After a four-week break from church nursing my wife I returned and preached. As I finished the sermon a woman member came to me and said “you have not changed you still look the same.” I said “thank you” and passed on and out of the sanctuary. I knew what she meant, and knew there was a sermon or an article in that phrase at some future time. That time is now.

Usually, during the month of November, Patricia, my late wife, and I go to USA and in particular Long Beach. We work for eleven months and have one month off, preceded and including a conference for pastors at Church on the Way, Sherman Way, Van Nuys, Los Angeles. It is a Foursquare Church that was once pastored by Jack Hayford. We start there and then travel the 45 minutes down the 405 to the seaside, drop our travel bags and just wander with no real purpose, except to rest and get away from normal routine. We call into a local café and have a mocha and muffin, and just spoil ourselves. We’ve done Highway 1 from San Francisco down to San Diego, and all the sites between; we don’t need to see them again.

Last year I bought our tickets as usual to travel early November but in July Patricia was taken seriously ill, and was painfully desperate for six months and died 11 January 2014. There is no need to go to USA anymore, our relationship was the backcloth of that impending holiday; it made it what it was. Looking at an empty chair at a table for two in a restaurant has no attraction for me. There is a limit to how many times you can look at a marina and an aquarium!

A few days ago I saw Piers Morgan on TV interview Ian Botham, the famous England cricketer. He asked what he would put on his gravestone, and Botham said “Here lays a man who rode the torpedo to the end of the tube.” Mediating in my bath afterwards, I asked of myself what I would put on my gravestone if I had one, and that woman’s words came to mind “You have not changed.” Hopefully what it really means is that we are who we are and we do what we can.  The whole of lifestyle Christianity can be summed up in that statement of two parts.

Jesus defending the woman with an alabaster box of perfume said she has done what she could, not what she couldn’t, and life to me seems to be a struggle in an attempt to do things we are not called to do. This woman had limited opportunity to witness and present her love to Jesus. Although the odds were against her, she still persevered in her task of adoration. She was a woman who normally showered her emotions on other men, now on Jesus. She originally did it for gain, now to give. Not a sordid and false affection but a sincere and devoted worship. This man had changed her

life, she did what she could – nothing would deter her. The epithet of our lives should be “we did what we could.” There are many things we cannot do, but what we can we ought to do; not only doing what we can, but being who we really are.

When this congregational member made that statement I was only being who I really was, why should I be different? I had nursed Patricia since she was 31 until she died at 78. That last six months being the heaviest intensity, but age brings a deeper affection and love mingled with compassion. How could I look different, mine was a ministry of care for the one I loved, either God sustains or he doesn’t, that’s Christianity. That is what I have preached for 60 years. I have walked with God as long as I walked with Patricia; what can I say then other than that he is able to do far more exceeding abundantly than we can ask or think.

We all bear the marks of suffering through the vicissitudes of life which makes us who we are — being changed from glory to glory; either we are or we aren’t! It is not time to make excuses for kingdom living, if God be for us and in us, we must bear those marks well. The unsaved world bear similar trials and tribulations, without the inner strength of the Holy Spirit, will we let them challenge us in their daily life of overcoming? They have no invisible support, we do – and more!

A Valentine’s Tribute: Roses never Fade

On the 3rd October 1959 I married my bride in the Full Gospel Tabernacle, Billesley, Birmingham; she came down the aisle, veiled, white-clad with a large bunch of red roses. The church was packed with standing room only at the back. They had come to wish us well and smother us in prayer for our future.

I met Patricia when I was 15, she 13 and fell in love immediately and never fell out. I had to attend a Bible class at the church on a Sunday afternoon because I wanted to play cricket and their leading bowler had gone to a county side, and there was a vacancy which I filled,  but the mandate was no Bible Class no bowling! Thank God for it was there I met Patricia and got saved.

We courted for six years and were engaged for four years and married when she was 23 and I was 25 so we knew each other for 64 years. “For better for worse, for richer for poorer, and in sickness and in health;” that was the vow we kept. For 54 years I gave her a red rose on our anniversary and at the crematorium I gave her the 55th which was due 3rd October this year. It would be my last chance to anticipate the future and say ‘goodbye my valentine:’ the roses in heaven never fade.

One year we drew up in our car on the driveway and I said to her “my apologies my sweet but I have not had the time to buy you a red rose for tomorrow which is our anniversary” she smiled and said “no matter I haven’t got you a card either.” We chatted and I said “this is not a case for divorce is it?” “No” she said “I think we’ll weather it for yet another year.” we laughed and exited the car.

On the morning, whilst she ate I went into the garden to clear the autumn dying and cut out the finished debris in the borders, and as I reached the Dahlia bed and began cutting I suddenly came upon a rose bush which was still in flower hidden by the flower stems and frost-blighted leaves, the rose was deep red and the bud nicely formed, a miracle indeed. I cut it and walked back to the garden room where she sat, and as I walked towards her I pointed at the rose which I held high; went in and gave it to her. I could tell she was delighted; it’s the little things that bless us. And so the 51st rose was truly delivered and the record had been kept. Perhaps God had a hand in it, perhaps not, but in the end it really doesn’t matter, we had not forgotten our vows and pledge to each other.

There were many hymns we used to sing in bygone years but now hardly ever heard in churches over the land. Here is just one:

I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses
and the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

I He speaks, and the sound of His voice is so sweet
the birds hush their singing,
And the m
elody that He gave to me
Within my hear is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.

This hymn typifies her life; it could be in reality her testimony. From the first day of her salvation at 12, she walked with God in purity, for he was her real father. In the early days of Myasthenia she was literally alone as I earned my income as a Senior Lecturer, and in those private housebound sessions over many years she developed a unique relationship with God. It held her in good stead, and I am sure she knew, like the last verse, the meaning of those words “but he bids me go; through the voice of woe. His voice to me is calling,” and it was, and she went. I hope we can say the same with certainty, peace and authority when our time arrives.

Consider (Part 2)

The state of the heart must outweigh the conduct of the life; therefore John said “you have left your first love” [Rev 2:4] a gross sin indeed. Thus the sin of omission was recognised and revealed; often tribulation reveals the heart’s condition. There are common laws that suggest if we do one thing another will automatically happen, so we thus teach our children, but normal retribution follows waywardness. Hear God’s parental heart as He speaks: O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” [Hos 6:4], knowing He must do something He struggles to manifest love in their error. It is the same for all earthly fathers who love their children. Love demands correction to ensure future compliance to improvement. God loves us too much to leave us alone. Job says it right — Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man: [Job 8:20]. His attempt is to bring us to perfection in the daily swirl of life, for we are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” [2 Cor 3:18].

The subtlety of backsliding is often ignored as we talk of the sins of commission, Proverbs comes to our aid [Prov 14:14]The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways,” and as long as we walk in OUR way we are backsliding. Do not be surprised if correction comes. Although there is no apparent decrease in fervour what formality can arise in our hearts, what decay of devotion, and what coldness of love? We need to pray with the Old Testament saints: “I will not offend any more: That which I see not teach thou me: if I have done iniquity, I will do no more” [Job 34:31-32]. Let this be our prayer:

Burn fire of God! By Thine own love transcending,
Let all I hold be Thine, and Thine alone!
Heart, mind and will, a sacrifice ascending,
Consumed by fire from out Thy fiery throne.

They say that prevention is better than cure, and that is especially so with regards to moral failure and obesity! Better not to have done it rather than done it and repented. David the king is never free from Bathsheba. Our repentance may never recover us, for David was reclaimed but his illegitimate child died and the sword never left his house. However, Joseph faced with similar trial survived it and he kept his peace of mind, but lost his freedom. When facing great temptation often we can only have concord at great personal cost. God gave him approbation for his conduct, his strength marked the value of his reputation, and others could be influenced by the development of his character. We read that Hezekiah’s heart was lifted up, and wrath came upon him, better to have preserving trial.

Paul had a similar experience and because of God’s favour he was in danger of being exalted, so along came the thorn in the flesh, “a messenger of Satan to buffet [him]me” [2 Cor. 12:7] which is always a great leveller. Although we have seriously examined ourselves and there is not one sin that we can identify in our lifestyle, or one duty we have willingly neglected and no idol we have knowingly embraced, yet there could be the possibility of that which might be, there could be the embryo of pride forming, and God knows how to deal with it, to preserve our testimony. We do not know the treachery of our own heart.

Then there is the aspect of examination; we all need tests in life. Israel refusing to enter the Promised Land were given 40 years probation by God; this sought to test their principles, commitment and belief in divine guidance and provision and whether they could keep his commandments. Take Job as an example God put a hedge about him and then allowed him to be stripped of his safety, health, housing, children and goods. His response was prevailing; “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” Even his wife railed against him: “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” [Job 2:9-10]. Compliance to the divine will brought him to the point where he cursed the day of his birth; there was a slight malfunction in his soul. Such trial discerns the motive, tries the soul, and makes us all appear human! Even Jesus before His Father said “let this cup pass from me, nevertheless . . .” Thy will be done irrespective.