Category Archives: Personal

The Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo

Most of my readers will know that I used to be a worship leader in a Charismatic-style church; we’d have ‘open worship’ with, as well as the singing, things like tongues, prophecy and other spiritual gifts. There’d be singing ‘in the Spirit’ too, and it was all most uplifting.

My particular setup was that I had an electronic keyboard/piano: a Roland JV-30, which at the time, and despite having only five octaves (thus limiting my pitch range capability), was pretty much state of the art.

The JV-30 does not have its own internal loudspeakers; it requires external amplification. In this case, and since we were using a public hall for our meetings, the keyboard’s output was piped over to a sound desk at the back, manned by a couple of teenage non-musician lads that we nicknamed (unsurprisingly) the ‘Sound Boys’.

We also had other musicians: three vocalists – myself, Fiona and Cathy; Steve, our bass player; and sometimes an acoustic guitarist. I won’t give any names for the guitarists because there were quite a few of them and we never really knew who we were going to get from one week to the next. And in addition to the keyboard, each of these ‘inputs’ – the microphones for the vocalists, Steve’s bass guitar, and my keyboard, plus any guitarist(s) we had (playing into an electronic pickup clipped to the guitar’s sound hole), also went into the sound desk, each input with its own dedicated channel, to be dominated controlled by the Sound Boys.

The relationship between the musicians and the Sound Boys was somewhat complex, and often pretty fraught*. I usually felt that the Sound Boys had the volume of the piano turned way too far down; this was long before we had any ‘foldback’ (a loudspeaker set up facing the instrumentalist so that they can hear what they are playing) so not only could I not really hear myself playing, but I also had to trust the Sound Boys that the congregation was able to hear what we were playing. They assured us that they could, but I was never fully convinced!

Sometimes they even used to mute my output channel completely, such as during the sermon, or if there were some prayers going on; or if for whatever reason they ‘thought’ (and that’s being generous) that the piano was not needed at that time. It was almost as if they didn’t trust me to handle my instrument correctly, and to not do a huge bloody great big ‘dead body in the bath’ chord in the middle of the notices.

And so it seemed that, despite our best efforts, all that we did as a band was subject to the power-crazed whims of the Sound Boys and their all-powerful sound desk. Whenever you lead public singing, you need to have quite a bit of, well, let’s call it ‘authority’, but I don’t mean it in a domineering kind of way; more a practical way. When you are leading 300-400 people in singing, you need to be heard, so that they can follow your lead. For example, sometimes the congregation’s timing goes a little off so you need to lead them back into time again. To do this, you’d boost your volume to emphasise the timing and allow people to hear what you are doing and to re-synchronise. Or maybe they have drifted off pitch (out of tune), but this is actually quite rare. The problem comes when you can’t lead the music properly because your sound volume is turned wayoooh-doooowwwwn and you don’t have the oomph; thanks a bunch, Sound Boys.

And so, I had to develop a little trick to let me lead properly and thwart the best efforts of the Sound Boys. I called it the ‘Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo’.

Here’s what you do.

Set the keyboard’s volume control to about 30-35%, and do all your sound checks from there. Begin the worship with the same volume setting; the Sound Boys will have set you at a moderate volume for the opening song, and hopefully they will boost you once the congregation join in and the general volume in the hall increases. So far, so good.

But let’s say that after a couple of verses, you realise that the congregation’s timing is drifting (possibly because of the low lead instrument volume – who’d ‘a thunk it?!), so it’s time to ‘assert your authority’ as lead musician and bring it all back together again for them. Your piano isn’t yet loud enough to re-establish the rhythm, so you’re going to need more volume; trouble is that the Sound Boys don’t realise this is what you need to do, and if you gently nudge your volume up, they will correspondingly gently nudge your channel volume down in response, and to show you who’s boss of course. So there’s no net effect on the volume and things get worse for the song being sung.

So, you don’t do it that gentle way. What you do is to whack your volume control slider up into afterburner – say about 90-100% setting…

Afterburners on a Typhoon fighter

…and this allows you to use that increased volume to stabilise the song’s rhythm or whatever it is that’s drifted. Before long, of course, the Sound Boys will have rumbled what you’re up to, and will have reacted to your gross misbehaviour by drastically racking your channel volume fader right back down again. By that time, though, they’re way too late and they’ve proper missed their boat; you have brought things back into line again, in musical terms, like you wanted to do. And that was easy. Just doing my job.

However, at this point, of course, the Sound Boys have solidly put you in your place; your channel volume is a long way down and your keyboard volume is maxed out, although nobody can tell because the net effect on your piano volume as heard by the congregation is unaffected, and no-one’s any the wiser apart from yourself and the Sound Boys, of course. So now you need somehow to recover that reserve power so that you can use it again, possibly soon. And this is the clever bit, and the part that gives the Yo-Yo its name.

While playing, and in a reverse of the actions that the Sound Boys would perform if you boosted your volume gradually, you reduce your keyboard volume equally gradually, say by about 10% per minute. Maybe you could do this after each verse of the song you are playing, especially if you’re varying your song’s dynamics, which disguises what you are doing very nicely. One hopes that the Sound Boys will notice that your volume is getting a bit low, so they will (ideally!) advance your channel volume bit by bit until they can hear you better.

You continue doing this until your keyboard volume slider is back at around 30-35% and then you can use your afterburner again as required. You have now restored your ‘volume reserve’ and it’s available for use once more. Lather, rinse and repeat.

And that’s the the Sound Boys’ Yo-Yo, so called because you move your volume slider up and down like a yo-yo.

Granted, if you are an instrumentalist in a similar position and you’re thinking about using this trick, remember that  your Sound Boys might have read this too, and therefore they will be wise to what you’re up to, but there’s nothing they can really do about it if they want the congregation to hear the piano at all.

Or maybe you’re extremely lucky and have Sound Boys that actually listen to you and provide the service you need. In which case, I envy you.

But it’s still a useful trick to have in your repertoire!


*Sound Boys, if you should read this, don’t worry, I forgave you a long time ago, and this is just humour, ok? 😉

 

00

‘Sully’

I’ve just finished watching the movie ‘Sully’, starring Tom Hanks as Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the airline pilot who landed his crippled Airbus 320 passenger jet on the Hudson River, New York, on 15th January 2009. (Can’t believe that’s nearly ten years ago!)

After a double engine failure due to multiple birdstrikes, Sully and his First Officer, Jeff Skiles, glided the jet down for a forced water landing, on to the Hudson River, in one piece and, despite several injuries being sustained, there were no fatalities. Of the 150 passengers and five crew aboard, all survived. Fittingly, it was known as the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’.

Well. What a superb movie.  It tells the story of the flight; what happened, the decisions of the crew, the investigation by the US NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and also a little about the people involved. While the NTSB investigation is not shown in a good light – the members of the investigation panel are more hostile than they were in real life – this only helped, I thought, to highlight just what an amazing job Sully and his team did.

It was technically (i.e. from an aviation point of view) perfect. So often, in movies like this one where aeroplanes are simulated using Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), the computer-generated aeroplanes fly nothing like the real thing. For a Pilot, it’s usually very painful to watch. But this was perfect. Also the other technical details were accurate too.

Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger

As my regular readers know, I fly aeroplanes for fun, and I often practice emergency situations, including simulated engine failures. I know how to cope with an engine failure, and I have over twenty years of flying experience to call on. I sincerely hope that, should the same sort of emergency situation happen to me as happened to Sully that day, that I too would manage to pull it off and land safely*. Mind you, not with 155 people on board…

Sully had been flying for twice as long as I have. I love the modest quotation from him that sums up the experience and training aspect of his amazing feat. He said, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

I personally think that the movie will also increase passenger confidence. Many people have a fear of flying, and seeing the professionalism of the aircrew on this movie is bound to help. Mind you, the sight of a flock of Canada geese knocking an airliner out of the sky is a bit worrying… Also, they go to great pains to explain that a forced landing is not a ‘crash’, as the media love to call it. It’s not even a ‘ditching’; it’s a forced water landing. One implies lack of choice. The other implies being in complete control. I’ll leave you to guess  which is which.

And there was so much to learn from a Pilot’s perspective. ‘Fly the aeroplane’ is the first rule of flying. Nothing else matters more than that. And the discipline; the calm, measured approach to handling the emergency checklist; the effect and benefit of experience and training; the ‘permission’, almost, that the movie gives to make split-second decisions based on that experience and training; the interaction between, and best use of, the crew of the aircraft; the liaison with ground controllers; the ability to ignore distractions. All excellent stuff, and yet accessible by the general, non-aviating public.

So, if you can see this film on Netflix or Amazon Prime, or whether you need to rent/buy a DVD or borrow one from a friend, definitely watch this movie. I heartily recommend it.

“Just doing my job”, said Sullenberger afterwards.

What a hero.


*A forced landing is one where due to loss or lack of engine power – still under full control, but like it or not, the aeroplane is coming down – and you just have to make sure it gets down in one piece. Look at it this way: well before I went on to flying powered aircraft, my flying career actually began on gliders. These are aeroplanes just like the ones I fly nowadays – but they have no engine. In a glider, then, you have a permanent ‘engine failure’.  When flying gliders, therefore, Every. Single. Landing. is a forced landing. Since I have about 70-80 flights in gliders under my belt, that means that I personally have performed 70-80 real forced landings. They are perfectly safe when you know what you’re doing!

20

What a Day That Will Be!

This entry is part 32 of 32 in the series Fiona

This is the most moving painting I have seen in a long time.

It’s called ‘First Day In Heaven’, by Egyptian artist Kerolos Safwat.

It moves me to tears just looking at it. Something snapped inside of me as I pondered this painting; something deep happened within my spirit.

That’s because this painting reminds me of a vivid picture that God gave me two years ago today: 25th October, 2016, the day my precious wife Fiona began her first day in Heaven. On that day, I saw a vision of her that I can’t describe, it was so simple, and yet so awesome and personal and such that I can’t communicate it, but suffice it to say that it was very similar to this one. And this is why I am using this painting in today’s blog post, marking the second anniversary of Fiona’s passing into that incredible place.

I mean, can you imagine what it must be like to be the lady in that picture? Look at that expression on her face!

It’s saying:

“Yes! It’s all true! Jesus, I love you so much! Thank You, thank You, thank You!”

“Wow, I feel so young again!”

“I’m out of pain! I’m whole! I’m alive!”

“I was so scared of dying…and this is just amazing!”

“I’m home!”

“YESSS!”

This lady can now see – with her own eyes – that everything is ok; everything is fine – in fact, it’s better than fine; better than she’d ever hoped for, better than she could ever imagine (1Cor 2:9-10). No matter what her sufferings in this life, she now has a completely new, whole, functioning, beautiful, heavenly body – and yet she’s still completely herself; more so, in fact, than she’s ever been . She is fully aware that the place she has entered is the most beautiful place she has ever seen: like Earth, like the world she was used to, but the colours are so much more vibrant, the air is sweet and clear, the temperature is just right, there are huge mountains, pastures, lakes and forests the like of which she has never even contemplated in her best imaginings. And, best of all, the Person she loves the most is right there!

The joy that she feels is indescribable. She never knew such joy was possible.  Alongside that joy, the greatest earthly ecstasy was just a dim, flickering glow. To see Jesus face to face, and know that she is now completely safe from danger, pain, horror, suffering, weeping (except maybe tears of joy) – it’s the ultimate healing.

She’s been looking forward to being reunited with her loved ones, and with countless other people from all ages and all civilisations throughout history; friends whom she hasn’t yet met. And now that’s going to happen. And she will be reunited with her beloved pets. Like Jesus, she has the ability to do just about anything she wants to do. She can pass through walls, she can enjoy food and drink, she can feel the warmth of His Presence all the time as a constant glow. She can see the full glory of God, and yet she’s so aware that there is all of eternity stretching out before her so that she can learn more and more of Him and His ways. To gain a full appreciation of an infinite Creator will require an infinite amount of time, and she’s got all the time she needs. Time will never again be a constraint on her life or on her activities.

Then there’s Divine justice. The Judgement, which holds so much fear for so many people, but not for our friend here. Divine judgement; Divine justice, is restorative, not adversarial nor punitive. All wrongs will be made right. Everything that was ever done to her that was unjust, undeserved, painful, heart-wrenching, agonising – all this will be made right and her hurts healed forever, to trouble her never again. God will wipe away every tear from her eyes (Rev 21:4). Everything will be made to be as it should be. All wrongs that she ever did to anyone else will be – has already been! – completely forgiven and forgotten (Is 43:25, Heb 8:12). She will have no more enemies, ever again. All her cares and worries are now in the past, and will stay there forever. No more arguments, no more conflicts, no more fighting, no more anguish, no more pain.

Imagine it. Eternity opens up before you, in its full glory and potential, rich in unlimited possibilities. Wow, wow, wow!

This is the promise that is for everyone. Life in God’s Presence, for ever and ever. Sure, there’s lots of people on the Internet (including myself) who remind us that ‘Jesus’s teaching was for this life, not for any kind of afterlife’. And yes that’s true too, because we don’t want to be ‘so heavenly-minded that we are no earthly use’! But the promise of the afterlife with Jesus is key to the Gospel. It takes away all fear (1Jn 4:18) and Jesus gives us His Spirit to guarantee what is to come (2Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14). Isn’t that awesome? It means that the joy that this lady feels in that painting, is the joy that you and I will also feel.

It seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? And if it was something on this earth, something someone was trying to sell us, then yes – it would be too good to be true. But you see the thing is, the Gospel – that God loves us, He’s not mad at us, and He wants us to spend time with Him – is almost too good to be true, except that God is the One who can make good on His promises – to the point that if it isn’t too good to be true, then it’s not the Gospel!

I think that’s a simply mind-blowing concept!

What  a day that will be
When my Jesus I shall see!
And I look upon His face
The One Who saved my by His Grace
And He takes me by the hand
And leads me to the Promised Land
What a day, glorious day, that will be!

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5)

Please note that Mr. Safwat’s painting has been pirated, copied, even printed and sold by unscrupulous people who had nothing to do with its creation. People have modified it and altered the image to reflect their own agendas. If you want to support the original artist by buying his work, you can visit his Facebook page here.

Granted, it does strongly appear that Mr. Safwat’s painting was itself inspired by a photo by photographer Paige Stewart; a shot of the celebration of two Canadian Rugby players, apparently.

But still the painting, however it was inspired, still moves me to tears because, for me, it captures just what we will feel when we, too, spend our first day in Heaven. The joy of even the greatest Rugby score pales into nothing when compared with that; indeed, all this earth’s joys are but a pale reflection – and yet perfect models – of the joy we will receive when we get there. Kerolos Safwat has taken this photo and recreated it into one of the most moving paintings I have ever seen. That takes real talent!

00

And What He Says, Do…

This entry is part 31 of 32 in the series Fiona

It’s twenty-three months today since I lost the love of my life, my dear Fiona. Nearly two years.

In that time I have learned so much, I have grieved so much, I have lived so much. I have learned a wisdom and a compassion I never thought possible. I have walked closely with Jesus like I never have done before. I have attained a depth and breadth of understanding that previously I could only dream of.

Truly, I have taken that terrible loss, and with my best friend Jesus walking by my side, we have brought new life from the darkness. New ideas, new concepts, new understandings, new meaning for life and faith.

Of course, I would give anything to have my Fiona still by my side. And the last couple of months, particularly, have been extremely hard for some reason; I seem to have felt her loss more keenly than I have before, at least since the first few months. I dream about her most nights, and that’s good, because I get chance to talk to her about how I am feeling.

But the growth continues; the strengthening of my spirit, the confidence, the complete lack of any kind of fear, the total absence of any compulsion to please men rather than God. It’s almost as if my recent growth has placed me in a position where I feel that I am beyond mere worldly cares and considerations. Sure, I have my responsibilities to my family and to my employers. But the freedom I experience in my life is immense.

I find myself above and beyond the considerations of mere worldly politics and other double-meaning, double-dealing shenanigans.

Here’s an example of this wisdom in action. A friend of mine, the other day; a man who is far on in the faith and has an incredible spiritual maturity, was accused of ‘taking sides’ on a certain matter of dispute because he can see both sides, just like Jesus can. Here’s how he expressed it:

I’m afraid my “middle of the road” stance is gonna get blasted by BOTH sides. You have to either believe everything that a potential victim says and demonize the alleged offender, making him unfit to serve our country in any capacity, or try and minimize what could be a serious crime and call their accusations “fake news”. And I’m not good with EITHER of those positions. I want to know the truth, but I don’t know if the truth can be ascertained in these circumstances. I want justice for [the person in question], but don’t know if justice means destroying a man’s career and possibly life over what COULD have been a stupid macho mistake or terrible misunderstanding. Can I trust a man to handle the law that has potentially hurt someone? Yes, under the right circumstances. But I’m not even clear on what those would be, but I want it to revolve around the truth, admission of any guilt, apologies, forgiveness and restitution. I really just want compassion and justice for all”

I wrote this to him:

“[My friend], I don’t see you as being ‘middle of the road’ at all. I see you as being above the road; being able to see what is going on – but not only not taking sides, but just being Jesus. Remember the theophany in Joshua 5? [Josh 5:13b-14 (KJV)] ‘Are you on our side, or the enemy?’ “No” was the answer. Not ‘Neither’, although that’s not far off, but ‘No’. ‘Neither’ involves the choice of taking neither side. ‘No’ indicates that the question is not germane. There is a detachment from sinking to the level of the human conflict and its ‘choosing sides’, or even choosing the middle road, and seeing it from God’s point of view instead. Any and every Christian has the right to sit in that position of ‘No’; it’s far above a simple refusal to take sides, it’s part of being who you are in Christ. There is neither requirement nor compulsion to declare or assume sides; you are not answerable to anyone because you are a spiritual man. And you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone either.

His reply:

Wow, thanks Anthony. I don’t know that that’s EXACTLY what I’m doing, but it sure is something I would aspire to. I am trying to see everyone’s point of view, to put myself in their shoes and think about what they would need and want. And, yeah, that’s why I can’t just pick a side. Argue for one side, and I’ll just end up telling you why the other side can’t be ignored or belittled. When it comes to perpetrators (or even alleged perpetrators) that becomes VERY difficult in this country [USA – Ed], even among the Christian population. Everyone seems to call out for their pound of flesh. I’m trying to see from the point of view of that flesh”

I finished off the exchange with this:

And that was exactly what was in my mind when I wrote the comment. But as a man of peace, you naturally, well, maybe not always see both ‘sides’, but you at least are aware that both ‘sides’ exist and having that ability to put yourself in both sides’ shoes and try to see things from their point of view is about as Christlike as it gets. Unfortunately, those who cannot understand this see it as picking sides, merely because you express the fact that both sides have a point of view – but without making a value judgement on those points of view. So, you haven’t picked sides, but because you express attempted understanding of both sides, this makes you apparently complicit with both. But you and I both know that this is not the case at all, and this is why the spiritual man cannot be judged by anyone – because we see things from the spiritual point of view, not the worldly. Not that we are superior on anything, but we simply have a perspective that not everyone has”

This is the kind of wisdom that we learn from being close to Jesus and listening closely to His heart. And to bring this back to Fiona, I believe that Jesus has taken the wisdom that she implanted in me, as part of our relationship, and He’s developed it in deeper ways because I have lost her. I can think of several very deep reasons why this is the case, which I will not share here as they are too personal. This really is an example of ”the Secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him.

But be encouraged. You do not have to go through a bereavement process in order to take on a wisdom like this. Simply walk with Jesus, and what He says, do (John 2:5). Ignore what other humans say when it contradicts what Jesus says, even if they quote Bible verses at you that apparently also contradict what He says. Anyone can find Bible verses to support their point of view. But, as I said, Do whatever He tells you (Jn 2:5) and your wisdom will grow simply because you are walking with the Personification of wisdom – Jesus. And in the process, you will also find, almost as an added bonus, the strength and also the wisdom to cope with the hard times that life will inevitably throw at you. Life in its fulness (Jn 10:10) includes the ability to cope with the hard circumstances of life, simply because of Jesus, Who walks with you through those times.

This is faith. This is freedom. This is Jesus.

He will never let you down!


Header picture shows my beautiful Fiona dancing with her nephew, at the ceilidh at her brother’s wedding in November 2011.

10

Communing in the Deep Silence

For thousands of years, spiritual people have known the value of communing with God in the Silence. In this piece, I would like to give you some ideas about how to do this; how to commune with God in the ‘deep silence’.

Jesus said this in Matthew 6:6 (NASB):

Now, I fully realise that this was said in the context of not being all ‘showing-off’ in our faith, as if for the approval of others, but instead to keep our prayer and communion with God between Him and ourselves. But I believe there are also a couple of deeper truths in this passage that are useful in our present context. You see, I believe that, while on the surface, Jesus talks about your ‘inner room’ as if it’s a room in your house where you won’t be disturbed, He also talks about praying to your Father ‘…who is in secret’. I think that that right there is the key – it’s a private place, a Secret Place if you will. A Secret Place within your spirit (your ‘inner room’ being just that: a room ‘inside you’), that only you and God know. In the King James Version, the words the translators use are ‘…enter into thy closet’ (Mt 6:6 (KJV)). I like that. It’s as if it’s a tiny room where there is space only for two – you and God – and no-one else. It’s a place where only you and God are; where indeed no-one else will even fit in (in both senses of the term); where nobody else can get to but you and Him, no matter what is going on around you. This is the deepest place of communion with God; the place where it’s just you and Him*. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus says that your Father ‘…will reward you’; what greater reward can there be but the Presence of God Himself?

Some people have written on the subjects of the ‘Discipline of Silence’ and the ‘Discipline of Solitude’. I won’t go into detail on these; you can easily Google the terms yourself and get a wide range of differing ideas and viewpoints on them. My post is kind-of related to those Disciplines, in that (that is, if you are into Spiritual Disciplines; I personally am not) these Disciplines may be able to help you on the road to practising accessing your ‘Secret Place’. Different paths for different people; it will work for some, not for others. Only you will know which way is best for you. But it is not the same thing as either the Discipline of Silence or that of Solitude. It’s not just being quiet before God, nor about silencing our thoughts, nor is it about being away from others, although as I said these disciplines all have their own value and can help you to access your Secret Place.

I will let you know how I personally do it. I find that I can easily find the inner Silence when there is literal silence – the absence of sound or noise – around me. If you like, the silence around me is a ‘picture’ of, or a ‘parable’ about, the Silence within. And once I am in the habit of finding that Silence in those circumstances, I find I can ‘touch base’ with the Silence in even the shortest silences. Moving on from this, I find I can also discover what I call the ‘underlying silence’ under all the noise of the day and/or the circumstances. I realise that this may be because of me having Asperger’s Syndrome, in which I find that my senses are constantly overloaded by visual, auditory and other sensory stimuli, and because of this I have had to learn to ‘tune’ out’, to some extent, as much extraneous ‘noise’ as possible in order to even be able to think straight. Even as I am writing this, someone has the television on in the background and I am having to tune that out too, because one of my Aspergic ‘gifts’ is the ability to concentrate on, or listen to, something in the background, at the same time as concentrating on my main task. It can become quite distracting, to be honest.

But anyway, let me try to explain it by describing the background levels that I perceive, in order to help you try to get a handle on the idea of the ‘underlying silence’; the ‘Deep Silence’, using an everyday example.

When I arrive home from work, and switch off the car engine, I open the door and just listen to the silence. I am most fortunate in living on a quiet road in a quiet part of town, and when I open my car door after switching off, the silence is quite profound. That’s easy; but even then, I am in the habit of ‘listening’ to the silence, and consciously having the feeling of ‘touching my feet down’ on it.

Then I unlock my front door, go in, and close the door behind me. There will be sounds, maybe the TV will be on, maybe someone might be listening to music or my daughter playing the piano. Or maybe, if my son is up to stay for a couple of days, he might be cooking or talking. But because I have already ‘heard’ the silence, I know that, beneath the noises, quiet or loud though they may be, the silence is still there and my feet are still planted on it – because I have made myself aware of it.

Or if I am at an airshow or even out flying myself. Sure, there is activity, noise, concentration and there are things to be done. But I am aware that underneath everything is the silence. Even if the noise has not been taken away, filtered out, or whatever, still I am aware that it is there – the underlying silence that is the background for all the layers of sound and distraction that we or our surroundings cover it with.

Or if I am at work and everyone wants everything done more urgently than everything else, again, I am aware of the deep underlying silence that lies behind everything, after everything else has been filtered out. It’s still there, even if I can’t actually hear it. And I therefore find that I can touch or access that silence even if everything around is havoc, as it so often is.

Do you see the progression here? I start by listening to ‘actual’, real silence: the absence of sounds. While doing that, I become more aware of the deep, inner Silence where God dwells. Then, as things become more distracting, I maintain an awareness of that underlying silence, that makes me aware of the inner Silence. It is still there, even despite the noise. Because I have experienced it when it’s ‘easier’, I can then also learn how to do this in other circumstances because I already know it’s there. And, with practice, I can be aware of the inner Silence in this manner irrespective of what goes on around me. I don’t mean I am constantly thinking about God, silence or things like that. What I mean is that, having experienced the Silence, I am aware that it is there, ‘on tap’, whenever I want to access it because it really is. It would have been there even had I not known how to access it, although it wouldn’t have been of much use to me. But because I am aware of it, I can tap into it any time I like.

This is the place where we can touch right down onto the bedrock of our faith; to plant our feet firmly on the solidity that is God, and from there all else just falls into place. Once our feet are placed on Him, the shocks and strains of life don’t have anywhere near the devastating effects that they would normally have, because we are grounded in Him.

Silence, Peace and Rest

In some ways, this inner Silence is also linked to the ‘peace that transcends understanding’ (Phil 4:7) and the ‘Sabbath rest of God’ (Heb 4:9-10) because it forms one of three spiritual ‘legs’, as it were, of Silence, Peace and Rest.

Silence, in that in the silence sits the waiting, welcoming Presence of God.

Peace, in that the supernatural Peace that transcends not only our understanding but also our circumstances gives us a real confidence that God has everything in hand, no matter how bad it might seem – and that death is no longer the end.

Rest, in that we have a Sabbath rest from our works in the same way that God rested from His labours – in that He simply let things be as they are, and we too also no longer need to work to ‘obtain’ or ‘earn’ our favour in God’s eyes, but that He accepts us, likes us and loves us just as we are.

Because of these three factors, we are welcome in that Secret Place. We can come directly into the Presence of God with neither hindrance nor fear (1Jn 4:18). Silence is just the way in which I have become aware of it; for you, it may be different – or it may not. That’s up to you to find out. But be assured, that inner, underlying Silence is indeed present; you do have a ‘Secret Place’ which you can access by climbing your secret staircase into that place where God waits for you, and is in fact there all the time.

I’m not saying you have to have a ‘Quiet Time’. Indeed, the Secret Place is not the same thing as the Quiet Time, although you can of course access the Secret Place during your Quiet Time, if you happen to practise that Spiritual Discipline (and I talk more about this in this article). But you can just as easily access the Secret Place in the hectic hassle of everyday life. In fact, it’s deeper than the ‘Quiet Time’ because, although in the Quiet Time you do indeed ‘charge your spiritual batteries’ and commune with God, there is a definite demarcation between the Quiet Time and the outside world. You step out of your Quiet Time and go into the world. With the inner Silence, however, you essentially carry your Quiet Time, if you like, around with you wherever you are and whenever it is. Your communing with God depends not on a set time and place, but more on an ongoing habit or mindset. Some have called it ‘Practising the Presence of God’, and this does sound like another way of looking at it, although I have not studied the idea in any great depth because so much of it appears to involve formulas and stuff like that. For me, the practice of the Inner Silence is far more personal, far more intimate than anything reached by a set of formulas or rituals. But it might work for you, of course; just because things like that don’t work for me doesn’t by any means infer that it won’t work for anyone.

If you live somewhere where it’s never quiet, can I recommend maybe finding the silence when you wake up at 3am in order to go to the toilet. Savour the silence when you get back into bed. Be conscious of it – the silence that lies underneath everything else. If you can’t do that at that time in the morning, maybe try out in the mountains or the moors, or on a secluded beach at dusk – or preferably at dawn; most people still seem to think it’s clever to stay up late, so the morning is usually quieter. Some of the most silent places are places like up in the Yorkshire Dales, or I can also specifically recommend Wasdale Head in the Lake District. In practice, though, you will find that you don’t usually need to go too far from civilisation to find somewhere silent.

This is the majestic peak of Great Gable, 2949ft, as seen from Wasdale Head in the Lake District, one of the most remote places in England. Photo taken April 2011.

Or maybe you might prefer the silence of the forest. Granted, in a forest, the wind in the trees virtually never stops making a sound of some sort, but it can still be good because the sounds of nature are easier to filter out as they make less demands on you, and can even in some cases be part of the silence. The silence itself is buried far less by the sounds of nature than it is by the sounds of civilisation.

However you find your inner Silence, the next step is to generate the habit of consciously resting on the Silence whenever you can. Pause and wait before you open your car door after switching off the engine. As you lay your head on your pillow last thing at night, be conscious of the inner silence just before you wander off into your dreamland. When you wake in the morning, before your ‘To Do’ list comes crowding in, savour that deep inner silence. Look for times during the day when there is a pause in your routine. Maybe you’re waiting at traffic lights in your car. Maybe you’re in the lunch queue at school. Any time when your mind can be diverted from what you’re doing is a good time. An example of what would not be a good time to be diverted is maybe when you are landing an aeroplane or negotiating a complex series of lane changes on a busy motorway junction. God doesn’t mind that you’re concentrating on what you’re doing! But in the same way as you might, sometimes even subconsciously, reach across the car and touch the hand of a loved one, or catch their eye across a crowded room and give them a wink, or a meaningful look of support or something; that’s what the Secret Place sometimes looks like. You find that  almost unconsciously – because it is habitual and comes naturally – you find yourself reaching in to the Inner Silence and communing there with your Heavenly Father – Who, as Jesus said, ‘rewards’ you – with His Presence.

In fact, this can also be seen as a definite form of prayer, because you are communing with God; being intimate with Him. Even if only for a couple of seconds, you are acknowledging His presence and going into that place where it’s just you and Him. And, to me, that few seconds is far more precious than many hours of just talking out loud to a God Whom you are not sure is listening…

So, although that might all sound a bit mystical and strange, please let me encourage you to find, in your own way, your own Inner Silence – or whatever it looks like to you. It’s well worth the effort. I’d also be interested in any comments that my readers make about their own experiences in this field.

May God bless you as you seek Him in this way.


I have written a piece touching on this subject before; you might want to read this previous article in order to ‘flesh out’ these ideas presented here with some more examples and thoughts, along with a couple of songs you might find helpful.


*I also believe that this is what Don Francisco means in his song, ‘Come Away‘, where he sings of the ‘…place where the thief has no key’.

10

A Personal Message to Someone I Met

Hi there

I don’t know your name, but it was lovely to have that interesting and gentle conversation with you yesterday, despite our having only just met, at Sainsbury’s in Bridgwater in Somerset. Hearing a lady whistling a Vineyard song from the 1980s was so unusual, I just had to come over and say something!

Our conversation began over that worship song – ‘Change My Heart O God’, from the Vineyard in about 1986. In reply to your question, I declared that Yes, God has indeed changed my heart in dramatic ways, but not in ways that many Christians can cope with. Remember, it’s not up to me how God changes me; it’s just my task to follow where He leads, and that’s going to be different for each of us.

Having received the tendered business card for my blog, and the accompanying explanation, I appreciate that meeting a Spirit-filled Christian who doesn’t believe in Hell must have come as a bit of a shock to you. Maybe that was something a little outside your experience, and I apologise for shocking you with that little nugget. I must say I did warn you, though, that I was an heretic!

I may have got this wrong – I am Autistic, so I don’t always pick up properly on what people are saying…but it seemed that your assumption was that I don’t believe in the Bible either. Well, I really do believe in it – subject to an intelligent reading, taking into account things like literary and historical context, type of literature and similar factors, and all this reading with the Person of Jesus in mind and the Holy Spirit doing His usual narrative in my spirit.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but some people have different interpretations to Scripture passages than do others. In this case, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus was, I think, the passage you were referring to. I always have to remind myself that when Jesus was speaking in parables, He was deliberately being slightly obfuscatory, where some thinking in his listeners would be necessary in order to glean the nuggets of wisdom contained within. Parables are all about hidden meanings. But one of the key things about parables is that they are stories with a meaning, and the very last thing that they are meant for is to be taken literally. If you read the context of that Parable, it’s all about the Jews not bearing fruit despite repeated exhortations from God. And there are as many different interpretations of most Scriptures, not just the Parables, as there are people reading them. Except for the Jehovah’s Witnesses; they are all told what to believe and no dissension is allowed. We don’t want to be like that. But this is the reason why there are so many – tens of thousands, in fact – Christian denominations!

Please let me reiterate that I have the highest respect for the Bible, as long as it is used correctly. I am a Bible college graduate who knows the Bible inside out; I have several sections memorised by heart; and I quote from it regularly in my writings, usually using passages that I have found already to be true in my life. I’m sorry I couldn’t explain things to you properly, but as I said, I am Autistic, and my main medium for communication is in writing, like here in my blog. I find it very hard to communicate face-to-face, because of a number of factors. The main thing is that I can’t understand body language, and so, for me, interfacing with others is often like speaking only half a language. Also, because of the way my thought processes work, I can’t formulate proper trains of speech on the spur of the moment; I need time to consider replies properly, and so my face-to-face interactions come across as a series of disjointed arguments which only make sense in my own thought patterns. These patterns make perfect sense to me, but they won’t make sense to someone we would call a Neurotypical (NT); a non-derogatory term meaning someone whose brain is wired ‘normally’, whereas the brain of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome (my particular Autistic Spectrum Condition) is wired differently from those of NT people.

I can – and I have done it many times – stand up in front of hundreds of people and lead them in worship, or preach a sermon. It comes easily to me, but that’s because in that situation I don’t need to do any interpersonal interactions. But put me one-on-one, and I am usually at a complete loss.

So, yes, it was lovely to meet you and yes, we are greatly enjoying our holiday here in Somerset. I think next time I meet a fellow believer, though, I will let them see what fruit I have in my life before mentioning a contentious issue. He is indeed the Potter, and I am the clay. Who am I to contest the work He’s doing in my life? Isaiah 29:16 says this:

You turn things upside down,
as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
“You did not make me”?
Can the pot say to the potter,
“You know nothing”?

– Is 29:16

I wouldn’t dream of changing the things He’s done in my life, nor unlearning the things He’s taught me. For me, once I have tasted, there is no untasting. Once I have seen, there is no unseeing. Once I have been given something from God, I cannot and will not reject it, because His calling and gifts are irrevocable (Rom 11.29). I have to do what I see the Father doing (Jn 5:19); how else could I honour God’s calling on my life?

To better understand where I was coming from, all I can suggest is that you read some of my blog posts – there are over 500 of them to pick from – with an open mind and see how I came into the freedom I have, and what that freedom looks like. Maybe you too might be able to catch a glimpse of the wide-open spaces of God’s Grace and move out even further into the broad, sunlit uplands of freedom in the Spirit, guided by the Master’s Hand. Remember that, as a Christian of 38 years’ standing, I will not have reached the conclusions and positions I have reached without a great deal of study, thought and prayer.

And don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of dissing your faith or your beliefs. I’m not saying you don’t already know Him; you do. I’m not saying you don’t already have freedom; you do. But there is so much more to learn, and so much deeper depths of God, and so much wider freedom than you may know. I have heard people talking about ‘pressing in’ to God; well, that’s what it looks like. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, ‘Further up and further in!’, and this is a never-ending process.

I hope this hasn’t come across as condescending; that would never be my intention. As you are probably aware, Autism means that sometimes people lack the social graces necessary to keep others comfortable. If that’s the case here, I am sorry. It also means that, when you first meet someone, you really don’t know what sort of filters and barriers that person is trying to overcome in order to try to communicate. One thing’s for sure, though. Next time, it will not be the case that I virtually introduce myself as someone who does not believe in Hell. That’s always going to get a conversation off on the wrong foot!

Keep on singing the songs, dear sister. And always bear in mind that someone might come into hearing range and start harmonising with your music, and your worship… 😉

Peace and Grace to you.

– Anthony


Yes, the header picture is actually of the Bridgwater branch of Sainsbury’s. Well, I am quite pedantic; no other picture would do 😉

10

Assurance

This entry is part 28 of 32 in the series Fiona

This is a very personal account that describes something of what I observed in Fiona, my beautiful late wife, during the time leading up to her loss.

When I lost Fiona to cancer, twenty months ago today, I knew that she had no qualms about dying; about going to be with her Jesus.

This is because she had assurance.

She had complete confidence in Jesus – was ‘assured’, if you like – that He would come through for her and would deliver her into her promised rest. She had no doubts whatsoever about what awaited her on the other side of the veil of death.

And I too rejoice in my salvation. I belong to God; I know it more certainly than I know anything else, and no-one and nothing can take that salvation away from me*.

Jesus’s message was simple: God loves you. Just as you are. He loves you and He cares for you. Jesus amply demonstrated this in His life, His teachings, His miracles, His death and His Resurrection. And His Grace. The unearned, undeserved favour of God. On that basis alone, nothing we can do, or not do, is either a qualification or disqualification for being ‘allowed’ into God’s Presence. Salvation is freely given, and it is complete and perfect, rooted in the historical death and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This is so simple; why do we complicate it? And yet, maybe it’s just part of human nature, but we do so complicate it indeed!

But not everyone believes like that. Not everyone has that assurance. As I’ve said before, so many people in the Christian faith, particularly those of a legalistic leaning, are actually not sure what would happen if they died tonight. They are not sure because they think that somehow their behaviour might disqualify them at the last second.

My faith isn’t like that. Being fully convinced that we are forever safe in Christ is what’s known as assurance, and knowing for a fact that Jesus has you forever in His arms is simply nothing short of revolutionary. Once we believe that, and know it in our hearts, then every single insecurity we might have concerning our ‘eternal destiny’ just melts away in the burning light of His love. But, because of the ideas expressed below, sadly, many believers who actually have this assured inheritance simply do not know it.

And so I am going to look at our assurance today, from the perspective of one who has seen someone die in perfect assurance of where she was going.

You see, part of the problem, for some people, is that idea that we need to ‘confess’ (i.e. own up to) every. single. ‘sin’. in order to be ‘forgiven’. If we die with just one ‘unconfessed ‘sin’, they claim, then we are toast. I could present many, many Scripturally-based  arguments to refute this idea, but instead let me testify to what my Fiona was like in the last weeks of her earthly life.

Fiona had a complete assurance of where she was going. She had an unshakeable certainty that, once she passed through the veil of death, she was not only going to be with Jesus, but she was going to her reward, her inheritance, to an amazing life full of beauty, light, joy, fun, and the Presence of God. Not long before she passed away, Fiona shared with me that she had received a vision of what Jesus had waiting for her there with Him. Fiona’s visions were always very vivid and real, like an IMAX experience, only better. Personally, I know what it’s like to receive a revelation from God, but Fiona’s ‘style’, if you like, was much more vivid. And this vision was such a comfort, indeed an encouragement, to her. She already knew what she was going to; she knew she was dying, she knew she wasn’t going to make it with that cancer eating away at her, and yet in that dark tunnel of what could have been despair, instead she was filled with the light, glory and hope of Jesus. She was actually looking forward to going to her inheritance. The phrase, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ applied to her for certain, and I am absolutely sure that she heard those words from Jesus the moment she arrived there.

And you just can’t argue with that. When you have seen the shining holiness of one of God’s Saints about to pass through the veil, you just know it. You know where they are going, and so do they. And that is such a tremendous boost to one’s own faith.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His Saints – Ps 116:15

Non-existent is any lack of assurance; the tired and worn-out ideas that one last-second slip-up could condemn one’s soul to torment for all eternity**. The worry of one ‘unconfessed sin’. When seen in the light of the death of a saint like Fiona, those arguments become just shadows. The harsh, unbending and assurance-breaking doctrines of the religious legalists and gatekeepers are seen as simply two-dimensional, flat concepts when compared with the real, solid and altogether complete certainty of where we go after death. How can I put this more emphatically?

It’s funny, but Christians sing the hymn, ‘Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine’, and yet some of them do not really recognise that assurance. If you are one of those people today, please let me encourage you to raise your head from the mire of – yes, let’s call it what it is: self-righteousness – and of ‘doing things’ in order to try and please God, and instead to rest complete in the salvation that Jesus has bought for you. This is real, it is complete, and it is already accomplished. And I have seen it. All the arguments, theology and doctrine of men melt into nothing in the face of the death of a saint like Fiona; when you have seen this happen, nothing can ever be the same again, and the dry, dusty and indeed crumbly doctrines of we mere humans become as naught in the face of the utter assurance of salvation seen in a dying saint.

I’ve always believed in ‘once saved, always saved‘. I have never believed that anything I can do could either lose or indeed ‘boost’ my inheritance. I am utterly sure of my station in Christ and my status as one of God’s children, because these things have been revealed to me personally by my Heavenly Father. I have dates and times for these events, they were that real. And you can argue with me all you like about doctrines and whatnot, but the thing is that I have seen it. And I have seen the final assurance, first-hand, of someone who is about to pass into the direct Presence of her Lord. There is no fear; there is no sense of ‘what if?’; there is no sense of ‘resignation’. There is only an eager assurance, a peace, indeed an anticipation, of what is to come. There is sadness, yes; we will miss her, and she knew that we would miss her, and she also knew that we would have to carry on without the guidance and wisdom that she brought into our lives in such full measure. And I miss that wisdom every day. But there is also a quiet and yet exuberant joy, that ‘soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!’ And it’s awesome to behold.

Jesus’s Resurrection was, and is, the guarantee for us that there is life after death. Jesus’s presence in our lives, by the tangible presence of His Spirit, is the guarantee, the downpayment if you like, of that assurance. That death is not the end is the single most important truth that we can get hold of in this life, after the fact that it’s God’s love that provides that truth for us. Once you see that; once you grasp that, your life will never be the same again. In fact I would even say that, unless you really believe that you know ‘…where you would go if you died tonight’, then you have absolutely no right to try to sell people the salvation that Jesus offers as if it is indeed a complete, cast-iron assurance, when the reality is that you yourself don’t really believe it is as secure as you claim. Because that sort of gospel, that so many peddle these days, is really no gospel – not good news – at all.

So, for the question, “Is it ‘once saved, always saved’? “, I actually rather think we are looking in the wrong direction. That’s looking backwards, at things we have done; it is a backwards perspective because we are always focused on looking back to see if we have done something that’s somehow going to drop us out of God’s favour, and that we need to ‘confess’ it and get it out of the way. But it’s not like that at all. If you walk in the Spirit, then you will not gratify the desires of the ‘sinful nature’. You just get on with it, free from the encumbrance of worrying about ‘sin’ all the time. Our salvation enables us to walk forwards in life with Jesus. When Jesus said that “whoever sets his hand to the plough, and then looks back, is not worthy to be My disciple” (Lk 9:62), He meant that by looking back all the time, you just can’t see where you’re going. You need to look forward and just walk with Jesus. The only way to keep that plough straight is to look forward, not backwards. Landing an aeroplane is similar; you look forward to the far end of the runway, not down at the runway below you, otherwise you can’t judge the landing properly. Thank you Lord for your wisdom.

And so let’s round this out by saying that, when it comes to the crunch, and death is just around the corner, it is possible – indeed it is your right, as a Child of God – to face that event with love, confidence, hope and indeed a joyful anticipation. Because precious indeed in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints – and you are one of them. There is no fear in Love, because perfect Love casts out all fear (1Jn4:18). And there is no fear in death, because Jesus has gone there before us – and He has come out the other side for our assurance.

Be assured.

Be at peace.

God’s love for you is greater than you can possibly imagine.

And there is no need for fear.

 

Grace and peace to you.


*I’m not going to define ‘salvation’ right now; I do have a set of developing ideas on the subject but I wouldn’t do them justice if I write about them just yet, because the ideas are not fully formed. In this context, suffice it to say that I believe that Fiona’s firm conviction that she was going to be with Jesus is what I am talking about here.


**Not that I believe in that anyway.

10

The Secret of the Lord

I think it’s fair to say that God knows everything. He knows how everything is put together, how it all works, how it all began and how it all ends. And yet, in the midst of all that wonder, He chooses to let us ‘in’ on His secrets.

Now, everyone loves a secret that they are privy to. You’ll remember the delicious feeling, when we were kids, of being ‘in the know’; maybe being part of a secret club or ‘gang’ (not a ‘gang’ in its modern sense!); a group of kids who all identified with each other and who were all ‘in’. Great fun, wasn’t it? 😀

And I think that this is a precursor to knowing the secrets of God. That same desire to ‘know stuff’, which manifests itself differently in different people. For some it might be a desire to indulge in gossip about others’ private lives; for others it’s a desire to work things out in great detail; for still others it may be something else entirely. So I do believe it’s part of every human’s makeup in one form or another.

But for me there is no more fascinating quest than that of the pursuit of the secret things of God. To see in increasing measure what His purpose is; to see His attitudes; to know His love; to know many, many other things, maybe not even necessarily things directly about Him, that I can’t even begin to describe. Even the beginning of the knowledge of the answers to the deep questions of life is to be found in this quest.

As a medical research scientist, many years ago, I discovered how many things worked in a medical sense. That’s what we did. We were finding out these previously unknown things – secrets, if you will – that, up until we had made the discovery, nobody knew about.

And yet that’s nothing compared with knowing God and knowing about His ways. Consider also, there are Life’s Big Questions too, which I have touched on previously – why do bad things happen; why does God allow suffering and death – yes, I have those questions too.

So in this piece, then, I will attempt to explore something of what this ‘The Secret of the Lord’ is all about. The Psalmist said, “The secret of the Lord [is] with them that fear Him; And He will shew [archaic: show – Ed] them His covenant” – Ps 25:14 (KJV) – and that’s what we’re going to be looking at today.

But first, let’s just deal with that word ‘Fear’, shall we? The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him? As I have said in a previous article, the word ‘Fear’, when seen in the Bible in the context of the ‘Fear of God’, does not mean what people in this day and age understand as ‘fear’. The word ‘fear’ has been retained in modern translations, despite its archaic use (and hence my use of the King James Version quotations to illustrate this), but it meant a different thing then from what it does now. The cynic in me says that this has been done for control purposes, but then that’s just my opinion. I’m not going to go into more detail here, but if you would like some more background on the common misuse of this word in the Bible, please take a look at this article. Suffice it to say for now that it’s a very rich word with connotations far exceeding simple ‘terror’; that the word can mean concepts more like ‘respect’, ‘awe’ or even ‘worship’ too, and given that perfect Love has no room for ‘fear’ as we understand the meaning of the word today, we would expect that the context is less to do with terror than it has to do with love. So, when we talk about people who ‘fear’ the Lord, we are talking about those who love Him, who worship Him, and who think He’s just pretty amazing. That’s what we’re talking about here.

So, to paraphrase Ps 25:14, ‘The secret of the Lord is with those who think He’s amazing’. Ok? But I am going to carry on using the word ‘fear’ in this article because it is the form of the Scripture passage that most believers will be familiar with. Just remember what the word really means, right?! 🙂

So, then, using our knowledge of Hebrew parallelism, we can at least see that the two concepts in Ps 25:14 are linked, in that to those who fear the Lord and know His secrets, He will show His covenant. In other words, the very idea of God showing His secrets to those who fear Him means that He makes His covenant – the ways in which He has promised to relate to us – known to us in increasing measure. And while that’s absolutely wonderful, there’s a lot more that He makes known to us as well.

And this is to be expected. God’s dealings with His faithful have always involved Him telling us stuff that we wouldn’t previously have known. Even as far back as Genesis, God said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Gen 18:17). As St. Paul wrote, “…The natural man [that is, one not walking in the Spirit] does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God. For they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but he himself is not subject to anyone’s judgment. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ” – (1Cor2:14-16) If we are living a supernatural life, then it is to be expected that God will reveal new and surprising things to us through His Spirit; things we were not expecting, things we did not ask for, and certainly things that we didn’t know before and would have no way of knowing without the Spirit of God showing us these things.

Linked with this is the idea that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” – (Prov 9:10). Do you see the connection there; the common root? If we begin by approaching the Lord in ‘fear’ – worship, adoration, awe and just generally being gobsmacked – then we begin and continue our walk along the path to wisdom, which is part of the ‘Secret of the Lord’. If you’ve been a believer for some time, then you will know what I am talking about. You will be able to point to various things that God has shown you over the years that you couldn’t have known yourself; things He has shared with you, in terms of both wisdom and knowledge. If you’ve not been walking with Jesus all that long, then I rejoice in saying that you have all this to look forward to!

Much of the wisdom I have been able to share which I have learned in my grief journey since losing my wife to cancer nineteen months ago, this wisdom I have been taught in the silences of simply sitting at Jesus’s feet; in the agonies of grief; in deep, healing worship; and in the times where I have felt His tangible Presence like a warm cloak of divine Love wrapped around my shoulders. And some of this knowledge is ‘secret’ because it relates only to me; it’s personal for my circumstances – these are ‘my secrets’, if you will. But other things have been revealed that I have indeed shared. In particular, the profound realisation that death is not the end is extremely important, and had to be shared with my readers here.

He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him – Dan 2:22 (KJV)

He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. – Dan 2:22 (NIV)

‘Deep and secret things’. That sounds amazing, doesn’t it? And it is. We are privy to an immense storehouse of God’s wisdom and knowledge that He is willing to pass on to us, albeit in chunks that we can cope with. The ancient Hebrew King, David, wrote this: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” – (Psalm 139:6). Jesus Himself said several times that even once He’d gone, not only would He not leave us ‘as orphans’ (Jn 14:18), and that He would come to us and that He would send us His Spirit “…to be with you for ever” (Jn 14:16)

And He also said that, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” – (Jn 16:12-15)

I also love the bit in Matthew 11:25-27 where Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children [in the context, He was referring to His disciples here – Ed]. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, the key to all this is Jesus. Knowing Jesus is foundational. In order to sit at His feet and learn from Him, you need to come to Him. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” – (John 17:3). If you like, the wisdom and knowledge of the ways of God, including the ‘Secret of the Lord’, is part of the ‘Eternal Life’ package; the life of the age to come being projected into the here and now. Parallel to this idea, Proverbs 8:35 says, “For he who finds me [wisdom] finds life, and obtains favour from the Lord” – Prov 8:35 (NASB)

As I mentioned above, some parts of the Secrets of the Lord can be shared; some cannot. Some we can learn from each other; from those to whom God has revealed things. Some things are too far ingrained in the route by which we learned them such that they are not communicatable because the way we learned them is too deep to be expressed. But some things are in any case altogether too sacred to share, and indeed can be potentially harmful to share with people who do not have the maturity to hear those things (cf. Heb 5:11-14)*. Some of the stuff I get from God, I know full well would cause one helluva stir if I were to let it out into the public domain. And so, the wisdom that I receive from the Lord – which I always want to have at the same time as the knowledge I receive – is that which says what is good to share, and what is not. St. Paul, somewhat modestly, declared (in the third person) that he had received visions from God that he was not permitted to share. I love the passage where he writes about this:

“Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell“.  – (2Cor12:1-4, emphasis mine)

Some of my readers will know what this is like. How many times have you had dreams where God has shared things with you that you cannot even express? I remember once (if ‘remember’ is the right word) having a dream about the things of God. I could not remember a thing about it when I woke up except that I knew that something really deep had happened. The fruits of that dream are with me to this day. I’m not talking about the ordinary kind of forgetting of dreams that always happens; I distinctly remember waking up fully from the dream that had just finished, knowing that something amazing had happened to me, but I didn’t know what it was. It seems that, on occasion, God even keeps secrets from us about His dealings with us! And talking of dreams, my late wife Fiona had a similar occurrence in her sleep in her early twenties, which was incredible but which is not my story to share.

Added to that, a few months before she died, Fiona was given a lucid vision of what Heaven was going to be like for her. And she kept that a secret from me until only a couple of weeks before her passing, because she knew that her telling me would greatly upset me, because then all my hope of not losing her would be lost. Now that’s wisdom! She was the most wise person I ever met, was my Fiona! 🙂

Another idea along these lines is that sometimes someone isn’t ready for new knowledge just yet. Let me use the example of an article I read the other day, where the writer was working through some concepts of Scripture that were bothering them. This person had some excellent ideas, some that were not so good, and also expressed some concepts that I left behind years ago. But rather than wade in and point out ‘errors’ based on my ‘knowledge’ (which I appreciate is sketchy at best!), I recognised that the writer was at a point in their own walk that was a huge step forward from where they were previously, and for them, that was amazing. And so I kept my trap shut and didn’t say anything. I sometimes think that wisdom is knowing how and when to use the knowledge that we have been given!

I also read a comment, in reply to one of Christy Wood’s posts, where the commenter said this, “Here’s the thing: even as God does gently lead me into greater understanding, I cannot then turn around and push it down the throats of others. I have to allow God to be God, and do with them as he is doing with me. If I am a parent, I have to allow my adult children to learn their own lessons, make their own mistakes and choose their own flavor of relating to God“. We can use that illustration as part of the reason why God shares with us certain things, while not sharing others.

Sometimes, the stuff He shares with us is so historically magnificent that it would destabilise lives if we were to share it. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law“. – Deut (29:29) This is true insofar as the secret things of God were being progressively revealed to the Israelites in the desert under Moses, and later through the prophets, but were revealed in their fulness in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the fulfilment of that Law on our behalf. And so, ‘secret things’ were revealed, yes, but their true historical significance did not become apparent until Jesus Christ. They couldn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, have known what was to come, because the ramifications were so huge. In other words, God speaks His secrets to us at a level we are able to cope with, and not necessarily at a level that others could cope with. That’s pretty deep, I know.

You will probably be raring to go, to seek after the ‘Secret of the Lord’. Remember it’s not one thing, but a whole magnificent plan and destiny of which He reveals only a small part at a time, and the hugeness of which cannot be understood by mere mortals like us. But even so, having the plans of God revealed to us carries an immense sense of privilege, and an immense responsibility, to hold and use that knowledge with the wisdom that He also gives freely.

How do we start? It’s nothing heavy. The knowledge and wisdom of God is given freely to those who simply ask. Just ask Him, and then expect Him to point things out to you as you go about your everyday life, walking in the Spirit. It will happen. You may suddenly realise that for the past week, God has been speaking these secrets to you and, you haven’t realised. Don’t worry. He will bring things back to you. This is something that takes some getting used to, and it improves with practice. It’s a ‘learning curve’! Cut yourself some slack and just enjoy the experience.

Oh, and one more thing: remember it’s a ‘secret’. Don’t share stuff with others unless you are absolutely sure they can deal with it. Don’t share it boastfully or with ‘attitude’. Remember there will be those who do not, indeed simply cannot, understand. So, most of the time, keep these nuggets to yourself, let them nourish you and teach you in the ways of God. The fruits and the benefits for others will emerge in due course.

To quote J. C. Philpot, from August 1844:

“It is a secret, because it is only known to a few. It is a secret, because it is carried on in private between God and the soul. It is a secret, because never known until God the Spirit unfolds the mystery.” [1]

So, The Secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him. Enjoy this. Be fascinated by it, by your discoveries, by His revelations. Drink in the richness of His Creation, the depths of His wisdom, and the knowledge of His love, power, majesty and might.

Grace and Peace to you.


There is an interesting article that I read recently, which goes quite deeply into the ideas of sharing the ‘Secret of the Lord’ with others. “When the Lord knows that He can trust us with His secrets, He will reveal things to us which He cannot reveal to others”. Definitely worth a look. See reference [2] below.


[1] https://www.gracegems.org/Philpot/secret_of_the_lord.htm
Much of what Philpot says in that sermon is stuff I don’t agree with, and it reflects the prevalent thinking of the period. But some of it is real gold. I leave it to the reader to sift it for the nuggets 🙂

[2] From ‘Love Notes’, by Mary Love Eyster: http://www.iprayprayer.com/secret-lord-fear-psalm-2514-keeping-gods-secrets/


*”We have much to say about this [theological idea], but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” – Heb 5:11-14

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The Burial

This entry is part 27 of 32 in the series Fiona

Well, at last we’ve gone and done it. A few weeks ago, we buried the casket containing Fiona’s ashes.

The casket had been sitting on a shelf at the Funeral Directors’ premises, over the nearly eighteen months since we lost Fiona. We had postponed the burial of the ashes because we didn’t feel the time was right; however, now, we have come to terms with it being time we buried the ashes, and we called the family together and went ahead and did it.

Fiona’s ashes are buried in a beautiful woodland burial site here in Devon, with lovely views and a wonderful peaceful atmosphere.

It was just a small gathering. Me; our children David, Richard and Ellie; Fiona’s Dad, her brother (and his wife) and Fiona’s sister; and Fe’s three closest friends. I put the casket down into the ground, we each threw a little earth into the grave, we talked a little and that was that. Once we’d moved off, the young man who’d dug the grave came to fill it in and it was marked with a temporary wooden cross, pending the installation of a marble plaque which will mark the grave in the long term. You can see a similar plaque in the background in this photo.

I was very surprised by the emotions I felt on that day. I thought I had, well, not got over it – I never will – but at least come to terms with it. Now, granted, I should have expected some surprise in emotional terms, given that this event marks the end of the funeral process, for want of a better term. But, in a similar way to when I went up to our old home town in Yorkshire, I was ambushed by strong emotions that I wasn’t expecting, although you’d have thought I’d have learned by now that this is quite normal 😉 The burial was scheduled for 15:00 (3pm) on that particular day, so in the morning I collected the casket of ashes from the funeral directors, put it in the front passenger’s footwell of my car, and set off for home.

It wasn’t long before my mind realised that all that is physically left of Fiona was sitting right there in the car with me. It’s a really strange sensation. And of course it brought back to me strongly the immense loss that I have suffered; that my wonderful wife should be reduced to the contents of a wooden casket roughly the size of a shoe-box. I managed to drive the car despite the tears streaming down my face, but I had to stop a couple of times as you can imagine. Of course, now she has her Heavenly inheritance, she is so much more alive and whole than she ever was when she occupied that mortal shell. The ashes do not limit what Fiona is now. When I went to visit her body in the funeral home, it was obviously apparent that the person that Fiona had been was no longer there. There is a profound stillness in death; the person’s body lies there with not the slightest flicker of life – of course! – and while she was of course recognisable, what was in that coffin was not Fiona. Her spirit had really departed; the animating factor that made her who she was, was completely gone. Unless you have lost someone really close to you and seen their dead body, it is difficult to understand what this is like.

But still, there the ashes were, and I took them home with me preparatory to going up to the burial ground. The small ‘ceremony’ – such as it was – went well and people, I think, were glad to be able to close out the ‘funeral process’ at last.

But, just like in the coffin, what is there in the ground is not Fiona. Fiona herself has gone on into the Presence of her Lord. In fact, my eldest son mentioned to me the other day that he had the distinct impression that Fiona was actually really excited to go and be with her Jesus. Isn’t that just so typical of that amazing girl whose deep, simple and trusting faith gave her that kind of comfort in the face of certain death? Wow!

The burial has been a release for the rest of us, of course, and another milestone in the grief journey. But hopefully the burial should give us all some more closure on this horrific chapter of our lives, that has been such a mixture of agony and blessing. And all the while, knowing that Fiona is safe in the arms of her Saviour, I have to say, is a huge comfort to me and also to those who share my faith. Although we know she’s not actually present, we now have a place where we can go to be close to Fiona’s remains, whenever we want to do so. Maybe take up some flowers for her birthday or for mother’s day, that sort of thing.

And I’m glad it’s done at last. Rest well, my love, until we meet again.

 

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