Sunday, August 2, 2015

Threescore years and ten (3)

Coincidentally, one of the gifts that Carol gave me was a wall plaque.  She is rather particular about keeping walls uncluttered (as with the rest of the house apart from my garden shed which she has given up on!) but she has already put the plaque on the wall facing our stairs.  Every time I descend I am greeted by these words: THIS IS THE DAY.

Carol says she wanted me to have it as a challenge about seeing each day as a gift and using it well.  Though it was bought in a thoroughly secular shop (!) it has echoes of another psalm too:  This is the day that the Lord has made (Psalm 118:24) which is all together much more positive than Psalm 90!  You know how that verse continues 'let us rejoice and be glad in it.' Only after I had posted my last reflection did it dawn on me that I now had a daily reminder to number my days aright!  Preachers are always looking for ways to reinforce and apply messages and this is the perfect one.

Carol also found another text (though I am very unsure which translation it comes from). Live happily with the woman you love through the fleeting days of your life, for the wife God gives you is your best reward down here for all your earthly toil (Eccles. 9:9)  Probably she would have preferred to have hung that up as a plaque if it had been available!.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Threeschore years and ten (2)

I mentioned that Carol called my birthday biblical.  That's because of the KJV translation of Psalm 90:10 - The days of our years are threescore and ten.  I remember in my first pastorate in Blackburn I had a very sad first couple of years as five key church leaders died aged between 57 and 66.  This target of threescore and ten seemed to be set too high.  Of course I have conducted many funerals for eighty and even ninety year olds but my early experience emphasized just how precious life is and how easily we can take a span of even 70 years for granted.

In reflecting on reaching 70 I definitely do not take the years for granted.  Twice I have undergone life threatening illnesses needing radical surgery. And ever since my dystonia disease was diagnosed in 1987 I am aware of living between three-monthly injections, without which I revert to being physically twisted in serious pain. All this might rather seem too gloomy, but it fits the mood for Psalm 90.

This psalm gives a very sober view of human vulnerability from God's point of view. Verse 10 goes on: and if by reason of strength they be four-score years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.  Yet, amidst grim news there is a vital prayer and a promise.
  • The prayer : 'Teach us to number our days aright, that we might gain a heart of wisdom' (verse 12). No day is to be wasted. Start valuing time and life and you will learn more about living well in God's purpose.  I need to make sure that every day that's left counts for God!
  • The promise:' May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us - yes, establish the work of our hand (verse17).  Establish is a God word here. The God who has all the time in the world compared with me, calls me to count the days so that within them my little bits of work can really belong, sure and firm, in his long-term plans.
So, onwards into my 71st. year!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Threescore years and ten (1)

This week I celebrated what Carol calls my biblical birthday (more later).  In my youth I remember attending 70th. birthdays with a mixture of wonderment that people had lived that long and boredom that there were so many other old people present.  Well, having reached the same point I feel even more wonderment but absolutely no boredom!

Carol organized a surprise (and it really was) party on my birthday eve. Yes, eve - that's partly why I was not expecting it.  Around 7.30 pm she announced that we needed to bring in extra chairs from the garage as she set about organizing an extravagant array of desserts and drinks.  Apparently she had been quietly making preparations for some time but I in my normal oblivious state remained totally unaware.   Sadly, our house will not allow us to cater for larger groups but when 14 friends began arriving I was really delighted.  What's more Carol had the idea of inviting them to represent the last 35 years of my life. Before candles were blown out on my cake she invited certain friends in the circle to speak to the different connections with me.  As she bluntly put it: 'Don't wait until he's dead!' It was potentially cringing all round but people generously rose to the occasion with words that touched me.  I heard things I had forgotten or just did not know! (more later)

In reply I mumbled a few words of appreciation for them and expressed gratitude for their kindnesses.  It was only later, talking with Carol, that I could succinctly say what this occasion meant. First, I told her how on this particular birthday I looked back with wonder and thanks at the journey the Lord has brought me on.  It has been a full life with extraordinarily varied content.  As a Baptist minister  I am immensely grateful for God's purpose taking me through such experiences.  Second, I told her that she had been his greatest gift transforming the last 48 years in wonderfully rich ways.  Yet again she demonstrated her love and social gifting in organizing this surprise for me....I know how vastly impoverished my ministry and life would be without her.   So, thank you to all who remembered - 29 cards are on display - and very big thanks to God and to Carol!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Graduation Joys

Last Saturday proved to be a glorious Summer day for a delightful experience.  I returned with Carol to speak at Spurgeon's College Graduation.  We parked in neat rows on the main lawn and, grabbing gown and hood, headed towards the brightly decked crowds of graduands and families, posing for photographs and whooping with delight each time they spotted new friends.  After lunch we were driven to Croydon Minster in double-decker buses (by drivers who lost their way and needed local advice!)  Painstaking arrangements were sorted for seating and procession and we all lined up outside the main entrance for the Mayor to arrive.  A buzz of excitement circled around.

Far be it from me to comment on my address, except it was short and amplification meant I couldn't easily be heard at the back (where Carol sat)! But several things thrilled me to the core:
  • stories.  Time was taken to tell the story of each of the 55 students before they received their awards.  The range of experiences, of sacrifice, of achievement and of service was deeply moving and I could not have been closer as I shook hands with every single one, looking into their eyes and receiving their smiles.  It took over an hour but it was the highlight of the day, especially as families and churches celebrated with each in extravagant fashion. Wonderful.
  • singing.  The large church rocked with spectacular singing. Both old and new hymns took off with such enthusiasm.
  • network.  It never ceases to amaze me just how many connections spark into life in such a gathering. Of course, I met friends I had not seen since leaving Spurgeon's fifteen years ago, but many other meetings astonished me.  For one couple it was fifty-seven years ago that we were last together as students. I always marvel at the experience of belonging within the people of God. There's no sell-by-date.
So, a happy occasion and a genuine privilege.  Thank you to Spurgeon's for inviting me back and to the Lord for gracing the day with his joyful presence.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Farewells and chocolate drinks

At the beginning of this week we said goodbye to our US family after six amazing months living near us in Cambridge.  I have mentioned elsewhere the welcome impact of our two US grandchildren Elliot and Sophie. So often their presence was delightfully unplanned as they popped in from where they were staying next door. In particular they enjoyed chocochinos from my new drinks machine. Sitting round the table for elevenses, clutching their hot chocolate drinks and cakes these moments became a delightful routine in the last few weeks since they left school.  I say 'routine' but the surprise conversations with dramatic butterfly-lateral-thinking meant nothing was ever routine!  How we valued their breathtaking imaginations and confidence.

Well, like all grandparents whose children live a long way distant, we are now coping with inevitable sadness that the end has come. However, Rob our radio academic surprised us by leaving a CD to be played once they had left.  Of superb studio quality with editing that skillfully uses music, it contains a series of face-to-face interviews with all the other family members. Rob asked them about the highlight of the months together and quite independently (because the interviews were recorded over time) they each gushed about the holiday at Minehead - crabbing and just being together.  Bless them, they each said very kind words about us both which actually caused even more tears then their actual departure.  We are truly thankful for family life and are immensely grateful to kind people who let them to stay in their houses for two lots of consecutive three months.  Oh, it was good.  Now, down to the writing grindstone without the patter of tiny feet and heads around the door suggesting time for chocolate drinks.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Death vanquished!

This past week has been dominated by my uncle's funeral with its preparations, travelling and the service itself.  His last instructions were clear -his funeral was 'to speak to people of God'.  And so it did!

The cremation took place beforehand with the family and a few church friends present.  All our grandchildren were present too.  Elliot (aged 9) asked respectfully: 'Is his body in there?' as the coffin was placed at the front.  Luca (aged 13) sat next to me on the front row and told me this was his first time at a funeral.  Milo (aged 3) directed us all in through the main doors at the beginning, holding his fingers to his lips with a loud 'Sssshhhh'!  Simply and trustingly with a powerful reading of Psalm 130 we committed John to his Lord.

When we moved to the church we found a congregation of around 60 had gathered to sing some of John's favourite hymns and to hear his chosen Scripture story of the compassionate father, as the preacher called it (rather than the prodigal son!) Again the children sat around us.  It is the tradition of that church to have an open microphone for people to pay tribute.  It was startling to hear a series of carefully crafted vignettes open up John's story to us in fresh ways.  The first spoke of his gifts of financial book keeping, and deep love of other books too. He mentioned how John's skills with New Testament Greek enabled him to be a Wycliffe Bible translator at one period in his life.  A couple of others spoke about his missionary service in Bangladesh and his bravery in the face of the savage civil war in 1971 when the British were told to leave, but he insisted on staying.  A representative of the missionary society told us that when the hospital heard of his death there was acclaim for 'Mr. Davies', still remembered for his courage and love for them.  Another spoke about his war service and code-breaking. Others remembered his participation in their house group, and yet others talked of the quality of his prayers.  Some of the immediate family spoke too with personal memories of how he had been brother, uncle, and great uncle.  We had put up some photographs tracing his life which also spurred memories.

The preaching ensured that the service certainly spoke to people of God so that John's wishes were upheld.  In his modesty he would not approved of the tributes but I think we got the balance right.  After all we were thanking God for John as well as for his promises to us.  And we entered the victory of death vanquished. Afterwards one of my sons said to me: 'I just wish we could have sat down and spent much longer with those people who knew things about him we didn't. ' Yes, a long life well-lived.  Thanks to all those kind readers who remembered us through these days.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Death interrupts

It's an obvious fact.  Death interrupts.  My last blog rejoiced in a family holiday. On our journeys home I went to see my 91 year old uncle (with his hymnbook at the beside -see earlier posting) as did my son and grandson the following day.  We found him alert and (as always) incredibly tuned into our family details.  Though single, he really took such knowledgeable family interest in us all. We all remarked how well he seemed to be adjusting to his nursing home environment.

Early, on June 4th. he died during the night.  Suddenly, as his next-of-kin, we were thrust into bereavement with its web of practical issues, returning immediately to Bristol to start funeral and legal processes.  With his death Carol and I are now the oldest members of our tribe and as we sorted out his few possessions and looked through his funeral wishes Carol really didn't need to say: 'You realize the next time this happens in our family it will be us!'

So, these last few days have been tiring with emotions (that can surprise), travelling, emptying his room, appointments, signings, and mounting paperwork.  I had plans to work hard on a book and had set stiff targets after our holiday.  But death interrupts...and how!

Wonderfully, John had deep Christian faith.  He left instructions that his service was to show people God, and he chose old hymns with such positive choruses.  I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene....with the chorus:  How marvelous!  How wonderful! my Saviour's love to me!   And, When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his word....with the chorus: Trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.  When we share in his service next Thursday we shall rightly be positive too because of the resurrected Savior!