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Saturday, 30 March 2019

Simon Reeve's Longing for God...

I guess that most of us - Christian or non-Christian - have a celebrity to admire, to hold in awe, whether it would be a professional footballer or any other sportsman, a singer, an actor, or even a politician. Or a journalist or more appropriately, a presenter of a popular documentary, especially one who has TV fame. For example, I know at least two regular church-going Christians who admire Conservative politician Jacob Rees-Mogg, and there could be others, churchgoers or not, who keep their adoration for such a posh, Eton-educated politician secretly in their closets. As for TV presenters, I believe BBC naturalist David Attenborough is loved universally by the nation, while news anchor and Antiques Roadshow presenter Fiona Bruce may be admired more by men.

It's more about TV journalists that I wish to focus on here. Three immediately come to mind - the first two having university degrees: News Correspondent Andrew Marr and Professor Brian Cox. The third is Travel Presenter Simon Reeve. As for Andrew Marr, to watch him shed his business suit and tie and then see him walk through a tropical rainforest wearing an open-neck shirt - I then realise he must be human after all - yet I can't help but shake my head at his lifetime devotion and awe for Charles Darwin as the greatest Briton who ever lived.

Both photos - Andrew Marr in Darwin's Dangerous Theory.

According to his own admission, Andrew Marr is an atheist. To him, God does not exist, and he remains determined to stay that way. But Professor Brian Cox is more of an agnostic. He acknowledges the possibility that God might exist. Both Andrew Marr and Brian Cox have university alumni, the former with an honourable degree from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, while the other achieved a doctorate at the University of Manchester. I'm aware that Marr attended church as a boy, and whether Cox had attended church during his boyhood is not known, although he most likely has been taught the rudimentary issues of the Christian faith while attending Hulme Grammar School.

But it is Simon Reeve who I wish to focus on here. Although both Marr and Cox have aroused a level of admiration within me, their road to broadcasting fame was the traditional route through either Grammar or Public School eg, Eton or Harrow, followed by Uni. And normally, that is the route taken by nearly all TV journalists and presenters. But not Simon Reeve.

If there was a celebrity who has won my all-time admiration, it has to be Simon Reeve. Looking through Google images of Reeve, it's rather difficult to come across a snapshot of him wearing a tie or even a bow-tie, as was the case with both Marr and Cox. And that is reflected in his travel documentaries. Sporting a permanent stubble, his casual dress would have earned the description of "scruffy" by more posh or well-to-do gentlemen. He normally wears open-neck shirt and at times, a crew-neck tee-shirt, as he delivers his expert political and economic issues of the country he's visiting, as well as its natural and environmental beauty, together with having intimate communication with the indigenous residents of a shanty town or a forest hut and accepting a bed there for the night.

This, along with his experienced diving skills which allow him to film magnificent coral reefs and other marine and aquatic life, thus enhancing his programmes. His style of presentation has made some, including myself, to dub him as "just another ex-public schoolboy". It is also reputed that Simon Reeve was mistaken for Professor Brian Cox. But his style of presentation had bid me check up on his background, and I was surprised with what came up.

Both pics: Simon Reeve out on his travels.

As a boy, like Andrew Marr, he also attended church, but in Reeve's case, he grew up in a Methodist environment. Also as a youth, there were times when he clashed with his father, so I read, and he was known for being mischievous, including shoplifting, I assume, stealing confectionary and running out of the shop without paying. He attended a comprehensive school and left with minimal qualifications. He didn't go to university. Instead, after leaving school, he took on several jobs until he landed one as a poster boy with a newspaper. During his time there, he studied Arab history and wrote a book on the subject which was published but failed to sell well - that is, until the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center. After this, various companies contacted him about his book which eventually opened a door at the BBC as a travel presenter.

His knowledge of world current affairs along with his geography has always astonished me, I think, his stubble and casual dress enhancing my sense of awe. It is easy for me to feel a level of envy. Although in all appearances he comes over as a casual, free-going backpacker who can just knock on a door and immediately offered food and a bed for the night, it's easy to forget that he has a TV crew with him, and the hospitality shown must have been after weeks of planning. In other words, on TV, his travels look just like my own travel habits - walking to a hotel from the street and asking for a bed for the night or several nights and offered a room. But that was done on my own. No TV crews accompanying me.

And the way Simon drives his car during a shoot. Whilst doing so, he turns to talk into the camera which is set up behind him. Surely, this kind of distraction is illegal here in the UK. But I have noticed that we never have a glance at the passenger seat, which gives the impression that he is alone in the vehicle and has full control of it. But it has crossed my mind whether the car he drives is a dual-drive, as in cars used in driving schools. The camera is always placed at an angle so never to see the guy sitting next to him.

And then at one point, he makes a three-part documentary about pilgrimage, going back to the Middle Ages as well as talking to modern day pilgrims. His journey began at Lindisfarne here in Britain's northeastern coast, all the way to Jerusalem, stopping at Spain's Santiago as well as crossing the Alps to reach Rome. It was while he was still in the UK, on the Watling Street route east of London and on the way to Dover, where Simon's true character was revealed.

One of Reeve's strengths is that he shuns the stiff upper lip and is prepared to show his emotions. That is another reason why I hold him in awe. He's not afraid to be emotional. At this ancient Roman road, he met up with this pilgrim who was carrying a cross of Christ, and with it on his shoulders, walked great distances both here in the UK and abroad. During the interview, I could see his emotions rise, and Simon was close to tears. Then he uttered these words to the camera which inspired the writing of this blog. They were:
Oh, how I envy his faith!

It was as if through this simple statement the veil fell. He was close to tears. Suddenly I understood.

He has a longing for faith in God, but not for his perception of God he grew up with. I can actually say that all three of us share a common childhood factor. Andrew Marr attended a church in Scotland, the land of his birth. Referring to himself as an "irreligious Calvinist", he gives me the impression that the church he attended as a boy was Scottish Presbyterian. But whatever impression he ever had of God, I'm pretty sure that he perceived him as punitive and judgemental rather than a loving Saviour. And if I understand Simon Reeve's Methodism correctly, a repentant sinner is saved straight away, but this forfeitable salvation is conditioned on human choice and is seen as probational for continual faithfulness and holy living rather than a free gift of grace bestowed on the wicked. Being aware of areas in his life which does not meet such godly criteria, it would not be surprising that he eventually became disillusioned with the whole religious thing.

And that's why I can identify with them. I grew up as a Roman Catholic, which catechism is about a works-based soteriology. That is, salvation can only be attained after a life of confession of sin to a priest, doing penance, attend Mass every Sunday and holy days, partaking in the Eucharist, and staying faithful throughout life. If I was unfortunate to die with unconfessed mortal sin in my soul, then it's Hell for all eternity, even after decades of holy and faithful living! Little wonder that in my teenage years I hated God! And I know of other former Catholics who lived lives in hatred of anything religious.

Tying it all together, I can understand Simon Reeve's envy of the cross-carrying pilgrim. As he sees him, his constant faithfulness and actually enjoying his work to secure his salvation, and the pilgrim's ability to prove his love for God and to remain spotless from the world, Reeve is convinced that the holy man has earned the love of God and is destined for eternal heavenly bliss.

Simon Reeve perceives a God who keeps looking at his sin, his failures and his weakness instead of wallowing in God's love whose Son died and was resurrected so God can justify the wicked freely, simply by believing in the heart that God has raised Christ from the dead, without the need for works. That was how I once perceived God to be, as Simon does, as Andrew Marr does, as Brian Cox does - the need to work for salvation and knowing I'll never make it. With that kind of worldview so prevalent, it does look as if we as a church is not getting the message of God's love across adequately enough.

Also, I might add: All three presenters believe in Evolution. Because this theory concocted by Charles Darwin literally destroys the credibility of the Gospel, then why believe in a punitive and ever watching God? To them, science has proved that life is far better without him.

Brian Cox at the Grand Canyon. Simon Reeve lookalike?

There is something about being on a pilgrimage. The belief that going on long journeys on foot, encountering dangers, a risk to life, weariness, pain, all this cleaning the soul from sin and opens the path to Heaven. The trouble with that is, it's salvation by works, the work being on this long journey, a journey which only a few can accomplish, and the likes of Simon Reeve, such a journey is beyond his means and therefore, holding on to a false idea that Heaven too, is beyond his reach.

Poor Simon! He stands there looking into the TV camera, his face screws as if about to cry. Very close to tears, he looks with envy at the pilgrim as he walks on towards Dover, the Cross of Christ on his shoulders, pacing his way to Heaven, and admitting his jealousy at the man's faith as he compares with his own need for God his childhood experience was unable to fulfil.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

The Penny Dropped into the Tunnel

Ever since I took my beloved into the Chamber of Commons inside the Palace of Westminster last year, she had a longing to also visit the European Parliament in Brussels. Never mind that she intended voting to leave the European Union at the 2016 Referendum, to visit a centre of authority, especially one of political or governmental administration has always filled her with a sense of enthrallment.

I felt nervous about the whole idea of taking her to Brussels, a rather unusual feeling to have when considering that international travel was, and I guess, still is, second nature to me. But that is the outcome of her suffering a neurotic disorder which not only makes her reliant on a constant supply of medicine but for the need to call for an ambulance whenever she finds herself in a temporary "locked in syndrome" which is known to be linked to her severe backache.

Here in the UK, a call for an ambulance can be made at any location and NHS treatment is administered free to the point of use. But step off our soil and enter another country and things could well be different. One has to pay for an ambulance journey to the hospital and added to this, it's up to the discretion of its staff to decide whether we need to pay for treatment, and if so, how much. Yet once again, the EU has provided a European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC, which allows, in some countries, free healthcare or one of a reduced price within Europe.

A big contrast and a risk indeed if visiting the USA without medical insurance! Across the Pond, treatment can cost the patient thousands of dollars, and there have been instances when uninsured British holidaymakers to the States had to sell their own homes to pay for the astronomical medical bills. Indeed, every time I was due to fly across the Atlantic Ocean myself, I always prayed that no harm would come my way, even when I was fully insured.

And prayer might have been very effective in the mid-1990s, on two occasions. The first was in 1995 when hiking into the Grand Canyon, during the last part of the hike back to South Rim, I suffered a severe bout of hyponatremia, which is a dilution of the bloodstream caused by drinking of excess fresh water without the equivalent need for salt intake. The result of this is muscle cramp, particularly with the calf muscles, but the pain can spread to the back of the thighs. After successfully completing the hike, I was offered by one of the on-duty rangers to see an onsite doctor. I declined his offer, knowing that just for him to poke his head through the door would set me back $200. Instead, I was cared for by a nurse for free, who gave me a cup of electrolyte and told to rest for an hour, after which I made a quick recovery.

I suffered leg cramp on the last part of the hike...

The second near-cropper occurred in 1997, after flying to Los Angeles from Sydney. (Back then this commercial flight was featured in the Guinness Book of Records for being the longest non-stop.) It was three or four days later, after visiting La Jolla, which is some miles out of San Diego, when I saw the bus back into town on the other side of the highway. And so I did, what to any sensible person would have seen, was an incredibly stupid thing. I dashed across the highway to board the bus just as it was about to pull out. Of course, I looked both ways beforehand, but such an act of mad impulsiveness could have landed me in hospital, or even a mortuary, coming to think of it, after being struck and tossed into the air by a fast car "which appeared suddenly out of nowhere".

And for both of these occasions, my insurance policy may not have covered me, due to "taking risky acts" and suchlike clauses found in the small print giving the insurers good reason not to pay up.

I shake whenever I look back, especially of that bus incident. It was one of those things which any lone traveller can get involved, and an important lesson for the future always to keep my impulsiveness under check. Therefore, to travel abroad with a high risk of ill-health brings a multi-sense of nervousness, anxiety, fear even. Back in the nineties, I was very fortunate indeed. By doing this now, am I tempting fate?

For these reasons, I had a feeling of reluctance when my beloved wife kept up her desire to visit Brussels. I suppose this was something of a repeat of the Samson-and-Delilah scenario when after the constant mentioning of her wish, I finally gave in. But why was I feeling anxious in the first place? After all, since the partial loss of her mobility, I had taken her to Paris on the Eurostar twice already - thirty months ago and again a year later in 2017. Why so reluctant this time?

It was due to her worsening episodes of backache and related symptoms, and her greater dependence on powerful painkillers such as Co-Codamol and Oramorph of which neither were needed on her Paris trips. Therefore, ensuring that she was fully stocked with all her medicines, and also ensuring that I too was fully stocked up with Warfarin and related drugs, we set off for London St Pancras International Station.

I love the Eurostar international train service. It has that something which sets it apart from all the other national rail services. Even the train from Paris Gare de Lyon to Dijon, the fastest section of the Boulogne-Sur-Mer to Roma Termini, the whole journey which I completed in 1975, does not hold a candle to the Eurostar route. And as far as I'm aware, the Paris-to-Dijon route was the forerunner of the high-speed TGV which was the fastest in Europe, if not the world, at the time.

And so we arrive in Brussels Midi through station after a two-hour non-stop journey from London. And here again, I can draw a comparison between this journey and the one I did some 44 years earlier. To get to Brussels, the train first enters the Eurotunnel near Folkstone, on the English Kent coast. It travels under the sea to emerge at Calais on the French coast. It then travels across northern France until it reaches the French city of Lille. Just after Lille, the train crosses the border into Belgium. After we alighted at Brussels, the Eurostar continued on for Rotterdam and ends in Amsterdam, both in Holland.

In 1975, I had to go through a passport check at Modane Station before entering the Mt. Cenis Pass, a railway tunnel under the Alps which opens out at Bardonecchia, just inside the Italian border. I recall that time. It was late at night when the train was snaking through the valleys and through many shorter tunnels cutting into the mountain range. When it halted at Modane, it stayed there for I would say thirty minutes, while Border Control checked all our passports. It seemed like an eternity before the train sounded a groan as it started moving towards the tunnel entrance. It was already daybreak when the train emerged from the tunnel in Italy. It was mid-afternoon when I finally arrived at Roma Termini, some 25-26 hours after boarding the boat-train at London Victoria.

And all that was between just two countries, France and Italy. Now the Eurostar can travel between four countries after just one set of double passport checks, one after the other, both at St Pancras. The free movement between nations once out of England is to me, a marvellous effort of the European Union.

There was up to an hour's walk from Brussels Midi to the Parliamentarium, a museum of EU history and present administration. It's located close to the European Parliament. Having the need to push a wheelchair, we both agree to shun any more of public transport, whether bus or metro and enjoy what we could see of this Belgian city. Our decision paid off, as we passed through a lovely garden with a castle behind it, a relic of the city's history. 

We approached a castle, Brussels.

Much of the day we spent at the museum, as well as taking a look at the Parliamentary buildings and also at the European Commission Headquarters, a giant four-prong building about a 15-20-minute walk from the Parliamentarium.

Exhibits displaying the history of the EU has impressed me. Following the ravages of World War II, the Treaty of Rome was signed in March of 1957 and began to take effect from January 1st, 1958. It consisted of just six nations - France, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. As we walked along the modern glass-lined and illuminated gallery, we were able to listen via earphones on how the Union slowly developed from the initial six-nation European Community to the present 28-nation EU, with the entry of the UK into the EC in 1973, along with Denmark and the Irish Republic. Indeed, I recall voting for the UK to enter the EC as a mere twenty-year-old, and I have never regretted it since!

A hands-on gallery featuring a giant map of Europe on the floor with various scanning points representing principal cities was another area of interest. By wheeling the scanner over London, I was able to learn that the EU was the source for the benefit of advancement in Medicine. I wheeled the scanner over Paris, and learn that railway transport was made much more efficient by being in the EU. For example, it was through an agreement, known as the Canterbury Treaty, which was signed between Britain and France in 1986 for the construction of the Eurotunnel. Finally, a meal at the museum restaurant completed a very edifying visit for both of us. 

In all, the EU arose from the ravages of the War. To my mind, it was the most forward project ever dreamt up to keep the potential of another global war in check. In a fallen world, the EU has never been perfect, neither did it result in another Garden of Eden, but it's a whole lot better than living under a threat of international conflict!

That's why I find leaving the EU a deep mystery within the mind of the Englishman and an incredible insult to common sense! Just last night I came across a poster on Facebook which scrolled on to the screen. It was a video of one-time pop star of The Who, Roger Daltry, who was cursing the EU, using foul language and unprintable swear words. Listing the EU leaders as the effing Mafia (without showing any evidence to prove his point), he reflects many who had voted to leave - the want of to be his own boss and a makebelieve life of a glorious golden future as an independent sovereign nation.

Map scanning gallery, Parliamentarium.

I guess it's the Englishman's Home is his Castle ethic. It is thoroughly unbiblical, arouse hostility, and I believe it's dishonouring to God when found within churches. And it looks to me that there is a connection between this attitude and disregard of Holy Scripture. For example, I have listened to the sermon of one Brexit-supporting graduate deny the historicity of the first chapter of Genesis. He is certainly not alone. Throughout my lifetime I have come across many grads who hold the same set of opinions regarding the denial of the Genesis record. Also apparently disregarded is the wonderful promise made by Paul to the churches in Galatia:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:28-29.

In other words, being in the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ transcends above nationality, gender and social status. This is a wonderful truth, a great promise, and also provides an answer to the hate-filled attitude among Christians found on both sides of the divide.

What a crying shame this hostile attitude towards remaining in the EU by Brexit supporters. Among other things, this has resulted in hate-filled comments following newspaper articles on the subject. And not a few were demanding the closure of the Channel Tunnel. Some were even pushing for a permanent sealing by dynamiting it. Strange really. British people had ferried to-and-fro across the Channel for decades, maybe even centuries before our present Eurotunnel was even thought of. But I have never heard a whisper or read a single statement demanding the sinking of all Channel-crossing ships! Yet they want the tunnels blown up and permanently sealed.

And while our train was passing through the tunnel on its way to London, the penny dropped.

Why such hostility towards Eurotunnel, especially among Brexiters? 

Could it be that those protesting under the banner of English sovereignty had never boarded Eurostar or used any of its shuttles? They won't admit to the true reason: They are terrified of the possibility of a train breakdown deep within the tunnel under the ocean, a signal failure, fire, a bomb threat, or even a breach of the seabed, flooding the whole of the tunnel, drowning everyone marooned inside. Yes, a terrifying prospect. Just the sort of frightful thinking which would scare me from venturing out the front door, let alone travel on Eurostar.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

No, The Bogeyman Isn't Here Yet...

Something was happening as New Year's Eve was approaching. With Christmas just gone, all of a sudden people were being much nicer to each other. There is a far greater sense of neighbourliness in both city and township street residences, along with among village populations. Debts, many outstanding, were at long last settled. Other creditors who knew full well that they would never be repaid, forgave them who owed large sums. 

Prisoners were released from their cells and pardoned for their crimes. Even among farmers, their livestock was let out of their pens and allowed to wander freely across fields and meadows. Even strangers who would have merely passed each other while going about their business stopped to greet each other and asked about their health and welfare. But most important of all, any disputes or disagreements were quickly settled.

As evening drew in, everyone became more and more nervous. The hours ticked away. Presently, the churches began to fill up. And in Rome, the Basilica San Pietro was also beginning to fill up. As midnight approached, the huge, cavernous cathedral was crammed full of people. Five minutes to midnight. The Pope stood at the altar, holding up a huge consecrated Host he had taken out of the monstrance which stood in front of him. I would not be at all surprised that this holding up of the Host over the altar was repeated simultaneously in nearly all the churches in the Western world.

Basilica San Pietro, Rome.

As midnight struck, the Pope kept the Host held up high. Then the clock stopped ticking. The ensuing silence was broken by screams issuing from several mouths among the huge congregation packing the church building. In addition, two or three people suddenly died of fright whilst lying prostrate in expectation.

As the rest of the congregation waited expectantly, the silence continued. It was after a period of time of several minutes after midnight that a general sense of relief began to settle among the people. The service was able to continue and huge droves of people lined up to receive their Communion. Their biggest fear, their moment of terror, had finally passed. Judgement Day was not to be.

And so much of the events which brought to end December 31st, AD 999 and the ushering in of January 1st, AD 1000. The start of New Year, a new Century, and a new Millennium. This threefold beginning of multiple time periods simultaneously on one stroke of the clock was not to occur again for another one thousand years - that is, during my day.

And so, after nearly two decades into the third Millennium after the birth of Jesus Christ, I sat next to Dr Andrew Milnthorpe at a midweek lunchtime meeting at the Kerith Centre, the local Baptist church in our hometown of Bracknell. A strong friendship exists between us, despite that he is a dedicated Brexiter, while I'm a committed Remainer. And we both know where each of us stands.

It has been a very tumultuous week in Parliament. With MPs casting one vote after another on whether we should leave the EU with or without a deal, and the likelihood of a delay in leaving should the PM's deal be rejected again, much uncertainty is felt in the air over our nation. It was because of this when I turned to my friend to ask why he was so dedicated to leaving the European Union.

His answer was that he longed for the sovereignty of our country, with our own laws including border control. His opinion parallels the Daily Mail journalist Richard Littlejohn who, in his column, wrote that by now, after nearly three years since the referendum, we should be on our way to a glorious future, on the road paved with gold to economic and national glory, but then laments that due to the effect of Remainers in Parliament, we are instead left in political turmoil, even threatening Brexit altogether, despite our economy doing well at the moment.

In referral to the 400-year existence of the former British Empire, which invaded other lands and subjugated their indigenous populations under its rule, I asked my PhD friend whether this all boils down to the UK wanting to be its own boss and saying to the rest of the world, and to Europe in particular, do what I tell you, not what I do. He basically confirmed this, and then mentioned that during the Wars, there were many who gave their lives for our nation. To which I replied:

Those brave soldiers gave their lives to free us from Nazi oppression, and not from integration into the EU.

Perhaps I should have gone on to explain that the whole purpose of the European Union is to keep the threatening rise of the neo-Nazi movement across Europe under restraint. As it was since the 2016 referendum result was announced, there was a spike of anti-immigration and xenophobic violence in our cities. As long as Darwin's evolutionary theories continue to be expounded across the Media, in schools and colleges, the rise of white supremacy is inevitable. And so was the case just a couple of days ago, when the lunatic Brenton Tarrant shot and killed 49 Muslims at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. He himself boasted of being a white supremacist, unwittingly following the philosophy of Charles Darwin and his cousin Sir Francis Dalton as well as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to the letter.

An English Defence League demo in Newcastle.

My doctor friend also raised his concern that the EU is linked to the End Days of human history when the coming Antichrist described in Revelation 13 and other portions of Scripture will arise and rule from Europe, whether it will be from Brussels or from Rome. He then named another person in his church who we both knew well, and who apparently believed in the Dispensational worldview of End-Time Prophecy, or Estachology as it's also known by. It was this third person who persuaded Andrew to vote to leave the EU.

During my former years prior to marrying Alex, I was very enthusiastic about this End-Time branch of theology. Yet what I find rather amazing is ever since the Reformation during the 16th Century, the idea of the Pope of Rome as the Antichrist was universally held in all Protestant churches. That was until a 19th Century Plymouth Brethren theologian by the name of John Darby, who first conceived the concept of Dispensationalism, with the idea of the restoration of Israel as a sovereign nation, the Church Raptured or translated into Heaven, the revival of the Roman Empire with the European Union as its forerunner, the rise of the Antichrist, the seven-year Great Tribulation which ends with the Second Advent of Christ to reign in Jerusalem.

Sceptic Reformers believe that John Darby was attempting to free the Pope from bearing the label Antichrist by inventing a future political leader who will reign immediately before the Return of Christ. However, it was Cyrus Scofield who, after taking in Darby's theology on board, produced The Scofield Bible. This was by means which The Dallas Theological Seminary was founded. One of its tutors, the late Dr John R. Rice, was renowned for winning souls to Christ and founded The Sword of the Lord publishing company in Tennessee. Through one of his books, False Doctrines Answered from the Scriptures, which I still have, he became my distant mentor, who laid the foundations to believe in the Dispensationalist worldview.

I have books written by Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Norman Robertson, and the late Dave Hunt, all supporting Dispensationalist theology, and all agreeing that Israel will be restored into a sovereign nation with Jerusalem itself being "a Cup of Trembling" to its enemies, the Rapture of the Church to Heaven and the Return of Christ after a brief reign of Antichrist. But looking back, I now believe that my sense of little worth as a window cleaner in comparison to that of a computer programmer (of which are many in our church), along with remaining single while others of my age are already grandparents, has resulted, rightly or wrongly, in my belief in Dispensationalism as my emotional and psychological support.

With Hal Lindsey writing The Late Great Planet Earth, which was followed by lesser-known books such as The 1980s Countdown to Armageddon, and The Terminal Generation, alongside Robertson's Understanding End-Time Prophecy, all indicating that the closeness of the coming third Millennium will usher in God's Kingdom at the same time or even earlier. For example, Robertson's insistence that the Russian Premier Mikail Gorbachev will rush his armies into Israel to plunder Jerusalem during the early 1990s, in fulfilment of Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39, has severely damaged my sense of reliability towards various interpretations of Darby's End-Time popular theology by making the whole study looking thoroughly stupid!

But the idea of the European Union as the forerunner of the Revived Roman Empire from which the Antichrist will rise to reign briefly looks to me to be advocated by fellow-Christians who has voted to leave the EU. My friend Andrew seems to be one of those Christians, but I have spoken to other believers who voted to leave, also upholding the theory. However, it does not mean that I myself believe that the European Union is the forerunner of the coming Revived Roman Empire. It might be true, but equally, it might not at all be true. At present, I have my doubts, but I won't rule out the possibility entirely. Rather, I wish to keep an open mind on this matter.

However, I do believe in the restoration of the sovereignty of Israel (having visited the Holy Land several times already) and that God will deal specifically with the Jews after the Church is first removed. It's the Covenant made by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It's a covenant of grace, unconditional to any human act. If God's Abrahamic Covenant is already annulled because of Israel's sinfulness, then how can I rely on the Covenant of Grace for salvation, established by the Crucifixion, Burial and Resurrection of the Son of God? In spite of this, there are many things I do not understand about various details of this coming Kingdom. For example, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and the practice of daily sacrifices. Why is that necessary if Jesus Christ has already atoned for all sin, once for all time, by dying on a cross and rising from the grave three days later?

However, I don't have to rely on Darby's theological worldview, nor on Scofield's Bible to draw on any conclusions, but on Holy Scripture itself. And much of the Bible's emphasis is placed on God's Abrahamic Covenant. Jeremiah's prophecies seem to endorse this, particularly when reading chapters 30 and 31, especially Jeremiah 31:35-37. If God's Covenant to Israel is eternal, so is the Covenant of Grace to the Church, the beautiful Bride of Christ, is also eternal. This wonderful truth allows me to believe in the possibility of the Rapture, or Translation of all believers to Heaven before the rise of Antichrist. Many, including me, believe that the Rapture is necessary in order for God to purify Israel before her King arrives to take up his father David's throne in Jerusalem.

Western Wall, Jerusalem - taken 1994.

But whether the European Union is the forerunner of the revived Roman Empire, I don't think it's anyone to decide. It stands as a possibility. On the other hand, present-day Europe may have nothing to do with this upcoming empire. If anything, if the UK is successful in leaving the EU, whether it'll be March 29th, the end of June, or in the next two years, this would go against the idea of being the forerunner of the Revived Roman Empire. And as far as I'm aware, Italy is favourable in leaving, as well as Hungary, if I have got that right.

The Rapture - Isaiah 26:19-21, 1 Corinthians 15:51-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 - if it occurs in our lifetimes, will be a terrifying event to all those left behind. The sudden vanishing of so many people all at once could stir up a belief in an extraterrestrial superpower, against which nobody can defend themselves, snatching people to another planet, so it might be believed, to serve as slaves. This universal feeling of terror could unite Europe into a formidable force with a leader who will insist in the UK rejoining and to intercede with this superpower against the possibility of another bout of snatching away. This could be part of the "strong delusion" sent by God to the disobedient whom Paul wrote about in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. 

No matter how near or far from the truth this scenario will be, one thing I do know, and that is, it's all in God's hands. As I sat at Starbucks with one of our Elders, as both of us are Remainers, we agreed on one important issue. And that being in the European Union will make it easier for the Gospel to spread, without the need to navigate difficult borderlines.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Achieving Better Self-Esteem.

What on Earth is going on? Day after day the Media, through the Press, via television and radio, stories of knife crime seems to be exploding across England, with the majority taking place in and around the London area. Quite a phenomenon really, when considering those monthly train trips to London from my home town of Bracknell around fifty years ago, in the 1960s while I was in my mid-teens, and barely out of school. Mum had never worried too much about her elder son travelling thirty miles on his own during the weekend, for with knife crime being totally non-existent, she had little to be concerned about. The point of this is whether Mums at present are far more concerned about letting their teenage offspring out alone in cities such as London - the present culture of helicopter parenting.

Those monthly leisure trips into London became weekly trips to college, located in Shoreditch in the area of east London, then known for its furniture trade. It was where I could have bought a bottle of shellac, wood stain or even lacquer for French polishing or other forms of wood finishing, items which would have been extremely difficult to get elsewhere in the UK. And it was also the location for the London College of Furniture, where I had to attend during those day-releases which every firm employing school-leavers were obliged under law to give.

London College of Furniture - attended 1968-1970.

If I might add here, throughout the life of the family-owned business manufacturing furniture for the connoisseur's choice, just as every apprentice was given a day release to travel to London to attend college, a set mode of transportation was followed. The student boarded a train from Bracknell to London Waterloo, then from there took an LT bus to Shoreditch. Every apprentice up to my time did the same. But when my turn came, I had to be different! A quick check on the London Underground map showed a quicker and more efficient way to get to the college - Waterloo Station to Old Street underground station on the Northern Line, changing at Kennington. A little later, that was modified to changing at Elephant & Castle, on the Bakerloo Line, thus making the journey a little shorter.

This new mode of transportation caused quite a stir throughout the company I worked for. My foreman's tongue couldn't stop wagging, astonished on how someone like little me, a teenager with no school qualifications, actually launched what could be called a mini-revolution, just because I took a look at a map of the London Underground. As a result, thereafter, every apprentice student working at that firm took the same Underground route which I had first "discovered" - in the years that followed.

But whatever I did in London, I never felt threatened or in any form of danger. After college, I met my first girlfriend, who lived at Wimbledon. Therefore, trips to London became a twice-a-week schedule into the seventies - Wednesdays and Saturdays - and had never encountered any form of threat during those days, and that despite the rise of the National Front causing racially-motivated street scuffles against immigrants of ethnic diversity.

The National Front, formed in 1967 with the amalgamation of the League of Empire Loyalists, the Racial Preservation Society and the Greater Britain Movement, such attitudes going back to the 1950s, when immigration from faraway lands such as Jamaica was at its peak, followed by those from Pakistan. Whether you may agree with me here or not, it does seem that such right-wing extremists have always suffered a problem of self-identification or self-worth. And I could be wrong here, but I have gotten the impression that many of those members are from working-class families. I once had a good friend working on the shop floor of a precision engineering factory throughout the mid-seventies who was a member of the National Front. 

I was impressed with his commitment to his cause, and he asked me whether I was interested in joining his movement. I said that I would consider after I have read their manifesto. This positive attitude towards his ideas was not because I was patriotic, but because of my naivety in being a young, newly-converted Christian believer. Back then, to believe in Christ was synonymous with capitalism, while socialism was, so I thought, arose from the pits of darkness. And I mistakenly believed that supporting the National Front was honouring to God! However, I insisted on reading their credo before making any move.

It was after reading their leaflet when I realised that the whole movement was militaristic, racist and anti-immigrant from which I had a change of mind, and declined his offer to join. Unfortunately, from that moment his friendship towards me cooled, and he left the firm a short time after.

I suppose my former friend needed something of a cause to be committed to, a group of people with whom he has a sense of identity, the feeling of belonging with a bedrock of imperialism and of a sense of racial and national superiority. And to this day, I wonder whether this nationwide feeling of tribalism is the real motive for Brexit, as the Queen suggested on Christmas Day, the feeling of anti-immigrant xenophobia, the underlying threat that these "foreigners" could offer something superior to what many of our indigenous Brits could offer.

At the same time, the quest for status has been suggested by the media for many youths of all races to carry knives. And although the recent killing of Manchester student Yousef Makki was done by two middle-class boys who attend prestigious schools, this was a rare exception rather than the rule. As I see it, those who carry a knife are from those who failed at school or were expelled at an early age, and rather than engage in useful employment, often group themselves in gang rivalry engaged in the illegal drug trade.

What a shame it is that in our culture, an individual's self-worth is determined by others on his level of education. The brighter he is, the greater the respect he gets. And I have seen this both inside as well as outside the church. And that was so vividly demonstrated in the nineties on at least two occasions.

I was exhorted to deliver a preach on one evening service during the mid-nineties. I had never done this before, so I felt nervous, draining one glass of water after another throughout the talk. On the front row, right in front of me sat a patriotic Englishman who was either reading something or doodling. After the service, I actually heard him boasting to others around that he didn't listen to a single word I had said! Driven by a strong sense of inferior complex, this one-time kitchen porter always acted as if he was nationally and culturally superior to me, because of my "backwards" Italian origins and heritage. A strong advocate of the British stiff upper lip, he never fulfilled his dream of marrying and raising a family. Just three years my junior, he remains single to this day.

On another occasion, which occurred in 1997, after arriving home after a Round-the-World backpacking trip, I stood at the front to give my testimony of the ten-week journey. Within the talk, I mention a possible link between what was displayed and sold in American shops, especially in Santa Barbara, to the future "strong delusion" of 2 Thessalonians 2:11. Looking back at it now, I realise that I might have been way off track, but that didn't stop someone in the audience to say:
What is that fool talking about? What does he know? He's just a window cleaner!

What a contrast all that is compared with the universal respect shown to any graduate who stands at the front. Regardless whether he takes the Bible as literal history or not, within the very same church, he receives reverential respect, simply because of his high level of education.

Putting it all together, it comes as no surprise that many who failed at school carry a knife as a status symbol. Gripped and driven by a deep sense of inferiority, such a person who instantly retribute anyone who dares pose a threat to his ego. Therefore lives are eternally lost by means of a stabbing, which is now growing at a frightening rate in this country.

And I, myself was from time to time felt a sense of inferiority complex throughout the seventies and eighties. That is until the nineties when it was dominated by world travel, which was a psychological therapy and an emotional panacea which contributed well to my sense of self-worth. 

But it is the Bible itself which offers a more permanent therapy for feelings of lacking self-worth. It is found in Psalm 139, which contains these verses:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I'm fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16.

We are created and each one of us is unique to God! That is a far cry from believing in Theistic or Darwinian Evolution, which in themselves promote a sense of lacking self-worth.

Everyone born is unique and was knit together in the womb by God himself. As such, God loves each one of us so dearly and has a yearning heart for all to come to him through faith in Christ. As the Scripture says, God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30) and that he is patient, not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Maybe that's why, in verse 19, he writes, 
If only you would slay the wicked, O God!

If only...But God doesn't. He is not willing that any should perish but to come to repentance instead, and to receive life. This could be the reason why many Old Testament saints were puzzled over the longevity of the unbeliever persisting in his sin. God is patient, waiting for such to change their minds about him, and to trust him for his promise of a future Messiah.

But equally important, God has formed each and every one of us secretly in the mother's womb. Every one of us is unique to him, and therefore objects of his love. So sad it is that the awareness of sin, combined with guilt, the feelings of rejection and of condemnation, making the soul crying out for love and acceptance, to be respected as one of the in-group, along with the lie that he is nothing more than an animal, along with another lie that he's nothing more than a random collection of atoms in a lucky chance of evolution by natural selection.

I know - the omniscience of God. How could God pay so much attention to the unborn if he also knows that this person will never repent throughout life? This is a mystery of God, him being infinite and ourselves finite. It can be heartbreaking to watch a newborn of unbelieving parents, lying asleep in his cot and wondering whether he will ever be drawn close to God's heart. I'll be honest here, but this is one of God's infinite questions to which I cannot provide an adequate answer.

Perhaps the closest I could come was once suggested by one of our church leaders during his sermon. He visualised an open door, over which was read, WHOEVER WILL, LET HIM COME THROUGH. But when the believer walks through the door, he turns to look back, to read another sign which says, CHOSEN BY GOD IN HIS SOVEREIGNTY.

I know, it might look rather naff, but it could be the closest suggestion made by a finite mind to the infinite mind of God.

However, the real cure for a lack of self-worth is to meditate on Scripture such as Psalm 139 with a believing heart. Reading the Bible and mixing it with faith produces a recipe which is so nourishing to the soul and spirit.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Nostalgia and a Near Fatality

Being a blogger can have its downs as well as ups. Usually written during a Saturday afternoon, each one gets published by ten o'clock in the evening, although from time to time it's posted around 9.00pm. Then, at about midnight, I bring it back on the laptop screen to proof-read it. It's then when grammatical errors tend to show up, or a sentence or even a paragraph may need to be re-arranged for better clarity. Also, as every blog author on this site is fully aware, the exact number of views is displayed on the dashboard. It is this number which will determine whether the latest post will be a hit or a miss, even over just two hours after posting.

Getting a low turnout after hours spent typing away can be very discouraging, and I have been tempted to pack it in altogether. But if the following week's post turns out to be a hit, then that's a great motivator to keep going. However, blogging on a Saturday afternoon has become something of an addiction - after all, if I were to stop completely, what can I do to replace such a mind-enhancing activity? After all, it's a contrast to the swimming, gym and other physical activity which occupies mid-week hours.

Also, I could add here that I address myself as a blogger rather than a writer. Even if the title, writer, has a nice ring to it. I would love to call myself a writer. But I believe that there is one rather big difference. A writer normally gets paid for his work, usually royalties from the selling of the author's books or in magazines in which his contribution appears. A blogger writes to his own pleasure, normally on the Internet, and if I believe I'm right, he does not get paid for it. With this, I can quote from citations without breaching of any copyright.

Then also is what to write about. Being stuck for a topic is rare but it can happen. But all it takes is a newspaper article, or some conversation at church, in the gym, or elsewhere, and that can be enough inspiration for a blog. Often, current affairs can inspire, especially the present political upheaval taking place at Parliament over Brexit. But often it's the daily routine of life at home that lends a good dosage of inspiration. It can be quite surprising how an article of this kind can be written on what appears simply as an insignificant issue at home, yet a long blog can be written where such a particular issue connects with my faith in God which can catch the reader's eye.

But deleting a whole blog? Well, with over 400 blogs on this page, only two were ever deleted entirely. The first one was from several years ago, not long after I started blogging altogether. But the second one deleted? This week's blog. Rather, the one written and published only last night.

Two reasons for this. First, the number of views recorded on the dashboard was unusually low. But second, and more important, it was too intrusive on my wife's state of health and the sequence of analysis for potential treatments she may have to endure. Personally, I thought such a blog would provide a good read with the attempt to edify the reader, especially a Christian reader. But when I spoke to my beloved about it, she cautioned me. It was after this when I had to have to re-think. I suppose I still have to learn to discern between submitting a good read from being too intrusive. Then again, my whole life, as well as yours, is one whole learning curve. Even then, the arc still remains incomplete when the time comes for us to step off this planet.

Therefore, what did I write about? The few who did read my blog last night before its deletion will, of course, already know. Titled, Cry, Cry To My Soul, Cry, (and I wonder if such a title itself was a turn-off) I detailed my beloved's suffering, visits to hospitals, including the dentist, and a rather detailed set of analysis in order to draw up a diagnosis, and how all this had affected my emotional state. It was a couple of hours later when I realised that such a blog was too intrusive into Alex's private life and therefore had to be deleted before too many read it.

But one issue I will happily share, for this involves nostalgia, a topic I love indulging in! Maybe because I have always been a working-class individual living in a district populated with primarily middle-class families and individuals who, after graduating, have taken up employment in one of many high-tech companies who has established themselves here. A case of an inferior complex on my part? Especially during my bachelor days before marrying at 47 years of age? Maybe so, maybe not. But if making my lifestyle more colourful was somehow mentally and emotionally therapeutic in this society of greater sophistication, so be it. 

Thus, earlier last week, a cycling trip to Frimley Park Hospital, some eight miles from home, to collect a bottle of medicine for my wife, brought back a sense of nostalgia. A 16-mile round trip on the bicycle on an unusually warm February day with wall-to-wall sunshine brought wonderful memories - and also a scary experience. As for pleasant memories, I always found cycling a pleasant experience, despite the tiredness of uphill climbing, aching muscles, riding into a headwind, and the bane of all cyclists - flats!

Stock image.

It was with a friend of mine when we rode End-to-End of Great Britain, that is southbound from John O' Groats on the northern tip of Scotland to Land's End on the near-tropical corner of Cornwall. Near -tropical? In Britain? Well, I did see (rather small) banana trees growing there, along with a species of palm, the kind which finds a home around the Mediterranean. The only other place where I saw banana trees under full cultivation was near Coffs Harbour, in the Australian State of New South Wales. 

As for the End-to-End ride, the seventy-odd miles between Bristol and Exeter almost done us in, and I was tempted to throw in the towel. Nothing more than boring fields for scenery, under a heavily overcast sky, and a strong headwind. It made hill-climbing so challenging, that it could be graded as torturous. When we arrived at a small Devon town of Honiton, we felt relieved, as we knew that Exeter was not far away. But after arriving at Land's End two days later, we celebrated with a bottle of Champagne (or equivalent). It was a great achievement! 

And not to mention the trips to the coast from my apartment, a distance of around sixty miles, but longer rides to other destinations, followed by a comfortable bed at a hotel or hostel. Throughout the mid-1980s into the 1990s, I could consider being at the peak of fitness, when swimming, cycling and running were the three chief activities I partook in. Interestingly enough, my peak age of fitness correlates well with the age Jesus was when he died on the cross, implying that his sacrifice made was at its pinnacle time of his life.

As such, this bicycle ride to Frimley Park Hospital to collect a specific item has brought back such nostalgic memories. That is until I was overtaken by a huge juggernaut. Now as any rider would testify, being overtaken by motorised traffic is a constant, perfectly normal procedure whilst on the road. However, if the road you're riding on turns out to be a dual carriageway, with an extra lane specifically for overtaking vehicles, then you would expect that the overtaking vehicle to leave a wide enough berth between it and the cyclist.

But no, not this juggernaut driver. Instead, he veered to the left whilst actually overtaking, leaving me with hardly any room to pedal. I actually thought this was it. Indeed, I have read of quite a number of incidences when a cyclist was killed just by being clipped by an overtaking truck, or even by a bus. These incidences had taken place mainly within Central London as well as elsewhere in the UK. I think that these fatal lorry/bike contacts had prompted transport authorities to set aside bicycle lanes alongside main roads, something of an annoying stigma for many motor drivers.

However, in this case, I have wondered whether this truck driver actually failed to see that he was approaching a rider from behind. If that was the case, then I wonder how he had so successfully acquired his HGV licence after taking a provisional road test, which was reputed to be tough. It is through this kind of reasoning that I tend to lean on the theory that his clever manoeuvre was deliberate, a ploy to prove his macho superiority as a trucker over a cyclist by giving me a fright.

To me, that is incredulous! I wasn't even clad in the hated shining Lycra costume which poses a threat to many an ego at the steering wheel. Those days of wearing one had long gone! Instead, I was dressed in normal day clothes, and a pensioner to boot. Yes, a pensioner. How could I be a threat to anyone's ego?

I suppose that the apostle James was right when he wrote an exhortation not to be too confident for the future, for nobody knows what's around the corner (James 4:13-15). It was easy to say to my beloved,

"Sweetheart, I'm going to cycle all the way to Frimley to collect your medicine. I should be back after a couple of hours (to allow for a coffee at the hospital restaurant)."

Perhaps the usage of the word should be the most appropriate, rather than shall or will. Because James could have approached from behind, tap me on the shoulder and say,

"Don't kid yourself, pal. This very day you will be at home with your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Then what will happen to your wife's medicine?"

And as I ride along, perhaps pretty fast along the highway, this trucker, in his attempt to give me a fright, slightly miscalculates and his heavy juggernaut clips my bike, sending me flying. Next, I find myself in Heaven with the Lord. How true James's word can really be?

However, I'm still here, having added this experience to all my past cycling experiences, and thanking God for the very breath of life. Over the years I have come to appreciate each day the Lord has allowed me to remain here, to love my wife dearly, to comfort and to care for her as my soulmate and as one in the flesh, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. In return, I can bask in her love for me, her submissiveness according to Biblical principles, and her support, especially in the time of need or in making a difficult decision.

I thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving me such a lovely wife who thinks the world of me. In you, Lord, I give credit.