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!

The secret of being content

We are living in unsettled times. Reports in the media portray a spirit of unease and unhappiness in the hearts of some. It seems that when things go wrong, as they inevitably do in this fallen world, we must find someone to blame and to complain about. We see it as their responsibility to make us happy and ensure we have everything we want. Yet we live in country that, compared to most countries in the world, is wealthy and remarkably secure and stable. We enjoy a considerable degree of freedom to live our daily lives without interference from the authorities. In fact, millions of people from other countries would love to live in Britain and some make great efforts, at risk to their lives, to get here.

Some years ago, I met some friends from West Africa at Heathrow. As we were driving along the M4 they asked, “Where are the soldiers and the roadblocks?” I explained that things that were part of daily life in their country didn’t happen in Britain and that the overwhelming majority of our police were unarmed. They were amazed and, also, could not get over the fact that there were no potholes in our main roads! So, if our lives are so blessed and privileged compared to billions of people in the world, why are we unhappy?

We need to learn the secret of being content. When we are content we are happy, satisfied and fulfilled. It has very little to do with how much “stuff” we have. I was talking to a friend who works in a high-class resort to which many wealthy people come. He told me about a recent holiday in which he and his wife saw people who are much poorer than they are yet, he said, they were content. One man wrote, “Contentment doesn’t come from adding more fuel, but in taking away some fire; not in multiplying wealth, but in subtracting desires.” Socrates said, “The wealthiest person is the one who is contented with least.”

Towards the end of his life the apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome. In a letter to the Christians in Philippi he wrote, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”

He has made everything beautiful in its time

The Spring and early summer is a beautiful time as nature comes alive. This year I have been struck by the beautiful colours of the flowers and blossoms as they have come one after another: pure white snowdrops, purple crocuses, yellow daffodils, majestic magnolias, delicate almond blossom, pink cherry trees, bluebells, and, now, the May blossom. The sequence of flowers and colours has been stunning and, unmistakably, reveals the hand of the Creator.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon reflected on the meaning of life and wrote, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” Solomon was famous for his wisdom and his wealth. When the Queen of Sheba visited him, and saw his palace and his court, she said, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.” Yet, when Solomon surveyed God’s creation he saw a beauty far beyond anything the human mind could create and it moved him to worship the awesome God of who created this beauty.

Solomon also saw that the beauty of creation is transient; everything is beautiful “in its time.” The flowers fade and fall; their beauty is only for a brief time. It is the same in our experience of life. Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation. We bear the image of God and have the glorious capacity to know and love him. Yet, the various stages of our lives quickly pass: the beautiful baby, the boundless energy of childhood, the exciting potential of adolescence, the strength of early adult years, the immense possibilities of middle age, the beauty and dignity of retirement years, before our faculties decline. The inexorable movement of time defies our deep longing to find that which is lasting and totally fulfilling.

The transient nature of life’s beauty points us to the eternity that God has put in our hearts. We echo the words of the hymn, “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” There really is an eternal world, which is even more beautiful than this world. God is there, and the beauty of that world never fades.

“God’s Tenor”

Jon Vickers has died at the age of 88. He was a world famous tenor singer whose rich and powerful voice was once described as “holding a hundred colours and inflections.” He was given the nickname “God’s tenor” because of the outstanding quality of his voice and his Christian faith. He was the finest Heldentenor of his day and sang the great heroic tenor roles in German opera. He was a perfectionist and was not always easy to work with. At times he made controversial decisions because of his Christian convictions.

Jon was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, the sixth of eight children. His family was musical but very poor. His parents were so poor that the future Canadian Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, who was a long-standing friend of the family, offered to care for young Jon. As a child Jon and his brothers and sisters sang with his lay-preacher father at churches near their home. In the summer Jon worked on neighbouring farms where he developed his barrel chest. His success as a world famous tenor, and the honours and wealth that came with it, were in marked contrast with his humble beginnings. When he retired in 1988 he was very content on his farm, surrounded by nature and his family.

Jon’s Christian faith was the guiding principle for the whole of his life. He knew that the gifts he possessed had been given to him by God, so he wanted to use them in a way that pleased God. He knew that the most important thing was not his international success and acclaim but what he was as a man before God. After retiring he had time to return to his roots and to reflect on the things that matter most in life. He also had time to prepare for eternity. He proved with Paul that “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”

Jon is now in heaven with his Saviour, and with all those from every nation who have experienced God’s love in Jesus. He has joined the heavenly choirs who joyfully worship God as they remember God’s amazing love and grace to them. To the most beautiful heavenly music they sing, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!”

World Cup 2014

World Cup 2014 has begun. The people of Brazil are experiencing football fever. International footballers are amongst the highest paid sportsmen in the world. One of the England players is paid £300,000 per week. Brazil has spent £7 billion on the World Cup. After the Final on 13 July the people of Brazil will return to the challenges of their normal lives.

In the days before the World Cup began there were demonstrations in at least 10 Brazilian cities. Riot police fired percussion grenades and used tear gas to subdue the demonstrators. Some of the protests are against the high cost of building new stadiums and other facilities for the World Cup. Trade union leaders have also used the occasion of the World Cup to press claims for higher wages for their members.

Most people in Brazil are poor. Brazil has a thriving economy, one of the strongest in the world, but the rich are becoming richer and the poor are still poor. The richest 1% of Brazil’s population control 50% of its income. The poorest 50% of society live on just 10% of the country’s wealth, while the poorest 10% receive less than 1%!

Many people live in favelas, which are shanty towns. They have sprung up as people from the rural areas have moved into big cities and built homes on spare ground. Often there is no water supply, sanitation or legal electricity. Millions of children in Brazil live on the streets because of problems in their families. They live in abandoned buildings, parks, cardboard boxes, or on the streets themselves. Drugs, crime and sexual exploitation are a way of life for these tragic children. When the 600,000 foreign fans attending the World Cup leave Brazil little will have changed for the better for ordinary Brazilians.

How very different Jesus is! He came into our world to transform our lives for the better at great cost to himself. Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus left all the privileges of heaven, which were rightly his, to share our life and to die on the Cross to pay the price of our sins. Because of his visit to this world, and all he did while he was here, we can experience the forgiveness of our sins and one day go to be with him in heaven.

Remembering God

The scale of the United States of America’s debt is staggering. A fierce battle has been fought in the Senate and Congress about raising the ceiling for the national debt from $14.3 trillion to $16.7 trillion. Successive American administrations have overspent. Raising the debt limit has implications not only for Americans but also for all of us. If the increase is not agreed then the richest nation in the world will not be able to pay its bills. In the past investors have assumed that America is a very safe place to put their money and that the dollar is the most secure currency, but now that confidence has been seriously undermined.

Not all Americans are wealthy. There are great contrasts between the rich and poor. But life in America is very different from the experience of millions of people around the world who survive on just one dollar a day. The people affected by the famine in the Horn of Africa have even less, they have nothing, and some are losing even their lives.

When we are wealthy and doing well it is easy to forget God. As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land Moses warned them not to forget God. He said, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees.” In America and Europe many have forgotten God and his moral laws. Secularism and materialism have turned the hearts and minds of many people away from God. They worship created things rather than the Creator. It is time for us to remember him and to thank him for all the good things he has given us.

Those who are poor and vulnerable often look to God for help and put their hope in him. God, who made the heavens and the earth, cares for them and hears their prayers. The Psalmist writes of God’s faithfulness, “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow.” As we face the problems of life we, too, can look to him for help and know that he hears our prayers.

Do not forget the Lord your God

Last weekend my wife and I picked the last of the apples from the trees in our garden. It has been a good year for fruit. We have enjoyed cherries, plums, pears and apples in abundance. It reminded us of the fruitfulness of planet earth. Our little planet is unique. It is green and well watered and has a staggering abundance of life; animals, birds, fish, plants and trees abound. Despite the best efforts of space exploration very little signs of life have been found anywhere else.

We were conscious, too, that not everyone on earth enjoys the same abundance we do. In some places there have been droughts and the harvest has been poor. In other places, like Pakistan, the floods have destroyed the fields and the crops. The people have not only lost their homes but also the food to supply their needs for the coming year. They need help from those of us who have so much.

In our country we are used to shopping in supermarkets which offer fine products from all over the world. The choice is sometimes bewildering as we struggle to find where the things we want in the endless aisles. A stream of shoppers leaves the supermarket with trolleys overflowing with good things.

Yet, sometimes, we can be very ungrateful. We take for granted what we have and assume it is our right. We lose sight of the great privilege we have in a world where most people struggle to survive. We continue to accumulate possessions and our desires may have no limit.

When Moses was preparing the Israelites to enter Canaan, after wandering for 40 years in the desert, he gave them a warning. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”

These words speak to us today. Some people proudly profess their atheism but many more live as if there is no God. As we enjoy the many good things God has blessed us with it is so important to remember him and to say “Thank you!”