Predestination

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What a great summer – and autumn as well, and I am still making the most of this mild weather to go on in the garden.  However the winter evenings have drawn in and so back to the blogging.

I have a very good Bible commentary by David Pawson and I was struck by what he had to say about the book of Daniel, which I have been reading lately.  We all know (I hope) about the Lion’s Den, but do we know anything else much about Daniel?  Pawson says this: ‘Daniel makes unique predictions that are so detailed, so dated in sequence and so accurate in the light of historical evets that it’s simply history written down before it happened.  So every reader is faced with the question of whether the future is known by God.  The Bible makes it clear that God not only knows the future but also shapes it.’ 

Thus we are faced with that knotty old problem of predestination.  How much is predetermined?  We must not say that everything is, as if we are robots.  As Pawson says, there’s a delicate balance in Scripture between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.  I like his idea of imagining that one is playing chess against a master player: he would win, but I am free to make any moves I want to .  So every move I make he can match, and he will win.

God has more free will than we do, so our freedom is limited by His.  It is important to know that there is a flexibility in God’s sovereignty that we should hold very precious, lest we slip into the idea that everything is predetermined, and we do not matter.  Would we not become rather passive and probably lazy if we felt that we were just here on earth as puppets?  Of course we have to make our own decisions.  So that brings us to the important matter of choice.

I seem to remember that Margaret Thatcher, when asked what she thought was the most important question about religion/spirituality, apparently without a second’s hesitation said ’choice’.  Perhaps she is right.  But there are other things too.  Maybe we will explore them  in my next blog, but I have lovely story to tell – a true one so I hope it doesn’t have copyright restrictions.  Watch this space.

Since I wrote this, ten days ago, I have been so busy outside that I never posted it.  Now the frost has come which is rather good; we need some cold weather to kill the bugs.

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Ancient or Modern?

Are you one of those people who think that because something is modern it cannot be good?  My dear deceased Mother was a bit like that which I found regrettable, although inevitably as I race through my eighth decade I am probably getting more and more like her! but I do think there are some excellent modern inventions and it is perhaps worth noting one or two.

I went to see the film Noah last week, and I thought it was brilliantly portrayed (I could have done without a totally non biblical story line about Cain, but I suppose they have to spice things up a bit.)  I felt that it was a wonderful example showing the best of ancient and modern: the former of course supplied such a gripping story that would have been quite unbelievable if thought up by man, after all fact is often stranger than fiction.  The latter used the astonishing modern technology that is now available for making sensational films, and the result was stunning, I thought.

What else benefits from such a merger?  I suppose many things that we use daily and take for granted, but one example that illustrates the point is the climbing of Everest.  I am particularly interested in this because Tom Bourdillon (a cousin of my late husband) was not only part of the successful 1953 expedition, but he and Charles Evans would have been the first men up if their oxygen had held out.  It was staggeringly difficult to make the ascent in those days – of course, being unchartered territory made every stage an incredible challenge but just think of the clothing and materials used in all the equipment.  In those early days they had nothing to keep them warm other than heavy woollen and tweed garments which took days to dry out; everything they used must have been so cumbersome.  Nowadays with nylon, lycra and all the modern materials available of course it is an incomparable quest to make.

I expect anyone reading this has there own examples of the good of ancient compared to modern: it would be interesting to hear them.

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Should we be quiet in church?

I have recently been to a beloved granddaughter’s Confirmation which was a delight and beautiful in every way except the noise of the chatter of the congregation not only before the Service, but actually during it, while people were taking communion.

I had an interesting debate with my son after who said that he couldn’t see the problem, and after all the Bishop had given a very good talk about God not being a killjoy, so what was I worried about? –  if I wanted to be quiet that was up to me.  I know that God is most certainly not a killjoy, and I go to many services where we worship Him in a loud and joyous way.  I particularly love the last words of the Harnhill Friday morning service: Go in peace to love, to serve and to ENJOY the Lord.  I have no difficulty in worshipping God in diverse ways, but I don’t think we made a very good job of it last week.

All my long life I have been conditioned to be quiet during a traditional church service, and old habits die hard. Gone are the days when one arrived at church a little early for a Communion service so that one could be quiet and prepare oneself.  My concentration is not strong enough to spend a little quality time with my Maker when the decibels all around are comparable to a loud cocktail party.  It could in no way be described as holy whispers!

It was a glorious service in a very beautiful church; the girls being confirmed were lovely and behaved in an exemplary fashion; the Bishop and all officiating performed their roles likewise.  It was we, the older generation(s) who, I felt, let the show down…   My son suggested that even fewer people would go to church if we mind about these things.  I think perhaps he is right.  What does God think?

My mother was a great one for preserving standards.  Happily I am far too lazy to worry about many things that used to be considered important in polite society.  Instead I call them priorities and often let them slip.  I love many modern ideas and institutions, but I do think that we have to discern when we  should stand firm and not  ‘dumb down’ things that weaken old fashioned morals and principles. Actually I don’t think God minds how we behave in church as long as our hearts are right, and it is far more important to have a good relationship with Him.  Even so, on this particular occasion I think it would have shown respect to the girls and the importance of what they were doing to have kept the noise down.

What do others think?

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Has spring sprung?

It is a beautiful spring-like morning.  I have just been to early church to hear a friend preach an extremely good sermon on Romans 5 verse 15.  Afterwards, over a welcome cup of coffee, I met a delightful couple who knew my son slightly and are going to get in touch with me, and a wonderful older lady who is going to come and have coffee during the week if we can arrange it.   .

Well what is so special about that?  It is special because I came to Oxford three years ago knowing only three people.  Two were quite old and the other quite young.  Thus I knew absolutely no-one of my own age.  What I did not know was that Oxford is a difficult place to get to know people: I have no contacts with the ‘gown’, and the ‘town’ – in this case North Oxford – is fairly unfriendly. Everyone has their own busy life to lead, so why should they suddenly want me to become part of it?  John and Diana Collins were my constant advisers, friends, companions, mentors.

However, there are times when I feel that things are getting better.  My lifeline has been the incredible Bible Study group that dear Diana Collins kindly arranged for me to join.  What a blessing that has been: they are a truly wonderful group of Christians who meet together once a week to study the Bible. I am getting to know and love them, both corporately and individually.  One of their number asked me to dinner three years ago, after the first meeting that I went to; I think without her kindly outstretched hand I should have caved in altogether.

That is why I am feeling so happy this morning, because I have come to know a few people whom I can now call friends.  I don’t know most of my neighbours, but one couple have become really good friends, and the wife introduced me to a splendid Keep Fit class which is fun; also some old friends have moved nearby which is a great joy; and others I have met at St. Andrew’s church, through which I helped with an Alpha group last year, and met some lovely people there.  It is such fun mixing with people of all ages, and I must mention a most engaging new friend: Charlie, who was born last August – and his parents are very special.

So I am praising the Lord mightily on this glorious morning, although I must admit to a yearning to be back in Wales tending my garden as the weeds will be waking up to the spring.  I shall be back there at the end of the month when the daffodils will wave their welcome and the lambs will be skipping around.  I hope that March does not go out like a lion.  Last year I returned to my mountain fastness on 31st March, and drove straight into a deep snow drift in my valley.  That is why I have a 4 x 4, but it couldn’t cope with the depth of snow.  It is so good to have Easter to look forward to, but we are now in the season of Lent, and Calvary has to be endured before the glory of Easter Sunday.

I am so very blessed to have two different lives: my glorious rural existence in the hills of Wales all through the summer, and then in the autumn I shall look forward to returning to Oxford to pick up the strands about which I have just written.

Alleluya!

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Gilt-edged failure

Funny title!  I spent some quality time last week chatting to a dear girl whom I admire greatly.  They appeared to me to be the perfect family – even with teenagers living at home which is quite a feat!

Of course when one starts to talk in depth, problems and difficulties are aired, because at the end of the day no parent ever gets it right.  I hope that this is a comfort to anyone who has survived the rigours of watching their family growing up.  However much fun and love and joy one experiences, it is not an easy task.  There are so many pitfalls, and as ones children reach the teenage years one has to take a back seat and let them go into the big, wide, wicked world.   It is so hard to keep the door open and not mind if they don’t walk back through it: not easy to do.  The most important thing is to allow them the freedom to fail.

This is not meant to be a treatise on parenthood, but I have recently had the pleasure of watching several of my grandchildren prepare for their important exams in the summer, and how they manage to cope with the vicissitudes of growing into adulthood.  I am a very bad grandmother and constantly tell them not to worry about their exam results (I would not do this if they were not extremely vigilant and hardworking!) but I do think that these days the pressures are too much for many youngsters. They are expected to put a great deal into school life which of course is good; they often play in teams and sometimes have two matches a week; they have responsibility thrust upon them, which again is good, but sometimes it is simply too much.  Their CV hangs like a huge cloud  over them so that they push themselves to do the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme and other such activities, maybe just to look good on the CV.  I know travel is good, but one of mine has just been to Bolivia for ten days at half term.  Yes, it is a wonderful experience, but she is exhausted and will remain so until the holidays – and even then she (and others) will no doubt be given endless revision and homework to do.  Where have the carefree school ‘holidays’ gone? when they could switch off and not worry about mocks or school exams, let alone common entrance, GCSEs, A levels and University choices.

I can hear you muttering disdainfully as you read this.  I am all for people working hard, but there must be time and opportunity for rest and relaxation, also for parties and fun and carefree irresponsibility.   One of my daughters went into an A level exam in her pyjamas because she had been up half the night revising, and another had a serious riding accident during her O levels and missed a whole term at school.  That was when I realised that there was more to life than exams, although amazingly she did manage to get good results, but all I cared about was that she was alive.

This rather lightweight blog is to be taken with a sense of humour, a pinch of salt and not to be read by any sluggards.  I was prompted to write it when I saw an old (boarding) school friend last week who made me laugh by saying that she was removed from school in the term before her A levels because her father had no one to go hunting with.  She is now a well known artist, but probably doesn’t have a great deal on her CV!  None of us did, but we have mostly had wonderful lives, (and are now galloping through our seventies.)

P.S I am extremely proud of all my eleven grandchildren – I must just mention that I have a grandson in Hawai’i who got a scholarship when he was only two!!

 

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We are so blessed

I have been stopped in my tracks, it seems, by something rather more than a cold.  Maybe a clarion call to go a bit slower because I know I have been too busy this year.  So I have decided to enjoy this little setback and put the time to good use.

First I have been able to concentrate my mind on finishing John Collins’ amazing book, which he has called A Diagram of God’s Love.  He so generously gave a copy to each family who attended his beloved wife Diana’s beautiful Service of Thanksgiving recently, thus it is holds a special resonance for me, and I am enjoying it enormously.  He explains so cleverly the presence of the Holy Spirit, which alas is something that many Christians cannot grasp.  Although I knew a good deal of what he said, it seemed to show me certain things under a spotlight so that I could see the depth and meaning of the message so much more clearly.  One thing that struck me is that God’s blessing is conditional: if you repent you will be blessed.  It is as simple as that.  I spent so long (after committing my life to Christ) taking it on board that God’s love for us is totally unconditional, that this came as a bit of a shock. 

It is important to understand fully that in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was only visited upon prophets, priests and kings, but now it is for everyone who wants it.  This is so important to grasp: if you don’t believe me please look at Joel, chapter 2, verse 5.

I had made scribbled notes in my Bible which seem pertinent to mention, especially as John’s book tells us a great deal about the Holy Spirit being available now…  Something more than material prosperity lies in the future.  There is also going to be spiritual prosperity for everyone.  This comes as a direct result of the goodness of God, and as a consequence of the repentance of the people.  It is not limited by social status, by gender or by age.  And later:

A prophet is only a prophet if it comes true.       Joel’s prophecy came true 8 centuries later.

How amazing is that? To think that on the Day of Pentecost Peter knew exactly what Joel was referring to eight hundred years before: the Holy Spirit had been poured out on all flesh.

So, here we are at Christmas time remembering the birth of our blessed Saviour.  Let us reflect on how fortunate we are to live in this age of the Spirit which means that we no longer live under the old law, but under grace.  So I say again, as John did in his book, that:  God would pour out His spirit on ALL mankind – that is, anybody who is open to receive the Spirit of Jesus’.  It was only by Jesus coming to earth that made this possible.

Alleluya!

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Who will throw the first stone?

It is so good to be back blogging again, and I have just had an audio interview with an U.S. publishing house to promote my Hope in the Valley book in America.  So I hope that will spread the word about the book.  I was much encouraged when staying with a lovely cousin last weekend: we saw her Mother-in-law at church and she remembered that she had been given a copy of Hope in the Valley when her husband died a few years ago.  She said that she had been given several books and none of them helped, except mine, so I was very chuffed about that.  So if you know anyone who has been bereaved, why not send them a copy?  You will find it on my Website and can order it online.

Something has struck me very forcibly just lately: the tragic situations that young mothers used to have to face if they produced an illegitimate baby.  I recently read an extremely good book, very well written by someone who lives near me in Wales, which gripped me from the moment I started to read it.  It tells a piteous tale of how an illegitimate baby was literally torn away from an innocent young girl by her brother; he was not brave enough to stand up to his mother who said that the family would be shamed if they kept the baby.

It is almost impossible for young girls nowadays to understand what a dreadful stigma it was to produce a baby out of wedlock, and how the whole family was totally disgraced and shunned by friends and neighbours alike.  The advent of the contraceptive pill has of course changed everything, and yet there are still unwanted babies being born.  How fortunate are the young mothers of today to be allowed to keep their babies and to bring them up, whether they are married or not – and nobody even castigates them…

Then I went to see the wonderful film Philomena in which Judi Dench plays the part of a young mother with her usual brilliance and pathos.  Here it was again: the same agonising tearing away of a very small child.  I don’t think anyone could failed to have been moved by the sight of the wretched young mother screaming as her beloved son was taken away for ever.  It was made even worse by the fact that the poor young girl was in a convent run by unsympathetic and cruel nuns who most certainly did not live as Jesus would have  wanted.  Remember how He said ‘If anyone one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her’.  If you don’t know the story, look at John’s Gospel, chapter 8.

In both these cases the mother was not even allowed to say goodbye, let alone be told where the child was being taken; very often they were sold and sent abroad.  It is heartbreaking to think what those poor girls had to endure, and sometimes through no fault of their own.

Praise the Lord.

If you think I am being melodramatic and given to exaggeration, then you are not old enough to know that such things happened in real life all the time, and just be thankful that we have moved on from such traumatic and unChristlike behaviour.  Think about it.

 

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Interim

I hardly dare hold my head up in the world of blogging as it is so long since I posted anything.  I intend to start again more regularly now, following the threads of life and death and blessings and things spiritual, as I did before; but first I should maybe give a thumbnail sketch of what I have been up to during these past few silent months.

My last blog was about the wondrous trip that a friend and I did in June round the glorious Hebridean Islands.  I feel thoroughly satisfied that I have not been any further afield than Ireland and Scotland this year, and have absolutely no desire to do so!

I have had a few bursts of extreme business, the first was in July when I desperately wanted to be with two lovely friends for their joint 75th birthday part in London.  I popped up the night before – in a heatwave - thoroughly enjoyed the lunch party and travelled all the way back to Wales after.  I had to be at the Royal Welsh Show early next morning and spent the whole day there; then had another long hot journey next day as I dearly wanted to be at Diana Colllins’ funeral near Bournemouth.  It took me nearly six hours with holiday traffic, but it was a beautiful Service at Cranford, as I knew it would be, and what a wonderful send off she had; I was so pleased that I had made the effort.

It then turned into an especially nice weekend, as I was able to go and stay with a dear friend of my eldest daughter in her beautiful home nearby; I had not seen her for many years, and it was great fun to catch up with her and the family.  Then another old friend was revisited next day when I caught up with Johnnie Boden; it was equally thrilling to see him again after so long and to meet his lovely wife and one of the daughters – and the horses – and his home.  I went on my way rejoicing, and spent the rest of the weekend with some of my family in Devon.  Thus a sad occasion turned into a glorious weekend of happy memories and old friends.

August was a happy month, mainly spent here with people coming and going and lots going on.  Notably some dear friends came and led a three day ‘Retreat’ for want of a better word in my barn, which was a very special time.  Then a neighbour wanted to promote a lovely ballet that he has written for children, called Romany Wood, so we had two parties in the barn one weekend with musical entertainment, which went pretty well.  A bit of a water crisis in the middle of it all: there was none on the Sunday morning.  I have my own spring in a wood, and it was a major drama, but is now sorted thank heavens.

Since then I have had a wonderful new younger friend to stay for three different visits to help me plant a prodigious amount of plants in my rather unusual garden.  He ordered over 500 plants, and cleverly go them into his van plus trailer and we worked pretty hard getting them all in on a steeply sloping bank.  It is rather exciting hoping that they will really start to cover the ground next year.  Perhaps one day I will put in a picture, so that you can see the before and after.

I have gone on too long, so will finish now and hope to get back into a rhythm again soon.

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Back again!

HebridesI am very much aware that I have posted nothing since the end of May.  I didn’t think anyone would notice, but I was rather pleased when two people said that they had missed my blogs, and that I must keep them up.  Encouraged hugely by this, I shall attempt to start again.

My trip to Scotland for the whole of June was wonderful.  Friends asked me before I went why I wasn’t going somewhere warm as we had not seen the sun for two years, and I assured them that I had a very good mackintosh and didn’t mind all that much about the weather.  Amazingly I hardly had need to put on rain gear and the sun shone most of the time, but wasn’t too hot, which was perfect.

I drove north with the friend who was coming with me on the Hebridean Princess.  It was a trip of a lifetime for us: a belated Golden Wedding treat to ourselves, as we both got married in July 1961 and both our husbands are now dead.

We set off from Oban in good weather and the Captain changed the whole journey around so that we could get to St. Kilda before the weather broke.  Sadly we couldn’t actually go on to the island itself because there was just enough swell to make it unsafe, but we got so close that we were able to see the huge cliff face where the gannets nest – and Village Bay where the abandoned cottages still stand in a deserted crescent. There are over 1400 stone-built earth cells called cliets, used for storage, also still standing. We had both read an extremely interesting book about this amazing island, which all the inhabitants finally left in 1947.  It is a very inhospitable place with its unique isolation, which made for a dreadfully hard life, and one could see why they wanted to leave.  The Soay sheep that are still there are the most primitive breed in Europe.

It was sad not being able to go ashore, but that was our only disappointment because we went everywhere else that was scheduled on this glorious trip.  We spent an enjoyable afternoon on Barra, and Castlebay is the only beach in the world to handle a scheduled air service.  Then after St. Kilda we headed towards the Flannan Islands and on round the Butt of Lewis and moored by  Stornoway.  From there our excellent guide had arranged a bus to take us to see the Callanish Stones; hardly Stonehenge, but very interesting, and in such a beautiful place.  The next afternoon we had a glorious visit to the Shiant Islands where Compton Mackenzie used to own the only house on the island and did much of his writing there. We walked and saw masses of wild flowers, watched gannets and skewers galore, and a few puffins.

How I love all these islands with their beautiful deserted white sandy beaches and the silence except for the call of the birds; I could hardly  imagine anything more beautiful, but next day we walked up a gentle hill on the Summer Isles where we could gaze out over hills and sea lochs one way with the mainland behind us, and I decided that was my favourite place.

I am running out of space, so will speed things up… Ullapool was beautiful in the sunshine, and after that we went back down the coast which I have always loved, calling in to see the Inverewe Gardens, through the Kyle of Lochalsh (what memories of dancing at Portree year after year!) and spent our penultimate day on the Isle of Coll where I had fun bicycling with a couple on our boat, finding more wonderful empty beaches.

This is a very prosaic account of a really fabulous trip, where we saw basking sharks, dolphins and puffins and all the wonderful sea birds we had expected to see.  It is hard to describe how beautiful it was.

If anyone wants to hear more, I could go on far longer, but will probably return to the more usual topics next time.

 

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Holiday Time

If anyone is interested in reading my blogs, I must apologise for not doing one for the past two or three weeks, but life has been more than usually hectic.  There will silence for the next few weeks as well, because I am going on my first holiday for two years: a friend and I are going round the Hebridees and Outer Isles, including St. Kilda (weather permitting) which I am really looking forward to.  I rather hope that we shall be out of signal and I am not going to take my computer with me even though I shall be away for nearly a month.  After all we used to manage without them, and one must be able to switch off, and not be reliant on them.  I think intuition has gone out of the window since everyone has their mobile clamped to their ears!

So, what have I been doing so busily? We have just had the most amazing three days here in remote and rural mid Wales.  A few energetic people arranged a Festival to celebrate the 275th anniversary of Charles Wesley’s marriage to Sarah Gwynne who lived in the next door village.  It started on Thursday evening with a Reception in the tiny church where they were married.  On Friday the local schoolchildren re-enacted the wedding which was rather fun, and in the evening we had a wonderful Songs of Praise, with Wesley hymns of course, and we all sang our hearts out.

There was a Flower Festival on Saturday with various events throughout the day, including an excellent ‘docu-drama’ depicting an interesting conversation between John and Charles Wesley on the evening before the wedding; this was acted by two talented gentlemen who transported us into the spirit of the occasion.  That evening there was a wonderful Recital of late Baroque music in the big house nearby where Sarah Gwynne lived.

Finally Sunday dawned warm and sunny which was just what was required, as the Church Service could be held out of doors, as arranged.  It was very special, and I rode my horse over there in true Wesley style!  (Did you know that John Wesley rode an average of 4,000 miles each year?) - I only had to go about five miles!

The grand finale was a very good Concert of music by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (Charles and Sarah’s grandson) who was a prolific composer.  So we all went home exhausted but extremely happy because it had all gone so well.

Hay Festival is on this week as well, with a plethora of good things going on.  I managed to get there today, but only have a couple of days now to get ready to go on my epic trip… After the boat trip I go to a Christian house party for a further week; then I am staying with friends or relatives in Edinburgh, Fife, Morayshire, Kirkcudbrightshire, Dumfriesshire and on Mull so it is going to be a long trip.  Most of my cousins live up there so it will be a good catchup time.

I have not kept you up to date with what is happening on the Showground with our new location.  We have moved in but there is not much to report at present.

 

 

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