Ever made a decision and then immediately regret it? And before you can do anything about it, the cogs of the machinery begins to rotate, and there is absolutely no power to stop it. And that's how it looks.
And taking up a new banking agreement can be one of those regrettable decisions. It all begins with an unexpected phone call with a voice saying that my account might have been targeted by a fraudster. It's that living nightmare I have seen on TV documentaries such as Watchdog or Panorama. Immediately I put the phone down without saying a word and mounted my bicycle for a trip to town.
At my bank, I was fortunate that the advisor was free and wasn't dealing with any other customer. When I told him of my situation, he then led me into an office within a more experienced advisor sat. She investigated the rumour, and it was true, my account was targeted, following an online purchase. She then disabled the current account card, and I then received a new one within a few days. That should have been it, simple and straightforward. But instead, she went into a sales-patter mode about a promise of better protection if I took on a credit scheme. Feeling vulnerable, I signed the agreement. Moments later I had discovered that I have opened a credit card account.
The last time I held a credit card account was in the year 2000. Soon after discovering that my wife was pregnant with our first daughter, I made a phone call to the issuers, asking them to close my account while I paid off the last of what was still owing. I then cut the card into two halves and that was it - finito - after two decades of debt.
There was a time when the credit card stood in good stead, especially during my travels. Like the time when I wanted to make a booking at the Hosteling International Backpackers at Santa Monica, California. They would only accept a booking by credit card. Fortunately, I was able to pay in cash at arrival. Or when the Queen's birthday came around at the most awkward moment after running out of cash whilst at Hervey Bay in New South Wales. When the Queen's birthday comes around, Australia as a whole shuts down, leaving my thick wad of Traveler's Cheques temporarily unusable. I still had to pay for my stay at the hostel. My credit card came to the rescue.
Both of these incidents took place in 1997. Life was very different back then, without the Internet. Each month a paper statement dropped through the door. Funny, coming to think of it, they call it a statement, when really it's a bill, like an energy bill or a phone bill. But it meant a monthly visit to the bank or enclosing in an envelope provided, together with a cheque, and posted. But the debt lingered on and on as interest was piled on top. Unless I paid in full like you would have had to with American Express, or Diners Club, I was never debt-free during those twenty years.
I look back on such experiences with mixed feelings. It was good to be bailed out from a tough situation, especially while overseas, but the burden of being in debt hung over my head like a raincloud. Therefore, when it came to giving advice to a couple of upcoming nuptials by request at our church, one of my main points was don't open a credit account, and stay free of debt. I also added, to buy only within their means. If you cannot afford it, don't buy unless you are prepared to save up for it. I said this to two young Christian men shortly before they married. I think this is good wisdom, especially with the cost of holidays. To find a credit statement covering the airfare and hotel bill lying on the floor among the mail after arriving home from the airport can be debilitating, especially if it's back to work the very next day.
Therefore, it was at a moment of weakness when I fell for the sales pitch and allowed the bank to open a credit account. But in this modern tech age, the prospects look much dire than it did before. It's all to do with Internet banking, an idea I have always shrunk from. (After all, I am a pensioner and we oldies generally don't gel with money-handling technology behind our backs, do we?) I had little option but to call upon God for help while walking along the High Street - and back at home also read the terms and conditions, itself taking quite a number of pages. I eventually discovered that I'm in a "grace period" the two weeks within if I change my mind, I can close the account. I did precisely that, along with the need to cancel the newly-created direct-debit account.
At this stage, whether I'm now out of the woods, or still having my foot caught in one of the ferns growing among the trees, I have to wait and see. Furthermore, my beloved was also afraid - afraid for me, whether all this credit card scenario would have on my health. It gave much of an opportunity to reflect together.
When Alex asked why God allowed all these - the credit card agreement, her poor health with the latest on her breast cancer, my own life with heart failure - I had to sit beside her and think. And to reassure her.
I thought about our financial security, which I believe, is very different from the accumulation of wealth. Without a doubt, even the keenest of saints desire some sort of security, especially in finances, the desire to be free of debt, to be able to keep a roof over his head, adequate clothing, to put food on the table, and to enjoy such niceties such as an annual holiday, to buy toys for the kids, and to own a car as a useful commodity. Surely, we all want this. It's perfectly natural, so human. And as Jesus once reassured, our Father in heaven knows all this. He is not reluctant to meet all our needs.
However, by contrast, these fraudsters, for example, wish to accumulate wealth out of greed. They are not bothered about leaving another individual, a couple or a family in financial ruin just so the perpetrators can go out and buy that coveted Lamborghini to show off to his neighbours and arouse envy. It's that attitude, that greed which stirs anger in me, the sense of injustice.
Someone had already said to me that if I am without sin, then I should cast the first stone. Fair enough. But if the fraudsters were to target his bank account, clearing it out altogether, how would he feel? Having a hump? Or would he jump with joy, knowing that he is "persecuted" for the cause of Christ?
In my talk with Alex, I came to the conclusion that it's better to suffer heavy losses - even to the extent of being stripped bare, and go to heaven - than it is to accumulate much wealth, live a life of luxury and end up in hell. That's was what I said to her.
This reminds me of Job, an Old Testament nomad who was stripped of all his wealth by bandits, lost all but one offspring in a terrible accident and became so ill that we came within an inch of death. He ended up with his breath so foul that even his wife couldn't remain any longer in his tent. Yet it was she who loudly declared that he should curse God and die (Job 2:7-10). To which he replied,
You are acting like a foolish woman!
His integrity is what I admire about this man. His faith in God remained unmoved, even to the point when he declared,
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he shall stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.
I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Here he was basically advocating eternal security - he didn't condition his eternal state with any 'ifs' or 'buts', nor, "I must remain faithful lest I lose my salvation". Instead, he declared to his three doubting friends that he will see God! By referring to his Redeemer as standing upon the earth demonstrates his Resurrection from the dead, after an everlasting atonement has been made.
Lately, I have delved into Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In the first two chapters of that letter, the author demonstrates both the special love of God for all believers, which he couples with the sovereignty and omniscience of God. Not that God loves some people and not others. True enough, God so loved the world in a paternal sense he has for all his creation (John 3:16). But to all believers, God is their special Father.
The breaking down of the barrier between the Jew and the Gentile is what excited Paul, along with the drawing together of all from near and far away alike, as from the kingdom of darkness into God's Kingdom of light. This breaking down of the barriers I found so edifying. That means the dissolving of all international, racial and class barriers, the uniting of the three into one man whose head is Jesus Christ himself.
This is a tonic I so much need in such a materialistic world, where institutions such as banks will strive to make a profit from the customer, and living at present in a political turmoil where their want for national isolation from Europe eclipses the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ regardless of ethnic origins. If ever there is a need for such a drastic psychological turnaround, Psalm 139 reveals how God regards every individual, and how each person was carefully knit together in the womb. And how many days a person shall live is already determined, long before conception.
Neither is any individual ever hidden from God. He may rise into the sky (airline and rocket aviation?) and sure enough, he is there. He might make his bed deep into the depths of the ocean (deep-sea submersibles?) and God will be waiting for him there. If he was to go to the far side of the sea (long haul flights?) - yes, God will greet him there as well.
(Actually, it's fascinating how a 3,000-year-old prophecy about advanced science and engineering can be so easily discerned by any modern reader).
But the point is: God is always near. He is near each Christian believer. In fact, God lives within every Christian believer. As for the unbeliever, God is always near. So near, in fact, that one only has to believe in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the risen Christ, and from his mouth confess this, acknowledging his status as Lord, and he will be saved (Romans 10:9-13). God will give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks (Luke 11:11-13) without the need for self-reformation beforehand.
Just lying on the bed next to my beloved wife and saying those things to her in the quietness of the night have helped in dispelling her fears and anxieties. Indeed, banks may find schemes to drain us financially, quite legally too, and watching her poor health is indeed debilitating, but knowing that God loves us and that he is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent is a source of comfort and reassurance for both of us.