Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Even the young grow weary and tired...

Imagine being totally restricted and not able to do what you want to do. Perhaps that’s not so hard in a year of lockdowns. But consider what it would be like to be trapped in your own body. Picture a bright young man – full of energy and intellect but literally trapped in a body that is not only unresponsive, but often quite uncontrollable.


I first met Damon when he started coming to our church in the mid 90s. He arrived in a van and his carer wheeled him into our church. Damon had severe cerebral palsy. Outwardly he presented as a crippled young man who had no speech and little control of his limbs. But after a short while it became clear that Damon was rather special. He communicated with the use of a “speech board”, that is a series of pictures on his chair, which he pointed to with great difficulty. Chatting with Damon was slow, confusing and frustrating, but after a period of time guesses became breakthroughs and communication started to happen. He had no trouble understanding me, I was the one who struggled to understand him. When he did finally get you to understand two things became obvious. Firstly, he was very bright. Secondly, he was very funny. Quite simply Damon was a witty, intelligent young man trapped in a body that fought him at every turn.  


Damon was also very serious about his faith. He had a favourite verse, which if anyone ever mentioned or read aloud would set him ablaze. To this day I cannot read the verse without immediately seeing Damon. I remember reading the words one day and watching as Damon began running, dancing and jumping in his mind- while his body became a disorganised distraction of moving arms and twitching legs. He couldn’t speak but he was making plenty of sound – sounds of enthusiasm, of hope, of delight and of very real joy. Damon’s favourite verse was from the prophet Isaiah Ch 40: 30,31


Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.


I’m not sure if Damon fully understood the historic meaning of those words in the ancient text. To be honest, I am not sure that I do either. I am certain, however, that Damon heard those words as divine comfort to his human struggle. For Damon, his spirit knew how to soar like an eagle, to run and not grow weary and to walk and not be faint; all from the locked down position of his wheelchair. His spirit refused to be extinguished by debilitating human suffering. His faith was not bound by his earthly journey. His hope looked beyond to a brighter eternal future, secured by a God of love and restoration.

All those years ago, when we were both young men, I was the preacher and Damon the listener.

My guess is that Damon has probably forgotten all my sermons. To this day, whenever I read those words from Isaiah, Damon continues to preach vividly and powerfully to me.


I hope you too, can hear Damon’s message today! 


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Books and Bricks


The enemy is at the door. Still unseen, peril is imminent. Glimpses of encouragement are overwhelmed by a global threat that is no

t going away. Many have given up. Hope is in short supply. Politicians are fighting amongst themselves without vision, consensus or even a plan. It’s May 1940, Germany’s rise appears to be unstoppable and Winston Churchill has just become the Prime Minster of the United Kingdom.


The wheel turned. Churchill’s resolve, his rhetoric, his doggedness and his single-minded determination saw the UK firstly resist invasion and eventually prevail to victory. Most would expect that while Churchill served as PM he devoted every single moment of his life to his task of leadership. That, however, was not t

he case. Churchill was a complex and unusual character fuelled in many ways by eccentricity and a passion for life.


Even as PM, Churchill still found time to relax and engage in an eclectic mixture of hobbies. Churchill was an avid reader. His reading of history, warfare, literature, politics and biography fuelled intellectual growth and an education wider and deeper than any university qualification. He took up painting at the age of 40 and found in the creative arts an outlet that helped him deal with stress and sparked a renewed love of colour and life. He wrote and set himself a goal to write 2000 words a day – so th

at when he needed to write his skills were honed and sharp. He also laid bricks. Yes, Churchill was somewhat of a do-it-yourself bricklayer, building garden walls and even small buildings. Added to his 2000 words-a-day writing goal was a 200 bricks-a-day, wall building goal. Hardly a picture of physical health, Churchill’s bricklaying was a physical challenge and a distraction from the pressures of leadership and war. His bricklaying led him to landscaping and to the planting of gardens and orchards. Finally, Churchill was an animal lover. In his early life he was an accomplished horseman and polo player. With less time as PM he enjoyed a menagerie of dogs, cats, birds and fish.


During a time of difficulty, it might be tempting to dwell only on the problem at hand. Balance may suggest an alternative. The humble hobby remains much more than a refuge from the storm outside. Life affirming interests and pursuits broadens horizons, challenges perspectives, releases minds, develops skills and renews passions.


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is

true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Phil 4:8









Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Tough times never last....

 2020 has been a hard year. Hardest hit are the millions across the globe who are grieving the almost 900,000 who have died. 27 million people have been infected, most with mild symptoms, but many have

battled life threatening illness for weeks and months. The economic cost globally is beyond calcul

ation. Financial pain is personal pain for millions. Lockdowns short or long continue to be an incredible burden to bear. Plans, dreams and hopes have been put on hold or abandoned altogether. Many lament their inability to travel and visit loved ones. It has been a hard year – no doubt. There have been lots of superlatives and quite a few imaginative swear words to describe 2020. But I want to ask a controversial question.


Is hard always bad?


Working out in a gym on a Navy base can be daunting. There are lots of very fit young men and women who train incredibly hard. They lift heavy weights.  They embrace ‘hard’ accepting that hard is the way to strength, to power and to

growth. Those who bench press 50 kgs aspire to bench press 60. I sometimes mentally add up the weights on the end of a bar bell and am amazed by the strength and agility of youth. Fit young people in a gym do not shy away from hard. They accept struggle, and even embrace the pain believing it will produce the result they desire.


From ancient times civilisations have embraced hardship, pain and difficulty as an effective path to developing character, strength and resilience. The old book describes it like this.


Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into o

ur hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5: 3-5


It would be foolish and heartless to say that Covid 19 has been good for us. Rather it might be reasonable to acknowledge that from hardship, good can come. From pain, growth. From struggle, strength. From difficulty, a determination to find a way through. Humans have long found that when natural resources are spent – deeper spiritual resources need to be mined.


A popular, slightly corny, preacher in the US coined the phrase; ‘Tough times never last, tough people do’. 2020 will long be remembered as a tough year. The default response of bitterness and regret to the challenges of hardship is not the only option. Hardship can be endured, difficulty accepted, and struggle embraced in the hope that strength, determination and perseverance will flow.