Total Pageviews

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Oh! We Never Learn From History.

A week when Summer really means Summer. At least here in the UK, when a heatwave pushes the temperature into the thirties Celcius, which is well into the nineties Farenheight. Young men go about topless, proudly displaying their bronze muscular torsos, most of the others wear loose tops, and a small minority go about in business suits and ties. 

Ah, a reminder of Singapore on a typical weekday in 1997. The crowded sidewalks of Orchard Street were populated with almost a monotonously-dressed crowd of young male office employees with white, open-neck shirts, yet quite a number also wore ties - in hot and humid 38-degree Celcius air. The same sort of fashion I also saw in 1993 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on the ushering of the Sabbath - a uniformly-dressed crowd of black pants and white, open-neck shirts and each male head topped with a black yarmulka, there were some older men also wearing ties in the warm evening. Indeed, in my mind, as the tie is perceived as of very English origin, I have wondered whether the 144 years of British colonial rule over Singapore and the thirty-year British Mandate over Palestine had the same effect on the indigenous dress sense.

Meanwhile, a London-bound Eurostar train breaks down just outside Brussels, and our own train companies cancelling a third of all its services, especially here in the South where the temperature is at its peak, thanks to the threat of rail heat-expansion and buckling. Not to worry. With the threat of airline pilots and airport ground staff's looming strikes throwing cold water on the joys of those thousands anticipating their holidays overseas, indeed, Britain is heading for a golden future under the administration of our new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Oh, the optimism! Like the human pride being the motive for the building of a city with the Tower of Babel so to reach into the heavens. Er, no. God had other plans and all was left was a stump of masonry rising as a low mound from the valley floor. A lot more recently, the floating glory of the British Empire, the Titanic, a ship which was the very zenith of Empire, and it was also said that not even God was able to sink, yet went down on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 15th April 1912. All by being struck by a huge lump of frozen water.

And how could I forget reading about the great Babylonian Empire of ancient times? What majestic power it had over the Jews during the fifth century BC! A kingdom of grand royalty, power and glory, which boasted the best military force in the world at the time, under which the Jews were a captive minor subordinate. Yet this great empire is no more, it has been extinct for the last 2,500 years, yet the Jew lives on, flourishing to this day. Therefore I had a sense of reverential respect as I watched a crowd of Orthodox Jews who were singing, dancing and praying at the Western Wall one Friday evening in 1993. How I revelled in the experience. Then a year later, in 1994, I found myself standing amid a thick crowd of Jews at Jaffa Street, out on a political protest against their Government giving consent to a Palestinian issue concerning East Jerusalem.

As I stood within the courtyard fronting the Wall, I became an object of disdain by one Jewish family who was standing nearby. I was bothered by their scowl, so I asked a passing young Jewish man to ask the family if there is a problem. There was. I was carrying my camera strapped over my shoulder on their Sabbath. To them, I was "working" even if I couldn't take any more pictures due to the post-sunset darkness. Or the time I watched a group of devout Jews throwing a few stones at a nearby TV cameraman for filming on the Sabbath. Indeed, Babylon, with its optimistic greatness, glory and power, is long gone, but among the Jews to this day, laws and judiciary customs go right back to the time of the Exodus, which long preceded the rise of Babylon.

History tells us that we learn nothing from history!

The reason for all these downfalls of pride, ambition and optimism is not difficult to understand. They are all opposed to walking in humbleness before God.

Jews crowd the Western Wall,  taken 1994.

As for me, I agree with the most devout of Brexiteers for a safe and secure place to live. I too want to continue to live out my days free from any threat of war, disease or starvation. I too, wish to see laws established to protect each citizen from being victims of crime and fraud, to see laws set up against computer hacking which could clear the victim's bank account without consent, a form of wrongdoing from which I was close to being a victim myself just recently.

But what I don't agree on is this want of an independent, sovereign State based on national pride and optimism for a "golden future" as that promised by Johnson and his supporters. In other words, for Britain to become a latter-day Babylon - an empire built on human and nationalistic greatness. The spin-off from that attitude is a nationwide snobbery shown towards foreigners. The quest for imperialism, that sense of arrogance and the smug superiority on full display towards the indigenous of the colonised land. Of course, this worldview has been thriving throughout history, including the Darwinian philosophy of the rise of the "master race" of Nazi ideology, with its resulting Holocaust slaying millions of "inferior races" such as Jews, gipsies, and other races which did not match their ideal for an advanced society.

Christians who are well acquainted with the Bible would rate the Babylonian Empire as a desperately wicked kingdom, especially when their forces killed and captured other states and nations, such as Egypt and Tyre and of course, Israel with its capital, Jerusalem, the City of David. Such a glorious city was razed to the ground in 586 BC and its inhabitants, including its king, was led away to Babylon. It was there where the Jews began to settle at their new home, a phenomenon which led to the rise of the Diaspora, still very much active during the days of Jesus Christ and the setting for the birth of various churches.

Although long extinct, the Babylonians had far greater respect for the Jews than the modern-day Nazis. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II, actually promoted a Jew to be Prime Minister, the second greatest individual of the Empire, after the king himself. Furthermore, three more Jews were also promoted to be the PM's assistants. Indeed, the lives of these men had a big impact on the empire, just like another Jew, Joseph, who was known to weep aloud in public along with all his hugging and embracing of other men, yet single-handedly rescued the whole of ancient Egypt from a severe, seven-year famine.

Joseph, along with Abraham, Moses, King David, and others had that one special ingredient which made them truly great. Their faith in God and their humbleness in walking before him. That what made them great, rather than imperialistic power. There is a world of a difference between a man like Joseph and Adolf Hitler. Joseph knew his standing before God. Like his ancestor Abraham, he saw himself as dust and ashes compared to God's holiness, just as David perceived himself as a flea, the smallest creature seen with the naked eye, or a dead leaf blown away by the wind.

By contrast, Adolf Hitler exalted himself, as did his predecessor Haman. The latter was promoted to a Persian Prime Minister by its king in the 4th century BC but was later hanged in public shame, after exalting himself above the Jews, and his plan to initiate his version of the Holocaust. Likewise, Adolf Hitler committed suicide, and despite his racial superiority resting on Darwinian principles, he went down defeated and suffered the worst kind of humiliation imposed on any national leader.

Fortunately, Boris Johnson is not at all like Adolf Hitler! His goal is merely to take Britain out of the European Union, so the United Kindom will enjoy independent sovereignty afterwards. On principle, there is nothing wrong with that. The UK has the means to enjoy the blessing of God as a sovereign nation providing two conditions are met:

1. To humble itself before God and allowing to see how it stands before God's holiness. This includes national repentance, a repudiation of Darwinism in favour of Divine Creation, to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation and to walk humbly before God. And humbleness towards God cannot accommodate snobbery or any sense of national, racial or ethnic superiority.

2. Respect for the Jew, with Israel seen as God's representative earthly nation, and as such, God's deputy for the world. This includes the recognition that when Jesus returns, he will set up his reign on the throne of his father David in Jerusalem, and not at Buckingham Palace in London!

But I doubt whether any of this would happen. That is the reason why I'm pessimistic over Brexit. The nation if far from national repentance. Rather, it's looking to pride in its sovereignty, self-confidence, optimism and self-glorification. And with Darwin's evolutionary theory as a bedrock for all philosophies and academic knowledge, rather than to acknowledge God and his creative powers, he will be tossed aside into the bin of myth, along with any concept of Intelligent Design. As evolution continues to be pumped out to the public from the TV and radio, along with newspapers, magazines and textbooks, this theory will be so ingrained in the psyche that any idea of a Creator God will be held up for public ridicule.

I don't believe Britain will ever become like Nazi Germany of the 20th century. Nevertheless, the idea of eugenics had its origins here in England. Charles Darwin supported it. But it was his cousin Francis Galton who actively promoted it. The Germans picked up the idea and put it into practice years afterwards.

Here in England, eugenics is alive and well! It's practised every day here in Britain. I'm talking about elective abortion and the encouragement by doctors for all fetuses conceived with Down's Syndrome, spina-bifida, or any other abnormality, to be aborted. Willfully forgetting that this fetus is already a human being who will one day contribute well to society, as it's already demonstrated.

As I see the day of Brexit approaching (on Halloween - is this an omen?) I try to take the divine worldview rather than a human one. And this does not leave me with much optimism.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Hope of Answered Prayer?

Any regular reader of this blogger page has most likely read last week's post. It was about making a hasty decision during a moment of mental and emotional weakness to mistakenly open a bank credit account. 

Just to recap:

After making an online purchase, the Bank contacted me over the phone that my account was targeted by a fraudster. Immediately I jumped on my trusty bicycle and pedalled into town. At the Bank, the fraud was verified as having occurred. Although the immediate problem was quickly resolved, I was emotionally wretched. And the advisor who fixed the problem then homed in on my vulnerability by launching a sales pitch of the wonders of having a credit account, with which I would be protected from any future fraudulent transactions. After quite a bit of computer keyboard tapping, a foolscap was printed out on which I signed at the bottom. It was soon afterwards I was handed the Terms and Conditions on a document thick enough to impress any civil servant.

But within the many wording, towards the back was a small paragraph informing me that I had an opt-out clause to close the account, which comes into force for two weeks after receiving the card, which itself took up to a week for it to arrive.

While I was walking along the High Street, I immediately began to regret what I have done - to offer myself as a slave to my new master, one who would have control over our joint bank account, willingly lending us money, followed by a demand to pay back with interest. In other words, to be in constant debt, something I have carefully avoided for nearly two decades.

I found myself praying in the street. I wasn't conscious of anyone looking on, neither did I care less if I had attracted anyone's attention. I made my way to Costas. There in the coffee bar, I sat alone at a small table, a large cappuccino in front of me, my face buried in both my palms, praying. Confessing to God of my error, my mistake in making such a rash decision. Praying for release from the burden. It was after arriving home and having read the Terms and Conditions, was when I discovered the opt-out clause. On the same day my card had arrived, I turned up at the Bank and cancelled the Agreement and closed the account. Oh, what relief! 

Again at Costas, I sat with another cappuccino. I was thanking God and praising Him this time. I looked out from the shopfront window. The world looked far more cheerful, like a spring in the step. Although the scene was as it always been, with passing pedestrians populating the traffic-free thoroughfare - singles, couples, families, groups, an occasional dog perhaps, yet there was this liberating feel about the environment. The sense of joy. The sense of freedom, like an ex-convict released from prison and heading home.

Today, the final letter had arrived from the Bank, confirming that my account is now closed and with instructions to destroy the card. Up to the present I have kept the card for use for any possible reference or correspondence. But now, what pleasure it was when I took a pair of scissors and cut the card up into four pieces! 

Exactly like I did nearly two decades ago. I cut up the old credit card then. But the reason for this was slightly different. My beloved was pregnant with our first daughter. I did not want her to grow up in a household ridden with debt. Such an environment would not be ideal for any of our children. Therefore my wife and I agreed that if we need anything, whether it's groceries, a household utensil or piece of furniture, or a holiday abroad, we will always make sure we had enough to pay for it before purchase.

I believe that my opinion on this matter is Biblical. For example, Proverbs 22:7 says,

The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is a slave of the lender.

Also Proverbs 22:26-27:

Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?

And Romans 13:8:

Owe no one anything except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

This is one of the benefits for a believer in Jesus Christ. It's impossible to live a perfect life, without making mistakes or bad decisions. But God is so willing to forgive and to make restoration for any error made. This reminds me of an old soap powder advert that used to be shown on TV. It featured a mother warmly welcoming her son back home with his shirt smeared with mud after some rough play outside. All smiles and not a single scolding, the soiled shirt was put into a washing machine and hey presto, it comes out not only clean but with incandescent whiteness. The boy puts it back on and then dashes back outside to resume his game with his mates.

Whether all mothers are as patient and so understanding as this one was, I cannot say. But at least back in those days, boys were boys. Rough play was part and parcel of growing up, to prepare them for the tough world as adults. It's a good likeness to Christian living. To take the knocks life throws at us. And indeed we can return to our Heavenly Father with mud on our shirts, our knees grazed, a bruise on our arm, and not only would he cleanse the shirt to the level of incandescence, but also heal our injuries too. I have wondered whether the old soap powder ad was a good illustration for the struggling Christian.

If only.

Some prayers are answered quickly, often with human cooperation, such as the rectifying of the credit account decision. Yet others seem to hit a brick wall. The case of my wife's health is a case in point. Prayer upon prayer has been offered for her healing and restoration. Not only from me but from my inlaws, along with members of our fellowship, including our Elders. We have been praying for years but have never seen her restored to her youthful health, the sprinting athlete who I met, married and had children. Instead, I have watched her health slowly deteriorate over the years, first with backache, then with spells of seizure, then immobilisation which confines her to a wheelchair while outdoors, and now with breast cancer too, which required a mastectomy and ongoing chemotherapy. Where is God in all this?

Yet an incident occurred this week while I was out with a friend and church elder. When I arrived home, I found my beloved in a seizure with her arm shaking involuntarily. Unable to wake her, I had no other option than to dial 999. She was rushed to Frimley Park Hospital where previously she had her mastectomy. At A&E, she was treated with Diazepam to calm her involuntary movement and also with antibiotics to eliminate any threat of infection which, due to her chemo treatment, could turn septic, therefore life-threatening. She was kept in overnight to be seen by the Oncology team on the next day. It was discovered that a hard plastic securing clip fixed onto her percutaneous catheter was irritating the skin surrounding where the tube enters her body through her affected arm. It was the continuous and rather intense pain which led to her seizure.

The hard-plastic clip was replaced with one made with a softer material. It made all the difference and she was allowed to go home. Yet the Consultant wasn't fully satisfied with her condition. He wanted us to return for a scan to ensure there is no blood clotting around her catheter. However, when the scan was carried out the day after, a clot was located, which means she has to take a dose of Dalteparin Sodium subcutaneously each day for the next three months. That means that during those weeks it's up to me to give my beloved her daily injection.

Although there are times when God is so far away when it comes to Alex's health, I can't help sensing that finding her in a seizure after arriving home was an act of God's presence and mercy. Because, if the clot was to dislodge and flow freely through her bloodstream and even enter her coronary artery, she could suffer from cardiac arrest. This, of course, is just a guess on my part, but one based on true stories I heard of very similar causes of death.

If all this is true, then God has always been with us during the whole experience dating back to 2012 (when her periodic backache started to escalate). The fact that God doesn't heal by the one command will always remain a mystery, even though Jesus told his disciples to heal the sick as part of the Great Commission, after his Resurrection. But this I have come to realise: God answers prayer if following his will and not necessarily ours.

Looking back over the last few years, I have come to realise that caring for my wife is indeed part of Christian growth, which involves character-building. The timing of all this coincides well with retirement from paid work as a self-employed window cleaner. The truth is - there is no such thing as Christian retirement. I'm here to serve the Lord until the day I'm called home. Learning to look after and taking care of my disabled wife has added a lot of good to my Christian experience, just as 35 years of cleaning windows had taught me quite a bit about interpersonal relationships with the customer, and the will of God in putting my clientele's welfare above my own. And that applied especially to the senior citizen, quite a few I had on my rounds.

Learning to be patient and gentle is part of God's will for me. And those two fruits of the Spirit were certainly no part of my raw character which blighted my youth. For example, when I started my window cleaning business in the late Summer of 1980, I was focussed on money and enterprise, to first survive, then to make a profit, to do well, rather than seek the best of the customer's welfare.

But God is benevolent in character and he is always willing to bless us. Therefore, whenever I was planning a holiday, especially a long-haul backpacking trip, I was always praying, especially against these potential obstacles:
Airline strike,
Unexpected expense,
A threat to personal safety.

Yet between 1973 (when I first travelled as a Christian believer) to this day, God has always answered my prayers before departure. Except on just one occasion. That was in 2013, after making a booking for our anniversary break in Crete, one of the Greek islands I hadn't been to, but keen to visit. Instead, Alex went down with complete immobilisation, and our GP had her referred to Royal Berkshire Hospital, where she stayed as an inpatient for four whole months between August and November. This covered our 14th anniversary, where I spent our special day sitting beside her hospital bed.

A devastating loss at the time, yet God used that experience to show me that my love and commitment to my beloved wife comes way before any holiday pleasure. It has helped me to learn that travel is by no means be-all and end-all. Rather, our marriage has that claim.

With a wheelchair purchased in January of 2014, I knew that life from then on will be totally different from what I'm used to. Yet concerning travel, God has a way to still bless us, providing we appreciate what he gives us and receive it with thankfulness. This includes two Eurostar trips to Paris, one trip to Brussels, which was also on the Eurostar, a trip north to the Lake District, also to North Wales, and a couple of trips to Bournemouth and Swanage. I can be very grateful indeed that she hadn't suffered any pain or seizures while we were in France or Belgium, but suffered one whilst on the train returning home from Llundudno Junction last year.

God answers prayer. But not always how we would wish. He blessed us with travel experiences. He delivered me from a bad decision made. But he never heard my cry for Alex's restoration to full health. That was because he uses such experiences to fulfil his will in our lives.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Chips are Down? There is Hope.

Ever made a decision and then immediately regret it? And before you can do anything about it, the cogs of the machinery begins to rotate, and there is absolutely no power to stop it. And that's how it looks.

And taking up a new banking agreement can be one of those regrettable decisions. It all begins with an unexpected phone call with a voice saying that my account might have been targeted by a fraudster. It's that living nightmare I have seen on TV documentaries such as Watchdog or Panorama. Immediately I put the phone down without saying a word and mounted my bicycle for a trip to town.

At my bank, I was fortunate that the advisor was free and wasn't dealing with any other customer. When I told him of my situation, he then led me into an office within a more experienced advisor sat. She investigated the rumour, and it was true, my account was targeted, following an online purchase. She then disabled the current account card, and I then received a new one within a few days. That should have been it, simple and straightforward. But instead, she went into a sales-patter mode about a promise of better protection if I took on a credit scheme. Feeling vulnerable, I signed the agreement. Moments later I had discovered that I have opened a credit card account.

The last time I held a credit card account was in the year 2000. Soon after discovering that my wife was pregnant with our first daughter, I made a phone call to the issuers, asking them to close my account while I paid off the last of what was still owing. I then cut the card into two halves and that was it - finito - after two decades of debt.

There was a time when the credit card stood in good stead, especially during my travels. Like the time when I wanted to make a booking at the Hosteling International Backpackers at Santa Monica, California. They would only accept a booking by credit card. Fortunately, I was able to pay in cash at arrival. Or when the Queen's birthday came around at the most awkward moment after running out of cash whilst at Hervey Bay in New South Wales. When the Queen's birthday comes around, Australia as a whole shuts down, leaving my thick wad of Traveler's Cheques temporarily unusable. I still had to pay for my stay at the hostel. My credit card came to the rescue.

Both of these incidents took place in 1997. Life was very different back then, without the Internet. Each month a paper statement dropped through the door. Funny, coming to think of it, they call it a statement, when really it's a bill, like an energy bill or a phone bill. But it meant a monthly visit to the bank or enclosing in an envelope provided, together with a cheque, and posted. But the debt lingered on and on as interest was piled on top. Unless I paid in full like you would have had to with American Express, or Diners Club, I was never debt-free during those twenty years.

I look back on such experiences with mixed feelings. It was good to be bailed out from a tough situation, especially while overseas, but the burden of being in debt hung over my head like a raincloud. Therefore, when it came to giving advice to a couple of upcoming nuptials by request at our church, one of my main points was don't open a credit account, and stay free of debt. I also added, to buy only within their means. If you cannot afford it, don't buy unless you are prepared to save up for it. I said this to two young Christian men shortly before they married. I think this is good wisdom, especially with the cost of holidays. To find a credit statement covering the airfare and hotel bill lying on the floor among the mail after arriving home from the airport can be debilitating, especially if it's back to work the very next day.

Therefore, it was at a moment of weakness when I fell for the sales pitch and allowed the bank to open a credit account. But in this modern tech age, the prospects look much dire than it did before. It's all to do with Internet banking, an idea I have always shrunk from. (After all, I am a pensioner and we oldies generally don't gel with money-handling technology behind our backs, do we?) I had little option but to call upon God for help while walking along the High Street - and back at home also read the terms and conditions, itself taking quite a number of pages. I eventually discovered that I'm in a "grace period" the two weeks within if I change my mind, I can close the account. I did precisely that, along with the need to cancel the newly-created direct-debit account.

At this stage, whether I'm now out of the woods, or still having my foot caught in one of the ferns growing among the trees, I have to wait and see. Furthermore, my beloved was also afraid - afraid for me, whether all this credit card scenario would have on my health. It gave much of an opportunity to reflect together.

When Alex asked why God allowed all these - the credit card agreement, her poor health with the latest on her breast cancer, my own life with heart failure - I had to sit beside her and think. And to reassure her.

I thought about our financial security, which I believe, is very different from the accumulation of wealth. Without a doubt, even the keenest of saints desire some sort of security, especially in finances, the desire to be free of debt, to be able to keep a roof over his head, adequate clothing, to put food on the table, and to enjoy such niceties such as an annual holiday, to buy toys for the kids, and to own a car as a useful commodity. Surely, we all want this. It's perfectly natural, so human. And as Jesus once reassured, our Father in heaven knows all this. He is not reluctant to meet all our needs.

However, by contrast, these fraudsters, for example, wish to accumulate wealth out of greed. They are not bothered about leaving another individual, a couple or a family in financial ruin just so the perpetrators can go out and buy that coveted Lamborghini to show off to his neighbours and arouse envy. It's that attitude, that greed which stirs anger in me, the sense of injustice.

Someone had already said to me that if I am without sin, then I should cast the first stone. Fair enough. But if the fraudsters were to target his bank account, clearing it out altogether, how would he feel? Having a hump? Or would he jump with joy, knowing that he is "persecuted" for the cause of Christ? 

In my talk with Alex, I came to the conclusion that it's better to suffer heavy losses - even to the extent of being stripped bare, and go to heaven - than it is to accumulate much wealth, live a life of luxury and end up in hell. That's was what I said to her.

This reminds me of Job, an Old Testament nomad who was stripped of all his wealth by bandits, lost all but one offspring in a terrible accident and became so ill that we came within an inch of death. He ended up with his breath so foul that even his wife couldn't remain any longer in his tent. Yet it was she who loudly declared that he should curse God and die (Job 2:7-10). To which he replied,
You are acting like a foolish woman! 

His integrity is what I admire about this man. His faith in God remained unmoved, even to the point when he declared, 

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he shall stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.
I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:25-27.

Here he was basically advocating eternal security - he didn't condition his eternal state with any 'ifs' or 'buts', nor, "I must remain faithful lest I lose my salvation". Instead, he declared to his three doubting friends that he will see God! By referring to his Redeemer as standing upon the earth demonstrates his Resurrection from the dead, after an everlasting atonement has been made.

Lately, I have delved into Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In the first two chapters of that letter, the author demonstrates both the special love of God for all believers, which he couples with the sovereignty and omniscience of God. Not that God loves some people and not others. True enough, God so loved the world in a paternal sense he has for all his creation (John 3:16). But to all believers, God is their special Father.

The breaking down of the barrier between the Jew and the Gentile is what excited Paul, along with the drawing together of all from near and far away alike, as from the kingdom of darkness into God's Kingdom of light. This breaking down of the barriers I found so edifying. That means the dissolving of all international, racial and class barriers, the uniting of the three into one man whose head is Jesus Christ himself. 

This is a tonic I so much need in such a materialistic world, where institutions such as banks will strive to make a profit from the customer, and living at present in a political turmoil where their want for national isolation from Europe eclipses the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ regardless of ethnic origins. If ever there is a need for such a drastic psychological turnaround, Psalm 139 reveals how God regards every individual, and how each person was carefully knit together in the womb. And how many days a person shall live is already determined, long before conception.

Neither is any individual ever hidden from God. He may rise into the sky (airline and rocket aviation?) and sure enough, he is there. He might make his bed deep into the depths of the ocean (deep-sea submersibles?) and God will be waiting for him there. If he was to go to the far side of the sea (long haul flights?) - yes, God will greet him there as well.

(Actually, it's fascinating how a 3,000-year-old prophecy about advanced science and engineering can be so easily discerned by any modern reader). 

But the point is: God is always near. He is near each Christian believer. In fact, God lives within every Christian believer. As for the unbeliever, God is always near. So near, in fact, that one only has to believe in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the risen Christ, and from his mouth confess this, acknowledging his status as Lord, and he will be saved (Romans 10:9-13). God will give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks (Luke 11:11-13) without the need for self-reformation beforehand.

Just lying on the bed next to my beloved wife and saying those things to her in the quietness of the night have helped in dispelling her fears and anxieties. Indeed, banks may find schemes to drain us financially, quite legally too, and watching her poor health is indeed debilitating, but knowing that God loves us and that he is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent is a source of comfort and reassurance for both of us. 

Saturday, 6 July 2019

The Invisible Shield...

Rub a dub dub,  
Three men in a tub.
An adulterer,
A fox hunter,
And an NHS destroyer.
Each of the three peered over the edge,
To see the moon in the calm water.
"Quick!" exclaimed the NHS destroyer. "Fetch the net!"
The adulterer throws his net into the water,
Hoping to bring up the moon,
Rather like an omelette in a frying pan.
But the moon shatters into many moving pieces,
While the net is raised empty!
Ah!" says the fox hunter,
"If you two had supported my blood sport,
by now you would have the moon resting in the tub!"


And so our news media are obsessed with three potential candidates for 10 Downing Street: Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and the possibility of Nigel Farage, at present, the leader of the recently-formed Brexit Party, whose one of his manifesto items is to replace the National Health Service with American-style private health insurance. All three have much relevance here in the UK, but other than within the mainland continent of Europe and America, these politicians are most likely unheard of in countries outside the European Union or North America.

Therefore, when my very good friend Dr Andrew Milnthorpe posted yet another of his pro-Brexit status on Facebook, in return, I made up the above ditty as a reply comment, with only a slight modification to the original. Although it was meant to be jest, by looking more deeply into it, I began to realise that the capturing of the moon's reflection in the water was as realistic as the optimistic, utopian idea of a sovereign post-Brexit Britain without the need for God.

As things stand at the moment, it does look as if Boris Johnson is the front runner. But as with all political polls, they can be as unpredictable as the English weather. However, with Jeremy Hunt this week announcing his support for the lifting of the ban against fox hunting, his angering of the public and his loss of vital support from his followers, all this has indeed placed Johnson further ahead in the race to become Prime Minister.

A country without the need for God is relevant here. We live in a country of which Constitution was, and still meant to be, based on the Christian Gospel. But the fact that the nation is prepared to accept as its leader a man who married and divorced twice and is at present sleeping with a woman half his age, shows how far this nation has strayed from its Christian foundation. What with the discrediting of the Bible, the emptying of traditional churches, together with the rise of elective abortions, the permitting of gay marriage, all stemming from a universal belief of Darwin's evolutionary theories. Very much like the possibility of catching a reflection in a net from the surface of the water, I can't see any real optimism about Britain's future post-Brexit glory. 

And so arguments on whether we leave the EU with or without a deal by Autumn rages on. From such unsure promises, newspapers are making a mint, news bulletins are watched intensely, the BBC receives criticism for its Remain-leaning bias. All this while so thankfully appreciating the existence of the National Health Service.  

What with modern living with freedom from war and supplied with so many commodities for a comfortable, labour free existence, with both food and water on tap. After all, it's much easier to go on a short trip by car to the local supermarket to buy a tin of beef stew, than it is to go out hunting in the vain hope of finding a wild rabbit to blast with shotgun pellets before skinning and then spending hours cooking it!

Yet despite such comfortable living, there is an epidemic of mental illness, a rise in suicides among men in particular, and a rise in knife crime. I try to imagine a parent, a brother or sister, of someone who had just been stabbed while walking along the street, a case of mistaken identity or an unsolved dispute, or even to ease boredom. Or for a husband to watch his beloved wife's life slowly ebb away while cancer takes over. The agony! The sorrow! The emotional torment hearing his wife say how much she loves him, how much she adores him, and he was her only world, as she takes her final breath and closes her eyes forever. For him, nobody had loved him as she did. Nobody has ever valued him so highly as she did, no not even his parents or other family members.

He stands over her as she lies lifeless on her deathbed. He buries his face into her chest and cries and cries aloud, his free-flowing tears shed without hindrance. Through his mind, his memories are alive and active. How they first met are as fresh as if happened just yesterday. Their wedding, their honeymoon as they strolled together on a foreign beach late in the night, their candlelight dinners. The joys of marriage along with its share of hardships and trials. Yet watching their love for each other grow and never ceasing.

This is no make-up story. More than likely this has repeated over and over again throughout history. Moreover, I know two men personally who have both lost their wives through illness. One of them tells of how he watched his beloved slowly waste away before finally passing on to be greeted in the arms of the Lord Jesus.

And that was what my friend Paul said to me after a Sunday service at Ascot Life Church:
A hundred years ago, that would have been it. Death from cancer would have been inevitable.

He was referring to my wife's recently diagnosed breast cancer.

And thanks to the National Health Service, her life was saved, literally. By having her cancerous breast removed, a procedure known as a mastectomy. After our recent visit, which was for an assessment, she was advised to have chemotherapy. I felt aghast! I visualised her beautiful long hair falling away and her need for a wig. Furthermore, chemo would result in the weakening of her immune system, leaving her more prone to infection, perhaps with more intense backache, headaches and fits, and other symptoms connected with her neurotic disorder. This along with constant feelings of tiredness, the draining of her energy.

The benefits of chemo are to ensure that all her cancer cells are eliminated from her body. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee immunity from a recurrence of her cancer. All it does is reduce the chance of a recurrence. We were left with a choice, but the Consultant assured us that the benefits will outweigh the risks.

All this time, I had to allay her fears, the chief fear was her mistaken belief that my love for her would eventually fade. I assured her that through the grace of God, this would never happen, as my love, through His power, will be forever. However, this does not prevent the fears, the anxieties afflicting my own soul, visions of her dying, even the terrors of Hell. Feeling of we're all alone, with no one caring for us, leaving us to face our own problems with no support. These are, of course, all lies. Lies from the Adversary.

Fortunately, the Bible provides an antidote against all these fears and anxieties. It's found in Ephesians 6:11-20, a part which reads:

Therefore put on the full armour of God, so then, when the day of evil comes, you are able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness which comes from the gospel of peace. 
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Verses 13-17 NIV.

I can imagine the apostle Paul in prison, writing this letter to the church in Ephesus. Standing nearby on guard was a Roman soldier. He saw that the armoury which the soldier was wearing stood as a good symbol for the spiritual battle which afflicts every true Christian believer.

One of the items the soldier was holding was the shield. This particular item of armour took the brunt of the enemy's firey arrows. The other held was the sword, the only offensive weapon. As this represents the Word of God, a thorough knowledge of the Bible is essential, hence I tend to encourage a Christian, especially a young one, to read his Bible daily.

Having said that, going by my own experience, I have not held the shield too well. By harbouring feelings of doubt and fear over the future, especially my wife's future, I guess I have allowed the "fiery darts of the evil one " to penetrate into my soul. Doubt is the opposite of faith. But why do I doubt so easily?

Perhaps it's to do with my introverted temperament, a trait inherited from my late father, who was also introverted, unlike my mother and brother who are both outgoing extroverts. There is nothing wrong with being introverted! Such can, and does, bring many benefits to society, especially in the arts, in aesthetics, in writing, photography, paintings, design, etc. There were many who were devoted to God who was introverted. Name an Old Testament prophet and you have identified another introvert. Moses was one, as was Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. New Testament introverts included the Apostle John, and Thomas as well, along with the likelihood of Barnabas and Mark. However, the introvert's main weakness is that he sees the glass as half empty, and takes a negative view of the world.

But not to leave out the more extroverted, who sees the glass as half-full and accept everything in the world in a more positive light. Simon Peter was an extrovert, as was the Apostle Paul. It was mainly through Paul that the Gospel has spread throughout the Gentile Roman Empire, while Peter ministered to the Jews, including the Diaspora, who lived at that time right across the Middle East, including Egypt.

I need to take up the shield of faith. I need it badly! And wield the sword, the Word of God, to counter lies entering my mind. As for the belt of truth, the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth to atone for us, his burial, and his Resurrection from the dead are all historical facts. Attached to the belt of truth is the breastplate of righteousness, the imputed righteousness of Christ to all believers of the Truth. I need to be assured in the mind of my own salvation, hence the helmet. And finally, I can walk, meeting other people to spread the Gospel of peace to all who hears it and believe, hence the footwear.

A Roman soldier ready for battle

The shield is an invisible one. In fact, the whole armour is invisible, being spiritual and fighting a spiritual battle rather than a physical one. But despite my own shortcomings, one thing I'm aware of, that is, this spiritual armour is real. It's the reality of the Christian life, a necessity to counter the lies, the doubts and the fears the Adversary will throw at us.

When I visited Disneyland in the past, I did encounter Mickey Mouse and Pluto the dog. But I was aware that this wasn't a real mouse, nor the dog a real dog. They were men, actual human beings, each dressed in a costume. But here I was allowed to indulge in make-believe.

Rather like believing in Britain will prosper to its sovereign glory without the need for God after Brexit. If only my fellow Christian brothers realise that keeping God well away from human affairs is the key to a nation's downfall.

Or else, our politicians can master the art of retrieving the reflection of the moon from the lake after all.