Who Wants This?

I’m moving to a new location in a few weeks and I’m trying to train my replacement to take over from me. I’m still going to be Director of the company, but the day-to-day stuff will be done by the new manager. We have a similar sense of humour – which is a mixed blessing. It means we get on well – vital for business – but sometimes we spend too much time laughing at dumb things I’ve accidentally done instead of me getting on and teaching her the nitty-gritty of managing the practice.

But I think about what I’ve been doing for the last thirteen years a lot. As well as creating this blog for Eagle’s Wing Ministries, my day-job has been managing the medical practice my wife and I own, and for the last 3 years keeping things ticking over at the medical centre for her, a dentist, a physiotherapist and an optometrist. It’s hard work sometimes. People management is the worst. Hiring I can do easily, but three times now I’ve had to fire someone, and only once did I not lose sleep over doing it. We’re a small business and consequently we work closely together and inevitably I tend to care about the people as friends. So if they let me down, it hurts on a personal level beyond the professional.

One receptionist we suspected of theft, but couldn’t prove it. She was popular with the patients and I didn’t want to believe she was a thief. I was right. She wasn’t a thief.

She was an addict.

We gave her two months paid leave to get clean. We’re a dispensing practice, so we carry a lot of stock in terms of medicines like morphine, pethidine, codeine, ephedrine, and a range of tranquilisers, all of which are highly addictive and dangerous in the hands of an addict. She managed to get off the “tik” – a form of crystal meth – she had been hooked on, but when she relapsed we had no choice for her sake or our own but to let her go. I hated that. I had to tell a young mother she no longer had a job because of her addiction.

The other one I was troubled by was a single mum who had been set-up by her ex. We got an anonymous tip that she was an addict, so we carried out a random drug test from our in-house stock. She failed it, showing signs of opiates (heroin) as well as cocaine and marijuana. I couldn’t believe it. Again – as is my protocol – we gave her one month to get clean. During that month we began to get strange calls asking if she still worked there. We got unusual emails showing the inside of the centre with clothing strewn around the waiting area as if someone were sleeping there. The messages claimed she was sleeping in the centre and offered the photos as “proof”.

I was not surprised when, a month later, a test I bought on the way in to work was completely clear of all drugs. My reason? I’d changed the locks. It turned out her ex had been able to access the building. Suspecting this, I’d thrown out our old drug-test kits that morning and replaced them. We were all relieved when not a trace showed up. But timekeeping was a problem. We finally managed to get rid of her ex, but the local public transport is a nightmare. Unreliable rail service and not on a bus or “taxi” route all added up, and chronic lateness ensued. After complaints from the practitioners about it, we had no choice, and I had to fire a friend.

So leadership. Who really wants it?

I get emails every week from groups and individuals inviting me to visit and preach. It’s an honour to be invited, and I keep every invite (at least, the ones I save from my stupid computer’s “junk” box) and reply. If you sent an invitation and didn’t get a reply, please try again by writing directly instead of the “contact” form. (Address at the bottom of this post)

In among the ministry emails this morning was one titled “Why Do You Want To Be A Leader?”

It made me think.

I started my own business in South Africa because it was almost impossible to find a job where I’d be able to do what I’ve spent over 20 years now doing because of the way the labour law is structured. But nobody could stop me being my own boss.

In England – where I’m now moving – I was written off by the system as “permanently disabled due to mental illness” in 1999/2000. This was major depression following my father’s death, the breakup of my engagement and the death of one of my dearest friends. Moving back now, I’ll have to convince the establishment that 17 years later and having completed a degree I’m actually not “disabled”.

Are there things I can’t do in terms of changes in me resulting from that specific time in my life?

Yes.

They are things like:

  • I have no tolerance level for bull. Life’s too short.
  • I won’t tolerate discrimination based on skin colour.
  • I won’t be bullied into taking a job with no real responsibilities – that was what finally triggered my meltdown.
  • I won’t let someone else tell me what I’m not capable of.

It’s a simple list, and mostly things I thought before I needed the break mentally. “Stress” is something different to everyone. Some people thrive in environments that would crush others.

So now I look at where I am, and I think “why do I want to be a leader?”

Then I think “DO I want to be a ‘leader’?”

The simple answer is “no”.

Eagle’s Wing Ministries isn’t about becoming a “leader”, it’s about being a “follower”.

I think if people go into ministry because they want the title, power or perceived respect that they think comes with it then they probably shouldn’t be considered for a leadership role.

I was asked by a church leader who pastored several churches across a large area about a situation that had arisen. There had been civil unrest some years before and one of the young leaders of that time, who had been involved in stirring up hate in the area of Africa they were in had now become a Christian and joined his church. The congregation had struggled. He had been a visible member of a group known to have recruited child soldiersd2ce8-military_helmet_and_cross from some of the families in the church, and now they struggled to get past his past.

It’s very understandable. I thought for some time before I replied. Since the church leader had personally brought this man into the church, it needed to be his choice that resolved the issue. But he was so close to the situation he needed help to find perspective.

My reply was that since he had several churches far away from where the conflict had been, perhaps for a time he should send this man to one of them. This would allow him to work with the congregation to find a place of forgiveness, and work with the young ex-guerilla to grow spiritually. Alternatively, he could leave everyone where they were and try to sort it out together – a much more challenging option, but possibly a faster one.

Last I heard, the ex-guerilla had moved far away from the church where they had feared him, to a place where his past was unknown to the people personally. He was being considered for eldership in that branch of the church group, but was struggling with the invitation to lead because of his own feelings about his past.

I always ask people who write not to call me “Pastor”, or “Prophet”, or “Bishop”. I’m none of those things any more than anyone else. If the writing on this site blesses you, then that’s great – it’s my aim in writing it. If it helps you avoid mistakes I’ve made, fantastic! But I’m still not any of those things any more than you are.

We all are “sinners saved by Grace”. We also all have Spiritual Gifts through the Holy Spirit. And choosing to move in those gifts doesn’t make someone “better” or somehow “more holy” than anyone else.

Nobody has gifts more important than any others. More visible, perhaps, but not important. My grandmother’s brothers were pilots during World War Two. They were very aware that the only reason they got to fly the planes was the small army of mechanics, welders, drivers, and ground staff that kept the planes and airfields in a usable condition. “Pip”, as my uncle was known (Flt Lt Wilfred Rowland Travell DFC, 220 Squadron), told me many stories about his exploits as a pilot, but he always spoke of how much the guys on the ground meant to him. For every plane in the air there were around 75 people on the ground making sure it could be. The pilot got the recognition, but if just one person was missing from the “support” team on the ground, the plane didn’t get off the airstrip.

It’s the same in ministry.bc346-sheep

Not everyone is called to write, or speak, or sing, or lead worship. Some sweep halls. Some erect tents. Some rig lighting or sound. I do what I’m called and gifted to do. Something that stopped me writing for almost 20 years was the thought that I couldn’t write like CS Lewis or Max Lucado or John Eldredge. It wasn’t until recently (when I began this blog on “blogspot.com”) that I realised God already had a Lewis, Lucado and Eldredge. I’m not called to be them. I’m called to let Him make me into the best “David Beddow” I can be.

Nobody else.

Just be “David Beddow”. Be myself.

It’s critical.

So I don’t want to be a leader. But we are all leaders. We all have people that follow us, listen to our words and watch our actions.

So watch your step.

I guarantee someone else is…

 

 

 

If the “contact” form hasn’t got you a reply from me, write directly to me: david@eagleswingministries.org

Ask, Seek, Knock…

Craving

Deep inside all of us there is a desire for God. Our souls cry out for Him, even when we try to deny it. Most people will end up filling this void with meaningless junk and false idols. Nobody is immune.

We crave God’s presence in our lives.

For once I stayed out of an online conversation between an atheist and a Christian recently, choosing this time to watch as the argument unfolded.

Sadly, atheists are blinded to their own situation.

 For ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through His workmanship [all His creation, the wonderful things that He has made], so that they [who fail to believe and trust in Him] are without excuse and without defense. For even though they knew God [as the Creator], they did not honor Him as God or give thanks [for His wondrous creation]. On the contrary, they became worthless in their thinking [godless, with pointless reasonings, and silly speculations], and their foolish heart was darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles.

Romans 1:20-23 [AMP]

9a93a-wrong2band2brightPaul doesn’t pull his punches when he writes to the Roman church. The city was in a very similar place spiritually to 21st Century Western society. There were so many false gods, Apollo, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and many more, that it was inevitable that the Christians would be exposed to them. The temples often had prostitutes working in them so sex was offered as a “sacrifice” of sorts to whichever deity it happened to be. Switch to 21st Century times and in place of the Roman gods we find actors, pop stars, politicians and even televangelists being “worshipped”. The prostitution of pornography on the internet and television & movies may be less exposed, but it’s no less real. Remember Christ told us that even looking lustfully at someone was as bad as adultery to God. Porn is designed to incite lust. Satan doesn’t need to have actual prostitutes any more, the images on the screen mean tens of thousands of men and women give themselves over to his influence on an hourly basis. North Korea, by blocking contact with the outside world may be isolated in terms of technology and society, but it’s about the only place relatively unaffected by the sewage flowing from the porn industry online.

And then there’s the modern “golden calf” brigade. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Harley-Davidson, Daimler-Benz and so on. Every brand has its devotees and fans, but few conjure up an image like Harley does – and I can’t think of another company that is so worshipped that its acolytes actually have the company logo permanently tattooed onto their body!

The difference is that the “educated” atheists don’t realise they are worshipping a false god when they religiously polish the chrome or wax the paint of their chosen steed for three hours on a Sunday while the neighbour goes to Church. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles.” Today I’m sure Paul would add television and movie stars and most of the brands we “have” to own.

Now I’m not knocking the brands – don’t get me wrong. I have owned a Harley a few years ago, and I would buy another if I had the resources for it, but my reason has changed over the years. When I was a kid I liked the idea after watching “Any Which Way You Can” and “Every Which Way But Loose” with Clint Eastwood as the bare-knuckle fighter “Philo Beddoe”. I was very young, and didn’t notice the surname was spelt differently to my own – but even now I’m in my 40s I love the movies! Since then I learned to ride and ended up getting my first Harley based on a test-ride and finding it was simply the best put together machine I’d ridden. In terms of the “look” I was more drawn to the Yamaha Virago!

We look for something to fill the hole in our lives. As Christians, we know that hole is God-shaped and nothing else but Jesus will fill it. The World, however, can’t see it. It runs around trying to put a square peg into this round hole and no matter how close it seems for a while, it never quite fills the void.

Everyone worships something. At our core it’s what God designed us to do: build relationship with Him through worship. Satan corrupted this and now we look in all the wrong places. Sex, money, drugs, science, titles, “success” in the eyes of the World. All this and more are used to try to fill the gaping void.

Atheists are so blinded that they can’t even recognise the infirmity of 03382-atheismtheir own standpoint. They decry the teaching of Christianity in schools because it disagrees fundamentally with their belief that there is no God. They are so blinded by this that they then insist that evolution be taught as scientific fact. In truth, evolution is a theory. Maybe it’s a good one, but it’s still a theory with no conclusive evidence to confirm it beyond a scientific doubt: which is why it’s a theory. It’s technically a philosophy.

From a non-Christian perspective, this makes some sense. But then it begs the question “where is another theory to compare evolution with?”

Christians can point to Intelligent Design at this point. But the millisecond the concept of a creator higher than mankind on their evolutionary scale is mentioned the poor, persecuted atheist announces it can’t be because scientific proof can’t establish evidence of God’s existence. But from their perspective, Christianity is also a philosophy.

And so the argument goes on. Carbon dating to show age in millions of years, then the hard-core fundamentalists jump in and declare the planet is only 6000 years old because of Genesis.

Personally I think the Truth is lost in the argument. It doesn’t matter if the world is 6000 years old or 600 million or older than that. What matters is that God Loved us so much that He took on the form of His creation to win back the authority Man had surrendered to Satan rather than destroy everything and start again.

We devote our lives to a search for meaning. We ask what we think are deep, meaningful questions and debate them endlessly. We argue among ourselves and become divided about minutia that are irrelevant.

So what should we do?

Jesus had the answer.

Three steps that we see illustrated perfectly in Paul’s life.

  1. Ask. Ask God who He is. Trust me, He can take the question. When He knocked Paul off his donkey on the road to Damascus the first thing he says is “who are you?”
  2. Seek. Search out intimate knowledge of God through Jesus. Sit under teachers with a solid foundation and learn from them. Paul knew the Old Testament, but he went after he met the Risen Christ and learned from Ananias and the disciples in Damascus, then joined the Apostles in Jerusalem for a time before he went on his journey.
  3. Knock. Paul took every chance he had to knock on the doors of people’s hearts. It’s impossible to read Acts without seeing this in his every action. The nickname “Christians” was given by the church in Antioch. It literally meant “little Christs” or “little anointed ones”. The only way they would be given that title would be if they acted like anointed ones who had the same Spirit they spoke of in Jesus.

Ask. Seek. Knock.

It’s so simple when you think about it. And oddly, everyone does it.

Everyone asks. The nature of mankind is inquisitive. We invent new and varied ways of doing everything from hunting for food to moving around to finding shelter to heating our homes. It’s said Edison tried 10,000 combinations before he made a light bulb. He kept asking “what if”. We all do.

What if I apply for this job?

What if I ask her out?

What if we live in this town?

And we all get answers. All who ask, receive. What the real trick is, however, is asking the right questions.

Paul asked two: “Who are You?” and “What do You want me to do?”

Seek. We all seek something. What we eventually (hopefully) realise is that we are seeking Jesus. But the reason is the issue. Why do we seek Jesus?

We seek Jesus so we can find God. So Satan puts up counterfeits everywhere. The tin-pot idols of today that satisfy for a moment or two but then leave us thirsting, craving, more. Like drinking salt water, it cannot meet our need. Our being was created to run on God’s intimacy and input in our lives. I worked at a filling station for a while and one day this beautiful sports car pulled in and the attendant somehow filled the tank with diesel instead of petrol. A petrol engine can produce power from combusting diesel, but it’s not going to give the performance it was designed to. The car pulled away, coughing and spluttering with billows of smoke behind it as it burned the wrong fuel. It still moved, but it was not happy. We drained the diesel, flushed the tank and filled it with petrol. The result was immediate. With the right fuel, the engine purred as it ticked over, and screamed as the car drove away.

Knock. We don’t do this very well. It involves being around other people much of the time. Knock to have the door opened for us. Not “push”. Knock. It allows us to be dependant on God working for us through someone else. Paul was good at it. We, generally, are not so good. Modern society praises the “self-made man”. Frankly I like it when someone describes themself as “self-made”. It means they accept responsibility for the screw-ups they’ve made. Of course, they just sit with a blank expression and wonder why I’m laughing…

I don’t like relying on other people. Growing up I played individual sports. Tennis, Squash, Badminton, Fencing. I hated team sports like rugby, soccer and cricket. I had trust issues from being “different” from everyone else. I didn’t mind being different, but it meant I walked to the beat of a different drummer, and as a result I am still not very good at the “knocking” part of the Christian life. Yet it’s vital to our maturity. Salvation is a solo path, but Church is a team sport. We don’t all have the same gifts, but to mature we need to be exposed to Pastors, Teachers, Evangelists, Apostles and Prophets. Miss any of them and we don’t get the whole picture.

And our craving grows bigger.

But if we do get the right mix it grows better. We crave more of the right things. I did the Atkins Plan for a while to get healthy in my late 20s. It worked brilliantly. My body ran smoothly eating fats and protein instead of carbohydrates. My muscles were stronger and more defined and I had less brain-fog. But I went back and began eating starch again. The weight came back and the muscle tone vanished. Now in my 40s I’m trying to move back to the higher protein & fat diet I had so my body will grow right again.

Spiritually it’s the same. I’ve been in churches that were like McDonald’s. All starch and no substance and ultimately highly toxic on a Spiritual level. I’ve been in churches that were the opposite as well. Lean and fiery. And I crave that in my walk again. But when you’ve been toxic long enough it’s hard to break the habits even though you know they’re killing you. Like an alcoholic keeps drinking or a lung cancer victim keeps smoking, we sit in toxic spiritual environments because we are addicted to the junk.

But all it takes to satisfy our true craving is to Ask, Seek and Knock.

Everything has a Context…

“I am a rock,
I am an island.”

I am a Rock; Paul Simon 1965

I’ve had this song stuck  in my head for a couple of days now. I like Simon & Garfunkel. Their songs often reflect where I am. Billy Joel is another favourite of mine, in fact I’m fairly sure his “Innocent Man” album was written specifically about my life at that point!

I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts recently. My focus, which with ADD isn’t great to start with, has been off. Physically I’ve been in pain for longer than I can remember and it’s getting worse, my psychologist had to postpone my appointment with him for this coming week (I see this guy because he’s also got Bible Study qualifications – my experience with non-Christian psychologists has been less than great and very expensive) and my ability to help the people I care about as an individual is compromised because of all of the preceding factors.

BUT…

Things are changing. Finally.

Despite the best efforts of my family I’ve felt very isolated the last few years. As a group we’ve had some major issues to deal with, which are not my testimony to share, and as an individual I’ve had to deal with an altered reality after finding the context of my early life changed by initially one, now two medical discoveries: ADD being the first, and a diagnosis of Schoemann’s Disease – a condition where the vertebrae in the thoracic part of my spine are not “normal” leading to chronic back pain – being the second, and I only found out about that a month ago. It changed the context of my life – again – and I’m dealing with the change that means for me, and my perspective of who I am and have been for 44 years.

“Have you considered my servant Job?” asks God several times in Job. Satan takes his family, influences the “helpful” comments of his wife and friends, bankrupts him and finally is given leave to attack his body as long as he does not actually kill the man of God.

Job refuses to curse God or blame Him for his current situation, no matter how bad it gets. He can’t see it, but somehow he recognises there is another perspective to what he’s experiencing and God will be faithful if he remains true to his God.

So true he remains.

And God restores him with more than he’d originally lost.

Job realises his life is part of a context he can’t quite see.

Now I said things are rough. I’m not Job, but I can see how the guy could be tempted to quit. Isolation is not a good thing. Job’s friends and his wife left him feeling isolated, marooned on his own private island of contemplation.

That’s the part where I identify. 17 years ago at this tie of 1999 I was facing the imminent death of my dad from cancer. We knew it was coming, the tumour in his brain could not be completely removed because – as I understand it – a glioblastoma sets “roots” into surrounding tissue. Brain tissue. The tumour they removed was the size of a grapefruit. For a while dad’s personality returned, but there was damage. He lost his sense of balance and had to use a wheelchair or walking sticks to he didn’t fall over. I had made a mistake that had undone my faith to see him healed: I had asked the doctor straight out if the tumour would kill him. Rookie mistake. We place weight on the words spoken by experts, and when the answer came back “yes”, my ability to pray without doubt for healing was shattered and I didn’t have enough time for it to recover before he died.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I felt alone then, despite my mum’s best efforts. I realise now she needed me to need her so she wasn’t alone, but I was broken badly and couldn’t get past it.

In many ways I feel similarly broken at the moment. Lots of people are reaching out to help, but I seem to be unable to express what I really need – probably because I’m not 100% sure. I want them to be around and help me with what I’m going through, but at the same time I want them to butt out and leave me alone to do things my own way. The two are mutually exclusive.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armour,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

But things are changing. My time as an island is drawing to a close, finally.

Our regular receptionist is on leave this week so we have another lady filling in. I find it easier to relax with our stand-in for some reason I have yet to figure out. My wife is going to be in doing more hours, which I’m nervous about but is a good thing in the long run. We have a lady starting this week who I’m training to take over the part of the job I can no longer do. Exciting times.

We live in an isolated world today.

Growing up, “social networking” meant having my best mate over to play “Elite” on my computer, a few of us getting together to go for a walk, cycling to the local reservoir or just to hang out and talk. The internet hadn’t been invented yet, and my current SIM card has more memory than my computer did then.

Simpler times. And harder to be isolated in. We were there – physically – for one another. When my brother died I was with a good friend. I spent the next few days in the company of him and a handful of other real friends, not “virtual” ones.

I wasn’t an island. I couldn’t be. At a party I’d be the guy sitting in the corner making small-talk with the potted fern, sure, but in real-life when the ones tormenting me were split off from the group I was also the go-to guy for real advice. And I had go-to friends when I needed advice as well.

There’s a place here in South Africa I love to visit, although it’s been a couple of years since I was able to. Jongensgat has 2 timber cottages that have electricity and running water but no phone. No TV or internet either. My cell-phone gets no reception there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View from Jongensgat cottage

When you go with a few people you have no option but to interact. There’s no sense of urgency. Whilst there is a kitchen, cooking is done over a slow fire by the door in a potjie – a cast-iron pot that resembles a small cauldron – and the stews it creates take several hours to cook, so you settle down with a glass of wine, scotch (or two), cider or beer and talk. It’s a great way to be.

You get to really know people after a few days in that environment. The artificial barriers we put up as social norms begin to come down and we rediscover we were meant for fellowship. God was right when He said it is not good for man to be alone. Alone we kind of find new and improved ways of screwing up – not that it is possible to underestimate the impact of large groups of stupid people.

But to be able to unplug with people you care about and remind yourself why you care about them is very important.

Even Jesus had friends. He spent over 3 years walking around the countryside with 12 guys, talking, joking, eating, sleeping and praying together. And that’s just the time we know about from the Gospels. He was over 30 when executed, so some of those guys He’d probably known for some time. He was God, but He was human too – and humans are designed to function around other humans. His nature as God could not escape the fact that as Man, Jesus had needs. He needed rest, sleep, companionship. Maslow’s hierarchy would apply to Jesus just as much as it does to you and me.

Yes, Jesus drew away from time to time to be alone. We all need to do that sometimes, but He came back because as a man He was designed to need company of humans – and God designed humans to be His friends, not automatons mindlessly worshipping Him. Before the Fall, Adam walked with God in the cool of the evening as a friend. God wanted to get that back, so He dressed Himself in Jesus’ body and became that He wanted to be reconciled with.

God didn’t want to be an island. He didn’t design man to be either.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

We’re not islands. Our lives have a context within the life-stories of those we are around.

My dearest friend is a young woman I met a few years ago. She was my boss at the company I was working for at the time, brought in from another city. I miss her company dreadfully because other than my wife, she’s the only friend I’ve had in over 20 years who makes me forget to check my phone every five minutes. The truest friend I’ve made in many years. One of her poems is an entry on this blog, “If I Give Up Now”, and is a post I frequently re-read myself. Please have a look as I know it will Bless you in ways you won’t realise unless you read it!

I’m not afraid to have female friends. It’s part of not being an island for me. Billy Graham made a point of never being alone with a woman so he could never be accused of improper conduct. There’s wisdom in that, but sometimes the softer nature or stronger nature of the opposite gender is exactly what we need. If the only waves to strike shore were stormy the coastline would be destroyed in no time. Similarly if all the waves ever did was to lap gently on the rocks there would never be any change. Nature needs soft and hard impressions, so do our spirits. That’s why God made men and women different from one another. A woman’s strength is often hidden in softness, a man’s softness hidden by strength.

Things happen in life. During the last 30 or so years in mine I’ve seen new lives enter the world, held the hands of the dying, attempted suicide, buried over 20 family members – some of whom I’m now older than – made and lost friends, loved and been loved.

I’ve also isolated myself and allowed myself to be brought back in by the ones who love me.

I’ve learned that while I can be an island, this life is so much better if it’s shared.

 

Island

Seeing Despite the Clouds

Clouds

A dark cloud is no sign that the sun has lost his light; and dark black convictions are no arguments that God has laid aside His mercy.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
There’s been a lot of turmoil recently in the world. Brexit, the bombing in Istanbul, continuing political turmoil in America. A lot of problems.
The World loves problems. It loves to try to block out the Light by throwing clouds across the sun, or rather trying to hide the Son.
CS Lewis said “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” There’s a lot of truth in that, as with most of what Lewis wrote. The man had a deep and profound wisdom that I hope in another 30 years I might have 10% of.
But the World hates the Light. It wants to try to dim God’s Glory by throwing clouds across our path. As I’m writing this there is a heavy rainstorm going on outside my window, rattling on the roof and a draught blowing through a crack in the window-frame. It reminds me of another storm.
Jesus had just fed 5000 men, plus their women and children. Conservative estimate may put the total at 12-15000 hungry mouths. And He did it with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
Pretty amazing stuff. You’d think it would make an impression on His closest friends.
I love the disciples. They see such an amazing miracle and then a storm on a boat and they forget exactly who it is they walk with. Clouds cover the event from less than a day before. They get focussed on the immediate situation, the storm.
The clouds.
They lose sight of the One they are walking with.
Peter does a bit better. They all see Jesus walking across the surface of the sea through the storm towards them. The boat is sinking, but Peter realises there’s something more here. He cries to Jesus.
Now something I’ll write about another time is how to ask Jesus a question. It’s too big to go into here in detail. Suffice to say Peter generally before Pentecost tended to open his mouth for the express purpose of changing feet. “If it is you” he calls to Jesus.
“If”.
What’s Jesus going to say? “It’s not me Peter, stay in the boat”? He puts God on the spot. He opens up himself as well.
The storm rages on. The swell is swamping the ship. It’s sinking, and there’s nothing Peter can do to stop it. He’s a fisherman. How many times might he have lost friends to a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee? Now it’s him that’s caught in one.
But for a blinding moment Peter sees through the clouds and gets out of the boat. In the middle of the sea. And he walks to Jesus. Only when he begins to see the clouds, when he takes his eyes off the Christ, does he begin to sink.
I’ve never “begun” to sink. I step onto the surface of the swimming pool and I don’t “begin” to sink.
But Peter begins to sink. The clouds of the storm have distracted him, but he is still aware of the Son behind them – so he calls to Jesus again. And they walk back to the boat together, over the surface of the water.
What clouds are in your life? Finance? Sickness? Unemployment? Losing a home? Unhappy marriage?
The worst thing you can say to someone who’s depressed is “just pull yourself together”. The clouds of that illness overwhelm to the point that they are blinding.
We lose sight of the light behind the cloud. It’s easy to do.
About 17 years ago my dad was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, a particularly nasty brain cancer with a life expectancy of around 12 to 16 weeks after diagnosis. Treatments available at the time didn’t increase the time he had left, they simply made his last weeks miserable with nausea, drug induced diabetes, and so many tablets it took my mum aver an hour to get them all into him. He’d just be settling from the breakfast dose when she had to start with the lunchtime round.
Dad and I were close. He was my closest friend, my Spiritual brother. We had played and prayed together for most of my life. Now I was losing him. The clouds closed in around me, and despite having been a Christian for almost 15 years at that point I lost sight of the Son behind the clouds.
Depression followed, and brought 4 suicide attempts – a much longer story that I’ll share another time. The clouds swallowed me because I forgot how to look behind them.
Just a few days before he died there was a total eclipse in England. We went up to the top of the local hill where the parish church had stood until arsonists destroyed most of it a few years before. It was an amazing experience, watching the moon’s shadow cover the sun. Birds went to roost, flowers closed, New Age hippies rattled tambourines (much to everyone’s annoyance) but not once did anyone – even the smallest children – doubt that the sun would come out again.
We can deal with an eclipse, but we think the world is ending because of a cloud!
I see death and suffering on a daily basis in South Africa. It’s hard seeing someone come through when they just got the news that they have cancer, or HIV, or whatever the reason is they come to see us (I work at a medical practice). It’s part of the reason I’m getting out from working in that environment. It’s secular. I can’t turn to them and remind them that the Son is still there and on their side. We see many different religious beliefs as well as agnostics, and it tears me up inside to not be able to shake them sometimes and rattle the clouds away even if just for a moment.
I do get the chance sometimes, and that’s very rewarding. But I need more.
We are called to be the Light to the World, to let Jesus shine through us. But then we wrap ourselves up in the same clouds everyone else is covered by and try to hide so we don’t “offend” them.
It’s time to offend some people. Ever notice how the World doesn’t think twice about offending Christians? A conservative estimate suggested a couple of years ago that there are over ten times the number of committed Christians in America than homosexuals – not taking into account those who claim to have a foot in both camps.
Ten times the number.
Where are the “Christian Pride” rallies? Where are the vocal Christians? And I’m not referring to the cranks and crackpots lining up to endorse assorted political “leaders” (and I use the word under advisement), but the voice of the real, grass-roots Christians who can see through the clouds and smokescreen the media whips up.
How have we reached the point where the darkness is overcoming the light?
Clouds blow over. The sun is always there, just behind them.
Look past the clouds in your life today and see the Son shining, reaching out to you.
I’d like to hear: What are three things we can do to help us remember that even when the clouds are there, the light shines through?
And please, no “read the Bible more” or “pray harder” type answers.
Blow the clouds away!

Empty Road

Empty

Living in South Africa I’ve gotten used to long drives. For example, non-stop it’s about 17 hours from my home in Cape Town to Johannesburg, so the trip takes 2 days.

It’s the same going to my wife’s family in Namibia. Again, about 17-18 hours drive.

On the Namibian road, like the one in the feature picture, you can drive for a very long time in a very straight line and not see another vehicle. It’s largely deserted except in the cities, and much of that is desert like the movies show it. Not all, but a lot.

The first time I drove up was exhausting. Thankfully the car had aircon or I’d be a puddle. Even with it running full we were hot. There’s little or no cell phone coverage and no emergency phones on the roadside. If you break down or have an accident you have to hope someone else comes along, and that they stop.

It’s empty.

There’s a lot to be said for emptiness. It encourages conversation between travellers. It also can mean long silences when you run out of topics. Music is helpful as a distraction.

The road is hypnotic. The emptiness unceasing and the landscape unchanging for hundreds of miles at a time.

It sets me thinking about life as a Christian.

Christianity isn’t a sprint. At least, it’s not meant to be. It’s a marathon and then some.

There’s a lot of emptiness in much of our road though. Far more than God intended.

Jesus said He came to give us abundant life, but so often it feels like walking a straight road through the desert. It feels like nothing changes. There’s as much ahead after ten hours walking as there was when you set out. Only now you’re hot, sweaty, tired and sick of walking.

We’re supposed to walk alongside one another, but the road feels empty. My wife and I have different paths even after over a decade of marriage. There are things about one another we just don’t “get”. Every couple has those things, and it’s only a problem if you let it be. I know couples who lost sight of why they were together because of their differences and split up. I know others who embraced them and tried to join in with each other’s stuff – sometimes it worked, sometimes they split up. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

So the road feels empty.

And there’s a BIG difference between “empty” and “open”.

And open road holds possibilities, hope and adventure. I’m a biker and I love the open road, especially if there’s nothing else around. I used to go out for a ride when I lived in England, just to ride. The road was open and I just went. Sometimes I was home an hour later, sometimes five or six. I loved it.

But an empty road, a road that never changes, is a road that can break your spirit.

The road starts with something life-changing.

For me it started at 2:55pm Wednesday 20th February 1985. A phone call. “Robin’s dead”. Nobody else I know has walked that path. I was not quite 13 years old. Robin was younger, taken by a moment of stupidity and childish impetuosity when he swung out in front of a driver.

There have been times on my road where I’ve been through bustling activity. Those I can deal with. But the emptiness between them, even after 31 years, can be soul-destroying.

Other things hit people and set them off on their empty road. Cancer, addiction, AIDS, divorce, marriage (if it’s the wrong choice), bereavement, so many other things that can set us off down empty roads.

Our focus has become our own walk. We don’t pay attention to what’s going on around us.

So our road feels empty.

But it’s an illusion. We’re surrounded by others, we just don’t see them. There are always people with us. We just have been conditioned into a self-centred existence. Western society is incredibly selfish. Not so long ago in some of the European cultures around the Mediterranean you could buy a house with a “generational” mortgage over a century. Your children and their children would inherit the house and it would become their home. Now the American culture of self has infected it and that is changing society. The concept of a “single” European culture is laughable, except it’s being rammed down everyone’s throat. Dire warnings from the far left about leaving the EU and from the far right about staying. Apparently if Britain stays it will cripple the economy, cause unemployment and weaken the currency, whereas if Britain leaves it will cripple the economy cause unemployment and weaken the currency.

Both sides make out the other is an empty road, desolate and bleak with nobody around to help us.

That’s what is happening in the Church. We’re conforming to the pattern of this world instead of being transformed by renewing our minds in the light of the Holy Spirit. America is leading the way down this path. The “socialist” left is almost indistinguishable from the “evangelical” right these days. Policy debates have been replaced with personal slanders and jibes. And yet somehow this country with more debt per capita than Greece is the one everyone wants to be like.

Yikes.

Because that really is an empty road, and the trip is led by the vacuous and incapable who rely on charisma not character. They are empty vessels. When I was a kid we travelled by train a lot. I used to love watching the freight trains with the oil cars come past, but you could tell which ones had oil in them. They were quieter. Empty vessels make a lot of noise. Useless, worthless noise.

Like politicians from all sides. I’m sure we could reduce Global Warming by simply banning politicians from speaking. The hot air they generate…

But this isn’t a political blog, so I’ll stop on that track.

It’s empty.

We need to open our eyes, or rather we need to get back to letting God open our eyes. We need to see the people around us, take time to really see them. You know, like the Early Church did. All the people had everything in common so none were in need Acts tells us. They met in each other’s homes, saw to it they were all fed. Those who had gladly gave up everything to provide for those who didn’t. They had substance.

Today we have hot-air preachers in mostly empty (and draughty) old churches that need the hot air to heat them.

But there’s a fire coming. This emptiness can’t go on forever.

In the 1700s, Wilberforce stood against the “greed is good” element in Parliament and fought them tooth and nail until he won and slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. In the 1800s, Lincoln stood fast against the South and saw the end of the Civil War and delivered the Emancipation Proclamation, but never got to see the results in his lifetime. JFK stood strong against entering Vietnam. After Chamberlain’s failure to stop Hitler with words, Churchill led the Allied thrust against the Nazis’ tyrannical rule until it was wiped out. Mandela stood fast against Apartheid.

In every generation men and women have stood as a remnant for God when greed has overwhelmed society. Fullness of character battling against the empty rhetoric and hopeless roads.

We have companionship on our journey. Jesus is beside us every step of the way. He makes sure our roads are never empty.

We just need to open our eyes…