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Saturday, 31 March 2018

Somewhere Up There...

Although outside time, in eternity past, upon the heavenly Throne sat Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How those three in one Godhead love each other! Absolutely flawless, and prior to the Crucifixion, it was and always have been utterly impossible for any brief interruption to mar this ongoing love relationship. How joyful each of these "persons" were, each putting the welfare of the other two above his own. Therefore it can be said that because of the eternal love relationship existing between the three, God is love, not just merely the source of love. 

The reality of this eternal Trinity is so massively different from Allah of the Islamic faith, or even the Jehovah of the Watchtower Society of Witnesses, both sources depicting their God as once existing alone in the Universe before any form of creation having taken place, and incapable of love until such objects of his love came into being. Perhaps this Unitarian form of God must have felt cold and lonely from time to time in universal space and in need of a companion. At last, Jehovah of the Watchtower creates a companion for company, the archangel Michael, who would one day incarnate to become the Witnesses version of Jesus Christ. Between these two - a big God and a little god - the rest of creation got underway, spanning thousands if not millions of years. This began with the creation of all the other angelic hosts before the physical creation of all heavenly bodies including the Earth. Finally the six "days" of creation, each of a thousand years apiece, began as described in the first chapter of Genesis.

Having associated with Jehovah's Witnesses during my earliest years as a Christian believer (and nearly becoming one of them), I was able to see the commitment they had for their faith. This includes going out in all weather conditions to knock on doors in their attempt to convert, despite their full expectations of a hostile reception and having the front door slammed shut at their faces. Books, only published by the Watchtower Society, were read and studied in a group discussion, normally at a home of a Witness. And their topic was always the same - a Unitarian God, his created son Christ Jesus who was inferior to his Father, his impalement on a wooden stake (therefore not crucified), their denial of a physical resurrection, and a very dubious probational salvation offered for those who endure to the end. All this with their insistence that all churches, along with all human governments with their federal and civic institutions, are of the Devil and will all be destroyed in the coming global Battle of Armageddon. Dare to leave the organisation and eternal death by annihilation is guaranteed. With such theology, this "Maybe Salvation" was the final straw needed to repudiate the Watchtower Society entirely.

Oh, what a difference this Unitarian God is to the truth and reality of the Trinity! From eternity past, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all equal in the divine Godhead, enjoyed a love lavished between each other. It is a truth well beyond human understanding. Because of his omniscience, "before the foundation of the world" or from eternity past, he already has the Lamb's Book of Life, with all the names of everyone who will be saved written within. Yet he also knew that there will be many, many more who will be born, live and die without ever knowing their Creator. The same with his angelic hosts. God was about to create them with the full knowledge that one of them will be filled with pride and rebel, with up to a third of the entire host rebelling with him. Because from eternity past he knew all along, for me it is all a mystery. A mystery I will never get round to solve, due to my own finitude.

But with awareness of this divine foreknowledge, I have a desire to think of the likelihood that a conversation like this had taken place within the Trinity before anything was made:

Father: You both know that soon after we had created the angelic host, one will lead a rebellion.

Holy Spirit: Yes we do know. But not until after our creation of mankind's first parents.

Father: By not having physical bodies, the fallen angels will be entirely outside of redemption, neither would they want to be redeemed anyway. But after mankind has fallen through the sin of just one man, due to their genome inherited from father and mother alike, the whole of humanity will still be within redemption.

Holy Spirit: This will mean that one of us must become one of them, to be born as one of them, to have the same human genome, to live and identify as one of them, to minister to them and finally to allow them to kill as a human sacrifice to atone for their sin. And then to rise again, physically.

Father: All of this is perfectly true. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

Son: Here am I. Send me.

Father: Yes my beloved! Indeed, you may go. And a great joy will be set before you when you see multitudes without number redeemed, and you will be exalted above all things! Okay, let's begin with Creation, our host of angels first! And all three in the Godhead rejoiced exceedingly.

And yes, I can find a portion of Scripture which seems to back such a conversation, and I love the Authorised Version of Zechariah 2:6-11 because this is the only version that I know of which has God laughing: 

Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the LORD: for I have spread you abroad as the four wings of the heaven, saith the LORD.
Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter of Babylon.
For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.
For, behold, I will shake my hand upon them, and they will be a spoil to their servants: and ye shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me.
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the LORD.
And many nations shall be joined to the LORD on that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD has sent me unto thee.
Zechariah 2:6-11 KJV, also Isaiah 6:8.

Here is the LORD of hosts sent by the LORD of hosts! Perhaps this is the greatest rebuke which could be given to the Watchtower Society. God sent by God. Imagine that. And therefore we have the Son crucified, buried, and resurrected, now ascended to heaven, only to return to deliver the house of Israel and establish his Kingdom in Jerusalem. Of course, Easter does not mean anything to them. To them, it's a pagan holiday with no bearing on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Really, after Adam and Eve had sinned, God was not obliged to make any move towards redemption. Instead, to satisfy infinite justice, every single person ever born must die and be eternally lost, separated from God forever. It is hard to imagine the likes of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, along with all the prophets suffering eternally in Hell, along with the apostle Paul, all the other 1st Century disciples, together with us today - eternally separated from God.  But he made the first move towards redemption anyway because of his love and mercy. 

Oh how I am thankful for God's mercies! And that is what Easter is all about. Not about chocolate eggs, bunnies and decorated buns, but about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I guess that was the plan of God all along. To be glorified through redemption. For the whole creation to thunder praises to him for his undeserved mercy and grace, with not a single stroke of work done by anyone, other than by Jesus Christ himself, to earn this salvation. 

The idea that the Lamb's Book of life was composed "before the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8), makes ridiculous any ideas that a true Christian believer could lose his salvation and be lost again. Instead, I can see that the omniscience of God being the proper reason for believing in Eternal Security of the Believer. Once saved always saved. This is not arrogance or self assurance, this is the grace and the power of God, whose foreknowledge cannot be contradicted or able to undo.

But it still remains a mystery. All around me I see people who do not know the Lord. And this is a country which has the Christian Constitution, along with its Defender of the Faith and head of the Anglican Church, with the Archbishop of Canterbury being the top guy of the Christian faith in England. Yet the majority of the population does not know God. Indeed, this is indeed sad, and such observation has made any idea of a heavenly book sealed from before Creation rather unpalatable to believe in, to be labelled a Calvinist, to carry the idea that the reason why these people don't know the Lord is because their names are not in God's unalterable Book of Life, and therefore concluding that God has never called them. These are issues I have grappled with, and I'm still grappling with these issues at present.

Feeling sad for them gives the impression that I do love my fellow countrymen, even if I don't agree with their culture. The culture of social class division and favouritism, at the same time revelling in national pride and optimism through self effort whilst glorifying past imperialistic achievements. Much of all this based on Darwinism, with it's past (and sometimes present) Master Race mentality. Then the British bulldog spirit standing in the way between the average Brit and faith in Jesus Christ. Yet whilst I dwell on these spiritual barriers, I tend to forget that God is not obliged to save anyone. But he saves anyway, lavishing grace and mercy for his own sake.

Maybe that is where my way of thinking is awry. I'm basing my heart on my fellow man's benefit instead of God's glory. The whole purpose of salvation through unmerited grace and mercy is to bring glory to God throughout all creation, and particularly to the angelic host after the heavenly rebellion. Yet the question remains, which I once prayed desperately to God:
Why, O Lord, did you create us in the first place if all that awaits is eternal condemnation? 
Especially concerning Psalm 139, where the author specify how he was "knit together in the womb" by God, as with every pregnancy, only to be born to live a life without ever knowing God, then to suffer eternal separation. Nothing seems to make any sense. I couldn't help but feel a sense of cruelty within this whole shenanigan. Especially when I imagine with horror my nearest and dearest suffering forever in hell, a strong possibility had she been born in a non-Christian country.

However, there are three national holidays we observe here in the United Kingdom: Christmas, Easter and Whitsunday. Christmas is to do with the birth of Jesus, Easter to do with his death, burial and Resurrection, and Whitsunday is to do with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, although it is unlikely that many here in the UK knows what Whitsunday is supposed to be about. Three Christian festivals in a year, in my mind at least, cannot be mere consequential. This seems to tie in well with the original three Hebrew festivals specified in the Old Testament: Pesach (the Passover,) Shavuot (Pentecost, the feast of Weeks), and Sukkot (Tabernacles). Always in threes, which looks to be aligned with the three persons of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through these holidays, is God trying to tell us something?

Contrary to believing in strict Calvinism (chosen by God's sovereignty to be saved rather than by human choice, advocated by John Calvin, a 16th Century French theologian), Scripture does indicate human choice. For example, in Luke 24:47, the resurrected Jesus informs his remaining disciples that "repentance and remission of sins must be preached to all nations everywhere, starting at Jerusalem." Then in Acts 17:30, Paul instructs the population at Athens "that in the past God winked at ignorance, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent." Then there is the testimony of Peter, who writes, "but the Lord is long-suffering to us, not willing that anyone should perish, but all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Those three verses strongly indicate human choice. And to repent simply means a change of mind about Jesus Christ. 

Back in those days, Jesus was known to many. But the Jews wanted a political deliverer from the burden of the Romans. When he refused to deliver politically, he was seen as an impostor, possibly a madman. For the Jew to repent, he had to change his mind from believing him to be an impostor to believing in him as the risen Christ, God come in the flesh. I as a non-Jew had to change my mind from thinking Jesus as some remote teacher who lived long ago to being the Son of God who died and rose from the dead.

I'll end here with one of the most famous verse in the Bible, which reads:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16.

Wishing you a happy, God-blessed Easter.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

A Pair of Shoes & Divine Certainty

Clothes shopping has always been a dreaded nightmare! Whether if I'm buying clothes for myself or for my wife Alex, it's when we try out the new item and then discover that it doesn't fit properly. Then comes the awful dread; to return the garment to the store where it was bought, complete with the receipt, only to be looked upon with a degree of suspicion. After all, no business wants to refund. They are there to make money by selling its merchandise rather than be the centre of some kind of experimentation.

Maybe that was the reason why most respectable clothing stores have fitting rooms. A splendid idea. Then again, I recall using a fitting room to try out trousers of slightly different sizes - and still get it wrong. How come that the item seems comfortable enough whilst being tried at the store, but trying it on again at home and yep, it has shrunk? Or expanded? Or fail to notice such abundance of material around the hem which will get caught on the bicycle chain whilst out riding? Perhaps I could ask: What sort of metamorphosis does the garment go through whilst sitting in the train or bus heading for home? Coming to think of it, a perfect fit after arriving home can be considered a cause for celebration.

But not this week when it came to a pair of shoes. Not for me, but for my wife. The type of shoe she likes and usually wears was - surprise surprise - out of stock. So after spending what I believe was excess time looking at and trying on several alternatives, we settled on this particular pair of her size. She tried them on. And she smiled broadly, declaring that she felt comfortable in them. Then she paid for them herself, using her own debit card.

After arriving home, she tried on her new shoes again prior to going back out to buy some groceries.
"How do they feel?" I asked.
Yes, they are okay. But...
I felt my skin beginning to crawl.
...But...That dreaded word, But...
I new straightaway that not all was well. And of course, I was right. She eventually asked for them to be returned to the store where she bought them. And so feeling rather sheepish but obliged as a husband should be to the call of duty, I returned the shoes to the same staff members who served us the day before. The assistant was just about to process my debit card when she noticed that my card number did not coincide with the printed receipt. She explained that because she used her card to purchase the shoes, I cannot use my own card for refunding, although she would have done so had I brought her card as well.

The next day, on my way to visit the gym, I tried again, this time with my wife's card. Alas! This time there were different staff members on duty who were unfamiliar with us, and as far as they were concerned, I could have flown straight in from Timbuktu. Because of my wife's absence, this different staff member refused to refund altogether, even if I had her debit card and a joint account. She explained that this would be fraudulent. And here is the twist: Had I brought my wife's card in on the previous day, there would have been no problem. The simple reason was that the staff who initially served us has seen my wife buy the shoes. But this new assistant did not, and therefore "went by the rules". So I walked out feeling very flustered with the shoes still in my backpack together with the gym gear. Indeed, I was tempted to throw the shoes into a rubbish bin and forever forget about them.

Was I trying to commit fraud? Personally, I don't think so. Both our cards have the same surname and the same account number. It was obvious that we have a joint account. The funds in this account has always been available for both of us simultaneously. Yet I do understand the precautions the shop must take in order to avoid involvement in a fraud case. In surprise, I asked how could I possibly steal from my own wife. At the time, the thought that among professionals in particular, each partner having their own separate account did not cross my mind. Instead I walked out feeling humiliated at the thought that I was considered a potential fraudster. Indeed such an accusation did not bring any glory to God, or any feeling of well-being or accomplishment.

It's a case of my word against some smartly-dressed faceless bureaucrat in the head office boardroom without any verification process for refunding put in place. Of course, he was right and I was wrong. But this is the risk with buying clothes, or any other merchandise. It's always their word against mine. But rules must be obeyed. Rules are in place because there must have been cases of genuine fraud in the past, maybe even between married couples, an area where trust between partners should be most essential.

And this is always been an issue of trust, or lack of it. For example, why is it so essential to buy a ticket before boarding a train? Why can't I just pay the fare, board the train, and that's the end of it? Instead, I must hold a ticket for the inspector to check before boarding the train, or in this modern day, activate an electronic barrier gate. And once on board the train, the conductor enters the carriage with his loud order, Tickets please! Just paying the fare and boarding is not enough. Instead, the conductor earns his living this way because, with the absence of both him and the platform ticket inspector, there would be no small numbers of fare-dodgers. And that is where such a small card is always my protection against a curious conductor or other staff member to approach me and ask whether I paid my fare, and if so, having made the correct payment. Holding a ticket is actually for my own protection against accusation of theft.

It all boils down to one little word: Sin.

As I attended a midweek meeting at The Kerith Centre, the talk was about universal sin and how it affects every aspect of our lives. The need to buy a ticket before travel is the consequence of sin. Because without a need for a ticket, not only anyone could board a train without first making the appropriate payment, but there would be a great many who would vie for the chance. Hence such people are enslaved to their sinful nature. Yet if I was to say that attempting to avoid the fare is repugnant, and I would ensure that I always pay what is due, is that arrogant self-righteousness? Or acting like a Pharisee? No, it's neither. Rather it's out of being a slave to righteousness, according to Romans 6:18. Being a slave to righteousness is a wonderful thing, a desire to do the right thing, to make the right choice, even if this entails a degree of loss or suffering. For God has regenerated me and then placed his Holy Spirit within me. As such I recall, for another example, an occasion when I could have easily walked out of the busy Leisure Centre without paying for the gym session, and none would have been the wiser. 

Instead, I got to the back of an ultra-slow-moving queue in order to pay for the gym session. A slave of righteousness indeed, as I felt compelled to join that queue. Generally, I hate queuing up. Especially at a superstore checkout line. Queuing up behind a customer with a stack of redemption vouchers has tested my patience to the limit, but my master has not given me any other option. But the promise is there, life and peace in Jesus Christ, to where such servant-hood will lead.

Oh the wonder of grace! As a sinner, I have no chance of trying to reconcile myself to God on my own efforts. The worst thing about all this is that James had written that if I keep the whole Law yet stumble at just one point, I have broken the whole Law (James 2:10). It becomes obvious. I don't drive, but if I did, and went above the speed limit, I would be stopped if caught by the Police and issued a ticket, later to appear in Court. It doesn't matter how well I have kept the law before then. I'm a lawbreaker and guilty. A penalty must be paid. Unless a good friend or relative comes along and pays the fine on my behalf. Then I would be set free, no longer under condemnation, neither under any form of probation.

As such, reading Paul's letter to the Romans, especially chapters three and four, and find to be terrifically inspiring. Here the apostle takes the account of Adam and Eve as historical, unlike many Christian grads of our day who reduces the historicity to a mere analogy. Just as Adam disobeyed, so we are all sons of disobedience, slaves to sin, and subject to death. So Christ, the second Adam, is obedient, and through his obedience, we are forensically declared righteous in God's sight, the righteousness which comes from Heaven and is imputed into us. A free gift, given for eternity! And because it's a free gift of eternal life with God through faith in Jesus Christ, it cannot be lost or forfeited. Neither it is given on a probational basis.

It is the reality of this free gift that makes me want to love and serve God. The question of Eternal Security of the believer, I think, makes a big impact on how the Christian perceives God. But living in a body of sinful flesh, often doubts of my salvation comes to mind, especially if I have sinned in one way or another or failed to live up to my expectations. These times of doubting might have originated from my Roman Catholic childhood upbringing. And yes I do sin, even if I'm a slave of righteousness. Maybe that is why John the Apostle wrote that if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and call God a liar. It all seems hopeless at first.

But if we confess our sins, then he is ready to forgive us from our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-10). And it is to Christian believers John is addressing. If this is so, then John is backing what Paul earlier wrote to the church at Corinth that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor can corruption inherit incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:50). So our bodies are corrupted by sin, according to the apostle. Maybe that is why when a believer dies, his spirit and soul goes straight to Heaven to be with the Resurrected Jesus, whilst his body goes to the grave, to await the resurrection, to be exactly like the glorified body of Jesus Christ. Isn't that wonderful? 

Therefore, I am more than willing to be a slave of righteousness; to queue up at the Reception rather than walk out without paying. Ditto at the train station. Even if the barriers are open and the premises totally understaffed, I will still pay the fare (there are automatic ticketing machines). Or for that matter, accept the ill-fitting shoes, or take my wife to the shop and she can be refunded at last, or even give the shoes away to charity. That's a lot better than chucking them into the bin, as I nearly did.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

What I Find So Amazing...

I can think of twelve people considered to be the most fortunate in the whole of human history. I even have their names: Peter, James, John, Andrew, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Philip, Thaddaeus, Simon, James, Judas. To any reader, whether he is a Christian or not, these twelve names should immediately strike a sense of familiarity about them. They were the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, who had the unique privilege of spending three years of their lives in the presence of the Son of God, the incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. A privilege the rest of mankind had never experienced.

Even among them, Jesus had his three favourites: Peter, James and John. As James and John were brothers, both sons of Zebedee, so Peter and Andrew were also brothers, sons of Jonas. Yet Andrew was the only one of the four brothers who was not selected to ascend the mountain to witness the Transformation. I wonder how Andrew would have felt as what might be taken as excluded from a specific clique, especially involving his own brother Peter. After all, he was just a fisherman too, along with James and John. Nothing special. However, he didn't have long to ponder, because as the remaining nine were milling around at the foot of the hill, along comes this stranger whose son was demon possessed. Having witnessed a number of successful cases of deliverance by Jesus, these nine attempted to give this one a go, but without any success. Stumped, and most likely downcast at the spirit's stubbornness to shift, how fortunate it was for the Lord himself to appear at the right moment with his three friends.

Rivalry between these men was never too far below the surface. On a couple of occasions a quarrel would arise on who was the greatest. The Lord's answer to their dispute was that anyone who wants to be the greatest must be the servant and humble as a young child. Then according to Matthew 20:20-27, the mother of James and John approached Jesus with a request that her two sons would sit on the most privileged thrones in the Kingdom. These two had already witnessed the Transformation, therefore it was no big surprise that the other ten were indignant, including Peter, the only other who was also up on that mountain. Again Jesus rebuked them with the same answer of servitude. I guess that the quest for personal status was not that much different to what it is today. Yet Peter, James and John were fishermen, not unlike any commercial fishermen with us at present. Among the remaining nine who were left behind included a Zealot, a taxman, and also the group's treasurer.

Which surprises me in a way, why Matthew was not the treasurer. After all, as the tax collector, he had quite an experience with handling money. Instead, the role went to Judas Iscariot, whose background I know virtually nothing about, except that he found delight in dipping into the funds for his own pleasure. However, according to some sources, Iscariot might have been a scholar himself, perhaps some form of philosopher. In Franco Zeffirelli's film Jesus of Nazareth, Judas Iscariot presents himself as a scholar to Jesus, not like those scummy fishermen whom the Lord seem to favour. Instead, he encourages Jesus to behold, the scholar. The Lord takes him in, a contrast to being initially called as was the case with the others. And whatever his scholarship might have been, he was entrusted with the funds, rather than Matthew. 

"Behold, the scholar!" Judas in Jesus of Nazareth.

And what a tragic end for the scholar! As a result of the guilt he felt after betraying Jesus to the Sanhedrin, he hanged himself and departed from this planet into a lost eternity, the only one of the Twelve who was shut out from Heaven. I suppose money had everything to do with his downfall. At first he most likely persuaded Jesus to allow himself to take care of the money bag instead of Matthew having to do it, using his scholarship as a vantage point. Then he helped himself whenever no one was looking. Then he bartered with the Sanhedrin and with the Pharisees to hand Jesus to them for thirty pieces of silver. That is a large amount of money, considered to be a nest-egg he can retire upon and live the rest of his life in luxury. 

I suppose that in all cultures, both past and present, there has always been something grand about a scholar. Someone to look up to, an icon for respect, maybe even a god to worship. In ancient Greece, there was a whole pantheon of bickering divinities, whether they stole each other's wives or performed some other unseemly acts, nevertheless a temple was always found in a city which was dedicated to each one of them. Could these divinities stem from some very human heroes or from men of outstanding learning? That said, great scholars such as Solon, Pythagoras, Eratosthenes, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, and many more, none had ever made it into the realm of the pantheon, although their names remain familiar to this day. Therefore I tend to believe that all those within the realm of the ancient Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman pantheons were antediluvian "heroic men of renown" - offspring between fallen angels and pre-Flood human women, according to Genesis 6:1-4, with tremendous mental and intellectual powers and physical prowess.

I am so glad that such sexual intimacy between fallen angels and the daughters of men had ended with the Deluge. I dread what our world would be like if these guys were around at present! Worse than that, chances that if the Flood wasn't sent during Noah's day, such continuous interbreeding would have eventually choked the Messianic Line. With such Nephilim existing within the line of Shem, Abraham and David, the incarnation of the Son of God would never have occurred, due to the impairment of the genome. Instead, according to 2 Peter 2:4, all the angels who had sinned, with the exception of Lucifer, are now confined to Tartarus, a subterranean prison of gloom and darkness, awaiting Judgement, whilst every demon most likely is a Nephilim disembodied by the Flood, and according to Ephesians 6:12, even right up to the present, roaming the air in want of a body, and is fully aware of its own defeat by the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The angelic confinement to Tartarus, I believe, is to prevent the interbreeding between those supernatural beings and human women from reoccurring, therefore preserving the Messianic Line and fulfilling the Promise of Genesis 3:15. One way of putting it, the Flood of Noah was also an act of mercy towards the redemption of mankind as well as a punishment for the wicked and the nonredeemable.

And so as the ancestors deified these Nephilim to divinity and built pagan temples in dedication to them, so it looks to be normal human nature to exalt the great among us to this day. And that includes church life where roving guest speakers are assigned greater honour than the regular preacher or church pastor. The snag with that is heresy can be passed onto his listeners in a very subtle way which seems so orthodox, so Biblical. The worst case scenario is when someone comes along, who claim to be Oxford- or Cambridge-educated, and then publicly preach his denial of Eternal Security of the believer, such content denying the Omniscience of God and weakening the effect of the Atonement. And as I have so recently written already, this has happened. Rather than edify, the sermon caused a near-riot at a theatre where the preaching took place, and counselling sessions were needed afterwards. But after all that, whenever I advocated Eternal Security, someone would look me straight in my eyes and tell me off for daring to cross such a well-educated individual!

With the highly educated held in such reverential respect, I could not help let out a loud groan whilst still in bed. For the morning bulletin on the radio announced the death of one of the nation's top scientists, Professor Stephen Hawking. My heart was sad, very sad for him. This was because Dr. Hawking declared himself to be an atheist. Indeed, my skin always crawl whenever I hear of the death of a known atheist.

Am I being arrogant? After all, who am I to determine the eternal state of someone who has just died? No, in myself I have no right whatsoever to say whether this particular person is now in Hell or not. The case of Ananias and Sapphira is good case point here. Luke does not state their eternal destiny following their deaths as a result of deceitfulness and lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). This particular couple was seeking glory and honour within the church without deserving it. So they sold a field and gave some of their money to the apostles, but lied when they said that their money was all they had. They kept part of it for themselves and paid the ultimate price. But we are not told where they are spending eternity. And so theologians can be locked in a debate over this issue, without the Bible's blessing.

By contrast, Stephen Hawking had no intention of being deliberately deceitful. He was a man fascinated with science. He admitted his admiration for the Universe, and especially with Black Holes - how were they created, how powerful their energy, and what would be the consequence if our planet was sucked into one, and how long do they last before finally expiring. This with his study of the Universe and how it all began - without acknowledging the Creator. He genuinely believed, without malicious intent, that the complexity of the Universe, our Earth with all its life, and Evolution and the vast time spans needed for such to happen, all ruled out the need of a Creator, who is now confined to ignorance on scientific origins of our Universe. Indeed, according to Hawking, science has replaced for the need to believe in God.

Dr. Hawking was well known for his motor neurone disease which weakened his muscles to the point of paralysis, confining him to a wheelchair. With marvellous technology, he was able to make his thoughts known by a monotone voice emitting from a computer fixed in front of him. Of all the disabled he was one of the more fortunate ones. Up to the age of twenty he was able-bodied, and his brilliant mind and advanced academic progress has already earned him a place at Cambridge. Had he been born already disabled, chances that he would never had become a modern-day Albert Einstein. Instead, his middle-class upbringing gave him such advantage before his health folded in on itself. Indeed, there is that tendency within society to look upon a physically disabled person born that way as if he is also simple-minded as well, and incapable of high-level learning. Dr. Hawking was fortunate indeed.

The late Stephen Hawking.

But what I know of him, little as it might be, I wasn't able to see any misdeed or anything unseemly about him. He was for the well-being of humanity, even if that means remaining in the EU. A complete opposite to the far-right who promotes violence, even murder, towards the ethnically diverse and those who tends to be more internationally minded. Rather like the Britain First leaders and their members who were willing to beat Muslims to bloody pulp in the name of Christianity and patriotism. Dr. Hawking had none of any of that in him.

Hawking loved science, he wanted to do good to the rest of mankind, he wanted to educate, but he was also an atheist. But I still refuse to say where he is now. It is not up to me to judge, for that belongs to God alone. Yet I mourn for him. If only -if only - he knew Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Would knowing Christ impair his knowledge? Rather, his knowledge would have been enriched. He would have still studied the Universe and glory in its complexity, then give thanks to God for his magnificent creation, opening the door for praise and worship whilst wondering in awe and admiration.

Such a brilliant mind. Such a sky-high intelligence quotient. But he never knew God his Creator. 

And that is what I find so amazing.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

A Cross Too Heavy To Bear?

Large crowds were following this particular miracle worker as he tracked across the sun-baked semi-arid desert which formed the western bank of the River Jordan, after leaving the freshwater lake of Galilee and its flourishing fishing industry. Already achieving national fame for doing good by healing the sick, driving out demons and showing mercy to the poor and the hopeless, and at the same time arousing raging envy from the religious mob, this particular Jew, as he was heading towards Jerusalem, suddenly turned around and loudly declared a three fold challenge to the eager crowds:

If you don't hate all your family members, including your own life, you cannot be my disciple.
If you do not take up the cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
If you do not forsake everything you have to follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:26-33.

Indeed he also inserts a couple of illustrations to drive his point home. One was about a man who started to build a watchtower over his vineyard but runs out of funds before he was able to finish it, and ended up as a victim of mockery thrown at him by passersby. And the second illustration was about a king who was set to go to war against a rival monarch whose military was twice as large, and was instead sensible enough to send an ambassador to ask for conditions of peace.  

This "taking up the cross" exhortation, also recorded in Matthew 16:24-28 and Mark 8:34-38, was something I became familiar with soon after conversion towards the end of 1972. For this to be repeated in all three synoptic Gospels, and even hinted in John 12:25-26 as well, seems to indicate the importance of this specific instruction. I felt trapped into a corner. I was confused at the time. Which was the true path to heaven? Receiving eternal life as a free gift through God's grace and mercy? Or by means of self sacrifice and voluntary entering a life of extreme poverty - which is a form of salvation by works?

For example, the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) was offered "living waters welling up to eternal life" without any demand from him for her to take up her cross, or to forsake everything she had, whether family members or possessions. Instead, what he did was to reveal that she was steeped in sin, having already had five husbands and unable to hold down a relationship with any of them. And there she was, cohabiting with yet another man without even first marrying. Imagine having a woman like her entering a typical church and wishing to settle in. Would she be told to reform or be kicked out? I have heard of a preacher delivering a sermon about Christians divorcing and remarrying losing their salvation and sentenced to Hell for all eternity, because of what Jesus himself had taught that to marry a divorced partner is to commit adultery, so clearly expressed in Matthew 5:32 and Luke 16:18. Indeed, God cannot bless a wedding if one or both partners is a divorcee, according to this internationally known "big shot" of a church pastor.

The audience, large enough to fill a theatre, erupted into a near riot. Counselling sessions were held after the meeting for anyone who needed it. The preacher who delivered the sermon called this mass repentance. Rather, I tend to see these counselling sessions as expressions of fear of potentially suffering in Hell after death. That was in 1994 at a holiday resort of Minehead. And such a spiritual earthquake can still be felt to this day, and the preacher has been known to be ranked as equal to an Old Testament prophet. But when considering that this Samaritan woman at the well had received forgiveness so freely whilst in that audience there were a large number of couples who had remarried and were trembling at their eternal fate, somehow it does not seem right. Therefore, I cannot help but see a rather big difference in the way Jesus Christ treated that Samaritan female and the way he see us today.

Which puts us in a predicament. Because in truth I did not marry a virgin. Rather, I held out my hand to a young woman, rather similar to the Samaritan, who had suffered relationship problems, and I took her in. I then married her, and I have always loved her to this day, not counting her past against her. Our marriage is strong and robust as a result. Her love, adoration and devotion for me is well expressed. But according to Jesus, and endorsed by this preacher, we have lived a life of adultery, and we are both condemned to a lost eternity. If all this is true, then I have grounds to believe that my love for my wife, which is unconditional, is stronger and more stable than God's love for us!

And sometimes I have come close to suspecting this. Between us we have had three beautiful daughters. Then a social worker had them taken away from us for adoption, simply because we did not fit the social ethics befitting our culture (we both have mild autism). Was this tragedy a punishment sent from God for our adulterous affair? Yet to the social worker's surprise, rather than raise my daughters as a divorced single father, I chose to stay with my wife and give her all the love and support I can muster. As a result of the loss of our beautiful daughters, my wife's health had deteriorated to the point that she is confined to a wheelchair whenever she is outdoors. Now, at present, we live on a knife edge. Sharp, severe pains unexpectedly come and go, and not a few times she had to be rushed to hospital in an ambulance to receive morphine and oxygen.

And how much do we both wish we had a supply of morphine and canned air here at home. Then maybe home treatment can be administered without a trip to the hospital. But it is not to be. There isn't a pharmacy in the whole land which sells or prescribe morphine. And so only this week, just ten days after our last visit to Accident and Emergency where we spent most of the night, she was down again, this time with a severe chest pain. She called for out-of-hours surgery instead of the emergency number. After an apparent long while a GP and an ambulance crew called at our home. It was quite dramatic, believe me. The doctor slapped her across her face to wake her up from apparent unconsciousness and then pressed hard on the painful area of her chest, intensifying the pain. Angrily, she ordered both the doctor and the crew out of the house whilst I was still in my shell.

However, before the team left, the doctor was very polite to me and correctly assessed a muscular pain which can be treated with a gel. I rushed out into the night to purchase the gel, just in time before the superstore, where the pharmacy is located, was about to close for the night. Gentle treatment slowly brought such sought after relief without another trip to hospital. 

The next day a chilly breeze blew as one of Alex's friends from my church called round our home for an hour's chat and social. This provided a good opportunity for me to set out for a much needed stroll through a wooded beauty spot which literally starts at our rear garden gate. As I walked along, I was mentally protesting:

Why, God, why? This cross is damned too heavy to bear. I can't cope with it any more. I have come to the end of my tether. I had enough! I had enough!

I was pondering whether we were living in adultery and we are now reaping the consequences. Other Christians, both in my church and elsewhere, seemed far more fortunate, especially with a university background. For I have discovered that Further Education is also a hot spot for romance and the start of relationships. This between students of both genders who are not only pure virgins but had never had any other relationships on a platonic level before meeting at college. And so, according to experience in church, guest speakers visit, preach, and move on. Some may call more than once on a Sunday. But in every case, they are happily married, very often having met at college, or soon afterwards whilst both engaged in some post-graduating mission or project.

So I thought as I strolled along the bank of one of the two lakes. I was not like those preachers and visiting guest speakers who tote their happy families wherever they go. Instead, I saw one equivalent of the Samaritan woman, and in love and mercy, I took her in and married her. Am I now facing the consequences for such kindness? Or is all this a disciplining process, which involves carrying my own cross, and a damned heavy one at that?

The sun broke from behind a cloud. The cool breeze stilled as a result. I beheld the beauty of nature around me. Indeed it was man-made, as the whole of this site was once a part of a thick forest. As it is, the sun and shadows played upon the large area of grass, the lake, which is sheltered by a bank of trees, shimmering in its own beauty. Ducks, swans and geese swam around the lake and populated the area of grass. And it was here when a verse I vaguely remembered entered my mind. It was from Lamentations, but at the moment it was garbled, for it was a long time since I last read it in the Bible. But as I kept on reciting it, the wording soon fell into place: 

Because of  the LORD's great love we are not consumed, 
for his compassion never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23.

I recited the words as one of the popular verses we sing at church:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies never comes to an end.
They are new every morning,
New every morning,
Great is thy faithfulness O Lord,
Great is thy faithfulness.

I recited those words as I walked towards a copse of trees which shelters a children's adventure playground. On a multi-seat swing which resembled a battering ram, totally alone and undisturbed, since the children were all at school, I felt my spirit rise. I looked up to the sky as it was clearing of clouds, and I was able to smile. I thanked him for his goodness, his mercy, his salvation, our strong and stable marriage, my retirement, and the beauty of his creation. How much I long to behold the Lord Jesus, and I said so. How much I long for his loving embrace, a token of love and acceptance, and I said that too. How much I desire the manifestation of God to the extent that my life is forever changed.

And I think of people in my church at Ascot. They are fellow believers just as I am. And yes, I love them as brothers and sisters in Christ. That is how I want to perceive them - created in God's image to fulfil the ultimate purpose: to love and serve God their Redeemer. No nationalism, no political alliance, no social class. Just one in Christ. For the first time in 24 hours, I once again felt elated.

Because there is a powerful message behind Lamentations. It was written by the prophet Jeremiah. He wrote it with tears running down his face (hence the name of the book). He was weeping for his beloved city Jerusalem. The capital of Israel, the City of God, a city of prayer, of praise, and of worship, and a city of peace and of joy. A city where sinful mankind can approach a holy God through means of animal sacrifices administered through a team of priests, with the High Priest making his annual visit into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the whole nation. A city where the final Atonement will one day be made for the whole world through Jesus on the cross. It will be the site of his Resurrection, and the beginning of the Church Age. And so Jeremiah wept as he watch Jerusalem razed to the ground by the invading Babylonian armies.

Yet he remembered God's mercies, which are new every morning. He realised that God's steadfast love for Israel and its capital will never fail. Nor will God's love for the prophet himself, and God's love for us will never fail either. As with back then, they are equally new every morning, because his faithfulness remains. He also promises that as long as day and night follow each other, God's love for Israel will never fail, despite what the nation has done and its rebellion.

Therefore as long as God's covenant with Israel stands, we as humans need not fear a nuclear holocaust wiping us off the planet, neither need will fear a pandemic that will bring us to extinction. Neither need we ever fear a collision of our planet with an asteroid or large meteorite. As God's covenant with Israel stands, global life will continue (Jeremiah 33:19-26). God's love is universal.

And here I can ask: Is our marriage adulterous? No, I very much doubt that. Especially when Alex had a prenuptial prayer of cleansing by our elders, and she was baptised in water, which also took place before the wedding. She was cleansed by the blood of Jesus, and I too was cleansed. And I can testify that by the strength of our marriage for nearly two decades is a strong indication that it was God who brought us together in the first place. 

Will this revelation bring an end to our knife-edge mode of living? If only! It does look as if Alex's severe pains will erupt from time to time and further trips to hospital does look to be on the cards. It does look as though I will have to continue bearing that heavy cross until only God knows when. But among such turmoil, I can be assured that God's love remains constant. 

Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Beauty of a Whiteout.

According to some reports, people living in Canada and in Scandinavia were poking fun at us within the last few days, sending memes on Twitter and other social sites. These memes were all about "the two centimetres of snow which brought Britain to a grinding halt." I suppose we need to be honest with ourselves: We are not used to coping with snow. Even a light dusting poses a threat, because we British just don't know afterwards which direction the weather will take. Whether the light dusting will melt as a result of milder air beginning to blow in from the Atlantic, or whether the icy cold northeasterly blast from Siberia will keep on blowing across the North Sea indefinitely as it collects more moisture from the sea which is then dumped across the UK as snow.

It was on one of these occasions when my wife posted on Facebook her idea of road transport reverting to horse power and donkeys transporting both us and our baggage to our destinations. Unfortunately, she did not receive a single "like" - which seems to be an indication bordering onto the ridiculous and impracticality. With such a present scenario with marooned lorries, cars and trains, maybe the idea of being mocked by Canadians and Scandinavians alike may bear an element of justification after all.

If only one has to consider being stranded inside a car overnight whilst attempting to drive to his destination only a few miles down the road, and then actually getting stuck in the snow and forced to spend the whole night in the vehicle. Indeed, the riddle of the race between the hare and the tortoise would not be that far out of place here. Just as a team of huskies would successfully transport a heavily-laden sleigh with people and their cargo to their destination across vast Canadian plains of ice and snow to arrive in good time, so over here, by the time dusk arrives, not only is the person and his belongings are safe at where he wants to be, but the horse or pony is also safely back at its stable. Indeed, there is more sense in my wife's statement than credited for.

Or for me, walking seems an adequate way to get about in adverse weather conditions. As a cyclist, when I have realised that the bicycle and snow does not make good companions, nothing is better than to slip on a pair of tough hiking boots and set off on foot. And if the overcast sky breaks and the Winter sun comes out, I find it exhilarating on the startling beauty of freshly-fallen snow glinting in the sunlight, making a vivid contrast to the blue sky above. And not just on the ground, but also on the boughs and branches of trees, and even the normally dull rooftops of houses are enhanced by the sheer beauty of crystalline whiteness of the snow glistening in the sun.

And I don't think it was accidental when God created both beast and man alike with legs rather than with wheels. Quite a clever ingenuity, coming to think of it. Legs are far more efficient in moving across snow than wheels, even motorised wheels. Little wonder that at the Terra Nova cross-Antarctic Expedition, it was history's first ever man, Norwegian Roald Amundsen who arrived at the South Pole in December 14, 1911. This was five weeks before rival Briton Robert Scott's arrival. Clever Amundsen! He used a team of huskies to transport him and his gear. Scott relied on wheels and powered vehicles for transport, and tragically lost the race. Very much like over here at present!

I guess we are very fortunate to have the warm Gulf Stream flowing from the Gulf of Mexico, past the Caribbean Islands, towards Britain and Europe. This, to me, is a constant work of God's mercy and goodness, and an important means to sustain life. This stream keeps our Winters mild. Of course, scientists are able to explain how the Gulf Stream operates by means of the Earth's rotation and other necessary forces involved in its existence, but it still stands as one of God's magnificent designs to suit the present.

Therefore, in general we in Britain are unable to cope with a more severe bout of snowfall. As with the Scandinavians, over there snowfall is normal, and I guess, plenty of it. As geology has it, the Danish peninsula is the ultimate landmass blocking the Gulf Stream from warming up the Gulf of Bothnia, bordered by the east coast of Sweden and the west coast of Finland respectively. As a result, this particular tongue of sea not only has the lowest salt content in the world, but freezes over during the Winter months, unlike the Norwegian Sea, where a weak remnant of the Gulf Stream keeps this area short of freezing over.

Therefore, I can't really hold blame to the Scandinavians for their mocking of our inability to handle snow. They are far more used to it. And they are better prepared when travelling. Although I have never visited Scandinavia (a pity, really), I do believe that the main difference between Winter motoring in Sweden to that of in Britain is the universal use of car tyres used by the Swedes adapted to the snow and ice, all of them fitted during Autumn with the expectation of the coming snow season. Like that they can drive safely all year round.

But our British inability to cope with Winter snow does not dampen or minimise our sense of optimism and self-confidence. Despite warnings after warnings of heavy snowfall and gale force winds, motorists continue to climb into their cars. With enough self confidence and optimism enabling them to complete the journey with hardly a hitch, they set off, even while it's already snowing heavily. And when they hit the motorway or trunk road, each driver gets stuck in a traffic jam which remains stationary even throughout the entire night, and then the need to be rescued and even treated for hypothermia.

Oh to hell with the warnings! It's only a smidgen of snow. I'll get where I want to be. It's no problem.

And such words remain within the mind of the driver, so confident, so optimistic. Exactly like the chap I have been privately messaging shortly before this blog was written. Always a good friend of mine, he has expressed such tremendous confidence and optimism over the future of Britain after we had left the European Union. He even re-initialised GB to mean GLOBAL BRITAIN whereas GB initially stood for Greater Britain, and therefore with his new meaning to those two letters, I have interpreted as meaning world dominance, even though he may deny that. However, according to a Guardian newspaper psychologist, there is a connection between Brexit and the quest for global power, not unlike that of the former Empire, as the spirit of imperialism lies dormant within the genes of the most patriotic. In referral to my friend, this guy is also a regular church-going Christian and one-time house-group leader around the early 1980's.

Choleric in temperament and therefore naturally task-minded and pragmatic, it is equally natural for him to be optimistic and confident, which also gives him a certain level of difficulty in fathoming out more abstract or theoretical ideas and notions. (And for the record, any settlements, homes, schools, shopping precincts, industry, public transport, roads, and many more projects were most likely all envisioned initially by a Choleric. Therefore their presence in this world are beneficial for necessary living.)

Therefore he couldn't understand how I could link his nationalistic self-confidence with Charles Darwin. So I wrote to explain that there is no real difference between world dominance and the Edenic Lie. If the Bible is to be taken as historic, then the story of the Edenic Lie and the Fall are also history. In the third chapter of Genesis, the Serpent entices Eve to eat the fruit of a certain tree which God instructed not to eat from. In further coaxing, the serpent gives a false promise that by eating the fruit would open their eyes of understanding, and become like gods knowing good and evil, and in effect calling God a liar for saying they would die instead. Eve fell for the deceit because she found the idea of becoming divine very attractive, and gave some of the fruit to Adam with the hope of the same elevation to godhood.

And here is the link between the Edenic Lie and Charles Robert Darwin with his theory of evolution. Evolution is all about the slow progress from single-cell organisms dwelling in the primeval ocean to homo sapiens living in cities, making progress in sophisticated technology, and continuing on the upward progress with the assumption towards divinity.

But there is a very serious fault with this theory. If evolution is true and historic and the Edenic Lie and the Fall mere mythology, then death did not come by Adam's transgression, as the Bible says otherwise. If death did not come from Adam's fall, then Jesus Christ was not able to overcome death by atonement and his resurrection, therefore making salvation an impossibility. The reality of Divine Creation, the Fall, and death entering the world through Adam's sin is absolutely vital for the reality of the Christian faith. There is no room for compromise. If there was no Adam and Eve, there was no Jesus Christ either.

Therefore it is quite straightforward to see a direct link between my Choleric friend's national pride, optimism, confidence, and his quest for global supremacy, with the Edenic Lie as recorded in the Bible. The want for global supremacy, even on a national scale, is nothing more than the Edenic Lie re-enacted over and over again. And in the spiritual realm, self-confidence and optimism could be fatally dangerous!

Such in the case of judgement day. On this subject, it is Jesus himself who prophetically teaches that at the door of heaven there will be many standing outside and refused admission. This is a really a scary situation and I believe this is a serious warning towards those with self-confidence and optimism. For the Lord included this in his sermon, using the AV for maximum impact:

Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Matthew 7:21-23.

I never knew you. I never knew you. I never knew you. And such words will echo in their heads for all eternity. What a dreadful thought that is, to be told that by the Lord himself, I never knew you. In my younger days I always thought: Wrong religion. Wrong kind of church service. Unable to shake off a specific sin. But I no longer believe it's any of those. By studying the defence these people use to plead for entry, a common theme emerges. Self-confidence, optimism. The deceit in believing that these guys can work their own way to heaven, even using the name of Christ. When alive, these people did not turn to Jesus to have their sins washed away and to receive forensic acquittal. Instead they trusted in their own natural abilities, using the name of Jesus to further their own quest for world fame, reputation and greatness, along with divinity, a state of godhood.

And so I write, the snow outside is now slowly melting. The wind has changed. The crisis has peaked. By Monday, commuters can travel to work by train, bus and car as normal. Schools will re-open. Offices will be fully staffed once more. The pulse of life will beat again. Optimism with Brexit will continue to be debated in Parliament. My friend will continue to be so sure of the future, perceived with a rosy optimism for national greatness and supremacy. Many church-goers will continue to revel in their own self-righteousness, thinking that they are doing God's will. The pulse of British life will beat on.

But with Charles Darwin's theory fully in charge of our minds, God will have to be left out altogether.