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Saturday, 24 February 2018

Sex - So Controversial...

A long-standing friend and I stood at the window of a bar overlooking an indoor climbing gym. At that point he told me about a rebuke he received from a church elder on one of their evening meetings. As expected, it was over the issue of greeting each other with hugs instead of a stiff handshake. I asked him whether my name was mentioned. His answer was yes, the issue was between him and me. This particular case made it more of an annoying issue because I was not present to defend my case nor his, since these Sunday evening meetings were geared more for students and other people generally young enough to be my grandchildren.

In my annoyance I announced that all this began from a complaint made by the son of another one of our church members, and I told my friend directly that this young man, who is no longer with us, is in the closet. Hence all this palaver about such intimacy "spoiling the imagery of our church among unbelievers" and "to be to the likes all men" are so nonsensical and hypocritical. My friend defended his case by saying that hugging is the norm within African churches, as for some years he spent months doing missionary work, which included installing an electric power generator over a local stream, and making possible the building of a hospital. How the elder responded to such an answer I was not told.

The conversation continued about his own experience on how other college-age singletons had admitted to him about their struggles on sexual libido and fetishes when aroused by the appearance of someone of the same gender. His testimony backs my experience in encountering men who may appear godly and devoted to God on the outside but struggle secretly within when another good-looking fellow is in the same room. And too afraid or reluctant to share to others in case this may bring judgement, condemnation and possible feelings of rejection.

And my friend at the bar should know this well. There are some African nations with a Christian constitution where homosexuality is illegal and offenders can receive a death penalty. One good example is Uganda. On You-Tube, you can click on a video about a British presenter Scott Mills, himself openly gay, and investigating on why there is a high level of homophobia in Uganda along with such a fear of the death penalty. His findings has shown that the three main sources of homophobia were the churches, the Government, and politicians. Echoes of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas and its late radically homophobic pastor, Fred Phelps, who enjoyed displaying street placards condemning homosexuals to hell, along with the rest of the USA for tolerating it. With such hatred and with many cases of physical abuse, even murders, it's no surprise that even here in the UK, known for its easier and liberal stance on the matter, people are still too much afraid to leave their tightly-shut closets.

 Scott Mills rebuked by a homophobic church leader in Uganda 

And despite of all this, hugging is as natural as it can get in African churches. And as my friend knows it, we hug each other often. And he is a married man with two daughters, just as I too am married and fathered three daughters. And to add to this, it's often a case of him desiring a hug from me as well as me from him. And about a year ago there was a case of an African visitor, himself a married man with children, who after getting acquainted with me, gave me a prolonged rib-crushing embrace, which took place within view of the English church complainer whose son is a secret gay. Not surprisingly, after remarking about the reluctance among Brits to display such emotion, this black charismatic character soon left our church for another fellowship elsewhere. Without doubt, I guess he was firmly rebuked, which prompted him to leave. 

It is within me to hug other men in the church, whether they are married or single. However, I have a greater caution about hugging women, in case of offending, although there are some women I do hug. But these I know well enough not to take offence. Nevertheless, among countless man-to-man hugs over four decades, only one complained to the elders, which eventually led me to conclude that he is in the closet. And that is without ever suspecting his fetishes whilst he was still with us. And as I have already mentioned, he is by no means alone. There are a number of others found in churches whose libidos clashes with their Christian faith, and therefore struggle in their conflicts.

Yet I know where my elders are coming from. They'll be the first to quote Leviticus 20:13:-
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them has done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Paul the apostle backs this up when he wrote to the Romans:-
Because of this (idolatry), God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations with unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty (STD? AIDS?) for their perversion.
Romans 1:26-27.

So hugging is condemned! Or is it? Is there a difference between greeting someone with a hug and a scene resembling this:-
Before (Lot and his two guests) had gone to bed, every man from every part of the city of Sodom - both young and old - surrounded the house. They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them" (or, we may know them - KJV)
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who had never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."
"Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them." They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door.
Genesis 19:4-10.

And so by hugging another man to greet him in church places me onto the same platform as these inhabitants of the city of Sodom, according to my elder's perception. Or for short, I can be classed as a sodomite! Incredulous. No, I don't believe this. Because even then there is a world of a difference between those Sodomites and these Christian believers who are struggling with their sexual orientation, their fetishes, and their libidos. And so the Christian singleton who totally abstains from any sexual contact even from his girlfriend or fiancee, he is praised by his colleagues as living a holy life, while at the same time his friend, who has a desire for another man standing nearby, is not only wondering whether he has ever been regenerated or not, but lives in fear of discovery and judgement. The snag is, the "spiritually pure" hetero who is engaged to be married and is perceived as living in godliness, is not necessarily free from a sudden rush of blood if he glances at another pretty female standing nearby.

And where heterosexuality is concerned, there has always this perception within churches that to cohabit outside marriage is wrong and sinful. No, I am not advocating cohabitation. But I am rather surprised, and somewhat relieved too, by not seeing a chaperone whenever a church member pairs off with a girlfriend and start to deepen their relationship. Am I being cynical here? In the church I attended between 1975 and 1990, there was a deacon who was a self-appointed chaperone and always interfered whenever a young man, normally a graduate, gets friendly with a similarly aged female. Fortunately for Alex and myself, there was no chaperone to interfere with us before we married, since this was long after I left that church. Therefore we did cohabit for a few months before we married, including having sex. When a member of my former church - who was chaperoned along with his future partner before they were married - found out about us living together without a wedding ring on our fingers, he got quite cross about it.

He began to lecture me about sex being reserved for married couples only. He then blushed as he attempted to splutter out the second chapter of Genesis. As he was blushing, I could almost see the accusing finger of God pointing at him rather than at me. The reason for this was simple. He was, and still is, a staunch evolutionist, and therefore denied the historicity of pre-Abrahamic Scriptures and in effect calling God a liar. Little wonder if I were to say to any unchurched:- Cohabitation without getting married is against my religion - I would put anyone off seeking faith in God, and be a slippery path towards atheism.

The way I see it, this is rather a delicate subject. Especially when I read things in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. For example, Abraham slept with at least one woman aside his own wife Sarah. He slept with Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael. Then his grandson Jacob was a bigamist, for he married both Leah and Rachel within a week of each other. And I doubt whether any church at present would endorse bigamy. Then there is the case of King David. And here I read something of specific interest. Yes, we all agree that David sinned against God when he slept with Bathsheba, because she was the wife of another man, Uriah the Hittite, a soldier for Israel who was very loyal to David. But what Nathan had to say in judgement to the King I find interesting:-

This is what the Lord the God of Israel, says:
"I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master's house to you, and your master's wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this has been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord  by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own.
2 Samuel 12:7-10.  

The issue here is that God gave Saul's wives and concubines to David. So apparently David did not sin against God when he slept with all these women. Instead, this was in keeping with Middle Eastern culture and tradition - for a king or rich aristocrat to have a harem of concubines. King David had ten concubines, according to 2 Samuel 15:16 and 20:3. This was perfectly normal. In fact, Jesus himself used the same Middle Eastern custom in his Parable of the Ten Virgins to illustrate the Kingdom of God (Matthew 25:1-13). They were all virgins. Five were wise, five foolish. When the king arrived, he took in the five who were readily available to form his son's harem. They were distinguished from the son's actual bride, the king's legal daughter in law.

So with all I can perceive, it is sinful to lie with another man's wife. And this applies to divorce, about which Jesus says that anyone who marries a divorcee commits adultery (Luke 16:18). Apparently, as God sees it, a divorcee is still married to the former spouse. So according to Jesus' words, to marry someone divorced is to commit adultery. And becomes even worse than that. All the guy has to do is look at a woman lustfully and his has committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28). I suppose this could apply to someone who has a fetish for someone of the same gender:- I say to you, if any man looks lustfully at another man, he has committed sodomy with him in his heart already. Little wonder any Christian with this problem struggles and often falls away.

And this whole matter seems grossly unfair. A man looks at a woman with lust and he is condemned, even if he does nothing to her. Then we read of David having ten concubines, any one of them welcomed to his bed. Or how about David's son Solomon, perhaps the most wise king throughout all history. Not only had he impressed the Queen of Sheba with his wisdom but managed to get a thousand wives and concubines into his bed! That is one woman each night for three years (1 Kings 11:1-4). It is worth noting here that Solomon married and slept with foreign women, those who were not of Israel. Solomon's sin was allowing himself to be led astray into idolatry. If he had kept his harem within the realm of Israeli women, more likely he would have stayed true to God, and the splitting of the nation between Israel and Judah which followed his death might have been avoided.

It's so messy, coming to think of it. So controversial. Here is Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon sleeping around rather freely. Even Jesus used the harem in one of his parables. Then come to the present, and we see the church judging any believer or member having sex outside of marriage. Really, as one of the guilty party myself, where do I stand?

And it's here where the Gospel comes in. Gospel simply means Good News. Very good news indeed. Because as Paul also wrote to the church in Rome, all one has to do is believe in his heart that God raised Jesus physically from the dead and confess him as the Messiah, the Son of God, and he will be saved (Romans 10:9-13). This is the promise of God, that his salvation is open to all believers, regardless of his background or what he has done. Whether a married man faithful to his wife or a pimp with prostitutes or a homosexual out on a cruise - salvation is open to all.

Open to all who believes in his heart the Resurrection of Jesus. He who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God - 1 John 5:1. The Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth regenerates the heart, the threefold revelation brings new desires, which includes a new spirit which cannot sin, and the ability to turn away known sin. But not out of compulsion or legalism. Nor for the fear of punishment. Rather, by the gradual replacement of old, sinful desires with good, God-honouring wishes. The work of grace. 

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Grasshoppers? That's very Generous!

As another Friday prepares to draw to a close and the majority of working folk looking forward to the coming weekend, I settle down at home after another stint in the sauna. Alex is about to bring in the dinner. Then suddenly, Ow! Ow! Arrgh!

OH, NOT AGAIN! I thought, as I tried to shut out any images within my imagination of a racing ambulance whisking her back to hospital. Yes, its another bout of sharp pain down her spine, a frequent situation which I refer to as "having a downer" - a term I coined up myself in reference to these frequent experiences. It is these downers which lies beneath our notion of "living on a knife edge" which made up part of the title of last week's blog post.

I escorted her to the sofa where she took a variety of painkillers and I encouraged her to rest. Fortunately I had a supply of those Deep Heat pads, which is a kind of jelly within a linen liner which has that propensity to radiate heat into the skin when in contact. How comforting these are for her. And the wonders of modern medical science - a jelly-like substance which can radiate heat. Imagine that. Quite a contrast to the fruit-flavoured dessert which had to be refrigerated before I could enjoy at the table during the days of boyhood. 

Yet although my beloved had received the best of attention short from a paramedic, whilst in the kitchen, my fears and anxieties turned to that of rage. Angry at God. Angry at his apparent lack of love for us. A feeling of frustration on how much more does God seems to love other, more fortunate and better educated people - especially the middle classes - as I remember on Facebook all those photos of wedding smiles and white cloth Reception tables, undergraduates lining up in front of the camera to pose in their smart hired suit and ties, snapshots of mothers cuddling their newborn and toddlers, all of them emerging onto the laptop screen as I slowly scroll downwards. Oh, it's so easy to compare our life's downers with their joyful, happy-go-lucky way of living. I am beginning to wonder whether the sceptics had a point when they say that there is an element of emotional harm emanating from these social websites. After all, as I was already reminded, people only want everyone else to see the good things in their lives, often to entice envy, and not so much of life's shadier side. Everything is so nice on the wedding day - suits, wedding dresses, bridesmaids, flowers, wedding rings, the sumptuous Reception dinner afterwards, the multi-tiered wedding cake so beautifully decorated that the pillars between each tier gives them a resemblance to the gates of Heaven.

But once the honeymoon is over, nothing appears in Facebook of the first quarrel, a sudden loss of temper, unpaid bills, dirty dishes piling up, disagreements on what to watch on TV, frustration over the bed not made up, morning bad breath, and heaven forbid - daily stresses at work eventually leading to male erectile dysfunction in bed. No, those sort of things don't appear in Facebook. They never do.

Or in the case of the mother showing off her young. Then the deep Internet silence when it comes to constant crying, refusing to eat, more food on the bib rather than in the mouth, soiled and smelly diapers, disturbed nights. Or the case of undergraduates lining up in their identical suits, white shirts and ties. Oh so very nice. So posh and all. Too bad that they rarely - if ever - do they pose in front of the camera wearing denims with holes at the knees. And I was very surprised to see such tatty garments on sale at a Primark clothes store complete with holes and loose thread. I had to smile. I wonder how my long-deceased uncle would have reacted if I had presented myself to such a smart-conscious RAF Warrant Officer dressed like that! Little wonder that Facebook is deprived of such snapshots.

Or in the case of The Daily Mail national newspaper. Especially the online version. Just about every day, unless an Earth-shaking disaster had occurred, the headline focuses on celebrity, and in particular the daily antics of Prince Harry and his fiance Meghan Markle. Generally, I have respect for both people. But with Markle, an American actress and not fully Caucasian, I would have preferred she had married Harry's older brother William. Because Prince William is third in line for the Throne, he will eventually sit there. And I would have love to have known the nation's reaction to having a black queen sitting on her throne. But too bad. Unless a disaster of catastrophic proportions overtakes Prince Charles, his son William and grandchildren George and Charlotte, Harry and Meghan will never sit on the throne. And yet the Media loves to highlight their presence as if they will take the throne tomorrow.

And whether the right-wing newspaper has a passion for the tie, I can't really be dogmatic. However, it has in the past criticised BBC News journalists and reporters for going on air without a tie, and as the paper had put it, "Standing in front of the camera with shirts open at the neck to impress their girlfriends back at home." So uncouth. So common. And so anti-British. And on the online version of The Daily Mail, there is a celebrity column on the right margin of the page. This has aroused interest when a male celebrity appears on the prompt pictured in casual open neck shirt. For all I have to do is click on the prompt, scroll down and wait expectantly. I can guarantee that a full-length photo of the celebrity dressed in suit, shirt and tie will appear lower down on the page. And sure enough, it always does. Hence my interest in the newspaper's obsession with smartness. Smartness being equal to celebrity status, Englishness in all its glory, and just one step below royalty itself. And perceived as worthy of God's greater love.

And so I live in a nation where smart dress generates respect. And more than mere respect, reverence. Especially when celebrity reaches royal status. Like the time I was having a discussion with a devout Englishman over the death of Princess Diana in 1997. His reason was that her death was necessary to prevent her from marrying a Muslim, and therefore saving our country from having an Islamic queen as Head of State. When I questioned whether Diana was in heaven or hell, the devout Englishman was offended. Of course Diana is in heaven. She is a Royal. English royalty automatically inherits eternal life with God. And I guess this must include good old Henry VIII and his rather colourful reign. 

And so our reverential respect for royalty continues to this day and will continue into the future, no matter how loudly the republicans will protest. Perhaps that is why I find history to be so interesting. And not just British history but world history going back into ancestry. I could indeed ask: What is the difference between our nation's reverence to the Queen and the reverence shown to the Egyptian Pharaoh by his subjects? I would say that his subjects had enough reverence to build a massive pyramid to house his tomb after his death. And these builders were not slaves, as previously thought. Rather, they were paid workers, with highly skilled stonemasons among them. And during the years of pyramid construction, these workers were looked after well, including provision of housing. Yet the whole project reflected the deification of their king to the point of salvation in the afterlife for both king and citizen alike.

And the same applied to the Roman emperors. When one of these kings, Augustus Caesar in 27 BC, initiated Pax Romana, a society at last free from war and military expansion, their citizens were very grateful, yet still found it difficult to worship an abstract quality, so they proceeded to deify the Emperor. By the time Emperor Nero came along, which was during Apostle Paul's ministry, honouring him as Lord in a sense of divinity was obligatory. Either that or risk the death penalty. Christian believers were given a stark choice on who is their Lord and God: Emperor Nero or Jesus Christ of Nazareth?

And so ancient history goes. Although both Egypt and Rome are credited as historical facts, it is so unfortunate that the early chapters of Genesis are relegated to that of mythology. And amazingly enough, the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is often fictionalised as well. For example, many years ago, around 1978 or 79, I read in The Sun national newspaper that Jesus of Nazareth did not die on the cross but instead fell unconscious. Believing he had died, he was taken down and placed in the tomb and its mouth sealed with a movable stone. After this, he regained consciousness and somehow managed to roll the stone from the inside of the tomb, and that despite all his injuries! Then he walked off and disappeared into some faraway country, possibly to Iraq or even Persia. And he was never seen again. And so this story was published as historic in a national newspaper. And this was the newspaper which held special honour for the great British Bulldog and imperialistic supremacy. And the six literal days of Creation? Anyone worth his salt who believes in that deserves to be ridiculed or ignored! Yet I can believe in something in addition to a literal six-day divine Creation. And that is my acceptance of the island continent of Atlantis existing before the Flood.

This began when I watched TV documentaries on sub-marine projects on our small monochrome set during my boyhood days. How I was fascinated by undersea scenery! And how divers were searching a shipwreck or working on an undersea building or repair project. And so the sea floor and its geological features and marine life became something of interest. And especially at the mid-Atlantic Ridge volcanic formation, after visiting the active crater of Mt. Etna in 1982. Since backpacking Italy and standing on the lip of an active crater, my fascination with volcanism began to grow, along with my curiosity over Atlantis, after reading about the ancient Greek philosopher Plato testifying of its past existence.

Then I could well ask: Why shouldn't Atlantis ever exist? What verifiable proof can be submitted to debunk the whole theory of its existence? And in the most convincing way? Does it pose a threat? Does it stir fear of divine judgement, just as the Flood poses a threat of divine judgement, so this Biblical catastrophe is mythologised and dismissed from history? It is something I find worth pondering.

It's thanks to Google Earth that seems to drive home the reality of this sunken island rather than to debunk it. I include this image here:

The image, although rather small here, can be examined in far greater detail and clarity on Google Earth or on Google Maps. What it shows looks like to be a vast plain crossed by a mountain range roughly resembling an archer's bow. True enough, the two tectonic plate edges meets right in the middle of the mountain range. So does the San Andreas Fault running through California, which also consists of two tectonic plates moving side by side in opposite directions from each other. I can imagine an Atlantean standing on the plain south of the mountain range, say at co-ordinates 34.28.25 degrees North and 28.57.39 degrees West. As he travels north, he will begin to see the mountain range appear above the horizon. By attempting to work out the contortion of the landscape with the help of the numeric information given by Google Earth, it looks as though the whole range has an average height of 4,450 metres approx, subject to the original height of the southern plain above sea level before the Flood.

This compares well with the height of Mt. Ararat, which is 5,137 metres high, or Mt Blanc of the European Alps, which is 4,810 metres high. According to Google Earth, the plain south of the mountain range is roughly 3,530 metres below the sea surface at its deepest point, although this varies significantly, for much of the plain is around or less than 3,000 metres below sea level. To say that the Azores Islands are the summits of the Atlantis mountain range remaining above sea level looks to be so plausible.

This seems to add verification to what the Bible says in Psalm 104:8, that the mountains rose and the valleys sank down as the Flood of Noah retreated. Even if we allow the southern plain of Atlantis sink by as much as 3,700 metres according to the Scripture, this is but an apple skin when compared to the circumference and diameter of our planet. The rising of the mountains and the sinking of the valleys are barely discernible when the surface of the Earth is seen from space. Since the Flood is debunked by modern science, it does not surprise me when the reality of Atlantis is debunked as well. Therefore I find no trouble in accepting both as historic.

So where does Atlantis and the Flood connect with Facebook images? It seems a long shot, doesn't it? It goes to show that compared to the size of our home planet, we are mere grasshoppers, according to Isaiah 40:22 and Numbers 13:33. And that is quite a generous statement. If the difference of 3,700 metres is like the thickness of an apple skin to the whole fruit when compared with the size of Earth itself, then where do we stand? Are we more like microbes? Molecules even? Or more like atoms by comparison. Really, I find it amazing how God would even notice our existence. But the reality is, not only are we created by him in his own image, but he loves us enough to send his Son as a human, to give himself as an atonement for all our sins, and to bring us into his family. If Atlantis must sink before him, and the Earth, Moon and Sun bows before him, then what significance is man made social status in relation to him?

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Living on a Knife Edge: Stack or Sponge?

A good friend and I sat in a pub not far out of London. As he was due to wed a few weeks later, he asked for some advice on the health of our marriage between Alex and myself. According to our eighteen years of marital experience, to work out our relationship, we could either perceive our priorities as a traditional stack or more of a revolutionary sponge. By means of the stack, to arrange in order of importance goes something like this:

1. God.
2. Spouse.
3. Children and child raising.
4. Church.
5. Home.
6. Money and budgeting.
7. Work.
8. Leisure including holidays.
9. Day to day Hobbies.

Of course, your priorities may differ. But if you are a committed Christian believer, then I could bet your bottom dollar that you'll have God right up there on top of your stack. Underneath God, you may put church at #2. Or home at #2 and church at #3. Or even Hobbies or Holidays at #2 and Spouse at #9. You may even have more than nine items in your stack. You could have as many as a dozen. Perhaps even more than that. For example, you could add to the list Food and Drink. With me, that's under the item Home, which would also include the Car, or Transport. Whichever way your stack may look, it's still a stack. This was the method taught to me by churches and its literature especially during my early days as a believer, while getting to grips with my new faith in the area of personal devotion.

Until in recent years of hard experience, I came to realise that although the stacking system looks so good on paper, it comes up wanting in day-to-day living. Okay, I shall elaborate. There, on the upper shelf at #1 sits God. There he is at top priority. Yet he sits there apparently with no influence over all the others. Rather like the Bible resting on the upper shelf of a bookcase. There, it may have no influence on the other books or magazines sitting beneath it unless this particular bookshelf stores only Christian literature with its pages sprinkled with Bible quotes and verses.  

And so whilst chatting to my mate in the bar, I came up with the wet sponge illustration. Here, instead of each item placed on a shelf or on top of each other according to priority, they are all sponges soaked in water in a bucket. And there is no sponge labelled God in the bucket, for God is the water itself, penetrating into the heart of every sponge in the bucket, the bucket itself being a good representation of your heart. I think this is a far better illustration than the stack, for there is no need to prioritise. Furthermore, if a tree is planted by a river or stream, then it will always bear good fruit, according to Psalm 1:1-3 and Jeremiah 17:7-8.

Perhaps you're thinking: Hold on, you did not place Prayer on your list, especially at second place in the stack. But prayer is within the God item. Coming to think of it, I do wonder how often one is engaged in prayer whilst washing the car, or taking a swim in the sea and throwing a ball at a fellow bather to catch and throw back, or involved in a league game of football, or for that matter, cuddling up to your wife or husband on the sofa, or watching TV, or at work trying to negotiate an important contract with a customer or with another company. Really, how would the boss feel if he sees you spending your office time engaged in prayer at your desk? 

Therefore I have come to realise over the years that rather than place God above everything else in my life, I much prefer to perceive him as involved with every aspect of living. For example, knowing that God is with me if I take a dip in the sea, to relax in the sauna, or when I was busy running a window-cleaning business before retirement, when I go shopping, or cuddling up to Alex, watching TV, or flying abroad or on board a fast train. Or checking the bank account or visiting the GP. Or just about to be anaesthetised in readiness for open-heart surgery, which happened almost exactly three years ago in 2015. 

And forgiving someone who actively dislikes you. To forgive in such circumstances requires the power of God. To forgive is not merely to forget or to shove under the carpet. To forgive is to be willing to extend the hand of friendship and reconciliation. Even if or when it does not happen, my willingness to do so will always be there. It's for my benefit, not for the other person's benefit. If he remains disliking me, then even after my forgiving of him, his feelings towards me will remain unchanged. It's my feelings that will change - change for the better. Like the water soaking the sponge until it pours out if removed from the bucket, I need to be soaked with the Holy Spirit at all times, so I can be a blessing to others as well as myself. 

And in our set of circumstances, the need for God in our lives is vital. Because with my wife, the need to call for an ambulance remains imminent. I can happen at any moment. This is due to an illness she has which confines her to a wheelchair whenever she is out of doors. Most likely psychosomatic illness (meaning upset mind sick body, a term no longer used in the medical world). A series of family tragedies occurring in the five months between 2004 and 2005 had an impact on the neurotic area of her physical health. This has resulted in sudden, highly intense and severe pains, particularly in her back, her legs and even her head. One moment we might be talking lightheartedly, maybe sharing a joke, or watching TV, or even cooking a meal, when all of a sudden she goes into a severe pain which causes her to writhe on the floor in agony. I have no option but to dial for the emergency services.

Then to add her constant need for medicine, especially Diazepam, along with her prescribed antidepressants, both which doctors say are addictive drugs. But her daily dosage is absolutely essential for her well-being. In truth, this sort of constant imminence is a very frightening experience, along with endless living on a knife edge, wondering just when she is subjected to another attack of intense pain. But despite of all that, we will never separate! I love her so much and I know how much she loves me. To be with her constantly, as I see it, was worth sacrificing what was my dearest pet at the time, which was long-haul travel and backpacking, onto the altar of lifelong marriage. Yet to this day I have no regrets, instead I see the responsibility as a carer as something of a privilege given by God as a means to mould us both into the likeness of his Son Jesus Christ. 

And how much I need to be thoroughly soaked in the waters of the Holy Spirit of God. Maybe at first I was dropped into the bucket as a stone. A stone is totally impermeable. Water cannot get beneath its surface. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. God can - and does - change a stone into a sponge so the water can penetrate. For me, my responsibility as a carer is playing its role in this lifelong process of change, a process known as sanctification.

But having said all that, one of the most important needs required in this sanctification process is love and support, especially from my church fellowship. To know that I am loved, supported and encouraged goes a long way in coping with an emergency call-out which can strike suddenly and unexpectedly. This, I think, was one of the main reasons why Jesus established the church. I can think of three principal reasons why he was so wise to make such a move. First, the church, which is an assembly of saints meeting together, is pictured as a threefold Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ and the Holy Temple, a people for whom he gave his own life in order to build a spiritual dwelling for himself. Secondly, the church is an outward expression of God's holiness, a living letter of Christ written to win the souls of unbelievers and saving them from their sins and eternal loss. And thirdly, the church can be perceived as a spiritual and possibility a psychological hospital for the healing of the soul towards God and for each other, and maybe for the physical body too.

And as I see it, the local church should be a refuge for everyone whose conflict with sin, with the world, and with the Devil has each taken a toll on the individual's well-being. A place to run to, to take refuge in, a strong tower for the righteous to flee into, and a place for the lost to find his eternal destiny. A place which offers an alternate lifestyle to the rest of society.

Imagine a married couple who has two grown-up sons, which is a compilation from many posts on the Internet I had read before now. Both of these sons attended university and therefore they are both successful professionals with a good education and income. Their parent's pride and joy. In the course of time one son marries, but later suffers a divorce. The other, well into his thirties and still single, reports a severe back pain which is constantly troubling him. Rather like my wife Alex, but without the wheelchair. Physical disability? Not so much of physical disability as an upset mind and emotional torment. Another example of a psychosomatic illness? Perhaps stemming from being a closet homosexual? If so, are his respectable, middle class, church-going parents aware of this? If not, then the son's fear of coming out to his Mum and Dad reveals his bad perception of God reflected in his parent's religious attitude and performance. If on the other hand, they are aware of their son's sexual orientation, then distress will hit on one of either of their soteriological beliefs. If the parents believe in Eternal Security of the Believer, or Once Saved Always Saved, then they will perceive their son's sexual orientation as proof that "He was never saved in the first place." Alternately, they will fear that their son is in danger of losing his salvation, if he hadn't lost it already.

Indeed, how much do we all need to be soaked through and through with the living waters of the Holy Spirit! I have read much and heard a lot about the LGBT's rather fierce hostility against church and organised religion. Burdened down with church-based society-induced guilt, rejection and hostility from family members, forced segregation from work colleagues, isolation and bullying from fellow school and college students, along with church condemnation, such attitude creates atheism on a massive scale among them, along with apathy towards anything spiritual. With the acceptance of Charles Darwin as their Messiah, these souls, whom Christ died for, are headlong into a lost eternity.

I wish to note here that a closet gay is not necessarily a sodomite. That is why I believe such hostility and self-righteousness towards someone with a different orientation is altogether hypocritical, evil and totally unnecessary. If his orientation is towards other men but refrains from anything immoral, especially for the protection of his own reputation as well as for the sake of the Gospel, then what is the real difference between him and a straight individual who also keeps his sexual urges under control for the same reasons, and in church the hetero is looked upon as a model of righteous excellence but not the homo? Is the hetero saved and "in Christ" while the homo is forever lost and cannot be saved unless he first undergoes some orientation realignment therapy, which often includes electric shocks and other uncomfortable forms of treatment?

Such unmitigated nonsense! And that is in light of the knowledge of quite a number of unmarried heterosexual men I associate with, who are in their fifties and sixties and all of them living alone without ever having a wife or fathered any children. As far as I know, they have no need to live on the knife edge like I have to with Alex's symptoms, along with the closet gay or his parents. Neither does any of these bachelors had ever attempted to pick up a woman at a nightclub or bar. Rather, instead of allowing society to generate guilt against the struggling individual, we all need to be soaked in the water of the Holy Spirit, letting his love flow freely and without guilt or judgement. And that includes allowing the Holy Spirit to touch every area of our lives.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Who DO you Believe?

If I have got this right, whilst I sit in front of my laptop typing out this blog, a congregation of young people from churches around London and the Home Counties, including a large contingent from my home church in Ascot, are at this moment assembled at Westminster Chapel for a conference. "Conference", that is, a series of sermons delivered from the pulpit, usually on a specific subject in relation to the Bible. Rather like at the turn of the Millennium, when Alex and I attended the Prayer for Israel Conference at the same venue and hosted by that late great Israeli preacher and advocate, Lance Lambert.

At least that P.F.I. Conference was open for people of all ages, I assume, from teenager upwards, with no set upper age limit. It was also about the same time I took my young wife to the Holy Land to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. As such, the P.F.I. meant a lot for both of us. At Westminster Chapel, Lance Lambert spoke into our spirits. Therefore I have to admit of my puzzlement on why at this conference taking place at this moment, there is a set upper age limit, which is up to but not including one's fortieth birthday. In other words, the Westminster Chapel conference is for eighteen-to-thirties only. And so I ponder what will be taught from the pulpit which is so relevant for them but no longer relevant for oldies such as myself.

Westminster Chapel, London

Maybe I will ask one of the students tomorrow, after the morning service, that is with the hope that they will be able to get out of bed early enough to attend church after such a busy day. Maybe he will tell me that it was about Courtship, Marriage and Children. Or the conference may be about future church leadership. Not much use for those who regularly attend an Anglican church unless you are a student at Oxford or Cambridge. Far less if the ambition of those at the conference is to become the Bishop of Canterbury. For that, one has to post-graduate to a level of a doctorate at Oxbridge. Too bad that none of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ had managed to reach such academic levels, although one of them, Judas Iscariot, might have come close.

But let's be fair. Saul of Tarsus was a well educated Jew, a rising Pharisee, a son of a Pharisee, from the tribe of Benjamin. He had the equivalent of a doctorate attained from Oxford or Cambridge. Not only was he a rising star at the Sanhedrin, but the throwing of a garment at his feet whilst Stephen was stoned to death was an indication of future leadership. Saul was thoroughly into the Scriptures. But like all the other Jews around him, Saul failed to discern the signs of the times. For example, he was well familiar with the writings of the prophet Daniel. So were the High Priest and all other members of the Sanhedrin. I know this, because when Jesus quoted from that scroll during his trial, the entire assembly had really got hot under the collar, so much so that the High Priest had to tear his cloak from top to bottom!  

What was the sign of the times found in Daniel's scroll? Some simple arithmetic would have made a connection between Daniel's prophecy and the timing of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his Death and Resurrection. If such experts were aware that Nehemiah's commission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem took place in the month of Nisan, during the twentieth year into the reign of Persian King Artaxerxes, then those members of the Sanhedrin would have been able to work out that such a particular date occurred some 483 Hebrew years earlier, at 445 BC. By making such calculations, the Jews would have been far more likely to have made a connection between this Jesus of Nazareth and the awaited Messiah (Nehemiah 2:1-6, Daniel 9:20-27, Matthew 26:57-68).

But they all missed the point. Despite such learning, they failed to connect this Jesus as their awaited Messiah or Christ. And his authoritative teachings backed by many miracles performed, especially with the raising of Lazarus from the dead, yet still failed connect this Jesus as the Christ. As for myself, I have always felt inspired by such prophecy and its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. This led me to an interest in End Time Prophecy, particularly in the 1980's when I bought books on the subject, particularly by Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and Norman Robertson, all three predicting the end of the present age by the turn of the Millennium. Unfortunately for them, we are still here and it's still business as usual, which has also led to the rise of doubters who had since poured scorn on this so-called "Dispensationalist Theory".

Not that I no longer believe in the "Rapture" or translation of all saints to heaven before the actual return of Jesus Christ to Earth. I still believe in the Rapture, which has always been held as imminent, or could happen at any moment, totally unexpected. I have always believed in it since the mid seventies when I bought and read The Late Great Planet Earth along with its sister book, There's A New World Coming, both by Hal Lindsey. But I need to be truthful about myself here, and ask: Has such gaining of knowledge made me a better man who is loving towards others? Sad to say, the answer to that question is No. Instead, I was tempted to feel smug. Like one evening in 1974 as I was walking through Brixton in South London, I passed a Unification Church with its doors open and people milling around. This type of church is part of a group which denies the reality of the Trinity. I felt a sense of smugness as I walked passed it, when maybe I should have been praying for the light of truth to shine into their hearts, if  I believed they were on the wrong tracks.

And the same can be applied to Creationism. I have already testified on my conversion from committing myself in Darwinian Evolution to Divine Creation, from one straight to the other, on one stormy evening. But there is a danger that I could feel smug about myself in my commitment to Creation and the Deluge of Noah's day, when I'm called to love others around me and to seek an opportunity to share the Gospel to those who don't yet know God.

But is it right to do good to others whilst remaining unsure about my core beliefs? If, for example, there was an Indian Buddhist who not only shown hospitality to strangers but actually went out of his way to reach the poor and the hungry to help them. The sort of man who actually welcomes strangers and passing travellers into his home and feeds them, refreshes them and even provide a bed for the night if such a provision is necessary. Someone who is beginning to resemble Job of the Old Testament, whom God refers to as a righteous man. Then over here in England, where houses are regarded as castles, two Christians, each living across the street, squabble whether one is eternally saved or not, and ends up slamming the front door at each other and both feeling in a bit of a huff. One who holds Calvinist views, the other Arminian views. As words are thrown one from one to the other and back, any observer with neutral views will wonder who of the three is really doing the will of God and showing Christlike characteristics.

I can't help what Jesus had said on one occasion. He said,
Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who had done evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29, Acts 24:15).

Of course, every evangelical Christian will say that the "good" done for a favourable resurrection are deeds done under the power of the Holy Spirit, whilst so-called "goodness" done "in the flesh" will still lead into perdition. This may even be backed by the conversion of Cornelius. He was well into good deeds before his conversion, but this did not excuse him and his household from the need to believe in Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit. If such an incident demonstrates the case, then every church should have the brightest light to shine in a dark world. Like moths attracted to candlelight, unbelievers would flock to these churches, at least for curiosity, if not to receive some form of benefit whether physical, spiritual, or even psychological. Even Jesus himself endorsed this a little later that unbelievers will know that we are his disciples if we have love for each other (John 13:35). The reality is that any just about every English church I have ever visited, I am sad to say that I have not come across such a level of goodness and love of the level indicated by Jesus Christ, or for that matter, that of Cornelius or even the Buddhist. 

Which makes me attempt to put myself in the neutral's position. To whom would he be most impressed, the Calvinist, the Arminian - or the Buddhist? Of course, the two quarrelling Christian believers will still go to heaven after they die, despite the constant bicker and even hatred fostered between them, whilst the Buddhist will end up in a fiery hell, and that after feeding the hungry, helped those in poverty, provided a bed for the wayward traveller, or even done something as simple as offering a cup of water to a thirsty passerby who happens to be a true Christian believer. 

It is something that would cause me to pull on my own hair in frustration. I have to be honest with myself, I would be far more impressed with the Buddhist, who most likely have some form of Divine Creation belief, which ever direction it takes in the world of Buddhism. But I have not found this among English, middle-class Christian graduates. Nor for that matter, on the universality of Noah's Flood. 

And the issue of a geographically universal flood has always intrigued me. Just think, the very ground I'm standing on - whether it would be on a mountain summit, on a hillside, in a valley, on an expanse of flat plain, in a forest, at a desert, in the countryside, on a meadow, at the beach, in the city street, at a slum area, whether it's here at home in the UK, or in Israel, North America, Singapore, Australia, or central Europe - every square inch of ground I ever stood on was once underwater. However, I have read of one 19th Century theologian, a person who is a true believer in Christ and preaches salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, yet adores the works of geologists Charles Lyell, Georges Cuvier, William Buckland, John Fleming, and other great academics of his day who all deny the reality of a universal deluge, and its geological implications, to have been sent by God to wipe out a corrupt antediluvian race. This person I'm referring to is John Pye-Smith, an English churchman who wanted to reconcile the works of these academics with the Scriptural testimony of Genesis. So he worked on a theory based on recorded hydrodynamics at work within local floods occurring around the world, and their potential to snuff out life of both animal and human unfortunate enough to be caught in such deluges.

Pye-Smith made such reconciliation between the two opposing parties - the Bible and Uniformitarian geology - by coming up with the concept of an anthropological universal but geographically local Flood theory, mainly that the Flood was the result of a rapid subsidence of the Mesopotamian basin to allow the waters of the Indian Ocean to rush in and at the same time drowning the entire antediluvian race. And this without a single person escaping the catastrophe by climbing one of many surrounding mountain ranges. Tied to this idea is the impossibility of the Ark resting on the summit of the traditional Mt. Ararat located in Eastern Turkey, for this location, is not only too far away from the Mesopotamian Basin but it's summit, at 1,537 metres high, would make such a local Flood improbable. Therefore John Pye-Smith had to relocate Mt. Ararat to one of the foothills within the Mesopotamian Basin.

The traditional Mt. Ararat, on the Eastern Turkish border.

John Pye Smith with his local-Flood theory was a typical English Christian who finds himself far more at home in his compromise than sticking his neck out in full support for the verity of Holy Scripture. This looks to be very much like many of our church-going graduates I have spoken to at present. And in addition, I can give a rather shocking surprise when I browsed through a book written by one of Britain's most famous and most popular itinerant preachers, Cambridge-educated Methodist David Pawson, one-time pastor of Millmeads Baptist Church in Guildford, Surrey, before relocating to another church in the Hampshire town of Basingstoke. Pawson is the author of many books, including two of his well known debunking Eternal Security. Another of his books, a volume called Unlocking the Bible, which is basically a commentary on all the books in the Bible, including, of course, Genesis. Turning to the section of Noah and the Deluge,  I couldn't help but noticing that Pawson is in keeping with John Pye-Smith, with his version of the map of a local flood covering the Mesopotamian Valley, with his emphasis on human morality and personal responsibility towards God rather than with any importance over the geographical extent of the Flood.

Yet Pawson is popular, even among those in our church at Ascot. Here is the crutch. If someone with the likes of Pawson insist that the Flood of Noah was anthropologically universal but geographically local in extend, and I come along with the insistence that the Flood was both geographical and anthropologically universal, then Pawson's view, along with Pye-Smith's view in his attempt for reconciliation with the likes of Uniformitarian geologists William Buckland and Charles Lyell, such gentlemen would be favoured high and above my opinion set on Holy Scripture alone, because they were educated at a respectable university and I wasn't. This is indeed a melancholic situation I tend to face, which is not only here in the United Kingdom but more on a global scale, which is inclusive of our Christian-based British culture!

But for the truth of Holy Scripture would I lay down my life if I have to, even if I may be perceived by others as more of a mischievous child rather than a fully grown man of thinking and choice. But despite of this, I will always remain true to the Bible, even if it means that I'm seen as the only nutter in our fellowship and community alike.