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Saturday, 26 January 2019

A Whiff of Hypocrisy?

When browsing social websites such as Facebook, what I'm hoping to find is a direct message to me, or one where I get a personal mention, but failing that, a poster on which I would click "like", or posting an emoji reflecting on my emotional response to the poster (mostly the laughing image, but the one showing astonishment often appear as well). Like that, the one who posted the item in the first place will be aware that someone has taken notice.

It's rather like a game, or a contest even, to see how many "likes" the poster will collect, not to mention the growth of the comment forum beneath. Therefore it's easy to assume that if I was to post something, and even after 24 hours, had collected totally nothing, no one had seen it. More likely though, it was seen by quite a few but failed to meet anyone's approval or raised any eyebrows, nor was it worth commenting upon. Many of my own posters on Facebook, some involving videos, pass on with no response whatsoever.  

Therefore when posters either supporting or ridiculing Brexit appeared on my timeline, either I clicked "like" under those which advocated staying in the EU - or comment on why I disagreed with those supporting leaving. Often, together with other contributors, both for and against, quite an intelligent messaging board would at times grow beneath the poster, often to do with the fate or our future post-Brexit economy. Into these forums, I have added my two-bit worth when I felt it was appropriate to do so.

But lately, since our PM's Brexit deal was recently rejected by Parliament, quite a conglomerate of pro-Brexit posters began appearing on my message wall, all of them showing support for a no-deal exit from the EU. It was then when I got fed up with such input into the social media that I ceased commenting, and I began to ignore them.

Until one showed up just a couple of days ago. It featured a smartly-dressed English businessman walking away from the European flag, the circle of twelve stars, carrying one of the stars with him under his arm, along with his briefcase and what appears to be a box containing legal documents.

This time I didn't respond with any likes or with emoji, whether laughter, astonishment, sadness or even anger. This was because I have had enough with the topic at hand after making enough comment contributions. From now on I felt that just passing these posters by and ignoring them is now my best option. After all, these former discussions from either side, even from the best of learning and intelligence, still fail to edify. They do not bring any believer closer to God nor bring the unbeliever to his conviction of sin and his need for a Saviour.

But when I came across this image (pictured above), posted by a good friend of mine and an ardent Brexit supporter, I could not help but gaze at it. That is because of how the image fits in so well with the meaning of Brexit. The figure is that of a white Englishman dressed as a City gentleman, a banker, perhaps, or some other professional who holds a university degree, therefore conveying the idea (at least to me anyway) that the Englishman as of an ethnic race and cultural standing is superior to the rest of Europe, and deemed the Continental bloc as too unworthy to merit his membership.

However, his headwear looks a bit out of synch from the rest of his clothing. Resembling a Jewish kippah or yarmulke, it's most likely a normal cloth cap which was worn by the working class man at a pub or men's club, found up North, for example, in the suburbs of industrial townships such as Newcastle, Sheffield, or Middlesborough. If the artist has made an effort to portray a social cross-class figure walking out of the EU, then I must say that he didn't make a very good job of it!  

All on the same week when one major company owner, James Dyson, another ardent advocate of Brexit, decided to uproot and move his headquarters from England to Singapore. Although he's strongly in denial that this move has any connection with leaving the European Union, nevertheless, howls of "Hypocrite!" ran through Parliament, through the streets and particularly through the Media. Of course, it can be argued among Leavers that as a private company owner, whose business is for us to buy his bagless vacuum cleaner, he can do what he pleases. If there is a potential market waiting in the Far East as well as holding good stakes in the EU, then why not? In a choice between patriotism and money, it's money which always wins.

Then there is Jacob Rees-Mogg. I often refer to him as the Englishman's darling, despite my awareness that a large percentage of the British population loathes him. He is head of the European Research Group (ERG). Pardon me here, but isn't the name somewhat deceptive? Research? I always believed that the meaning of the word was to find out the truth about something, to investigate materials and sources to establish the facts. For example, I am familiar with Creation Research, an American Christian organisation investigating the truth of Creation in opposition to Uniformitarian Geology and the Theory of Evolution. I have one of their books, The Genesis Flood, by Whitcombe and Morris, using both anthropology and geology to establish the truthfulness of the Biblical account.

The ERG is not about investigating the history, culture, economic or even the physical structure of the European bloc in order to gather facts in a neutral sense. Rather it's a group of Tory politicians campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union. As far as I'm aware, their object is for us to leave the EU without any form of deal or agreement with Brussels in order to restore our nation's sovereignty. That doesn't look like research to me, but more like lobbying. But despite Rees-Mogg's patriotic zeal, I can't help smelling a whiff of hypocrisy when I read about him stashing two of his investments at a Dublin bank in the Irish Republic, a member of the EU. Truly speaking, are Dyson and Rees-Mogg afraid with what could happen to the British economy post-Brexit?

English Conservative politician Jacob Rees-Mogg

And who can forget Boris Johnson? He is the one who was the strong advocate of Leave prior to and during the 2016 Referendum. Still harbouring a long-held desire to become the leader of the Conservative Party and sit at the desk in 10 Downing Street, in June 2018 this man resigned from his Cabinet post of Foreign Secretary when things got a bit too hot under his collar concerning the PM's Chequers Agreement and Brexit. I suppose I could rate him as a coward on this issue, abandoning a sinking ship rather than make an effort to refloat it. But he too is rankled with hypocrisy. In 1993 he divorced his first wife, Allegra, after just six years of marriage, and then separated from his second wife Marina in 2018 after 25 years of marriage, to date a much younger woman as at present. As one American boss once said when he fired one of his employees for committing adultery: If you cannot be loyal to your own wife, how can you be loyal to the company?

And I will always remember good old David Cameron, our former Tory Prime Minister. It was he in February 2016, who called for a national referendum whether to leave or stay in the EU. He was an avid Remainer, along with his pal, Chancellor George Osborne, who himself had a beady eye on number 10. When they lost the vote in June 23rd, 2016, Cameron resigned as PM the morning after. If there is a Government leader doing a runner so quickly after defeat rather than engage in the difficult task ahead, then it has to be an Eton-educated politician.

I can see three famous Etonians here in British politics - Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and David Cameron. Between all three there is adultery (Luke 16:18), hypocrisy and cowardice. Yet despite all this, there is something so honourable about having an education at Eton. It not only opens the door to Oxbridge but to acting as well, so I once read. Drama lessons have taken a high priority at Eton and other public schools. And here is the irony. Hypocrisy has its root word from Hupokrisis, an ancient theatrical act. The theatre is the home for actors - people who are paid to put on a different character outside their own for the benefit of onlookers.

Greek Theatre, Siracusa, Italy - visited 1982 and 2007.

Jesus had a lot to say about hypocrisy, particularly in religious people (for example, Matthew chapter 23). It fulfils what Isaiah once wrote,

These people come to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules made up by men.
Isaiah 29:13.

And yes, it is easy to look upon the lifestyles of others, especially among those in the public eye. But here I need to ask, 
Am I offering to remove a speck from someone's eye without realising that there is a log in my own eye? 

I guess this is a very easy trap to fall into. As one public preacher once said in a large auditorium, 
Even if you do not feel so white in your lifestyle: If you see another who looks black in moral issues, at least it makes your greyness appear as white.

I suppose that questioning another person's way of life and finding something to criticize and a judge is a kind of self-preservation against guilt. But unfortunately, as it seems, although such critical judgement may make me feel good about myself, but not before God. And concerning worshipping God at church with heartless lips is something I'm fully aware of. I'm not guiltless. One of my main concerns is about how others in the room feel about me. Or being cut up by a bad car driver and arriving at the church in a bad or angry mood. Or it could be daily worries, such as finance, which is putting me down. Or worse than all these, it could be plain apathy. Moving my lips during praise but my heart isn't into worshipping God.

Yes, I am guilty. And it makes things worse to watch others praise the Lord in what appears to be with genuine affection. But I also aware that in the privacy of my own closet I kneel before and confess my shortcomings before God, including hypocrisy, not only would I be forgiven but this could be the start of real, genuine worship.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Gym or Sofa? - Benefits of Retirement.

I think there can be a stereotypical image of someone who has retired. It is usually that of an overweight elderly gentleman slumped in his armchair near a roaring coal fire, with his eyes fixed on a newspaper during the day and transfixed at a TV set in the evenings. His wife can be seen shuffling into the living room holding a tray on which stand a piping hot cup of tea and a plate of biscuits. The only time he gets out of his armchair is during mealtimes when he makes his way into the dining room, or when he needs to go out for a round of golf or lawn bowling. And without a doubt, outside his front door, his car is parked, awaiting his next short trip. 

In reality, I have no idea what is the present percentage of the UK retired population, let alone of those who fit such a stereotype, but I think this sort of image of a retired couch potato might have arisen, if I remember well, from popular television soaps such as Coronation Street, or from the 1960s comedy such as Alf Garnet in Till Death Us Do Part, and that of Uncle Albert in the hilarious Only Fools and Horses.

Of course, it can be argued that these characters tell of more advanced years than my own age at present. Or perhaps such characters were meant to portray such a lifestyle of someone in their sixties, as with a popular song by the Beatles, When I'm Sixty-Four, released in 1967 on their album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - a perfect portrayal of such a stereotype: The narrator sees himself as a future veteran confined to his armchair while being fussed by his grandchildren. Even the name of their album suggests that it was aimed at the retired and the widowed.

Maybe in that era, all this might have been true. For someone to reach seventy, especially a male, would have been considered fortunate. For women in their seventies, this was more common. This could be an explanation on why elderly housewives are often stereotyped bringing in trays of tea from the kitchen to their chairbound husbands.

Therefore how happy I am that at 66, I don't fit the stereotype! I certainly can outperform the fictional narrator in the Beatles song and I'm now two years older. But much had to do with the advance in medicine. Actually, if it wasn't for advanced medicine and the skill of the surgical team, I may not be alive now, let along reaching my sixty-sixth birthday. For at the age of 61, I was diagnosed with heart failure by my GP, and a chest X-ray revealed an enlarged left ventricle caused by a regurgitating aortic valve, and apparently, I was living on borrowed time. Therefore a series of tests accompanied by regular doses of pills eventually led to the procedure - the replacing of my own faulty valve with that of a healthy pig's valve imported from the USA.

But after being reassured of the need for no more medicine, however, due to persisting symptoms of atrial fibrillation following the op, medicine for life remains a necessity, including anticoagulants, and drugs dealing directly with atrial fibrillation and also with the problem of water retention (diuretics). This, along with regular blood checks to ensure that the rate of coagulation remains confined to given limits. Indeed, praise God for the advancement of medicine now bringing treatments still widely unknown during the mid-sixties!

Then shortly before the end of the convalescence period, I was put on a course of rehabilitation at a riverside leisure centre in Windsor, involving a combined cycle and bus ride to Windsor from Bracknell town. Fortunately, this was for only two days a week. At the venue, most of us were middle-aged men, with a lone female instructor, and with myself looking to be one of the younger set. The session began with warm-up floor exercises, not too unlike that of dancing, before the "serious stuff" of what could be called "circuit training" got underway. 

The first exercise apparatus was the stationary cycle, on which, as at all the other workout stations, I was allowed just 2.5 minutes for each. Following this was the wall press-ups, the only exercise that was done without any equipment. Next was the rowing machine, the well-known Concept 2 Rower, followed by sit-ups using a chair to sit and stand in fairly rapid movements. Following this was the step-ups, and finally, the bicep-curl using 2x3kg hand weights. Then the whole circuit was repeated before the cool-down involving dance-like floor exercises, and finally a gentle ease-off. The whole session took an hour of our time.

I was fortunate enough for the rehabilitating course to end not long before my 63rd birthday. After consulting with one of our church Elders at a pub on the thought of early retirement, I was quite surprised when he gave his full approval on behalf of the whole church. Therefore, on my 63rd birthday, I ceased work permanently, two years before the legal age.

But it was at the start of retirement when my GP urged me to exercise. And so I went to our nearest gym, which is at the Bracknell Leisure Centre, and providing the GP would sign his approval, I was offered an induction. The induction was on how to use the equipment for maximum efficiency, with the introduction of two new cardiac exercises not practised at Windsor. Therefore, once settled in, what I did was to work on the rehab exercises plus the two extra workouts. But with some differences. Each workout became more intense or prolonged. For example, the universal 2.5 minutes at Windsor became ten minutes for the cycle, five minutes for the wall press-ups, seven minutes for the rowing, about ten minutes for both sit-ups and step-ups, and eight minutes for the bicep curl. Also, the 2x3kg weights for the upper-arm workout were raised to 2x4kg and eventually 2x6kg with the time extended to ten minutes.

Old gym in Bracknell, where the Concept 2 rowers are seen.

As with rehab, the session consisted of 2x8-station circuits, making the entire workout up to 150 minutes long. I became so keen on the programme that I upped my gym attendance from twice a week to three times a week. But the snag with that was I became subject to injury, which bade me look over the whole schedule and adjust accordingly. The resulting reschedule meant that the two circuits were reduced to just one circuit (that is, eight workouts instead of the original sixteen. In Windsor there were twelve altogether). But it was in the rowing where real differences began to be experienced.

The change from a bi-circuit session to a single circuit had allowed the rowing to progress faster than the other seven workouts, enduring to thirty minutes by progressive steps. However, on one occasion, a leaking roof skylight caused part of the gym to shut down, the upstairs section where the rowers and the cycles were located. This gave me the opportunity to have a try at the Elliptical - and picked up a painful foot injury which, having turned inflammatory, not only kept me away from the gym for several weeks but also called for the need to buy and use crutches, making me look and feel like an old man.

It seems so ironic, doesn't it? Exercise workouts to keep myself fit - and here am I, walking on crutches! However, because of their incompatibility with the bicycle, I had to keep those leg supports at home whenever I had to go out. At least, even with an injured foot, which required a hospital visit, I could still pedal efficiently.

Therefore I felt that a massive rescheduling was necessary. The gym visit was reduced to just one visit a week, and the eight different workouts were reduced to just one - the rowing. Therefore I extended the time from a thirty-minute workout to forty minutes, and eventually to a full hour. According to the Concept 2 calculator, set on resistance level 8, I rowed over 10,000 metres (6 miles) and burned between 300-350 calories. This once-a-week workout continues every Friday to this day, along with lane swimming on Mondays (75-80 minutes), the Long Walk through the woods on Tuesdays (90 minutes) and cycling on Sundays (to church and back - approximately 8-8.5 miles). I have always enjoyed a sauna straight after the gym workout.

Crutches - made me look and feel old!

Now with a brand new gym opened at the same leisure centre. This meant getting used to a different brand of the rowing machine. The Techno-Gym version looks more modern than the Concept 2, with a wider range of resistance and a better monitor. I admit that Level 8 is now too difficult on the Techno-Gym for long endurance rowing. Okay for a five or ten-minute burn-up, perhaps. Instead, I have discovered that Level 5 is the closest match to the resistance generated by the previous Concept 2, with one full hour of non-stop rowing also covering close to 10,000 metres with around 280-300 kcal burned.

I guess it's all about staying fit and remaining healthy whilst fulfilling my role as a carer for my partially-disabled wife. But there is another benefit in exercise, a positive feeling of wellbeing and retaining sharper mental abilities. Furthermore, when God initially created us, he gave us bodies which need to be looked after and cared for. Yet according to Paul the apostle, physical exercise is commended, yet still held beneath spiritual godliness in importance (1 Timothy 4:8), as one day I will die, but my spirit remains eternal. That's why I ask, why not both? My retirement is far from idle. Each morning I cannot do without a daily reading of the Bible, normally a whole chapter of either the Old or New Testament, and going through the whole book or letter in daily readings. Then it's off to engage in some physical activity, depending on the day of the week.

And that awful battle: Weight loss. Over and over again I'm bombarded with BBC programmes and glossy TV magazines about diet and nutrition, calorie-counting and the avoidance of the tastiest foods. Now with this lark of - er - Veganuary, this idea of going vegan has absolutely no appeal to us (Alex and myself). Give me a slice of succulent beef, a chicken thigh or a slab of pork any time! At least these make life worth living. Even scientists have seemed to assert that vegans are less happy in general than omnivores, according to the Press.

But since the operation in 2015, I couldn't help notice a definite shortening of my neck, as if the procedure itself was the cause of it. Whether it is by natural ageing, or an anatomical alteration as a direct result of the op, or a combination of both, one thing is sure, that keeping my weight down is becoming an increasingly difficult battle.

Therefore, I can give thanks and praise to God, my Creator and Life Sustainer, for my ability to exercise vigorously when by now I could be pushing up the daisies from six feet under.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Persecuted? Here in the UK?

A senior pastor of a local church has written a blog, posted on this website, about a boiler breakdown in the church building with an encouragement to come in on Sunday in extra clothing, at least until new units are installed. The main point of his post centred on when the new units are likely to be fitted, who the contractor might be, and the finance to cover the cost.

His rather cautious post also carries a paragraph reminding all his readers that the boiler breakdown and the resulting chill of the midwinter air is the worst possible scenario his worshippers will need to suffer, and therefore should not stand as a valid reason to stay away from their weekly services. He then makes a comparison between listening to a sermon with a nip in the air to Christians living abroad, where just merely attending church could cost them their lives.

At least in Israel, I was able to worship in a Christian church while at a nearby mosque, the call to prayer sounded from the minaret speakers. Oh yes, that call of prayer, set at definite times of the day. And how could I ever forget 1976, while at the Kidron Valley, where the Arab East Jerusalem residential district of Silwan echoed with the voice of a single male individual, or Imam, reciting his call to prayer tuned to a melody? The loudspeakers set on top of a tower amplified the voice to a level where it reverberated across the valley separating Mount Ophel, on which the ancient Canaanite settlement once sat, from the neighbouring Mount of Olives.

How the Imam recited his call before the invention of loudspeakers has always intrigued me. Did he use a ram's horn, like the Jews did in ancient times? Who knows? Nevertheless, to listen to such a call several times a day echoing through a valley has really made me aware that I was in a foreign country, outside the European bloc.

Silwan at Kidron Valley, East Jerusalem.

However, the further away from the Mediterranean coastline one travels, then Islam becomes less tolerant of Christians. Until one ends up in Saudi Arabia, where Christians are seen as heretics. Hence holding a church service in an Arab city such as Mecca or Medina, the chance of a death penalty imposed by a Muslim judge stands as a high possibility. 

The persecution of Christians around the world is nothing new. Ever since Jesus himself was ministering, by the time he arrived in Jerusalem, the religious fanatics were baying for his blood. And thereafter it came as no surprise that the apostles and their followers suffered hostility, usually from the Pharisees and Sadducees. If my perception of Scripture and history are correct, then it does look as if all sources of persecution has a religious connotation. One good example is the Apostle Paul. He himself, as a Pharisee, chased after Christian believers as far as Damascus was from Jerusalem, and he did it under the authority of Jewish priests, whose letters of consent were carried on him.

Then after his conversion, his mission was constantly impeded by the religiously-minded Jews who were trailing him. One example which I find rather amusing (by modern thinking) was the case in the city of Lystra (Acts 14:8-20). At one particular location (perhaps at a market square or forum) he saw a man crippled at his feet and had never walked in his life. Paul looked directly at him and seeing that he had faith, ordered the man to stand up. And here is the amusing bit. He did stand up for the first time in his life and probably praised God too. But the rest of the crowd were astonished at such a miracle taking place at their midst and sincerely believed that the two preachers were human manifestations of gods - with Barnabas being Zeus and Paul being Hermes. And therefore animal sacrifices were prepared for them.

But it was a group of Jews who convinced the crowd rather than Paul's pleading. And the Jews successfully turned the crowd against the apostles and with the miracle forgotten, therefore creating a barrier blocking the crowd from receiving salvation. Indeed, what Jewish religion has done was to turn a rather amusing incident into a tragedy.

Then inside the arena at the centre of Rome, Christians were sent to their deaths on a regular basis. They were fed to the lions or killed in several other ways. The reason for this was again religious. The Roman edict demands that every citizen must swear an oath that their Emperor is Lord and divine. But Christians insists that the risen Jesus of Nazareth is both Lord and Christ, and one with the divine Godhead. As a consequence of such a confession, they were thrown to the lions.

With the testimony of history, both ancient and recent, I have wondered how our modern-day English Christian would respond and cope if persecution of the physical kind was to erupt here. On a Facebook comment forum which trails the pastor's blog link, I wrote a teasing comment on the issue, proving that I have read the whole blog. My contribution received no responses, whether for or against, agreement or disagreement. Or no "likes" or emoji. And there is an emoji reflecting every mood, from laughter to tears, from shock to anger. Indeed, I wonder whether such believers are so thin-skinned as they are either apathetic, too uptight or even upset by the tease to make any response, even if just by posting an appropriate emoji. 

Perhaps an invasion of Muslims into this country and turning it into an Islamic State may actually do good for our churches and to them! At least in three ways. Sure, Islamic persecution of Christians will indeed shake off the cultural dross clinging to all of us as believers, myself included. And such persecution would sort out the committed from the nominal, the regenerated from the mere professor. In turn, the Muslims will receive testimonies that this Jesus we believe in is the risen Christ, the Son of God, and be saved.

Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, Surrey.

If the Adversary has always been behind physical persecution of the churches, then his purpose was a complete failure. Through such oppression, the churches were purified from any worldly dross, and false brothers left voluntarily. Therefore he tried a different tact, one which was very efficient. That was to condition the grace of God into something that must be accompanied by a work of some kind. The Churches in the region of Galatia were confused by a set of teaching from some Judaisers, that in order for salvation to take effect, every male Christian must be circumcised. They have backed this with Scripture, particularly from Genesis 17:14, which says that any uncircumcised male will be cut off from God's people. Very convincing stuff. Little wonder that the Apostle Paul had to write a stern letter condemning such teaching, and cursed its advocates.

I suppose that the Adversary knows that God won't allow him to physically persecute British Christians. Or it may be that such oppression is not really necessary - well, at least if there is a far more subtle way of throwing a stumbling block at the churches. And that's through the mind rather than through physical harm. He has already tried physical discomfort, even to the point of death. It didn't work. The churches flourished. Their members lived purified lives and eagerly looked forward to the Return of Christ and to their bodily redemption and their promised glory. Their members all developed a close relationship with their beloved Saviour. Indeed, the more the flesh suffered an element of discomfort or was even destroyed, the more their spirits grew. 

Oh for Islam to invade Britain and start up a War of the Faiths! I guess that will sort out the men from the boys, wouldn't it? Or the true saint from the phoney. And one sidekick from all this is the Christian's stance on Divine Creation. I sincerely believe that those who believe in Theistic Evolution will either repudiate his ideas for the Biblical record or he will melt like a snowflake under the sun. 

Under such persecution, the Christian will be given a fundamental choice, and the choice is this: Is this Jesus of Nazareth the actual risen Christ who was crucified to atone for us? I think the making or breaking of his faith depends a lot on whether he believes in the Biblical record recorded in the early chapters of Genesis, or whether he has always believed in Evolution, theistic or otherwise. After all, if all the Old Testament saints believed in the Genesis record, as Jesus himself did, along with all the apostles and their followers, then who are we to think we know better?

But theistic evolution is not only the central core of our English brothers in Christ. What I have seen, a university degree is very high on the believer's order of importance. Now, to hold a degree of higher education is not so bad in itself. Rather, it can be an excellent commodity, opening a wealth of vocational opportunities. But I wonder what effect would Islamic persecution of Christians in this land would have on them? If their degree was to get in the way of a wholehearted faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Saviour or deny the reality of God's love to keep his high-income career?

Or here is another one: Social status. Over more than forty years as a Christian, one characteristic that is so well cherished by both Christian men and women is being middle-class. I guess this is inextricably linked to a high level of education and a profession with a high income. Throughout the years, I have seen far more computer experts than refuse collectors. As a matter of fact, I have never seen a believing dustman worshipping in church throughout the last 46 years as a Christian! However, I have known a few builders, two I knew have already gone to glory. However, there is a large student group fellowshipping with us every Sunday. Fortunately, I'm quite popular with them, but I do wonder where all this will go if persecution were to arise.

And there I need to look at my own set of circumstances. Okay, given a choice of limitless world travel if I was to deny Jesus as the Christ, or be banged up in a prison cell if I keep on confessing him. I think I'll know where I would stand on that one. Swapping a glorious crown for an air ticket is by no means a wise decision! Especially after touching down at Heathrow Airport, which I'll end up doing no matter how long I'll be away. But there is one situation where I would indeed be in dire straits. That is if my wife was kidnapped by a group of Muslims. Then given a stark choice: Deny Christ and she can return home with me. But refuse to deny Jesus as the Son of God and she would suffer a painful death.

Now that would be a real stinker, wouldn't it? My dearest beloved. I think this would require the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome this one. For both of us. For only God can empower her to encourage me not to deny my Lord, and I require the power of the Holy Spirit to keep on confessing him. But although such a situation is terrible, it is but a moment compared to the eternal glory to come. And both of us must realise this.

At Portsmouth Spinnaker Tower, 2011.

Under Islamic rule, there will be no more worries about church heating or boiler replacement. This is because, for its very survival, church members may have to meet in a garden shed, as the original building would be turned into a mosque. Not very nice during the Winter, but it's either this or scattered across the country. Furthermore, employers would willingly fire all Christians, and each has to find a way to keep bills paid, for it's quite likely that all State benefits will wind up for all non-Muslims. Perhaps many will also be made homeless as a result, and end up finding shared accommodation with other Christians. As for the National Health Service, only Muslims can use the facilities free to the point of use. Christians must pay the full price or face exclusion.

But whatever wretched set of circumstances every Christian has found himself in, one thing for sure, and that is every true believer will shine like glorious stars before a watching world. Their zeal for God and his Kingdom will be so intense that they will all be beyond reproach, blameless in everything they think, say and do. And rather than pursue the middle-class status quo, they would give up their bodies in an instant if this would bring glory to God.

But I guess none of all this will ever happen. English life is way too comfortable as it is, and our social-class culture is highly treasured. Could this be the reason why just a couple of days ago the hard-line Brexiteers and the far-Right hassled a female Tory MP outside Parliament to have all building of mosques stopped and Muslim immigration checked before our country turns into a caliphate? 

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Fascinating Facts, Another Year...

Another year over and a new one had just begun. And as I take a stroll outside, I thank God for allowing me to remain alive to see this particular day in human history. Yes, I thank God for just being alive. And that after considering how many people who were considerably younger than me, yet have already met their end, in many cases, unexpectantly. As the apostle James once wrote that I ought to consider the will of God when making future plans because nobody knows what's just around the corner (James 4:13-17). 

Therefore, I have come to learn over the years how precious life really is. I remember so well during my younger years how vain I felt over certain issues. The biggest was probably my position on the social stratum. Working class? Or should I say, a mere pleb? And I looked up to the middle classes with an element of envy. Maybe it was because my parents wanted to produce a successful son who would have lifted his family's social status to a higher plane. When I failed at school my parents were disappointed. Bless them. Who wouldn't be disappointed? Without a doubt, I would have loved to have seen my daughters attend university. I would have been so proud, witnessing my own offspring achieve a level I failed to achieve myself. And so it was no surprise having known how my own parents had felt.

Looking back, I have always believed that world travel has always been intrinsically linked to my social dissatisfaction. And who knows, I might not have been alone with this idea. For example, the Round-the-World backpacking trip I made in 1997 was partially inspired two years earlier by an Aussie builder who had a temporary job in the USA. When he shared his experience with me at an HI hostel in San Diego, not only did he inspire me to visit Australia myself but also reminded me of an Irish builder I had a lengthy conversation with at the backpacker's hostel in Jerusalem a year earlier in 1994. He related his experience to me of his year's contract as a construction worker in the Middle East, most likely on one of the new high-rise hotels which had back then recently sprang up in resorts such as at the Dead Sea and Eilat. 

San Diego Harbour, taken 1997.

However, my curiosity about Australia may have also been stirred a decade earlier during the mid-eighties when I was a member of a triathlon club in Reading, known as Thames Valley Triathletes. That was when a new member suddenly appeared at the swimming pool changing room. A tall, slim but very fit-looking athlete with longish hair and a high-pitched voice, he quickly made known his country of origin, and his six months stay in the UK sustained by his temporary work. What job he had I cannot at this point fully recall, but I think it was to do with computers. However, my dominant thought was, if he could travel halfway around the world, could I too? And if not, why not? In those days, after two trips to North America and to Israel in the 1970s, I was working to build my own window-cleaning business, and therefore I considered myself fortunate at that time to just cross the English Channel. Indeed, the mid-1980s was my "bleakest" decade for travel, if it can be classed in this way.

How I wished that I was more mature in Christ during those days as a singleton! Such would have saved me from much of this emotional turmoil. But I guess being in a healthy and robust marriage goes a long way towards a better sense of self-esteem. And with this heightened sense of self-worth as a husband, comes my greater appreciation of God's goodness. And when it came to retirement, a permanent ceasing of work, I knew that I had arrived at a major turning point. It was a reminder that I wasn't getting any younger, but more of the feeling of having one foot already in the grave. I guess I have achieved a new title based entirely on my present income - a pensioner.

And by my sudden realisation that I'm in this present phase of life has come a long way in my acknowledgement of God's goodness, his grace and mercy. Knowing that since gestation, my heartbeat was sustained by him together with the bloodstream in full flow, along with all other involuntary functions such as digestion, organ secretions such as from the liver, spleen and pancreas, the ability to see and hear, and (most of the time) involuntary breathing. And also the immune system, still little understood by science, and the vast complexity of the brain and nerve function, and the skeletal structure providing such an adequate framework. Then not to mention the dizzying complexity of every living cell, its nucleus being the home of the genome, the very essence of our existence. Such as admission to God's magnificent design. Indeed, if the Father saw fit to send his Son to atone for us, then we must be highly esteemed in his creative powers.

In divulging into this, during the Christmas holidays, we watched a programme on the television, A Day in the Life of Earth, presented by Dr Hannah Fry. Just by watching I caught the significance of how God remains committed to sustaining all life on our planet, even over just 24 hours. There is volcanism, for example. Usually perceived as such a destructive force if too close, even wiping out expanses of woodland as well as burying whole villages under a flow of lava. Yet, according to the programme, volcanism is one of the main forces in creating land and balances out the rate of erosion. This sort of negentropy versus entropy keeps our planet from ending up as a universal ocean. Then there is another issue which fascinated me. That is, not only oceanic tides at work to sustain life, but the moon also has an effect on land too. Known as solid earth tides, the land which we actually stand on literally rises and falls by a metre every day. Yet it remains totally unnoticeable.

Also according to the documentary, volcanism is the result of Plate Tectonics, the moving of the continents caused by radioactive decay deep under the earth's crust, of the heavier elements to lighter elements, releasing energy equivalent to 27,000 Hiroshima bombs each day.

Then the daily growth of phytoplankton in the oceans, five billion tonnes of it each day. This absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, as all plants do. There is so much of it worldwide, that literally speaking, every second breath we take is directly linked to this ocean phenomenon. Also, the presence of phytoplankton is the cause of the largest animal migration taking place daily. That is of the zooplankton which rises from the seabed each day to feed on these minute plants, therefore keeping the oxygen content in our atmosphere well balanced. 

Then the discovery of a fine dust layer deep in an ocean cave in the Bahamas was identified as from the Sahara Desert. Each day, up to 500,000 tonnes of mud dust is blown across the Atlantic Ocean to fertilize the Amazon rainforest, another sponge for carbon dioxide absorption and a vital source of oxygen. I wasn't aware of any of either of these two issues. But God is, for it was he who initiated it.

Then, by using satellite technology, it was worked out that if the growth rate of all the trees in every forest around the world were assimilated into just one tree, then each day the tree would grow by three kilometres. A very important fact considering that our lives and that of all fauna depend on the forests.

Finally, the programme focused on our planet's relationship with space. Its orbit lies within the Goldilocks Zone, that narrow path where water can be frozen, liquid and vapour all on one planet at the same time. Its satellite has a size and mass just right to keep the Earth's rotation steady and to avoid wobbling like a spinning top slowing down. In turn, the sun is one of a great many stars orbiting the core of the galaxy at a velocity of 828,000 km/hour, or 19,872,000 km every 24 hours, or approximately 12,266,667 miles each 24-hour day. In turn, the whole galaxy itself is moving through the cosmos at a velocity of 2,000,000 km per hour, or 48,000,000 per 24-hour day (approx 29,630,000 miles).

That means if at 12.00 noon today I was at a particular location in the universe, that means I will not be at the same location at twelve noon tomorrow. And never again shall I be at that same spot, even after a full year - ever again!

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. - Genesis 1:1.

True science provides the most fascinating facts proving that everything around me, including myself, was by intelligent design, a divine Creator. Yet most people believe that all this came about by pure chance! Amazing, coming to think of it. Really, the only difference between the majority of mankind and of Creationists such as myself is that we acknowledge God as the Creator.

This should give me the right perception for the coming year. This great God who created everything fine-tuned to perfection, is his arm too short that he cannot save? Is his ear so dull that he cannot hear? Or am I lacking faith in him? I need to look back on my life, all sixty-six years of it. Have I ever ended up homeless, naked, starving or in prolonged poor health? Have I ever lacked resources to pay my creditors? If I can answer "No" to all these questions, then I can testify that God has looked after me well, even during the days I didn't know him. Therefore he who keeps the Universe and the Earth tuned to a fine perfection, why should he not take care of us in the coming year? 

Living as a Christian is not easy. It can be quite difficult. It has always been hard and this coming year will be no exception. I have already been diagnosed with heart failure. I have to spend the rest of my life on medicine, particularly on anticoagulants. At the same time, my love for my wife Alex will always bid me to remain her full-time carer as well as a husband. She will most likely suffer episodes of intense pain. She may be in-and-out of a hospital. And on this day, as I write this, it is Sunshine Saturday, the peak time after Christmas when Britons book their summer holidays abroad. The thought of a booked vacation greatly helps in bearing the long cold "Winter block of weeks" (as I call it) which follows the end of the Christmas break and can last up to Easter.  

But with Alex's condition, and perhaps mine too, the thought of foreign travel is out of the question. Yet we both miss it, especially when foreign travel is in my genes! But by trusting God, he will fulfil the desires of our hearts without the risk of putting ourselves in jeopardy while out in a foreign country. Then again, this line of thinking could be stemming from a lack of faith in God whilst abroad. And here is the difficult bit: Am I confusing faith with presumption? I don't know unless we both have a definite revelation that it will be okay to travel and be safe.

In the meantime, I'll make it my intention to trust in God in all things and be dependent on his goodness. Like that we can't go wrong.