Category Archives: Personal

El-Shaddai

This entry is part 15 of 15 in the series Fiona

Fiona and I always shared an irreverent sense of humour. And, despite having lost her, my sense of humour is still just as wacky 🙂 Our outlook on life has always been free and flippant! Because we were (and are) both completely secure in our relationship with Father, we felt free to make jokes about our faith, sometimes to the consternation of other churchy types who were nearby – although to be fair, we didn’t usually use that type of humour in the presence of those who would not understand, because it would have made them uncomfortable. I sometimes think that people are afraid of God, despite 1 John 4:8, which speaks about perfect love driving out fear… sadly, then, there are many Christians – and people from other faiths too – who declare that ‘God has a sense of humour’, but whose ensuing fake laughter usually belies that belief. Lolz.

But not Fiona and I. We were wacky all the way, in ways I won’t share here because, well, I suppose you had to be there…

Now, here’s another worship song from our youth – El Shaddai, sung by the legendary Christian artist Amy Grant. And, for us, this song has a wacky story behind it. We first saw this song in the Dales Bible Week songbook for the 1985 Dales Week, entitled ‘Enthroned on High‘. But we didn’t actually hear the song at that time.

The ‘foreign’ words in the song are just some of the Hebrew names for God, and because of the sense of humour Fiona and I shared, and in the way that we always made irreverent jokes about absolutely everything, we decided for definite that the song was put in that Dales songbook in order to enable people who didn’t ‘speak in tongues’ to sing something that sounded foreign enough to pass as ‘tongues’. Some won’t find that funny. We thought it was bloody hilarious. And this is the first time I have made that public knowledge 😉

And then we heard the song a couple of years later on a worship tape, if I recall correctly, and we loved it immediately.

I’ve put it in Fiona’s series on my blog, because it reminds me so much of the time we had together, the worship we shared, Fiona’s wacky sense of humour that complemented mine so well, and the great times we had singing it together, with me on piano and Fiona’s tremendous vocals. She was a lady of great talent and, over the months, I have sorely missed her pure, wonderful singing voice, and her gentle spirit coming through in her music.

And the song is indeed beautiful, and is well worth hearing. Released in 1982 on Amy Grant’s breakthrough album ‘Age to Age‘, this song was one of the numbers that made her famous. Here it is, with its lovely arrangement, great dynamics and excellent chord emphases along with Amy’s brilliant talent.

Enjoy!

El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonia,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name.
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
We will praise and lift You high,
El Shaddai.
 
Through Your love and through the ram,
You saved the son of Abraham;
Through the power of your hand,
Turned the sea into dry land
To the outcast on her knees,
You were the God Who really sees,
And by Your might,
You set Your children free
 
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonia,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
We will praise and lift You high,
El Shaddai.
 
Through the years You made it clear,
That the time of Christ was near,
Though the people couldn’t see
What Messiah ought to be
Though Your word contained the plan,
They just could not understand
Your most awesome work was done
Through the frailty of Your Son
 
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonai,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
I will praise You ’til I die,
El Shaddai
 
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
El-Elyon na Adonai,
Age to age You’re still the same,
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai,
Erkhamkha na Adonai,
I will praise You ’til I die
El Shaddai.

– Michael Card/John W. Thompson

I’ll also relate another humorous story about this song. Fiona and I were once in our Church in Leeds when there was a guest lady who’d come in to perform an expressive dance, and she did it to El Shaddai. And she did it really well; it was very moving and expressive and spiritual and all that. Right up to the point where she slipped and did a spectacular comedy-accident fall, through the drum kit if I remember correctly, to the accompaniment of crashing cymbals et al. She was ok, but boy was it funny, and Fiona’s irreverent sense of humour came to the fore and I’m convinced she only narrowly avoided serious internal injury due to her attempts to suppress her laughter. I know it sounds bad to laugh at that sort of thing, but the young dancer was fine, as was the drum kit, and it was even funnier because of all the knights in shining armour who gallantly leapt to the young lady’s rescue, almost causing a further accident in their haste to render assistance.

And to the lady’s complete credit, she got straight back up again and carried on with the dance, bless her 🙂

Anyway, there we go. A lovely song with lots of happy and funny memories for me. Fiona loved it 🙂

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With Eyes For Only You

This entry is part 14 of 15 in the series Fiona

The other day I heard, for the first time, a song that has utterly blown me away: My God and King written by Shauna Chanda and sung beautifully by her on Terry MacAlmon’s worship album, The Sound of Heaven.

At the moment, I can’t listen to this song without my heart bursting with worship, and often even weeping with the sheer weight of glory that falls upon me. Only three or four times in my life so far has a song had this effect on me, (the main one I can remember being When I Look into Your Holiness in 1983) and this song, My God and King, is one of those songs. It’s been a long time since a song has had such a profound impact in me; I can feel the Spirit reaching in to the deep places of my heart as I sing or listen to it, and I feel Him minister His deep healing of the wounds I have received over the last three and a half years of Fiona’s illness and her passing. This song stirs up the deep spirit of worship within me like no other I have ever heard, and in that worship is my healing in God’s Presence.

Fiona at our son’s wedding, September 2009

I love how the song describes that, for the worshipper, to see God face to face and to be with Him would be their dream come true. And this is partly why I have included this in Fiona’s series – because indeed her dream has come true and she now sees God face to face, and worships Him there. Her heart longed to be with Him. She never heard this song on this earth, but I bet she’s singing it right now! I can imagine her lovely soprano voice singing it; she would have loved this song, it’s exactly the kind of song she loved best. A beautiful love song of worship where I declare, and live out, that I have eyes for only my Jesus, my God and King – even, and especially, through the storms of life.

So, with this in mind, here’s the brilliant Shauna Chanda singing her song, with the inimitable Terry MacAlmon on piano. It is my prayer as I write this that this song will bring healing to you too, in whatever area you need it:

 

My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

My God and King
To You alone I sing
You’re the face I seek
For all eternity

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

My God and King
Through the storm I sing
Covered by Your wing
This song of love I bring

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You’d be my dream come true
Just to be with You
How I’d see brand new
With eyes for only You

You are my dream come true
Just to be with You
Now I see brand new
With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

With eyes for only You

I have eyes for only You

– Shauna Chanda

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Lucy’s Song

This entry is part 13 of 15 in the series Fiona

Here’s another spontaneous post about Fiona, my lovely wife who tragically passed away from cancer last October.

What makes this post really special is that I am featuring a song in which Fiona is actually singing. Fiona recorded very few songs, I don’t really know why we didn’t really record much music together; I guess we were both always completely spontaneous 🙂

So, this is a lovely little number called ‘Lucy’s Song‘, by Heather Pope, and we discovered the song on an obscure little tape called ‘Celebration – Things of Beauty’, (recorded in the 70’s) while Fiona was at University in 1982. The track I am presenting here is Fiona’s cover of that song recorded in July 1985. What’s especially wonderfully prophetic with this cover of Lucy’s Song is that it’s as if Fiona recorded it, half a lifetime ago, for our grand-daughter Lucy, who’s now 7. Lucy loved her Nanny Fe and was heartbroken when she died. This song is Fiona’s legacy to Lucy, telling her that despite life’s storms, and despite her Nanny Fe not being there for her, still her loving Heavenly Father holds her closely in His hands.

I think this is a song that Lucy will treasure.

I apologise that the backing track is a little out of tune; this is because this was one of my dad’s early forays into four-track portable studio recordings, as I said, in 1985, which back then was all done by adjusting the tape speed to retune the tracks, and it appears he got it a little wrong. But the vocals are the focal point here; Fiona’s voice is the higher, purer soprano while the lower, more smoky and husky voice is her best friend, Cath. Their voices always went so well together and it always amazed me that I should be so privileged to be able to make music with these two superb vocalists. Here we go then: Lucy’s Song, vocals by Fiona and Cath, backing instrumentals by Johnny Douglas (my dad’s stage name):

Lucy, when the sky is cloudy, smile
Lucy, when your mind is racing, rest awhile
For there is time for all you long for, time for so much more
And every day’s a new beginning for you

As the springtime turns to summer, so you’re changing day by day
And the rain has come to water all the land
And the drops of life fall heavy, sometimes they’re hard to understand
But your Loving Heavenly Father holds you closely in His Hand

Lucy, when you don’t know what you’re thinking
Lucy, when you feel that life’s too hard
Remember to give your cares and worries to the One Who loves you so
For every day He’s walking close to you

As the springtime turns to summer, so you’re changing day by day
And the rain has come to water all the land
And the drops of life fall heavy, sometimes they’re hard to understand
But your Loving Heavenly Father holds you closely in His Hand

Yes, your Loving Heavenly Father loves you and understands!

Lovely!

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Speechless

It’s not like me to be lost for words.

But I have just been to see the movie, ‘The Shack’, which was released to movie theatres here in the UK only last Friday.

And I am a complete and total wreck.

Let’s just say I didn’t take enough tissues in my pockets.

I can’t really say much more just now, except just that the film definitely did the book justice.

And it is completely unsurprising that The Shack in either/both of its iterations is offensive to the Religious. In this film is freedom, joy, release, forgiveness, healing; the exact antithesis, in fact, of the suffocating strictures of human Rules about God and how to approach Him.

But, less of that. If you haven’t already done so, let me encourage you in the strongest possible terms to go see this movie.

It will change the way you see life – forever!

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Cloud Dancing, May 2017

The other day I took the PA-38 Tomahawk ‘Romeo-Romeo’ (so called because of the phonetic alphabet rendering of the last two letters of her registration ‘Golf- Romeo Victor Romeo Romeo’) up for a dance among the clouds. The idea is that you find some medium-altitude clouds, and use them as a point of reference around which to throw the aeroplane. Turning, rolling, swooping, soaring, climbing and diving – the feeling of freedom is huge, and the scenery (both of the clouds and the beautiful Devon landscape) is spectacular. Sometimes you fly so close to the clouds that it feels as if your wingtip is grazing the brilliant white vapour and you feel like you could simply reach out and touch the clouds themselves.

So, today I present a photo record of my recent cloud dancing flight. All of the pictures are clickable to give you the full-size, zoomable detailed picture. I hope you enjoy them!

This is Romeo-Romeo, prepped for flight and raring to go. Preflight check completed and everything is ready.
Here’s where the fun begins…

Yes, that is Auntie Betty’s Headset sitting on top of the instrument panel, along with my kneeboard and flying gloves…

There are fewer more thrilling, evocative sights than this. Lined up and cleared for takeoff on Runway 26 at Exeter. The adventure begins…
Five minutes after take-off. North end of the Exe estuary and Topsham.
Here I dipped the starboard wing to get a better view of Topsham and the Exe M5 motorway bridges
Exmouth and the seaward end of the Exe Estuary
A good view of Starcross and Dawlish Warren. Shaldon, Babbacombe Bay and Hope’s Nose, Torquay visible in the distance
Rainbow over Dawlish Warren, looking towards Exmouth from the Kenton area.
Torbay coming into view in the distance.
Teignmouth Golf Course with the Teign estuary behind.
Heavy squall near Newton Abbot. I will be avoiding that…
Despite the dark cloudbase and squalls, the visibility today was actually immense. You could see for miles.
Another view showing the excellent visibility.
Chudleigh from 2,000ft.
Time for some cloud dancing. At 3,500ft near Newton Abbot I found these little beauties. They will do nicely for my proposed activity today. When you go cloud dancing, the aeroplane feels like an extension of your own body; the instruments an extension of your senses. There is a real feeling of being ‘in the Zone’; at one with your machine and you can feel the airflow over the wings and fuselage, you can feel the whole thing…there really is nothing like it.
…and some more clouds too. You can tell that I am clawing for more height by the wing angle… Things got a little busy from here on in: swooping, banking, rolling, climbing, diving, skimming the cloud tops and ducking under them, flying through valleys of cloud. Too busy to use the camera, unfortunately. Cloud dancing involves both hands and both feet working the stick, throttle and rudder respectively; this isn’t aerobatics but sometimes it feels as if it is…you need to maintain the ‘energy loading’ of the aeroplane (this is a combination of airspeed, altitude and engine power) and keep a close eye and feel on what the aeroplane is doing. Because the Tomahawk can ‘bite’ quite viciously at low speeds around the stalling speed, you want to stay away from there as much as you can, and this means maintaining a high airspeed. This is especially important when performing tight turns because the margin of airspeed above the stalling speed decreases, due to the stall speed increasing with the square root of the g-loading. So, for example, if you’re pulling 2’g’, the stall speed becomes 1.414 (the square root of 2) times what it normally is. So for a clean stall speed of around 50kt, at 2’g’ you’re looking at about 71 or 72 kt. You really need to keep an eye on things and maintain at least 90kt for the whole thing, and this demands your full attention. Certainly there are no hands free, nor brain cells available, for operating a camera! My apologies…
‘Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . ” Cloud so close you could reach out and touch it…
Cloud dancing finished, plenty of altitude left at 3,800ft.
View down the River Teign from nearly 4,000ft.
Oh, all right then, one last go….More clouds to dance around! These clouds were treated to a powered dive through a valley of cloud between them. The impression of speed is awesome, at about 120kt (that’s about 137mph).
And here’s Romeo-Romeo back on the ground. Thanks for the flight, dear lady. See you next time…
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The Heavenly Perspective

This entry is part 12 of 15 in the series Fiona

To be honest, I was at a loss for what to write for my regular 25th-of-the-month article about Fiona. Over the three weeks or so before writing this piece, (which was actually written about ten days before it was published), I have been quite fed up; I’ve certainly not been my usual buoyant, optimistic self! It’s mainly because a number of occurrences and circumstances have together reminded me especially of the permanence – at least for this life – of my loss of that amazing lady. We were very close and we shared everything. And so, I am missing her so much, and there is this huge gap that she left in every area of my life. And of course there are the huge gaps in the lives of all the people who loved her. We lost a real treasure on that day, seven months ago today.

And yet, as I have shared previously, I know she is in the presence of her Lord Jesus. She is in an amazing place where she has her animals, she can worship the Lord face to face – and she is most likely part of that great crowd of people in Heaven that I mentioned in my previous post*.

Let’s look at them again:

“And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Rev 15:3-4)

Those are people who can see that God’s purposes in History were all part of His Great Plan, on a level and of a complexity that we cannot even begin to fathom. As I’ve said before, we can only gain an inkling in this life of how that all works, what the answers are to Life’s Big Questions. But these guys have what you might call the Heavenly Perspective – they can see what’s really been going on all this time, and, like I said before, they worship God in response to what they have seen!

Now, think of it like this: I too – and you – are also in that great multitude. And so,  you see, it means that we too can live today from within that Heavenly Perspective that our ‘future selves’ will know. Part of bringing the Kingdom into today, part of our eternal life in the here-and-now, is surely to bring that Heavenly Perspective into our lives, and the lives of others we meet, today. Jesus said that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2). This meant that wherever Jesus was, so there the Kingdom was. He was bringing forward, into the lives of the people around Him, the glories and benefits of the Kingdom of Heaven. And because Jesus lives in us by His Spirit, that same Kingdom is here with us right now, in our everyday lives. All we really need to do is to realise this!

Now, we know that one day we will be singing with that great crowd, in the full knowledge of God’s huge creative and redemptive genius throughout history, where we will see that even those things that bother us now were but a part of that huge tapestry of interconnected events that all worked out in the end. We will in fact have that Heavenly Perspective. We too will see how it all worked; how that great Plan happened and how it all came together.

And so, because we will see that perspective then, why not pre-empt that and live in that knowledge now? We know even now that, one day, we will know in completeness what everything was all about (1Cor 13:12) like those in that great crowd, why not today join with our ‘future selves’ in their knowledge that it’s all great, and actually just fine and dandy. You can imagine our ‘future selves’ thinking wryly (because there will be no regret in Heaven!) “Oh if only I’d had that perspective back then!” But we can indeed have that perspective right now!

I hope this makes sense; it is a bit metaphysical, and I know as well as the next guy that it’s hard to maintain a ‘Heavenly Perspective’ when life is burning us and we are still in the flames of whatever troubles we are going through. Believe me, I have been through the fire these past three years; I have walked the walk, and the talk I am talking is based on what I have learned over that time.

But, you know, the Scripture speaks of ‘Treasure in jars of clay’ (2 Cor 4:7) – something immeasurably valuable in ordinary human bodies. It speaks of us having the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, a downpayment if you like, to guarantee the things that are to come (2Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14). This is what powers the Life in the Spirit.

What does this life look like? Well, I have written a piece on this here, but I will summarise by saying that there is joy, there is healing, there is power, there is love, there is freedom from bondage, freedom from religious Rules, freedom from the power of sin, freedom from addiciton, freedom from the fear of death; there is the overriding sense of God’s Presence that gives this immense ‘peace that passes understanding’ (Phil 4:7) – a peace that is beyond understanding because it cannot be explained in terms of worldly circumstances. And beyond all that, there is this:

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” ” (John 11:25-26)

Sounds as if Jesus is contradicting Himself, doesn’t it? But He’s not. He’s using the old Hebrew poetry device where two concepts are matched together to reveal a deeper truth. What He meant was that when we die, we will still live. He’s talking about the ‘afterlife’, if you like. And He reinforces this by saying that when a living person like you or I believes in Him, we will not die, since He has already explained that we will still live even after death. So, in a totally real way (not just ‘in a sense’, as I was going to write), this means that once you believe in Him, your life will be one amazing, long walk with Him through this life and, without pause, into the next. Jesus says it quite plainly, in fact, in John 5:24, where He says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life”. Did you see that? A believer has already crossed over from death to Life! It happens now. This is the assurance that Christians have. This is the assurance that Fiona had, and now knows in full measure. This is the Gospel, or at least a huge part of it. Passing through the veil of death at the end of a believer’s life here on earth is merely the moving on into the fuller, complete life we have been just starting to get used to, during our lives here. This is simply amazing stuff; it’s the sort of thing you can build your entire life on (Matthew 7:24).

This is the inheritance of the Saints (that’s you and me and Fiona) – eternal life beginning now, and continuing for ever. How’s that for Good News! Of course, the thing with an inheritance, remember, is that it’s something you get in this life because of Someone who has died. Go figure!

So, as the old hymn goes:

“Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine and ten thousand besides!”

Wow!

And so, in the light of my opening lines here about being fed up, even just writing this piece has buoyed my spirit again. It has reminded me once again of all the mighty promises in God that are mine – and yours – to hold and to use. I needed to regain that perspective. And I have.

Even now, for the things I have already seen in my life and in the lives of others, I can still worship God for what He’s done already, very much like those people in Heaven.(Psalm 145:4).

So, I am asking God to increase my awareness of the Heavenly Perspective, like the one that Fiona and our ‘future selves’ have. It’s very much a foretaste of what is to come!

And for such great things as these, what better response than worship? Let me leave you, then,  with a great song based on the words those saints are singing – The Song of Moses:

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb
Saying Great, great and marvellous are Your works, Lord God Almighty
Just and true are Your ways Lord, O King of the Saints
Who shall not fear You O Lord

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb
Saying Great, great and marvellous are Your works, Lord God Almighty
Just and true are Your ways Lord, O King of the Saints
Who shall not fear You O Lord

Hallelujah, O Hallelujah!

Be blessed!


Header picture shows Fiona on the South-West Coast Path overlooking St. Mary’s Bay, Brixham, on a glorious Devon spring day. We are so blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the country, and Fiona always loved this walk. If Heaven is anything like Devon – and I believe that everything beautiful on this earth is a pale reflection of the glory and reality of Heaven – then it will be glorious indeed.


*I know that the Book of Revelation is not intended to be taken entirely literally. But there are still passages in that book that nevertheless show a glimpse of things indescribable to the human mind, through the use of metaphysical imagery. Basically it’s the best that John (the writer of Revelation) could do given the limited descriptive powers at his disposal – the same limits that you or I would come up against even today, were we to try to describe the inexpressible things he saw in his vision. And so, I have no problem in setting aside some of the more weird imagery in that book until such a time as Holy Spirit makes its meaning clear to me, while at the same time getting to grips with those parts – like the passages in this piece – for which I feel I have sufficient revelation (no pun intended; I hate puns!) to make a decent case for my insight in this piece.


[Edit: Not long after I wrote this post, there was a terrible terrorist suicide bomb attack on a crowded arena in Manchester. It was at an Ariane Grande concert; 22 people at least lost their lives and many more were injured, many of them young people and children. I don’t know why these things happen. But it is my sincere wish that people from such bereaved families find this post and take comfort from it. It’s easy to say this now, but, believe me, one day it will all make sense. I say that not from a callous heart but from one that has been through the same kind of fire. Jesus loves you. God loves you. Rest in the knowledge that your loved one(s) are being held gently in God’s arms. If you want to contact me about this, please do so and you’ll find the contact link in the menus at the top of the page. Or post a reply below.]

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Controlled Flight Into Terrain

‘Controlled Flight Into Terrain’ (or CFIT) is the number-one cause of fatal aircraft accidents in the UK. That is to say, the pilot has not lost control of his aircraft – he is still completely in control – but the aeroplane is destroyed by a collision with the ground. How can this happen? Far and away the most common cause of this sort of accident is where the Pilot flies into a cloud* at low level, and that cloud just happens to have a solid centre. So, something like a mountain, a hill, a radio mast, that sort of thing. Pilots have a name for that sort of cloud; we call it ‘cumulogranite’. Invariably, the aeroplane loses such an argument, but, of course, the simple answer is to avoid flying into cloud at all, never mind at low level. My Pilot’s licence does not allow me to fly in cloud anyway, so it’s a no-brainer.

So, for me, a CFIT accident should never happen.

Or so you would have thought.

Let me tell you the brief story of a rare ‘hairy moment’ I managed to contrive a bit back, that could have become a CFIT but for my decisive action.

While flying one of the Piper Tomahawks from my local Flying Club in Devon, I decided to perform a ‘Practice Forced Landing’, or ‘PFL’ for short. As described in this article, it’s where you pretend that the hamster has died** and the engine has therefore failed, so you need to practice the unpowered glide down towards a suitable field. But you don’t actually land there, as you would do in a real emergency; no, once you think you’d have made it, you open the throttle again and climb away.

Now, I have only been flying from this airfield in Devon for a year or so. For the previous few years, I have been flying over the gently rolling, undulating Cornish countryside. The Devon countryside is similar, but we do have at least one giant ridge, called Haldon Hill, which rises several hundred feet out of the western side of the Exe Valley. Oh and there’s the huge, high plateau of Dartmoor as well, but that doesn’t figure in this story. Most of the time, though, Haldon Hill is not a problem because we fly at 2,000 feet or higher, so the Hill is well below us.

But for a PFL, by definition, you do go down low and fly pretty close to the ground. You are pretending you’re going to land, after all.***

So, on this particular occasion, I ‘failed’ the engine at 2,000ft at a randomly-chosen time and chose a field a few miles west of Starcross on the Exe estuary (‘randomly-chosen time’ because you don’t look for a nice big field and then fail the engine once you’ve found one; in real life, the engine would likely fail with little or no warning and you wouldn’t have that luxury). A nicely-sized triangular field on a slight uphill slope (this helps slow the plane down once you’ve landed) and directly into wind, and with a farm next to it. In real life that would have been the perfect place to land. And, also noting that Haldon Hill was well clear a good few miles away to the west so that should be fine; there was plenty of space for me to climb away so I don’t hit it.

So, I conducted the PFL drill and got down to about 300ft. I wanted to go a little lower than normal – usually no lower than 500ft above ground level – to see what an open field looks like from a lower level. Having decided that, had that been a real forced landing, I would have survived, I selected full power and began the climb away. Looking up from the field, well I can’t say I went into a panic because I don’t do that, but right there in front of me, less than a mile away, was a bloody great big treeline – a ridge with loads of trees on it – and I was looking up at it! The top of the treeline was a good 250ft above me…

You see, because I had descended for the PFL from above the height of Haldon Hill, I had failed to see the treeline in the foreground and a mile beyond ‘my’ field, because it was well below Haldon Hill. It was down in the ‘ground clutter’, as it were, and as I was concentrating on the field and the landing procedure, I hadn’t seen the ridge under my ‘exit route’. I found out a few days later – by finding ‘my’ field on a map – that the treeline is a medium-sized copse near a wood called ‘Mamhead Big Wood’. Maybe it was called ‘Mamhead Little Copse’ or something. Well, whatever it was called, it certainly looked like it was living up to the larger name right now, Mamhead Big Wood or not, and not only that but it was above me! and it was also getting closer. With less than a mile to run, low on airspeed because I was just recovering from the descent and getting rid of the drag flaps and also nose-up as well (which reduces the acceleration), and not yet at best climb speed, I knew I was going to have to do something pretty decisive. Low on airspeed, altitude and ideas, this is a situation we Pilots call ‘tumbleweed’ for obvious reasons. No way was I going to gain sufficient height to clear ‘Mamhead Little (but getting bigger) Copse’ in the time available.

Adopting the only course left open to me, I decided to turn gently right – again, in a climb, your turning is restricted too because turning uses ‘lift’ from the wings, and when you are climbing you are using most of that already – so the gentle right turn brought me northwards and parallel to the ridgeline. With that terrain feature now to my left, I now had plenty more space to complete the recovery manoeuvre. CFIT avoided.

Map showing my PFL flightpath. Dotted line shows the gliding descent, ‘my’ target field is the triangular one marked with the blue ‘X’, and the climbout escape path is shown as a curving solid line. Arrowheads give direction of travel. ‘Mamhead Big Wood’ visible to the left of the map, but actually it is on the reverse slope into the next valley; the problem wood was that smaller copse to the east. Look at those contour lines; each one of those is 5 metres more altitude…but also see how the land drops away again west of the ridge through Mamhead Big Wood. Scale: Large blue grid square – 1km

So, I learned from this that I should only really do a PFL in properly rolling countryside; I know now that the area between the Exe estuary and Haldon Hill is a tricky complex of ridgelines, slopes and forests which is not good terrain in which to practice forced landings. I have no doubt I would get a plane down in that area safely should the real thing happen, but for practice? Not good, because the exit routes are potentially not good. When you’re trained to do PFLs, you’re trained to look out for certain types of field: fairly level or with a slight upslope; big enough to land in with enough space to stop before you hit the far hedge; into wind and hopefully not into the sun (but the wind direction is more important); hopefully a reasonably smooth and firm ground surface; preferably near to civilization so you can get a cup of tea while you wait for the AA to come out; and no obstructions like trees or power lines on the approach path. But nobody ever mentioned the escape routes. The vast majority of the time, you are going to be doing these sorts of things for practice only, so it’s not just a matter of ‘would I have got into the selected field safely’, but also ‘can I get out again once I have completed the PFL exercise?

The day a Pilot stops learning is the day he should stop flying. I’m glad to say that I learned from this event; I got in some good practical and real-time decision-making, and I lived to tell the tale. I wouldn’t say that the event was necessarily dangerous, but it was what we might call ‘marginal’; not much room for error and very much dependent on my skill, experience and knowledge of my aircraft in order to resolve it satisfactorily.

I’m probably going to drive over and have a closer look at ‘Mamhead Big Wood’ and ‘Mamhead Little Copse’ sometime. I would say that it’s in order to see what it looks like from the ground, but I would think that I can make a pretty-well informed guess about that already, don’t you? 😉


*The number two cause of fatal aircraft accidents is ‘loss of control in IMC’ (‘IMC’ meaning ‘Instrument Meteorological Conditions’ or, again, cloud), that is, the Pilot gets into cloud, gets disorientated, and loses control of the aircraft. Again, very rare and easily avoided (because we’re not supposed to fly into cloud for that very reason), but still worth bearing in mind.

**Everyone knows that light aeroplane engines are powered by a hamster running on a little wheel, under the engine cowling; this makes the propeller go round very fast.

***People sometimes ask me “How low can you fly in those aeroplanes of yours? How close to the ground can you go?” To which, of course, the only correct answer is, “All the way down. It’s called “landing” ‘ 😉


Header image shows Piper PA-38 Tomahawk G-RVRR, callsign ‘Romeo-Romeo’, one of the two Tomahawks I fly.

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My Glory and the Lifter of My Head

This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series Fiona
“But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” – Psalm 3:3 (KJV)

I have had a new breakthrough in the area of worship.

Since losing my lovely wife Fiona to cancer last October, my soul should have been downcast (Ps 42:5). But, as I have said in a previous post, yes I have been grieving, and yes there have been heartbreak and tears, but my soul is not downcast within me. That which is ‘me’, my personality, my ‘self’, has not been destroyed. It is well with my soul! My worship life; my closeness to the God of all Comfort, has kept me afloat, kept me sane, kept me in joy. Not that I can claim credit for that; I have to say that the worship is my natural response to His closeness; the initiative, as it were, lies entirely with Him. It’s my choice to worship in response to that love, of course, but how can I not? Being surrounded and, yes, almost ‘padded’ by that Love, what other response can I possibly make?

As a worship leader from the Charismatic renewal era, I have led/sung (and still do!) certain types of song hundreds of times: those that express a longing, a hunger for God, for His presence. I suppose they are, for me, an expression of the longing in my heart for more of Him. Because, for me, He is the Centre of everything, I just want more and more. And yet He’s always right there, all the time. I suppose I just mean with those songs that I never want that Presence to leave me. It’s quite interesting in that God is so ‘present’ (although I know He’s ‘everywhere’) in the places where it appears that there is no God. So, in tragedy, suffering and heartache of all kinds, He’s right there. What we need to do is to develop a consciousness, an awareness, of that Presence.

A couple of months ago, someone at our Lifegroup (housegroup) said, “How can you lead worship like that after all you’ve been through?” And the answer is, really, “how can I not?” Worshipping Jesus has kept my focus on Him and that’s been my lifesaver. And so, like in the story I linked to above (here it is again), I have had those heavenly worship times where everything just fades into the background in the Light of His Presence. The troubles and grief are still there, but they are put into the correct perspective by the worship; I am reminded again of the primacy of Jesus and the sovereignty of God; I know He is in charge and this is just so profound.

But now, the worship seems to be taking a new course. Rather than simply affirming the worship of Heaven in my life, and showing me in some small way what Fiona is experiencing in the Presence of God, He’s now letting me see more and more of who I am in Him, Who He is to me, what He’s done for me and what I have in Him. 2Pet1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”. And He has. He gives power for life, He gives freedom from sin, He gives the peace that passes all understanding. He’s lifted my head, and He continues to do so. All the things that happen in my life now, I face from a place of complete rest and confidence in Him. This is the state of Grace; where God’s undeserved favour (in that I have had to do nothing in order to ‘gain’ or ‘earn’ it) is present in blessing and Divine Presence.

And He is the one Who is indeed the Lifter of my head. When the grief and the sadness make me want to drop my head, chin to my chest, He’s the One Who lifts it back up again, to let me gaze on His Face. He’s the One Who lifts my aching heart and fills it with such indescribable joy, bubbling over; the reassurance of His Presence. And this is all so real to me; it hardly seems fair that one man should be given such blessing. As a friend of mine said a few years ago, we had such a life-changing experience of God in our early Christian lives that for Fiona and I, this was the norm. When worship was happening, we were in the thick of it. The Presence of God is so real, so tangible, it’s simply amazing.

And so I want to share this brilliant Terry MacAlmon song, My Glory and the Lifter of My Head. Especially magnificent in this song is the spine-tingling solo by Liz Gustafson, “When the terror of the enemy | Seems to rise all around me | Still I, I will not be afraid | Oh, For there is One greater | He’s my shield and my defender | And He will stand beside me till that day!”

For the reader who does not yet know what it feels like to be in God’s Presence, may I encourage you to ask Him to make Himself real to you today. Be a part of this. Enter into this joy that is just so available to you. Let this song minister the truth of the reality of God into your spirit; let Him breathe his new life into you.

Here we go, then. This is a really great song. Be blessed as you listen!

You’re my glory
And the lifter of my head
You’re my glory
And the lifter of my head
For Thou, O Lord, are a shield for me
My glory and the lifter of my head

When the terror of the enemy
Seems to rise all around me
Still I, I will not be afraid
Oh, For there is One greater
He’s my shield and my defender
And He will stand beside me till that day

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Do Animals Go To Heaven?

This entry is part 10 of 15 in the series Fiona

Six months ago today, one of this world’s brightest lights went out when my gorgeous wife Fiona left us.

In the light of my former post in this series, in which C. S. Lewis describes ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’, a saintly lady in Heaven who had amongst her train of followers many animals that she had loved and befriended during her life – and who reminded me of Fiona – I thought it time to address the problem: Do animals go to Heaven? The Bible is silent on this issue, so what does happen to them? And my daughter lost her pet rat this month, when he lost his battle with a probable brain tumour. So, for us, it’s a pretty topical subject.

And, as we are an animal-loving family, I thought it might be an idea to discuss on here whether indeed animals will join us in Heaven, especially those who are our animals.

Why is this post part of my ‘Fiona’ series? Well, a few weeks before my wife Fiona died (can’t believe it’s six months ago today that we lost her), she had a real-life, solid waking vision of what was awaiting her when she passed away. I will not go into details, but I will say that the vision involved animals. Part of Fiona’s reward includes animals, very much like ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’. And Fiona loved her animals, and would it not be fitting if her animals were waiting to welcome her when she arrived there? Because I am indeed convinced that she went to be with her animals as well as with her Lord, I have today published this blog post. In this piece, then, I examine ideas about our animals being with us – and with Fiona right now – in Heaven.*

This is the majestic and regal Bruno, our third Shepherd, in 2008. He passed away a year later, in his prime, at the early age of 8, due to spinal problems.

Certainly the Bible mentions animals in the Kingdom. Things like, ‘the lion shall lie down with the lamb’ and similar passages speaking of the peace of the Kingdom to come. And, while the Bible is very quiet on the ‘eternal fate’ of animals, there is the sense from reading the Bible that hints that, as humans are redeemed, so Creation as a whole is redeemed too on the back of our redemption. It’s all a bit mysterious, is that, but the concept certainly is there. Like in Romans 8:19, “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” It’s as if, once the saints come into their inheritance, Creation follows suit. I think Heaven is going to be full of animals!

In my research for this piece, I found many websites that kind-of abstract the whole thing about animals in Heaven. They talk about animals not being able to ‘accept Christ’; not being able to ‘understand salvation’, all that kind of thing. They miss out entirely the idea I mentioned above, that creation longs for the sons of God to be revealed. For the time when everything will be made right. In a sense, we understand salvation on their behalf, and it is through our life in Christ that they too are ‘saved’. Clearly, many of these writers have never known the love and affection of a devoted family pet, or the close relationship of a working animal with its master. Like a draft horse, a Police dog, or similar. When Jesus said that ‘he who loses his life will keep it for life eternal’, there is a hint there that everything you are, everything that formed a part of you, everything that your animals were to you, everything good about your life here on Earth, all that will somehow be caught up and included in your life in Heaven. And so it is my belief that this fully includes your animals. The animals to whom you show love and self-giving, with whom you form a loving relationship.

Bruno

Also, the great Christian thinker and writer I mentioned above, C. S. Lewis, wrote that in his opinion, the ‘higher’ animals, such as dogs, cats and horses, almost seemed to have a ‘soul’. And therefore, at least some of the animal kingdom would be in Heaven. They have characters; they have personalities. They have intelligence, they have emotions and feelings. Sammy, my daughter’s rat, had a bright, sunny personality; he could do tricks, he knew his name and would come when called. He loved my daughter and you could tell that he knew she loved him. There was real intelligence and, yes, consciousness there. In other words, these animals are, in their own way, persons, and as such, that is what is redeemed. And the redemption idea was what Lewis was strongly hinting at in the ‘Sarah Smith’ passage quoted in my article. Zeus, my German Shepherd dog (he’s the dog in the header picture) is a person – there’s no doubt about it. Those who would sneer at this and accuse me of anthropomorphising Zeus’s behaviour (superimposing human traits onto an animal) don’t have a clue; they have never met him. He’s a person all right. My daughter, in fact, pointed out today that actually animals are, in a sense, far more Godly than we are because they love unconditionally, and forgive easily. And that they don’t have the same ‘walls’ that we have, whether self-erected or not. I read once – it may have been in Lewis, it may not – that animals live actually in the constant, conscious awareness of God. That’s something we cannot know, of course, but I do think there’s something in that; this is maybe why dogs and other pets are used as therapy visitors in hospitals, where they have such marked positive effects on the patients they visit.

And there’s more, this time from personal experience. I remember when we lost our first German Shepherd dog, Jasper, in 1994 (as mentioned in this piece). Fiona had a vision of him jumping up into Jesus’s lap and licking His face. (How Jasper got away with that, I don’t know; we never used to let him lick our faces!). As with all of the visions Fiona had, it was very real, almost like a solid vision, a ‘real dream’. But she saw it, all right. I saw her burst into tears of joy when she saw that picture…it wasn’t until after the meeting we were in that she told me what she’d seen. I’m convinced it was a real God-given vision, by its fruits of peace, joy and hope that it produced. We will see Jasper in Heaven. Well, we have already seen Jasper in Heaven!

This next bit is relevant, so bear with me! Christians speak about ‘Judgement Day’. For most, this is a terrifying concept where everyone’s secrets are laid bare so that God can ‘smite’ (whatever that means!) people for what they’ve done. Let me encourage you, then, for in fact the very opposite is true. God’s justice is, actually, everything being in right relationship, in its right place, ‘The way things should be’, we could say. And God’s judgement is not a heavenly court-room where we are all tried ‘for our sins’; instead, judgement is the means by which God’s justice is achieved; the process of righting all wrongs so that His justice comes into full fruition. That’s what Judgement and Justice mean.

God’s justice and His judgement are therefore restorational concepts, not punitive ones.

Like all Kingdom concepts, it is happening in the here and now wherever Christ’s followers bring Him into a situation. It is also what will happen at the ‘Last Judgement’ and at that point it will be brought to its completion. This is why I look forward to that judgement; I look forward to everything being restored to its proper order and in its proper place, with everyone in right relationship with God and with others. I look forward to everything that was ever wrong being made right, and every injustice set straight. I look forward to everything being ‘the way that it should be’. When viewed in that manner, ‘Judgement’ and ‘Justice’ take on a whole different meaning from that of the angry god taking out his ‘wrath’ on people, to one of a loving God who wants nothing less than peace and wholeness for everything He has made.

Why is this relevant to whether or not animals will be in Heaven? Well, you see, death is one of those things that is ‘wrong’; that needs to be put right. It’s just so hurtful, so damaging and so painful. And permanent too.

Except that it isn’t. Because Jesus rose from the dead, literally came back to life after being dead for days, it shows that in fact God has declared death defeated. Death no longer has the permanence it once had. ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory!’ (1Cor15:54 and Isa 25:7-8). And so death itself will be one of those ‘wrong’ things that will be done away with, for ever. So there is nothing to prevent all that our animals were to us, all the love and affection they gave and received, from being given back to us in the next life. Death is defeated; why should this not extend to our animals? God is just that kind of God, Who would do really ace stuff like that! 🙂

And so, if all that was ever wrong is put right, surely then the ‘wrong’, undeserved, sometimes untimely deaths of all these pets will be put right too. My daughter’s pet rat Sammy was only sixteen months old when he died. Rats are supposed to live for two to three years. It’s all wrong. But that too will be put right.

A very poorly Sammy, a few hours before we had to have him put to sleep.

What about animals that were not our pets? How about animals bred entirely for use as food? What about bugs, bacteria and whatnot? Where is the line drawn? Well, we can’t know for certain, of course. For an animal that does not mean all that much to us personally, like, say, a wild animal; an animal that does not ‘belong’ to someone as such; such an animal might be in Heaven, but not actually linked with anyone. I really don’t have any ideas on that, I’m afraid.

But let’s stick to what I do believe. I personally think that people’s pets or working animals – shall we say, ‘conscious’ animals with which we formed a mutually-beneficial relationship – I firmly believe that animals like those will be raised up with us as part of our inheritance as saints.

And finally, there’s this vitally important point too: God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4). This means that everything that ever upset you, everything that ever hurt you, everything will be made right and things will be just as if the bad stuff never happened! I have written about this before, and the same principle applies here. This is part of God’s restorative justice. It’s part of what will happen. The Bible is full of God’s promises to restore – “I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel and will rebuild them as they were at first.” – (Jer 33:7); “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” – (Joel 2:25). Granted, many of these prophecies were regarding the restoration of Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon, but the heart of God is still to restore. Restoring: putting things back where they belong; giving them back; restoring relationship – including those with our beloved pets.

So, animals in Heaven. Why not? Given the generous and, moreover, restoring nature of God, and that He loves to surprise us and bless us with every good thing, and given that Heaven will be better than anything and everything we could ever have dreamed, why not?

Do our pets go to Heaven?
Yes! They do!!

*And part of the reason for this post is that, in this series, I explore various ideas about the ‘afterlife’ and the grieving process of losing a loved one. Animals too are ‘loved ones’, so I felt for both reasons, and more, it was fitting to examine this topic as part of this series 🙂


The header picture shows my magnificent German Shepherd dog, Zeus. He’s a gentle giant whom we adopted at fifteen months old. When we got him he was a bit of a sad case who was terrified of men (we think he’d been abused by his previous owner), he hadn’t been socialised with other dogs, and he was generally not well-trained at all. After four to six months with us, he’d turned into the most placid, gentle, obedient dog you could wish for. He now gathers a fan club wherever he goes; everyone wants to stroke him and have pictures taken with him (especially Japanese people for some reason). He’s 9 now and weighs in at 55kg, by far the biggest German Shepherd we have owned, even bigger than Bruno. Here he is again, on the beach at Porthcothan in north Cornwall (and the photo is clickable to magnify it):


[Edit] – A shortened version of this post was also published on the ‘Unfundamentalist Christians’ blog on the Patheos website. Click here to see it on that site.

[Edit 24th June 2017] – yesterday, our beloved Zeusy went to be with his Mum. He died completely unexpectedly; in the morning he was welcoming visitors and doing his walk and stuff, and within twelve hours he was gone. Naturally we are heartbroken but, as I am sure you’ve worked out by now, we believe that he’s gone to be with Jesus and his Mum. I look forward to the exuberant welcome he will give me when it’s my turn…

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Auntie Betty’s Headset

Sadly, my Auntie Betty died last year (she was 90!), and she kindly bequeathed me a money gift in her Will.

I always like to use a bequest to buy something that will remind me of the person who left me the gift. So, for example, a few years ago my godfather Geoff died and left me £250. We used that money to buy an awning for our caravan, which was very fitting as Geoff was an avid caravanner. And so we think of him when we use the caravan and the new awning.

Since my Auntie Betty was involved with building Lancaster aeroplanes during the War, I decided to buy an aviation-related item with her gift. And so I bought myself a new flying headset. I have been flying light aeroplanes for over 20 years and, up until now, I had never yet got myself my own headset, instead using flying club headsets which are often less than perfectly functional.

The purpose of the headset is four-fold: a) to shield the ears from the loud noise of the engine; b) to enable intercom communication with passenger(s) in the aeroplane; c) to let me converse with the air traffic controllers and other helpful agencies on the ground; and d) most importantly, to help me to build up a picture of what’s happening in the area in which I am flying, up here in the sky and on the ground too (aircraft about to take off, that sort of thing). This is what’s known as ‘Situational Awareness’, or ‘SA’; a skill that takes time to develop and which is vital to survival in the air. SA is basically knowing what you’re doing, where you are, and what’s going on around you. It is gained by a combination of visually searching the sky for other aircraft; keeping an eye on the weather, cloudbase and wind direction; being aware of the condition of the aircraft (fuel state, engine behaviour and so on) and of your own position, course, speed and altitude/height; listening to the radio chatter from other aircraft and relating their information to your own situation; liaising with radar controllers who perform a most useful service by providing an extra ‘pair of eyes’, and more*. And that of course is the part where the headset comes in.

So, here’s my new headset, a brand-new David Clark H10-60, a top of the line passive noise reduction headset which is the best you can get without going into active noise cancellation technology – but those types of headset cost nearly £1,000 and I have always found passive headsets like this one to be perfectly adequate for my kind of flying.

It came with free cotton ear covers (that’s the white speaker covers in the photo); these serve to keep the headset dry in use – flying an aeroplane can sometimes be hard work, and you can get quite sweaty at times! Also, there was a free case to store the headset in when not in use:

And I imagine my cousin Pete (Betty’s son) will be pleased with this idea, because he’s a Pilot too and will totally ‘get it’.

Here’s the headset in place. I don’t like doing selfies and prefer to avoid the limelight, but this one is kind of important as it is intended to show the headset in use. Granted it makes me look like a Cyberman off Doctor Who, a picture of which is included for comparison 😉

I have already flown the headset a good few times and I’m very pleased with it; it’s really effective, it is very comfortable and it’s clean, and of course it also reminds me of my Auntie Betty whenever I fly. Which was part of the idea, of course.

To me, it’ll always be ‘Auntie Betty’s Headset’.

Which is nice 🙂


*Unfortunately, SA is a skill that is all too lacking in many of today’s car drivers. Most of the idiots I see on the roads here in Devon are skilled at ‘Situational Unawareness’. They haven’t a clue what’s going on around them and probably don’t even know what song is playing on their stereo. It’s quite scary if you think about it. So I try not to 😉 In an aeroplane, they wouldn’t last thirty seconds…

No doubt there are drivers of the same calibre where you live 😉

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