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.