Category Archives: Personal

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 28 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 (1Jn14:18). 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.

00

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 her, 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

10

The Burial

This entry is part 27 of 28 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.

 

20

Combat Fatigue

This entry is part 26 of 28 in the series Fiona

I have lived in the South-West of England for over 20 years, and Fiona and I lived the greater part of our married life here. While we missed Yorkshire, we never regretted moving here and I would probably not move back, unless my Dad wins the Lottery and buys us a cottage in the Dales 😉

While I am progressing well along the grieving path having lost her eighteen months ago, I was taken completely by surprise by an unexpected emotional response I felt a few weeks ago.

Ellie and I were up in Yorkshire on holiday, at the holiday cottage near Skipton where our family have stayed for the last sixteen years – with the exception of last year as the anticipated memories would still have been very raw. And the cottage was no problem; we had a lovely week in our tranquil, idyllic refuge from the hustle of everyday life. Fiona’s memories were strong there, of course, but in a good way.

Where I came unstuck was when I went to my home town of Yeadon, passing through my original home town of Guiseley, to see my old friend with whom I’d arranged to meet up. Seeing all the places that Fiona and I used to frequent in our earlier years together, was what I found made me feel very odd, and indeed rather sad. While we love South Devon, our formative years as a young married couple were spent in Yeadon, and the memories evoked by the visit that evening – even though it was a dark evening and I couldn’t see much – were poignant and sad. I arrived back at the cottage that evening really quite shaken by the intensity of the emotional reaction I’d had. I have so many happy memories from our past life in Yorkshire, before the immense and life-changing adventure of moving more than 300 miles away to start a new life.

Memories of taking our boys out for walks, with the dogs, in their prams and pushchairs (the boys, not the dogs!). Seeing how hugely my home towns have changed over the past 23 years (since I left) – and not for the better, either*. Memories of surviving in poverty and hardship, where the last few pennies we needed to buy a loaf of bread had to be scraped out of the back of the cutlery drawer. Memories of the boys’ birthday parties; my Dad’s bodybuilding gym; our tiny first house; and our second house which was like a palace in comparison. The grubby black muck of melted snow and the bone-numbing cold so typical of Yorkshire in the winter. Memories of friends, music and worship; walks and stunning views from the hills; memories of seeing God work amazing things in our lives. The griefs, the challenges and the joys of two young lives shared and merged into one.

Somehow, all that came back to me in a rush, comparable to the combat fatigue I had experienced during the fight. And it shook me up good and proper.

I think of it as combat fatigue because it took only a small trigger to kick off all the painful feelings again; the feelings from the battle with cancer and the pain of losing her. Dr. John W. Appel, a U.S. Army combat physician, had this to say about the strain of constant battle: “…there [is] no such thing as ‘getting used to combat’. Each moment of it imposes a strain so great that men will break in direct relation to the intensity and duration of their exposure. Thus psychiatric casualties are as inevitable as gunshot wounds in warfare“. (1) And that’s what it was like, and still is even now, years after the constant, unrelenting battle (which began in late 2013 and ended in October 2016). I am bruised, broken, damaged, and in need of continuing healing from my best friend, Jesus, Who holds my hand on this road.

I suppose that what I have realised is that, while I have (largely successfully) dealt with – and come through – the pain of losing Fiona, and coming to terms with living here in my house that is now so obviously devoid of her light and presence, I had not appreciated how much it would cost me to revisit the good memories of the past, in the places where they happened. The places we went together. The place where I first saw her; the place where she used to live before we were married; the place where I first asked her out. All those familiar, physical places, which, again, no longer look like they used to do back then, so it’s almost as if the memories are all that is left. And that’s very painful; seeing the places where I grew up so changed, and being reminded of the good times we had there. Yes, it’s great to remember those times, but it also has the effect of reminding me of just what I have lost, for this life at least. It has highlighted the gaping space at my side which is where Fiona used to be. In the same way as the old landscapes up there in Guiseley and Yeadon have been lost forever under the blight of tarmac and concrete, so my lovely wife is no longer here with me – until we meet again on the other side of the veil.

So, how do I cope with that?

Well, I am processing it all in a similar manner to how I have processed everything else that’s happened. I confront the feelings, see where they come from and how they affect me, and then turn them around for good. I remember the good things fondly and with gladness and gratitude, and I remember the hard times with gratitude also because God always came through for us, and He never once let us down. And so, the happy memories I hold precious as examples of how good life was, and indeed still is. In essence, whether Fiona is here or not, those memories would only ever be all I have left of those times, because what is past is indeed only ever memories. But the lasting effects of all those experiences are what build up wisdom, gratitude and love – both for God and for others. They convince me even more that death is not the end – don’t ask me how; I actually don’t know, it’s just a deep-seated conviction I have about that.

St. Paul puts it like this: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – (Romans 5:1-5, emphasis mine). And it’s that hope – something to look forward to, and to live in, in the here and now – that keeps me going. Hope for this life, and hope for the next.

As always, with any painful experience, it’s how we deal with it that determines how we will come through. If we can find the strength and determination to just press on and get on with it, that will carry us through, no matter how hopeless things seem. Even if it’s just one small step at a time. And even if you don’t feel it, even if you are not aware of it, still the Presence of God is right there with you as you struggle with your feelings. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and He saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps 34:18). He really is, and He really does. In the meantime, keep your hope alight and press on. Determine that you are not going to let this time beat you. The human spirit is tougher, stronger and more resilient than you would ever believe possible, but it’s not until the hard times come, of course, that we actually see that in action. Wholeness is coming, and your salvation – that wholeness – is at hand.

Be encouraged!


Header picture shows my beautiful Fiona at the age of 29, with my son Richard on her shoulders, in May, 1993. Rich would have been nearly four years old there; he’s now the same age as Fiona is in that photo. She was so gorgeous, wasnt she? 😀 What a blessed man I am to have been married to such a beauty.


*My Dad always used to say, “When I were a lad, all this were just fields”. And now I know how he felt.


References

(1) Dr. John W. Appel, U.S. Army combat physician, quoted in ‘Eighth Air Force – The American Bomber Crews in Britain’ by Prof. Donald L. Miller, Aurum Press Ltd (2007), p.129

50

The Litmus Test

I feel that a good question to ask of a church one is thinking of attending (I’m not thinking of switching churches, by the way!) is this: “What are your attitudes towards LGBTQI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Intersex, and others) people?” Or some variation on that.

This question will reveal, all in one go, their attitudes on Biblical inerrancy and infallibility; Bible as Rulebook; their attitude to legalism; their ability to love others they may not agree with; their attitude towards judging others [they would naturally call it something more palatable]; their attitude towards ‘mercy not sacrifice’ (Hosea 6:6); and – in short – to be Jesus to the people they meet.

To me, this is a real litmus test of a church’s sincerity when they say ‘all are welcome’. Is it really ‘All are welcome’, or is it ‘All are welcome, but…’?

I have, in the past, asked such questions of various Christian organisations. I have to say that those people have achieved the pathetic result of not one answer in reply. Not even one. No acknowledgement; nothing.

So, if you are interested in joining a new church, here’s an idea of the sort of question you might ask:

“Hi there

Just been looking at your pages on [churchname].com

I have a question, and it’s this: How do you cope with people of ‘different’ sexualities? (LIke Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual etc.) I have contacted churches with this question in the past, and have not once received a reply! What I mean by my question is, how much do you integrate people of ‘alternative’ sexualities into your church? I’d really love to hear from you on this subject!

Thanks for your time

Anthony”

[Edit: I have just heard back from one church today. Well done, those people!]

20

Arms of Love

This entry is part 25 of 28 in the series Fiona

This piece is being published on what would have been Fiona’s 54th birthday.

Over the seventeen months since I lost my wonderful wife Fiona to cancer, I have been comforted in my grief and sadness by many different people and activities. I have always found writing my blog to be a great therapy, as it allows me to crystallise my ideas, thoughts, feelings and discoveries on to ‘paper’ so that I can make sense of them, and also help others cope with their grief too in their own way. I have friends who are always there for me. I have flying, which is simply out of this world. I have my family, who have been a tremendous support. I have had my work, who have been really supportive too, and I love to lose myself in my work and go to deep concentration levels where everything else fades away and I don’t even hear people speaking to me. I have had the help of an amazing lady who was, until a few weeks ago, my grief counsellor from the local hospice. And most of all, overarching all of this, working through these channels, yes, but also comforting me directly, has been my friend Jesus.

Most of the time, particularly during that first year after losing Fiona, I felt a constant closeness to Jesus that I had never felt before. Sure, I have always been close to Him, but not like that. I felt as if He was wrapping me up in His Arms of Love. Much of the time, it literally felt like a soft, heavy, warm cloak being held around my shoulders. It’s because He knew exactly what I needed, and He met me at that point of need, as He always does.

Today I would like to share a song that expresses this particularly well, and it says everything I want to say to Him in gratitude for the way He looks after me. Here it is: Craig Musseau’s ‘Arms of Love‘, Vineyard (1991), sung here by Brian Doerksen. Fiona loved this song, and when we lived in Leeds, I used to play it in worship meetings a lot and it reminds me of those times. She’d have been so glad to know how much this song means to me now, being able to sing these grateful words from a place of total reality.

Beautiful.

I sing a simple song of love
To my Saviour, to my Jesus
I’m grateful for the things You’ve done
My Loving Saviour
My Precious Jesus

My heart is glad that You’ve called me Your own
And there’s no place I’d rather be
Than in Your Arms of Love
In Your Arms of Love
Holding me still, holding me near
In Your Arms of Love

 

20

Wings

This entry is part 19 of 20 in the series Beautiful Destroyers

This instalment of ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ is a little different, as I am not showcasing a particular aircraft. Instead, I’m looking at the origins of military aviation and also sharing a lovely piece of music. Enjoy!

As both a military historian and an aviator, I am of course passionately interested in the use of aircraft in military operations – or ‘military aviation’. The history of the military use of aircraft is in itself a fascinating tale of high-end technology (military aircraft have always been at the forefront of technological development), courage, technical skill, determination, tactical development, trial and error, mistakes and success. Of course, warfare is an unforgiving crucible, and because of this it is one of the major motivating factors in the development of technology of all kinds. Military aviation is a prime example of this, if not indeed the pinnacle of modern military technology. It was realised fairly early on in World War I (1914-1918)* that control of the skies was of paramount importance in tactical (and later strategic) warfare. This continues to be axiomatic in modern warfare; he who controls the skies, controls the battle.

But of course it had to start somewhere. The first recorded use of aircraft in military operations was (as far as I know) the use of manned observation kites by the Chinese in the late sixth century – about 594CE. Hot air balloons were first used decisively by the French in 1794; however, although balloons continued to be used for observation purposes for long after, these kites and balloons were of course tethered to the ground and couldn’t really go anywhere. Military aviation therefore really only came into its own during World War I, because with the advent of powered aircraft like aeroplanes and airships, people could actually go more or less where they wanted to go in the skies, rather than having to stay in the same place; this operational flexibility, of course, meant that virtually anything was possible from then onwards. But even then, fully-dirigible (that is, mobile and steerable) aircraft were still in their infancy; airships had been around for only two or three decades, and as for aeroplanes (or ‘flying machines’ as they were often called back then), the first powered aeroplane flight was only in 1903, so the technology was still very much experimental, and flying aeroplanes was very much a hit-and-miss affair (in other words, dangerous) because of this. So it was an historical period quite unlike any other as far as military aviation was concerned.

Having just finished an excellent book on British aerial combat operations in WWI, Fighter Heroes of WWI, by Joshua Levine, I bought the DVDs of the 1970s classic BBC series ‘Wings‘, which for some reason I was completely unaware of at the time (that is, in 1974-76 when it was being shown on TV) – which is a shame as it would have been right up my street. It’s an absolutely superb series with excellent characterisation, engrossing story writing, great acting, historical accuracy and (most importantly to me!) superb and authentic flying sequences. Anyone interested in the early development of military aviation will not fail to be captured by this series; it’s simply brilliant.

And the theme music is gorgeous. In fact, despite my lengthy preamble, this music was actually the main inspiration for this post today – it is simply lovely. It has a nostalgic ‘music-hall’ feel to it, with a beautiful chord structure and bass-line, and above all, a catchy and poignant melody. And I recommend you listen to it on headphones if possible, in order to catch all the lovely nuances.

So, here we are – the theme music from ‘Wings‘, composed by Alexander Faris:

Gorgeous. Hope you liked it!

[Edit]

The theme music for the series ‘Wings‘ was released as a 45rpm vinyl record in 1977, and since first writing this article, I have managed to buy one. You can pick up a copy of your own from Amazon if you like; click the cover graphic below to go to the sales page:

In case they have sold out, here is the title track as an orchestral arrangement, digitised from the A-side of the record:

During one of the early episodes in Series 1, some of the characters in the screenplay can be heard singing a military-style pub drinking song to the same tune. Since I like to have the lyrics for any songs I really like, I was delighted to find that the B-side of the record contained this vocal arrangement, entitled ‘A Sussex Lad’, which is the same song that the characters sang in the episode. The whole feel of the song is just so World War I; it’s a perfect song for the series:

And finally, here are the lyrics so you can sing along:

I’m a gentle lad from Sussex
With a heart that’s light and free
So a frown did pass across my brow
When my girl said to me
“They are fighting on the land, Jack,
And they’re fighting on the sea
Will you be a sailor-boy
Or will you join the New Army?”

I’m a loyal lad from Sussex
With a heart that’s brave and free
But the Sergeant-Major’s language, Lord!
It simply horrified me!
And I would not joint the Navy
For I’ve never liked the sea
So I put my brave heart to the test
And joined the RFC

I go skimming the tops of the mountains
And soaring all over the sea
I think of my girl as I’m flying
And I know she is thinking of me

I’m an airborne lad from Sussex
With a heart that’s flying free
I’ve a pair of wings upon my chest
My girl’s so proud of me
They can keep the Royal Navy
They can […] the infantry
For the sky is now my pasture
It’s an airman’s wings for me!

I’m a daring aviator
And I fly so skilfully
But my aeroplane lacked common sense
And crashed into a tree
Now my wings are lying broken
And my girl she weeps for me
For I’ve left this world and God’s unfurled
These angels’ wings for me


The inclusion of this blog post in my series ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ was apt, I thought, because it describes the very early origins of military aviation. Without the tireless efforts of those pioneers of the past, our ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ would never have existed.


The aeroplane in the header picture is a flying replica of a Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c, the mainstay of the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, when the series ‘Wings’ is set. A very stable aeroplane, and ideal for its designed purpose of reconnaissance (being a stable camera platform), it was not really designed to fight other aircraft; the idea of aeroplanes fighting each other hadn’t really been thought of when this aeroplane was designed! The image is a direct screenshot from the opening titles of Series 1 of ‘Wings’. I’m not sure there are any replicas still flying nowadays; remember this series was made in the mid-1970s 🙂


*Hostilities in World War I, known at the time as the ‘Great War’, ceased when the Armistice was signed on the 11th November, 1918. The War was formally ended in June, 1919, with the Treaty of Versailles. This explains why the dates on some war memorials say 1914-1919.

10

We Did So Well!

This entry is part 24 of 28 in the series Fiona

In my last post in this series, The Fight, I described how it was for us during the fight against pancreatic cancer. My lovely wife Fiona went to be with her Father in October 2016 after fighting this dreadful illness for over two and a half years. In that last post, I described how we found the strength to carry on, and how we lived life to the full despite the illness.

Now, I have just recently finished a series of sessions with my volunteer bereavement counsellor. In our final session together, she used a phrase I hadn’t thought of; she said,

“And you did so well!”

It was interesting that she should say that. I had to think about it a little, but she was right, you know. Y’see, when you’re actually going through these shattering events, you don’t notice how well you are doing; it’s only when someone tells you – maybe how ‘brave’ you are – that you take notice and think, ‘Oh yes! I hadn’t noticed that!’.

Not long after Fiona was diagnosed with the cancer, I remember chatting to someone about our approach to the illness. I said that if Fiona was supernaturally healed, or cured medically, great – and we’d all celebrate and have a well-woman party and say “well done, everyone!” because it would have been a team effort. Everyone would have done their very best and we would express our gratitude for that, and for its fruits – Fiona being well once again.

And the other scenario was that we would lose her to the illness, and we would of course mourn her, but the underlying principle would be the same: We could reassure ourselves in the knowledge that we did our best; we tried our hardest. And that is indeed what happened. Virtually everyone who knew and loved Fiona rallied round us in some way. They provided meals; they sent flowers; they came round for a chat; they shopped for us; they abided by our house’s infection control policy*. Some of Fiona’s close friends set up a charity to raise money for a special medical procedure which I consider gave Fiona an extra year of life; moreover, it was a year free of pain and other symptoms of the cancer. It cost £14,000 to do that, and they raised the money for it. We will always be grateful to these amazing ladies for doing their best too, and working so hard for Fiona. Wow!

And then there’s the courage, the hope, the lessons learned, the bearing up under pressure. How we respond to our tribulations is just as important as the tribulations themselves. Gaining these benefits and life-skills means that the suffering was not all wasted; it was not all in vain. And the same can be said for members of my family: in going through this furnace, this crucible, they have all emerged as better people for it. And our friends were with us on this walk, in that furnace, and on this learning curve, too. All of those who walk through the fire in this way are changed by the experience, and it’s our choice, as we walk through that fire, whether to let it change us for the better, or for the worse.

As you will have read in the other posts in this series, I have learned so much, been so much closer to God, had so much insight (which has already been a tremendous help to others in similar situations), that I would not have had if I hadn’t gone through the dark times. So, rather than moping about and complaining, we just got on with the everyday business of living life to the full. And that meant that all the darkness, all the pain, all the loss, it all had a benefit in the end. We packed so much fun and life into that time, in the midst of the horror and despair. And then we carried on with that attitude once we had lost her. In this way,  the life-lessons learned and the insight and wisdom gained have not been lost; this means that Fiona’s loss does in many ways still carry meaning. And that these lessons have not been wasted would have been just what Fiona would have wanted for us. Of course, I’d still rather not have lost her, but making the best of the situation is a great way of not letting it defeat you.

Not that I believe God throws these things at us; not for one minute. He’s fully aware that terrible things happen in life; shit happens, and it’s how we cope with it that counts. Nobody is exempt from having tribulation in their lives at some point; its how we cope with it that counts, and God promises to be there for us in those hard times. Never will I leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5, Dt 31:6) says God, and He means it. The most famous of the Psalms, the 23rd Psalm, says this:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” (Ps 23:4 KJV).

David, the guy who wrote that Psalm, went through some pretty horrific stuff in his life, yet still he wrote that verse and likely meant what he wrote, and it was evidently true from his words that he’d had the same experience as I and many others who pass through the valley of the shadow of death. God is with us in that valley. He’s had personal experience there Himself. He knows His stuff, and He leads us too into knowing that stuff. Indeed, we walk through the valley, but He is with us.

So, yes.  We did so well! Thanks to the Grace of God, His unearned favour, we are coming through that valley, and we are reaping the rewards of our faith. We did our best – for Fiona – and we are still doing our best. It doesn’t stop once the mourning and the grief are lessening. There is no other person’s hand I’d rather be holding than that of Jesus, because He holds on tight, and healing flows through that Hand just like it did two thousand years ago.

Be blessed!


*Because, as I described in The Fight, chemotherapy patients are usually immunosuppressed as a side-effect of the treatment, and are therefore highly susceptible to infections – and these can easily be fatal. Because of this, I put in place an ‘infection control’ system in our house where anyone who had an infection – a cold or whatever – was respectfully asked not to come in to the house. In addition, we had a hand disinfectant bottle just inside the door, and anyone who did come in was asked to sanitise their hands as they came in, thus minimising the risk of Fiona getting a potentially lethal infection.


Header picture shows me, Fiona and Ellie at breakfast on our ‘House of Anubis Road Trip’; a week-long tour that we did in September 2014, in between doses of Fiona’s chemotherapy. (We called it that because one of the purposes of the trip was to visit the filming locations for the teen mystery drama series House of Anubis‘). We did not let the illness defeat us; we took it on the nose and carried on enjoying life to the full. Look how radiant Fiona is!

The bandage on Fiona’s arm is the covering for the PICC line, which is described in the article The Fight.

10

Thoughts and Prayers…

Yet another tragic shooting in the United States. And it has of course brought out the usual plethora of one group of people saying, ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with you…’ and, predictably, the other group of people who rant on about how valueless ‘thoughts and prayers’ are.

In the very same Facebook group (that I am a part of), I saw two consecutive posts, one saying how useless ‘thoughts and prayers’ are, and the very next post saying that this person appreciated the ‘thoughts and prayers’ that had been expressed for his situation.

Make your minds up, folks.

I know that some politicians and other professional apathists use ‘thoughts and prayers’ as a platitude. And I know that it’s sickening. I know, right?

But I also know that there are many millions of others who, appalled at the violence and suffering, do indeed hold up the victims of these crimes, and their families, in their ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Sometimes, when you live thousands of miles away, ‘thoughts and prayers’ is the best you can do. I’m not trying to be insensitive, but everyone has their own problems and worries and, while we do all we can to help – maybe send money and whatnot – the sheer fallacy of condemning those who ‘have thoughts and prayers but do nothing’ is fallacy indeed. What, do they want us to drop all our responsibilities and fly over to the disaster zone to help personally? What a ridiculous notion. I sometimes think that, in their rage, these people don’t even know what they are talking about; they don’t know what it is they actually want.

And let me tell you something. I have personal experience of the power of prayer. Here’s an example. I know someone who was having an extramarital affair. One night, Fiona and I decided that enough was enough, and we engaged in a thorough prayer battle about that situation, we kicked the enemy’s ass good and proper, and the very next morning the person in question called their spouse and asked to meet up to talk it over. That couple is now back together again and have been so for 25 years or more. The person having the affair ‘suddenly realised’ (at exacty the time we were praying) that this was not the person they wanted to be. Call it coincidence if you like, but it is my firm belief that this person changed their mind because we prayed. I have other examples too but that one will have to do for now. I want to get on with my rant.

My point is that prayer can change things. It is also especially galling that those who decry ‘thoughts and prayers’ are often themselves Christians who profess to believe in the power of prayer. Sorry, but yeah, right. I have actually stopped following one particular person’s Christian blog (and removed it from my recommended blogs/links page) because every third post or so he would continually rant about the worthlessness of ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Listen: Prayer is God’s way of empowering the powerless.

Who are we to say that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are useless?

How dare these people insult the beliefs and caring practices of countless millions of compassionate people, of all faiths and belief systems, all across the world who care enough to think and pray deeply and sympathetically about these poor people who have suffered so? For some of these compassionate people, ‘thoughts’ are the only thing they know how to give. For others, they can think but they can also pray – using the Godly gift that can move mountains. For most, indeed ‘thoughts and prayers’ are all they can give.

So do not belittle the care and compassion of the countless millions who are ‘thinking and praying’ right now for these victims and their circumstances.

You have absolutely no idea how ungrateful you sound.

And you have absolutely no idea what things God is prompting millions of unsung heroes, behind the scenes, to do right now.

Including ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Rant over.


[Edit]: And I must also add that my friend Darren has only today posted on Facebook this very thing:

“Of all the ‘actions’ that you can perform to influence and change another person’s life for the best, secret prayer is the greatest and most effective!”

Thanks Darren! 🙂

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