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!