Love lifted me

It is interesting to read the obituaries of people who have recently died. Many, who are not well-known, have lived very interesting lives. The obituaries usually do not give details of the cause of death and often make no reference to the person’s faith in God. However, the Daily Telegraph recently published an obituary of Joan Winmill Brown, who died at the end of June at the age of 89. I had never heard of the lady, but her story was unusual.

Joan was a successful actress. In the years following World War II, when she was a rising star of the British stage and screen, she was introduced to Bobby Kennedy. He was attracted to the beautiful young actress and she became his secret girlfriend. When Bobby’s father, Joe Kennedy, found out about their relationship he ordered his son to end it. Their break-up, in early 1950, hit Joan hard; she sank into a depression during which she drank too much. She even considered suicide. She said, “At that time my world fell apart, but in hindsight I don’t believe I truly loved him. I think I was infatuated with his aura of wealth as much as the man himself.”

In 1954, a friend persuaded Joan to go to a Billy Graham Crusade in Harringay Arena. She recalled, “As I walked in the crowds were singing Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. I didn’t get it at all.” That night she was introduced to Ruth Bell, Billy Graham’s wife, and a lifelong friendship began that helped turn Joan’s life around. Later Joan received Jesus as her personal saviour and said, “God in Jesus showed me the way to happiness.” In 1952, she met Billy Brown whom she married. They both worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and, after they retired, lived in Hawaii. Billy died just a few months before Joan.

A hymn often sung at Billy Graham Crusades well expresses Joan’s testimony; “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I. All my heart to him I give, ever to him I’ll cling, in his blessed presence live, ever his praises sing. Love so mighty and so true, merits my soul’s best songs. Faithful, loving service, too, to him belongs. Love lifted me! Love lifted me! When nothing else could help, Love lifted me!

Always giving thanks

Being thankful is a great blessing. At this time of year many churches hold Harvest Thanksgiving services. We have enjoyed a wonderful summer and so the harvest has been really good. The farmers have done well and we have enough food to eat for another year. There is good reason for us all to rejoice and give thanks?

One of the problems, however, of living in a secular society is, “To whom do we give thanks when things go well?” The politicians would like us to thank them, but few of us find that an attractive option! In an atheistic society like North Korea the people are commanded to give thanks for everything to their tyrannical President, Kim Jong-un. If they are not enthusiastic enough in giving thanks they are in serious trouble. Thankfully, we are under no such pressure.

The Bible gives us many exhortations to be thankful. The Psalmist says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” The Apostle Paul says, “Sing and make melody from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

A modern hymn by Bishop Michael Baughen expresses thanks for simple daily blessings and for God’s amazing love in Jesus. “Thank you for every new good morning, Thank you for every fresh new day, Thank you that I may cast my burdens, wholly on to you. Thank you for every friend I have Lord, Thank you for everyone I know, Thank you when I can feel forgiveness, to my greatest foe. Thank you for leisure and employment, Thank you for every heartfelt joy, Thank you for all that makes me happy, and for melody. Thank you for free and full salvation, Thank you for grace to hold it fast, Thank you, O Lord I want to thank you, that I’m free to thank.”

It makes a great difference to our lives when we realise that there really is a God who is good and the Giver of every good and perfect gift. When things go well we can gladly thank him and when hard times come we can trust him to be with us and to help us. In one of his hymns Joseph Hart expressed his delight in his God and Father, “How good is the God we adore, our faithful unchangeable friend, we’ll praise him for all that is past and trust him for all that’s to come.”

Good news of great joy

This year the big supermarkets are selling very few Christmas cards with Christian themes. The overwhelming majority of the cards they are selling have a “traditional” Christmas message. When asked why this had been done the reply was that this is what the majority of their customers want.

We are living in very difficult and anxious times for the whole world. The message of the birth of Jesus is just what we need. The baby who was born in Bethlehem is a beacon of light and hope in a dark world. God made sure that ordinary people, like the shepherds, knew that Jesus had been born. He sent an angel to announce the birth, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

Jesus is a great King and his was a royal birth, yet he did not come just for the rich and famous, but for ordinary people. The shepherds were working men and were spending a c old night on the Judean hills. They were not deeply religious men. Their conversation that night was, no doubt, about the things all men talk about when they get together. Then suddenly they were confronted with the glory of God, and were terrified. The angel spoke to calm their fears. He had good news for them which would bring joy to them and to all the people. A Saviour had been born, the Messiah had come!

As Christmas approaches you may have many fears and anxieties. You are thinking about all the things you have to do. You may be apprehensive about the coming year. How will you cope financially? Will you still have a job? What kind of world will your children and grandchildren grow up in?

The shepherds teach us something very important. After the angels had gone they said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” After they had seen the baby Jesus they returned to their fields “glorifying and praising God.” Jesus is the one we all need, whatever the supermarket chiefs think. He came from heaven to give great joy to people like you and me. So why don’t you find out more about him this Christmas? After all Christmas is all about him!