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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.


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