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Remembering Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch post-impressionist painter and is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. In the last 10 years of his life he created 2,100 works of art including 860 oil paintings. His most famous works include The Starry Night and Sunflowers. Vincent was a complex person who struggled with poor mental health and depression for much of his life. He was always poor and died tragically at the age of 37.

Vincent was a serious, quiet and thoughtful child. His father was a Dutch Reformed minister and Vincent developed a fervent faith and a passion for ministry. He wanted to study theology but failed the seminary entrance exam, so he became a missionary to coal miners in Belgium. In these impoverished communities Vincent lived a life of radical self-sacrifice and servanthood. He sold everything he had so he could care for the needs of the people.

Vincent was a very generous man. He understood the unconditional love of God and showed unconditional love for others. He would never recognise love that was not seen in actions. Despite his commitment to Christ-like sacrifice, Vincent was rejected by the church for being overzealous, and for his ineloquent speech and scruffy appearance. He suffered a nervous breakdown and struggled with depression for the rest of his life.

Vincent died in unusual circumstances in what was thought to be suicide, but he may have been accidentally shot by two boys who later made a statement admitting they were target shooting near where Vincent was found. As he lay dying Vincent told the police, “I’m hurt, but don’t blame anybody else.”

The Christian message is not about what God demands that we do, but about what he has done for us in Jesus. It offers hope to us all, however troubled our lives may be. One song sums it up well, “Upon a life I have not lived, upon a death I did not die; another’s life, another’s death, I stake my whole eternity. Not on the tears which I have shed, not on the sorrows I have known; another’s tears, another’s griefs, on these I rest, on these alone. O Jesus, Son of God, I build on what your cross has done for me; there both my death and life I read, my guilt, and pardon there I see. Lord, I believe; O deal with me, as one who has your Word believed! I take the gift, Lord, look on me, as one who has your gift received.”

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Thought

Stephen is 40!

Recently my wife and I attended a very special 40th birthday party. Stephen was born with multiple disabilities, both physical and mental. He was Carla and Franco’s first child and the full extent of his disabilities only became apparent after he was born. A doctor at the hospital, who realised the implications of Stephen’s disabilities and, no doubt, wanted to help, advised Carla and Franco to leave Stephen in the hospital and carry on with their own lives. They didn’t take his advice.

The challenges of caring for Stephen were very great, but Carla and Franco committed themselves to his care. Although Stephen cannot speak he has always known that he is loved. His mother has gladly given her life to caring for him. She is a wonderful example of motherhood and unconditional love. Caring for Stephen has not meant social isolation but has brought a wide circle of friends who have played a part in encouraging and supporting Stephen and Carla over the past 40 years. Stephen now lives in a house in the community with a wonderful team of carers. More than 100 people came to his 40th birthday party including family members, friends, social workers, carers and other disabled people.

When Stephen was in his early teens Carla met some Christians who began to help with Stephen’s care and shared with her the good news about Jesus. As a result Carla experienced God’s love in Jesus and became a Christian. Soon after Stephen became seriously ill and lost his sight. He was so ill that it looked as if he was going to die. Carla and Franco prayed to God for his help. They remembered how a man called Jairus came to Jesus pleading on behalf of his 12 year old daughter who was dying. Jesus responded to Jairus’s urgent request and healed the little girl.

One evening Carla and Franco and the church leaders met to ask God to make Stephen well, although, at that time, the future was very uncertain. God heard their prayers. Stephen began to recover and now 25 years later is really well. He knows God’s love for him and is a member of the church family. He loves coming to the services. At the birthday party everyone sang Stephen’s favourite hymn, “Living he loved me; dying he saved me; Buried he carried my sins far away! Rising, he justified freely for ever; One day he’s coming – O glorious day!”