with one of these, designed I believe, to cover the whole year. But as I see it, these devotionals hinder proper reading of the Bible rather than promote it. Just the other day someone has shown me a very similar devotional. On each page was just one verse of Scripture confined to a small box whilst the rest of the page carried the author's commentary on the verse together with a suggested prayer. To me, that is not allowing the Word of God to dwell in me richly (Colossians 3:16) - in order to build the big picture from which each verse is just a single piece of the jigsaw puzzle. As an example, the one who had shown me the devotional, even being a Christian after many years, wasn't even properly acquainted with the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, one of the most life-changing passages in the entire Bible. 

This makes me very sad, as I'm very fond of this individual, and I want the best for him. As for me, reading a whole chapter every morning before rising is unbeatable. Pure Bible reading unhinged by anyone else's commentary, remarks or exhortations. Just allowing Scripture to speak for itself. Usually it's selecting a book from either the Old or the New Testament and reading a chapter of it each day. But lately, I have decided to read the entire Bible from cover to cover by reading a chapter each day. This is to ensure that on the day I depart, not a single tittle or iota remains unread. So far, starting at Genesis 1:1, I have at present arrived at the 3rd chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans, after thoroughly enjoying reading the Acts of the Apostles.

I can testify that thorough Bible reading has given me strength and hope for what the future holds for us, especially as the UK is about to leave the European Union, as discussed in my last post. Having faith in God is diametrically opposed to the unholy triplet of pride, self-confidence and optimism, which I have seen and read about thriving in the hearts of many who have voted to leave the E.U. - the key issue here being the word self. Trusting in ourselves on the national level to reach, so to speak, to the heavens, just as the builders of the Tower of Babel did a long time ago - instead of trusting in the love, grace, and the mercy of God. Allowing the Word of God to dwell in us richly, so I have found, has given me a level of hope for the future, it has taken away all anxieties over our daughters, committing them into God's care as hoping that their adopted parents raises them up in a godly manner. It has strengthened our own marriage, and furthermore - constant reading of the Bible has literally raised my intelligence quotient, opening new sources of knowledge where my younger days amidst school-tie culture had so miserably failed. Subjects such as history - both ancient and recent, biology - particularly the genome, and geology - particularly covering volcanism and sedimentary strata, all becoming very relevant to me after getting to know the Bible.

My fascination with God's commitment to one particular city, that of Jerusalem, the Cup of Trembling for all the nations of the world (Zechariah 12:1-3) - has given me several opportunities to not only visit but to have a taste of living in the heart of the city where God has put his Name there forever - was borne out of devoted reading and getting acquainted with the Bible. It has also raised a golden opportunity to fulfil my wife's dream to visit the city for herself whilst up to four months pregnant with our first daughter. Getting acquainted with the Bible has made me come to realise the significance of Jerusalem in the way God sees it, by comparison with much bigger cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York - all three built on the coastline, or London, Paris and Berlin, all built on major rivers. Jerusalem is neither on the coast nor on a river. Originally it was a walled settlement no larger than a modern city square at the time it was conquered from the Jebusites by King David, and has become the capital of Israel ever since. It is to this city where Jesus will one day return to reign on his father David's throne.

Reading the Bible has made me have a deep respect for the Jew and the nation of Israel. As for one, I would not take kindly to anyone who speaks against the Jewish people, whether it is to tease them or to deny the reality of the Holocaust. Neither would I allow anyone to hint that the Jews are racially inferior to non-Jews living in the West, like Adolf Hitler did in the past, or for the English Far-Right groups do at present - without a challenge. While getting to know the Bible, it didn't take me long to realise that the Jewish people were - and still are - and always will be, God's people chosen from the nations whose homeland is in Israel, with the fortress at Hebron marking the site of the Cave of Machpelah bearing witness to this as an everlasting sentinel. It is in this underground cave where Abraham and his wife Sarah; Abraham's son Isaac and his wife Rebekah; and Isaac's son Jacob and his wife Leah; were all buried there. The most significant about these six people is that they were the founding families of the nation of Israel, with even the Hebrew name YISRAEL being the acronym of their initials (except the initial E for Elohim, a name for God himself, indicating that God dwells in the midst of his people, and also making a total of seven letters - seven being God's number). As the Bible itself had prophesied a long time ago that the Jews will be scattered globally for nearly two millennia, (e.g. Deuteronomy 28:64-68) - this fortress, built by Herod the Great and completed in 6 BC, has stood as a permanent sentinel ever since, testifying to the historicity of the Bible.

Also becoming familiar with Holy Scripture has helped me understand not only the attributes of God himself, but also to take a position on various theological issues. For example, unless I know the Bible well enough, I could never stand up to the arguments the Jehovah's Witnesses would put up against the truth of the Trinity at my front door. Or for that matter, my advocating of Once Saved Always Saved would never stand to see the light of day unless of my familiarity with fulfilled Old Testament prophecy enabling me to see the omniscience of God.

There is everything to gain from daily reading of the Bible, and absolutely nothing to lose, not even precious time if you have overslept or in a hurry to go out. According to my own experience, a daily reading has never disrupted my day's schedule.

This is my exhortation to all readers for the start of the year. Make it a habit to read the Bible each day. It is more beneficial to the soul than any medication can give.