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Saturday, 25 August 2018

No Bedbugs at Hampton Court!

Two weeks previously, I have written a tongue-in-cheek conversation which, with a hint of of a remote possibility, could have taken place among the family members of Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. Such talking was from his eldest son's perspective, to ponder what was going through his mind as he wrapped a tie around his collared shirt and completed the knot, in preparation for a visit to New York's Empire State Building.

What was he thinking or feeling? Was he enjoying a state of euphoria in the knowledge that he was born into a family of Eton-educated aristocrats? And to wear a tie on a hot summer's day while on holiday added emphasis to his social standing? And was he also keen to visit churches, palaces or even a museum?

Or on the contrary, was the son acting like a typical teenager, pleading with his parents to visit the Six Flags theme park and funfair rather than visiting boring churches, or dry-as-dust, hands-off exhibits displayed at a museum of Victorian culture, especially about displays of ladies' clothing of that period? And did he envy slightly older teenagers out on a beach or theme park, having a wonderful time under the warm sunshine, and not a tie to be seen among a crowd of thousands?

Recalling as a child myself, I cannot deny that I firmly belong to the second category. Although having said that, as a boy I did find the Museum of Natural History in the London borough of South Kensington very intriguing - exciting rather, even if all the exhibits there were not to be touched. Indeed, I could ask: What is it about the skeleton of an ancient beast we kids find so inspiring? By contrast, I found the hands-off exhibits within the Victoria and Albert Museum very boring, even though it's housed in a far more elegant building, which boasts Greek/Roman columns and topped with a same style pediment, and located right next door to the Natural History Museum. Then again, how could I ever forget the nearby Science Museum with its hands-on exhibits, multiple crank-handles to turn, and buttons to press to see the exhibit actually function - especially in the Children's Gallery?

And there is Hampton Court Palace located in the Richmond area of Greater London. Building commenced in 1515 to be the home of Cardinal Wolsey, and then after falling out of favour with the reigning monarch, the palace was given as a gift to King Henry VIII. The palace remained lived in until the death of its final resident, Prince William, Duke of Cumberland in 1765, before it was opened for the public by Queen Victoria in 1838.

Like all the exhibits in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Hampton Court Palace was loved by Mum, who always had a specific interest in British history, especially about past monarchs, with King Henry VIII with his six wives being the most prominent of them all. Little wonder the filmmakers here in the UK choose this particular king to base their multiple Period TV series which were broadcast over the decades. Without a doubt, for her to visit his former home gave her great inspiration to learn of his life. But as a youngster, such was not particular for me. Instead, I had to tow along, bored as I could be, but without (if I remember) making any real fuss.

After all, we passed one bedroom after another. Indeed the aesthetic paneling lining the walls made the chamber very unusual, rather nice actually, but the bed is like all other double beds I have ever seen, except that it wasn't slept in for centuries. With one bedroom following another, each bed might have a different coloured cover but so what? It's just another bed, ready to receive the next occupant. No doubt, with no dead human skin cells to smear the sheeting for two centuries, despite the wide choice of available bedclothes, no bedbug had any hope of standing a chance for a free feed, therefore seeking their luck elsewhere. Surely, to see such natural activity among bedbugs would have made the visit a lot more interesting!

One of several bedrooms at Hampton Court.

To feel bored over repetitive bedrooms at a palace, or by staring at a old frock once worn by a Victorian duchess, is simply out of immaturity. I was too young to understand. Far more appealing, as museums have anything to go by, is where I can do something, such as turning a crank and watching the exhibit function, the moving parts driven by hidden rotors causing the displayed mechanism to work as intended. This includes, for example, the spark generated by the Van de Graaff generator, the spark firing painlessly at my fingertip as I turn the crank beneath it.

Both the Science and Natural History Museums were visited from time to time well into adulthood. Then, as at present, a corridor linked the two museums together, to walk from one into the other made a full day out pretty straightforward. But as for the Victoria and Albert, I stayed well away. I simply wasn't interested. That is, until I met and married Alex. Like my mother, Alex too had an interest in history, with four-poster beds and meticulously woven linen which always held some inspiration for her.

Therefore, more than three years after the birth of our first daughter, a good mate of mine from church, Geoff, agreed to take us to Hampton Court, for he was the only one who owned a drives a car. How things were different this time. This time, as we sauntered past one room after another, I found myself appreciating the historic significance of these displays. Also Geoff, a graduate who has remained unmarried to this day, enjoyed acting as Daddy to our daughter, purposely lingered behind with her whilst my wife and I absorbed the aesthetic historicity of the King's former home.

It was several years later when Alex and I decided to spend a day in London to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. There were no queues leading to its doors, unlike with the other two museums, with both having long queues of people snaking into the street. Such as deciding to visit on a weekend or during school holidays. Despite still having a stunted interest in period clothing, it was a joy to watch my beloved taking delight in such displays. Particularly with furniture, jewelry, ceramics, and art, such historic beauty meant to be appreciated as well as their utility. The sort of displays which would have bored me to tears as a boy, but finding such an exhibition of far greater inspiration as well as interest as an adult.

The rate of personal maturation can also be demonstrated between two visits to the Gateway Arch at St Louis, Missouri whilst backpacking across the USA, first in 1978, then again in 1995.

Standing 192 metres high, this stainless steel arch marks the Gateway to the West, which, according to a map of the USA hung on a wall of the museum, there was a trail beginning here in Missouri and leading Northwest to the Pacific coast of Oregon. Visitors can ascend to the apex of the Arch by means of a unique elevator within the structure, a tram consisting of eight claustrophobic cylinders strung together side by side, each drum holding up to five people. The tram can also be likened to a Ferris wheel, as each drum rights itself in accordance with the curvature of the arch.

Inside a drum of the Arch tram.

As a 25-year-old, after finding out about such an unusual mode of transport, it was easy to forget about the Visitor's Center and underground museum from where I am to board the tram. After a four-minute ride to the viewing gallery, I enjoyed a fantastic view of the city from one side, and the view of the Mississippi River which forms the frontier with the State of Illinois, from the other side of the gallery. Afterwards I made the descent down the other side of the Arch inside an identical cylinder. Unfortunately at the time, I didn't give much of a toss about the museum. Instead, I made my way back into the city.

Move forward seventeen years and I was back at the same venue. As with the first visit, I made the ascent to the viewing gallery to enjoy the spectacular views. But after I was back down, I wanted to explore the underground museum and examine the exhibits displayed there. It was there where I spent much of the day in enjoyment, learning about how the early settlers made their way towards the Pacific Coastline with an interest which I didn't feel so much on the first visit.

Therefore we were both ready to visit the Houses of Parliament earlier this week. That's the wonderful thing about marriage! Venues such as Hampton Court Palace, the Victoria and Albert Museum and even the Palace of Versailles in France, I would never have considered visiting except for my beloved having an interest. Therefore, from hint after hint, I eventually gave in and booked two tickets for an audio tour of the House of Parliament, made possible by the Government being on its Summer recess.

Two kinds of tours were available to the public. The escorted tour and the audio tour. Being independent as I have always been, I did not hesitate to choose the latter, as this would allow us to complete the tour at our own pace rather than decided by somebody else. Since Alex was in a wheelchair, we found the staff very courteous and helpful, ensuring that we were set on the right course before starting the tour on our own.

After visiting St Stephen's Hall, the Central Lobby, the Robing Room, the Royal Gallery and the House of Lords, we hit the climax - the House of Commons. As Alex remained in her wheelchair, I stood spellbound in this chamber, standing directly over where the Mace lies during a Parliament session. All the green seats were vacant, but I recognised where the Prime Minister sat, just a metre or so from where I was standing. From each seat a small microphone hangs by a cable from the ceiling (the same in the House of Lords) which is something I had never noticed when watching the News on television. No wonder why, when a MP needs to deliver a speech, he needs to stand up. This had always been necessary in order for him to speak into the microphone, as if deliberately set at the right height for this purpose.

In all, our tour took just over two hours, which was approximately forty minutes longer than stated on the itinerary, thanks to our slow and relaxing pace. It was certainly very enlightening! Even with the Chamber of Commons, on television it looks larger and more cavernous than in reality. I was rather taken back over the fact that the chamber is smaller than I have imagined.

About to enter the Houses of Parliament, taken August 2018.

This is all about maturing as an adult. This brings to mind the instruction to all new believers in Jesus Christ as Saviour, to feed on the milk of the Word of God, and to grow in faith until ready to feed on strong meat.

I think my childhood experience with palaces and museums is a good illustration of one who has recently converted to Christ. Just as palace bedrooms and period clothes would have bored my pants off, not yet ready to appreciate the historical significance of these artifacts, so as unlikely for a new convert to understand the deeper significance of the Bible. For example, I would not be expected to understand the vision of the four beasts rising from a turbulent ocean detailed in the Book of Daniel. Instead I would be encouraged to read and study the Gospel of John. Likewise, a new believer would not be expected to exhibit spiritual maturity. This comes after a time, whether weeks, months, or years of reading the Bible and allowing to be filled and led by the Holy Spirit.

A boy may see a man with a beard, and decides that he wants one himself. So he starts praying for it fervently, even setting aside times of fasting. But the beard doesn't begin to grow, no matter how fervent his prayers are. But once grown into adulthood, he'll see that the beard will begin to grow on its own accord without the need of a single prayer!

My childhood boredom with palaces and stuffy museums is not due to rebellion or nastiness. Rather, its due to immaturity. Likewise, if you see a new believer, or any believer behaving in an unrighteous or apparently godless way, even if he regularly attends church, likewise it may not be due to willful rebellion, nor lack of salvation, but immaturity. He needs to feed on the spiritual milk before expecting him to feed on strong meat.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

"A" Level Results - and Stabbings.

Two pieces of news came to my attention this week. One joyous, the other very alarming. First the good news bringing joy to many. No, I'm not referring to the Gospel at this point. Rather, I'm referring to the multiple thousands of young people who have received their "A" Level exam results. For those who had passed their required grades, it is a time for partying. For those who had failed to meet their marks, it is a time of disappointment along with an awareness of feeling lost, confused, unsure in which direction to take. 

Then there is this issue of "Clearing". To be honest, I have not been familiar with this word when applied to university admissions. Clearing what? I'm familiar with clearing the floor of rubbish, or of a room of items not put away in their proper places. Or of clearing the table of unwashed dishes after a meal. I am also familiar with clearing the road of excess traffic stuck in a queue, for for that matter, a cough to clear the throat of phlegm. But what is the obstacle or disarray causing such "blockages" of the way to university? Could it be that inconvenience in failing the required set of entry exams? Are such school failures the "blockages" that needs to be cleared for university entry?

And to those who have passed, why does the media, both television and newspapers, always show girls jumping up an down, shrieking with delight? And why mostly girls? Where are the boys? Do these boys look at their successful exam results and in a very British way - nod, and say to Mum, "I've passed." And that's it, as each one carries on checking his mobile phone or tablet for any new messages as if nothing had happened? And so, as each successful male student stays at home, fixated to his computer screen in his bedroom, the girls go out to party at a local nightclub to deliberately stone themselves in anticipation of a glittering bright future. So one picture I saw at a Daily Mail online of a group with a high proportion of girls in Cardiff, as well as others in Leeds and Newcastle.

A group of successful students in Cardiff. The Daily Mail.

Of course I'm aware of boys also going out to celebrate as well. Who in his right mind wouldn't? It's only that the media, especially the BBC, which seem to have a preference for showing girls celebrating. I'm I showing bias here, perhaps even sexism? Maybe if the media showed more boys than girls rejoicing over their exam result, the feminists would be up in arms, with the BBC taking much of the flack thrown by them.

It is a vastly different world to what it was in my day. Let's see. Back in 1968 I left school on a Friday, to start my new job on a Monday. No kidding. I left school at fifteen years of age with absolutely no qualifications to show, and I was "condemned" to a life of manual labour, starting with sweeping the factory floor. That was more than half a century ago. There were no celebrations, not even among successful "A" Level candidates. There were no such thing as gap years, and only a small minority made it into university. And those who did were revered by the rest of society as academic icons, not far short of celebrity status.

Perhaps with then Prime Minister Tony Blair crying out Education! Education! Education! back in the late nineties and into the new Millennium, had brought about a "degree inflation", when up to 50% of the student population entered uni, quite a contrast from the less than ten percent who did in my day. Nowadays it looks as if these admissions are not only essential to a fulfilled life, but it looks as if it's now essential for survival. 

And how could this be made a clearer example than what the Daily Mail dub as "Wild West Britain" - meaning a growing culture of knife and gun crime. Only this morning, I turned the page to see a two-page spread of the gang stabbing which took place in Camberwell, Southeast London. Weapons used included zombie knives and machetes, and even a medical crutch used as a club. One victim lay disemboweled and screaming for his mother, a further two had gaping stomach wounds, several more were also slashed.

This was a result of gang warfare, and this particular brawl was about a leather belt and to whom it belonged. Predominantly male, I doubt that any of them involved ever succeeded at school, let alone ever entering university. As one writer in The Guardian once wrote, the underlying motive making the bedrock for gangland culture is the preservation of masculinity and with it, self-image, even if it means taking of another's life, often without a cause. If there is any truth to this, then it seems that to kill a rival boosts the ego, gains self-confidence and uplifts his own image of masculinity. And as I perceive, makes up the terrible sense of low self-esteem caused by poor home life and failure at school.

After the Camberwell brawl. Daily Mail.

If a person's level of education makes a great deal on his self-esteem, then I wonder how I managed during the formative years of my working life without killing someone. Well, no matter how I might have felt back then, at least I never had a debt of multiple thousands of pounds hanging from my shoulders after leaving college. And all these celebrations taking place at present makes me sit back, rather mystified, and wonder: How on earth can all these students celebrate, knowing that they will stack up massive debts? I have read tales of a fairly large percentage of graduates leaving further education to take up jobs which are beneath their degree level. And knowing that they each have a large debt to pay off. Yet at present these new candidates still see their futures as glittering and very promising.

As I see it, there are generally three groups of young people in the UK at present - those who did well at school and those who didn't, and some in between. Among those who did reasonably well, or even mediocre, there is this Clearing system for university admissions. Clearing allows some failed students into Further Education, so I understand. Then there are those, like me, who leaves school with nothing to show. It is among these, with very low self-esteem, who are liable to be sucked into crime and gangland culture, often involving drug rivalry and warfare. But there is a third group. These may not excel at school either, but for our society, they are the most useful and most needed.

I'm talking about builders, plumbers, electricians, gas engineers, carpet layers, and all other vocational apprenticeships. People we can't do without. If at home a pipe bursts, I don't call a computer programmer, instead I call a plumber. Or if our circuits blow, it's the electrician I call for, not an accountant. Without bricklayers, roof tilers, carpenters and window glaziers, I would not have a house to live in. As for computers, I may or may not have one. I didn't own an Internet-connected computer until I was well into my fifties. Before then, I lived quite adequately without one. And even now, I don't own a smartphone or tablet. Indeed, no one into I.T. or computer programming can thrive without the builders first constructing his workplace, whether it's at home or in the office. Indeed, these tradesmen can be seen as the backbone of modern civilization rather than the desktop employee, the latter favoured by the Daily Mail.

And here's the rub. In recent years I have noticed that many tradesmen are foreigners, especially from Eastern Europe. They don't seem to mind getting their hands dirty. It makes me wonder why so many indigenous Brits are vying for university? Could it be because they are too snobby to dirty their hands?

It's rather like what I have seen and experienced as a window cleaner. I have watched householders curtly greet a tradesman without giving anything other than pay his fee. But someone such as an accountant or even an estate agent were to call, and he is treated with coffee and biscuits and as much hospitality the customer can give. Indeed, there is much favouritism for the business suit over the boiler suit!

Of course, death is the Great Leveler of all men. One day our Queen will die along with the homeless tramp. But there is another Leveler all men of every social standing must face: the Judgement. But as the Gospel goes, Jesus Christ was crucified and died to atone for our shortfalls, he was buried, and on the third day Resurrected from the dead, and now gives eternal life for all who believe.

Wonderful stuff! Eternal life given to all believers on the basis of the Resurrection.

Which brings me to the confusion brought along by some preachers. Lately I have heard talks debunking this "Asking Jesus into my heart" business. It is based on Revelation 3:20, which reads:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and sup with him, and he with me.

To one graduate who was debunking this "asking Jesus into your heart" ethic, I then asked him:
What is the last word of Revelation 3:19?

He wasn't able to answer. Actually, the last word of Revelation 3:19 is repent, which has the same root word as given by Peter in Acts 2:38:

Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins.

The passage in question was about the resurrected Jesus speaking to a church in Laodicea, which consisted of all believers, and he rebukes them for their apathy. According to this preacher, it had nothing to do with unbelievers. But could there be a second application?

Take for example Isaiah 41:10-13. I have seen in the past where some Christians have highlighted these verses with a marker at the margin, or even crayoned over these verses with a light colour to bring out their emphasis. I myself felt that these verses spoke to me directly. What assurance of God's love! How keen God is to strengthen us and to help us, as well as holding us up in his righteous right hand. How reassuring it is to know that he will protect us and save us from our enemies, and therefore no need to fear them.

Until you come to verse 14, where he has been addressing his worm Jacob, his little Israel, just as verses 8-9 does in preceding the said text. Oh dear! Those verses from 10-13 does not speak to me at all, for I don't have Abraham's blood within me, and therefore I cannot be of Israel. So these reassuring verses does not apply to me unless there is a second application.

The idea of a second application makes the whole Bible relevant to all of us, Jew and Gentile alike. To both the student candidate for university and to the street gangster alike, Jesus said on one occasion that if anyone asks the Father for the Holy Spirit, God will be happy to grant such a request (Luke 11:13) - yes, to evil hearts! And Paul writes to his Ephesian readers to let Jesus dwell in their hearts (Ephesians 3:17) through faith. Therefore it does look as if asking Jesus into your heart of Revelation 3:20 is Biblical as a secondary application to that of speaking to a church of apathetic believers.

This is backed by the scores of testimonies I have read of other Christians. Tales of life-changing experiences after "asking God into the heart" or something similar, abounds, and it gave me joy to read of these. But to some it does not appeared to have worked, as one of our Elders have testified, and even I have found myself "asking Jesus into my heart" many, many times during my earlier years whenever I was gripped by fear or doubt. So where is the problem?

I had to sit and think about all these things. And I come to conclude on the object of faith. Which is it? (A) Heart belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Or (B) asking Jesus into my heart? The answer is (A). Thus a diagram like this can be drawn:

(A) Believe----> (B) Ask----> (C): Baptism and commitment.

Salvation begins with (A) - initial heart belief. (B) is if the new convert wishes to ask in expression of his faith.

Where one might be in error is thinking that asking Jesus into the heart (B) initiates salvation. For some people this may do. But not necessarily for others. Maybe for the latter group, this ethic (B) is done to see whether it might work, like as if an experiment, or to test the formula without initial faith. To initiate salvation, one must have a heart belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to atone for their sin. I would go as far to say that asking Jesus into the heart is an act from an initial heart belief rather than itself the initiator of salvation, which seems to tally with Romans 10:9-13.

Yet there are many who prayed this prayer (also known as the sinner's prayer) and still experienced a radical change of life, a life favoured towards God and enjoying his salvation.

And that's what so important here. All university students are eligible for God's grace. And there are many who do turn to him. And God's grace is available to the vilest street gang member, as I have shown two weeks previously on the El Salvador blog.

University student, a doctor, a computer programmer, a plumber, a dustman, a window cleaner, and a former street gangster, all of one mind and one spirit as they share fellowship in the love of God through faith in Jesus Christ with no favouritism felt at all between them.

If only...

Saturday, 11 August 2018

With A Posh Politician in New York.

As much of June and July basked under a prolonged heatwave, I have wondered just how many school pupils confined in their classrooms across the land had daydreamed of the beach with gently-lapping waves of the turquoise ocean giving a relaxing background rhythm to the locality. Or the splashing of the cool waters of an outdoor swimming pool with sunshine rays making constant movement on the pool floor while the air above it carries a light pungency of chlorine. Nearby, families sunbathed, children running to and fro, a beach ball flies through the air, and the teacher suddenly raises her voice, shattering the dream into a thousand irretrievable pieces.

At last August arrives, all schools have broken up, and with it, the cool wet weather of a typical British Summer, with winds whipping up the grey sea into turbulence as its large waves hits the wall supporting the esplanade. From time to time a quick shower causes a forest of umbrellas to suddenly emerge from the crowd, but despite of all this, not a single school uniform, or equivalent, can be seen among the thousands of youngsters who passes along the esplanade throughout the day. Further inland, parents rack their brains in their attempts to try to keep their offspring entertained during the school holidays while the blustery drizzle continues to decorate the outside of the window panes with tiny raindrops.

Therefore was I astounded when a photo of Conservative backbench politician Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared in the Daily Mail Online posing with his wife Helena and what appears to be his two eldest children, Peter and Mary.

Jacob with wife Helena and children Peter and Mary.

Perhaps with a remarkable adult resemblance of the classic Beano comic character, Walter the Softy, the spectacle-wearing lad who has always been a contemporary of Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, here poses the politician with part of his family at the lookout of the Empire State Building in New York during their Summer vacation.   

Just as I stood at exactly the same spot twenty years earlier in 1998, just a few months before meeting my future wife Alex. However, Rees-Mogg's New York is somewhat different to the New York of my day. What I saw back then, as I faced south towards Downtown, were the original twin towers of the World Trade Center. These were skyscrapers resembling gigantic cigarette lighters which dominated the skyline, especially from the area of the Hudson River surrounding the Statue of Liberty. I have a mix of both gladness and regret when it comes to the World Trade Center. Gladness that I visited the rooftop observation deck on the South Tower back in 1978, but regretting not visiting the same location twenty years later in 1998. Instead, I decided on the Empire State Building, one venue I had never set foot on before then. Indeed, if only I had bothered to re-visit the World Trade Center in 1998 in addition to the Empire State Building. It would have been a way of saying a final goodbye before the 9/11 disaster in the year 2001.

Instead, what Jacob Rees-Mogg saw close to the same location was the new version of the World Trade Center, a single skyscraper of the same height as the original towers. However, if our present set of circumstances is anything to go by, from now on it remains unlikely that I would ever set foot again in New York, or for that matter, at any overseas destination, for the rest of our lives. Alex's health would not be able to take it and the resulting strain would be too much, ruining both our holiday or getaway.

Yet I can't help look at the above photograph with amazement. What I have read, it was around thirty degrees Celsius on that day, yet father and son are both dressed up in suit and tie - and it was neither a business or school trip, but a summer vacation. I'll be honest here, I have wondered what went through the boy's mind when the family arose for breakfast at their hotel. I can think of one of two types of tongue-in-cheek conversation having taken place that morning:

Dennis, Gnasher and Walter

Conversation A

Helena: Good morning. A new day of our summer holiday! I have been checking on the Internet, and there is a Six Flags Theme Park with Fun Fair, including spinners and gutsy roller-coasters, about a ninety minute drive from here, on the road to Philadelphia. Or there is a beach, accessible from here on the subway. What do you think?

Peter (eldest son): Fun Fair? Ugh, such money-wasting venues are for commoners, plebs with no education or culture. No, I'm not interested in these stupid spinners or roller coasters! Nor the beach either, coming to think of it! What an insult to my English upbringing such suggestions are!

Jacob (taking his wife aside then whispers): Darling, are you out of your mind?

Helena (vigorously shaking her head and whispers): Shh! Not in front of the children.

Helena (re-entering the bedroom): Where would you like to visit instead?

Peter: There is the Basilica of St Patrick, the main Roman Catholic church of New York. Please, Mum, I want to go there to admire its architecture. Then there is the Church of the Trinity in Wall Street. Not to forget St Peter's Roman Catholic Church, and if we still have any time left, there is St Thomas C. of E. to admire as well.

Mary (daughter): Peter is right. I don't care for those trashy parks either. I'm a girl of class.

Peter: And I want to wear my shirt and tie. Even if it's hot outside, I want to visit these churches with respect.

Jacob: My mind is made up. I would like to go up the Empire State Building, and if there is time, we'll visit some of the churches Peter had suggested, leaving the rest of them for tomorrow.

Helena, Peter, Mary, in unison: That is a brilliant idea!

Jacob: Dress up, and you Peter, put on your tie. We must be the best representatives of our country.

Conversation B

Peter: Dad! Dad! Last night, just before going to bed, I found the Six Flags Theme Park, which is about ninety minutes drive away. It looks exciting. Spinners and gutsy roller coasters! Can we go?

Jacob: No, absolutely not! Those venues are for commoners who have no more sense than that of mere indulgence.

Peter: But Dad, we're on holiday. My classmates have posted on Facebook of their trip to Chessington Theme Park. They had a lot of fun. They even got wet on a couple of water rides. Other friends of mine have posted themselves bathing in the Mediterranean. None of them wore ties, only tee-shirts and open neck Hawaii-type casuals. They were even topless on the beach. Yet we all attend the same school.

Jacob: Don't argue with me, son. Today, after visiting the Empire State Building, we will also be visiting the Basilica of St Patrick, followed by the Church of the Trinity.

Peter: Visiting churches? How boring!

Jacob: You do as you're told! Now do up your shirt button and put on your tie!

Peter: Aw, Dad. It's hot outside.

Jacob: Look, I'm wearing a tie. It's just as hot for me outside as it is for you. But we're English. We are representatives of Her Majesty the Queen in a foreign country. It's about time you starched your upper lip!

Jacob (downstairs at the breakfast table): Now let's say grace before breakfast. Dear Lord, for what we are about to receive, may to the Lord we be truly thankful. Amen.

Helena, Peter, Mary, in unison: Amen.

Jacob (to the waiter): I don't like bacon. Please remove the portion from my plate this instant and replace with two more sausages. Thank you.

The original World Trade Center, taken 1998.

Those two conversations were of course, tongue-in-cheek. But among those who voted to leave the European Union in 2016, as a politician, he has risen to prominence and popularity among his followers. As one friend wrote in Facebook, announcing Rees-Mogg as our Prime Minister-in-waiting, I should present myself to him fully dressed in suit and tie. Of course, that too was tongue-in-cheek, but I do get his gist.

But in real life, I would like to meet Jacob Ree-Mogg in person, if he isn't too snobby being at Starbucks, Costa Coffee, or even in a quiet pub. And who knows, I have a hint that he would willingly book a slot for us to meet, even if its a month, two months or later still due to his busy schedule. I have that hint that he would be happy to talk to me, despite how I might feel towards him. It is a matter of us both attending the same church. Like one of our Elders and I meeting at Starbucks approximately every three months for a good chat, including giving him advice as well as receiving edification. His humbleness as an Elder willingly meeting with a retired window cleaner old enough to be his father is worthy of commendation. But this involves attending the same church.

But with Jacob Rees-Mogg it would be most unlikely, even if our different churches are in the same town. Being a devoted Catholic, he would be as much uncomfortable in my Protestant-based church as I would be in his. As so, it remains wishful thinking.

But supposing Rees-Mogg and I did meet, facing each other at the coffee table. Would I feel any hostility towards him? Quite unlikely, but rather filled with curiosity on why England as a sovereign state is so important to him. Also I would ask him whether, once out of the EU, Britain would eventually develop a desire to convert every British Commonwealth nation back into a colony and reinstate the Empire, even if this would take up to a generation. I would be curious whether he really has feelings of xenophobia, which would also include asking whether he would sanction the closing of the Channel Tunnel. Also I'm interested whether he is devoted to supernatural Creation as recorded in Genesis, or is he a devotee of Charles Darwin. If he favours the latter, does this mean then that he believes in racial and ethnic superiority, not unlike that of the Nazis? But equally important is why does he feel the need to pray to the Virgin Mary to intercede for him if Jesus Christ has already atoned for his sins and salvation is readily available for all believers?

Furthermore, I would encourage him to quit trying to get right with God by practicing Roman Catholic customs, and believe that God has already made peace with him the day Jesus died on the Cross, was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead. Thus atonement was made and fully completed. So there is no need for a priest to intercede. In fact, as a true believer, we are both priests, tasked with the privilege of being lights of our society, to shine as bright stars for God in this dark world.

Up to recently, Jacob Rees-Mogg has always been an obnoxious sort of person, to my mind. But lately, the more I think about him, and especially after looking at his holiday snap in New York, the more my dislike metamorphs into that of fascination and astonishment on why the English have so idolised him to the point of yearning for him to lead our country as Prime Minister.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

A Wonderful Miracle in El Salvador

When it come to browsing through Facebook, indeed the current excess feed on Playbuzz personality quizzes, BBC News, How Stuff Works, post ads for Blogging Circle and I'm a Blogger, as well as Suggested Posts, all this can fill the wall with material which seems to be irrelevant to life in the real world. To add to this, an apparent lack of communion among friends, friends of friends, or even the public, often makes Facebook somewhat impersonal at times. Except for one particular video which appeared a couple of weeks ago.

It was a video posted to the Guardian newspaper about a church planting taking place at El Salvador, a small country in Central America with the highest murder rate in the world. Since the Civil War in the 1980's, two rival gangs began to spring up. One is MS-13, the other 18th Street (from those who fled to Los Angeles and were later deported back to El Salvador). Infinite numbers of teenagers in the 14-15 age realm had died as a result of not obeying their ringleaders. One particular area, Distrito Italia, in a provincial town of Apopa, became so dangerous that Government officials refuse to enter the area to provide services.

Then at an El Salvador prison, many of the inmates were converted to Christ as a result of a visiting preacher. The converts quickly realised that there are only three ways out of the gangland culture - violent street death, death in a hospital, or through faith in God, so one interviewee said.

The video shows a congregation of exclusively male prison inmates singing praises to God and testifying how having faith in Jesus Christ have totally changed their lives. Elsewhere, church-based centres were established, offering dormitory-style accommodation in exchange for domestic duties to ex-gang members who have found themselves homeless. At another location, a church had grown from the initial seventy members to that of 1,500. I would say that the majority of these converts bear tattoos from their former lifestyles, making them look very different from the traditional English middle class churchgoer.

In fact, they admit this themselves. As one pastor quoted: We are not the typical Christian - in a sense if referring to our perception of what a Christian should be. But all testify to a strong love and passion for Jesus and a strong commitment to each other.

It is while dwelling on these things when I began to speculate whether they believe in Eternal Security of the Believer. Actually, if I were to approach any of these converts or their pastors with such a question, the most likely response would be that they would shrug their shoulders as they try to work out what I'm talking about, then simply say they are devoted to God and express their determination not to yield to temptation, simply because of their love and devotion to Christ. The concept of Eternal Security, in all probability, would be unknown to them.

Therefore I consulted a website on the religious background of El Salvador as a nation. According to the statistics (with some minor variances) approximately half the population, around 48-52% are Roman Catholics, a further 28-30% are Protestants, and the remaining 20% or so are of other diverse faiths, including Judaism. Among the Protestants, the vast majority are of the Pentecostal denominations, along with sub-groups including the Assemblies of God, the Church of Christ, some Baptists, even Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormonism making up a small minority, and there are others who have pagan or no religion at all.

If Britain can be regarded as a Western model to go by, chances are that the greater majority of El Salvador Protestants are from the respectable middle classes, worlds away from gangland culture. Their way of life are not much different from our own British Christians (except perhaps a little less reserved), well educated and with respectable careers allowing them to bring home an adequate income to support their families.

Although I cannot be cut and dried on these matters, chances are that these gangsters in general have a Catholic background. Having looked back at my own experiences, along with having spoken to nominal Catholics who were thoroughly hostile to their boyhood faith, together with watching their videos touching on such hostility towards their religious background, my assumption does not appear to look at all out of place. As a Catholic myself, I recall the Church teachings on infused righteousness, received at infant baptism, which means that if I commit a minor sin, then in the afterlife its some time spent in Purgatory, a temporary hell where such sins are purged out before entering Heaven. Then there is always that major or mortal sin knocking on the door, and to die with a mortal sin means Hell for all eternity with no chance of redemption. The trouble is, with no distinction between a "venial" sin and a "mortal" sin, no Catholic can be assured of Heaven after death. Instead, he must spend his whole life confessing to a priest, do penance, partake in the Sacraments, and to lead a sinless life to keep himself out of Hell. Little wonder that the God of the Catholic is either looked upon apathetically, or his existence denied. Or perceived as most feared, if not hated, for his truculence!

Basilica San Pietro, Rome. 

Therefore it comes to no surprise to learn that these dangerous gangs of El Salvador were most likely former Catholics. It was only after conversion when they learned that faith in Christ alone brings eternal life, and therefore able to love God with sincerity, rather than debating within their minds about their own fate in the afterlife. Hence the difference between infused and imputed righteousness. The first must be sustained by the believer, the second is being credited with the righteousness of Christ.

Oh, to be credited with the righteousness of Christ! That means God sees us in the same way he sees Jesus Christ. That is the meaning of the word Christian. It literally means Little Christ. Eternally Secure! No wonder I'm an advocate of such a wonderful doctrine. An adopted son of God, never to be disenfranchised. Born anew into God's eternal Kingdom. That is the meaning of Regeneration, the birth of the new man within me, one who is incapable of sin and has a desire for God's holiness.

As I sat at a Costa Coffee in Reading earlier this week, I felt my soul lift as I meditated on the love of Christ, and I expressed my longing for him to take me into his heart and be forever united with God. And by thanking him for my retirement, my wife and for all daily provisions. Even toward those who hate me, at that moment I felt no antagonism towards them. Instead, I felt wonderful peace and joy, an awareness of God's presence. My request is that I'll get closer and closer to God throughout the rest of my life. This is the fruit of Eternal Security. Knowing never to be lost again, ever. Is it this what those ex-gangsters are experiencing at El Salvador? After all, their love and commitment to God and to each other seem to reflect this.

The wonderful truth is that when a sinner turns to Jesus Christ for forgiveness, he is forever saved, whether he realises it or not. A Christian may not believe in Eternal Security, not too sure, or is unaware of it, but that does not change the facts. It's a bit like questioning whether my heart keeps on beating while I'm asleep. Despite my doubts, it still beats on as long as I remain alive.

And the problem of sin is why I have eternal security through the righteousness of Christ imputed into my account. James 2:10 says that if I keep the whole Law but stumble at just one point, then I'm guilty of breaking the whole law. Hence the massive problem facing Catholics. It takes just one sin committed and already he's in big trouble. Therefore Eternal Security as a result of a spiritual rebirth  in Christ can only in itself satisfy.

Therefore I can't help but pity those Christians who are convinced that salvation can be lost after believing. Known as Arminians, from the 16th Century Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius, they are faced with a massive problem when confronting sin. Arminius taught that by turning from the faith or to commit a serious sin or a large number of sins, salvation can be forfeited and the person ends up in Hell. Here lies the problem. Nobody knows where the line is drawn when once crossed, it's past the point of no return. Yet the Bible teaches that just one minor sin is enough for disenfranchisement. After all, the sin committed by Adam and Eve for eating the fruit of a certain tree does not look very serious, yet it was enough to bring about the Fall, and death to all men thereafter.

This leads to a very perverse view of God, not unlike with those gangsters before their conversion. If God is seen as truculent, then the believer will behave the same way. One striking example of this occurred a few weeks ago. When I greeted this Arminian with a light body touch, he immediately turned to me and shouted that he does not want to know me and I should consult the elders, thus disgracing himself before anyone who might be watching. He is certainly not unique. I have come across this sort of anger among Arminians quite a number of times before. What amazes me about all this is that by such action he has already sinned against God, therefore according to his theological viewpoint he might have already lost his salvation.

What a contrast between all this and the attitude of these El Salvador converts! These ex-gangsters are unlikely to be aware of Eternal Security of the Believer yet they act as if they were aware. They revel in God's love with a lasting wish for further closeness with God and the willingness to testify of his salvation. Among them there is no debate on eternal security - a debate which they may be better off without.

On top of their love and commitment to God, they were committed to each other as well as having concerns for the lost around them. And that has always been one of my concerns about unbelievers. Day by day I cross paths with other men, women, families, children. I watch television, listen to the radio, read newspapers, browse the Internet. To one blogger friend I have expressed my concern on her comments forum. In it I admitted my difficulty in praising God knowing that Hell exists and the lost are heading straight towards it. I think of my parents and my brother. My father has passed away a few years ago after admitting that he doesn't believe in the same way that I believe. My mother is still alive but suffering severe memory loss. My brother, once an atheist, might have second thoughts about God, especially after Dad died. Yet everyone who knows me, within the family circle and outside, are aware on where I stand in the faith.

My blogging friend's response was interesting. She wrote that since none of us are fit for Heaven, for a sinner to be saved is an even bigger question, with her explanation that entry into Heaven through the imputed righteousness of Christ is indeed worthy of praise. Such a response had altered my perception of God and his love. I guess I naturally take after my father, tending to see the glass as half empty. The grace of God is about the glass being half full, or better still, completely full. A sinner is saved because God loves him and is willing to show mercy. It's from this new perception that I have enjoyed the peace and joy of God whilst sitting alone at Costa Coffee.

And for his sake, not ours. I believed, received mercy and was saved for his sake. All the ex-gangsters at El Salvador were saved for his sake, not merely theirs. Really, I hope they all realise this and believe this. Because to know that we are all saved by grace for his sake and for the glory of God brings eternal security, and so the Bible tell us (for example: Ezekiel 36:22-28, Ephesians 1:3-14). We are saved for his sake. This truth is a good enough foundation for believing in Eternal Security of the Believer.