It has been three weeks since the last Praise & Prayer News. I think this might be the longest period of silence from me! It has been caused in part by a particularly busy period, sometimes most intense at the weekends when I usually write. It has also been caused by some uncertainty as to what I should write. I do take time to pray before sitting down at the laptop, and usually ponder over a topic for several days, hoping that what I write will prove relevant to as many as possible.
As I have passed through this period of uncertainty, some thought seeds have developed and came to fruition this morning – Sunday 19th March 2017. What I plan to write now will have some echoes of a previous item written about a year ago. So, I hope you will not mind a little repetition. That also reminds me that in the interim I repeated a talk (I hate the term sermons) I gave in several churches. One former colleague called it serving up cold meat with hot gravy! But in each case the repetition seemed to bring a lot of blessing, so justifying it.
I grew up in a home with copies of the Readers Digest. I loved this publication, read the funny quotes that were at the bottom of some pages, the page of jokes and various articles. But my favourite section was called “The Most Unforgettable Character I Met”. Various authors shared their experience, and I lapped it up. I guess it might have sown the thought about what makes someone unforgettable.
One of the activities during my recent ‘silence’ was leading a Prayer Meeting in the prison where I serve as a voluntary chaplain for a few hours each week. One of the men shared some thoughts based on the account in Acts 19 about the seven sons of a Jewish High Priest who tried to drive out an evil spirit “in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches”. The surprising response was “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Clearly, in the demonic realm Paul had become an unforgettable character.
This weekend brings two unforgettable characters into sharp focus. Both had impact on my life as a child and teenager. The first is Dame Vera Lynn with whom I often sang along as her recordings were frequently played over the radio at home. Dame Vera is about to hit her 100th birthday. The second character is Chuck Berry, whose death was announced this morning. As one of the first generation to be called teenagers, I embraced his music with enthusiasm.
These various threads then combined with the invitation to speak at a church anniversary service this evening. Anniversaries provide opportunity to look back on a journey taken. I found myself reflecting on the unforgettable characters in my life. For almost all reading this, the names will mean nothing, but I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you about them.
Miss Hatton lived six doors from our family home. She had a knack of recruiting young children and taking us to and from Sunday School. She invented a competitive gave relating to the registration of new cars, which we played through the week. She also provided us with a chocolate éclair when we reached her home on return. I started Sunday School with Mrs Roberts and Miss Osgood, who were apparently saddened when I reached an age when I could move out of the primary department. This brought me into contact with Miss Betts (Superintendent), the two Miss Mathers, and Mrs Young who was my favourite. I can’t remember anything they taught me but their characters made an indelible impression and played a vital part in my faith journey.
During this period our church was served by an energetic and enthusiastic Scottish minister, the Rev Angus McNaughton. He gave fantastic flannelgraph illustrated talks on Sunday mornings, ran film shows on Tuesdays evenings, and made moving pastoral visits to our home where he knelt and prayed before giving me a ride on his motorbike around the streets where I lived. Most especially, I remember his loving visits to me during a time I spent as a young child in hospital.
To these names I could add others such as Alan and Ame Tarling, and Brenda and Margaret Wayling. All these are unforgettable for their love of Jesus and their Christlike service to children.
On hitting my teens, I graduated out of Sunday School and into the wider world. As the former Christian influences in my life waned, my life style became increasingly ungodly. But a new unforgettable character came into my life. It was Robert Dingwall, the RE teacher in my secondary school. He was great because he had ways of linking science with faith both through his love of archaeology and regular Fact and faith Film Shows after school.
About the time my lifestyle had degenerated the most another unforgettable man gave me a gospel tract to read. We did not know one another, but his obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in going out that dark and damp evening to give out tracts set me a powerful example. I was the only person he gave a tract to, but so confident was he that the young man who took it was going to be saved and used by God, that they prayed through that night and sent prayer requests to people in far off places, until the day I knocked at his door to tell him his prayers had been answered.
At this stage in my life, new unforgettable characters, whose names will mean nothing to you, came into my life. They included Gordon Hunt who tricked me into my first public confession that I was a Christian. Still later, Eric and Grace Kilby and Syd Thayre, and especially Alfred Lavender left their mark on me. They are unforgettable and I thank God for them. What made each of them (and there were others) unforgettable was that they were excited about Jesus and had a strong commitment to share in God’s mission.
I don’t suppose any of them will have a biography written about them. Almost all they said to me and taught me are long forgotten. But these were living messages of the good news about Jesus – my unforgettable characters. Each had their own separate lives, but in God’s plan he wove our lives together to produce the pattern he planned. They are the ‘warp’ through which my life has been the ‘weft’.
Who are your unforgettable Christian characters whose lives have been significant in your journey? If they are still alive, please tell them this. Take a few moments to remember then and give thanks to God, who gave them to you at important times. Then take a moment to ponder on your own life as your pathway crosses those of others. What impact are you having? What lessons are being taught and learned? You may consider yourself to be unimportant, but if we get it right, God can make us someone’s unforgettable character for his purpose in the lives of others.
From the Diary
These have been very busy three weeks and I am so thankful for the blessing God has given me and Doreen and the fact that he has also given us opportunities to bring his word to others and to be of service in other ways. I could write many pages about this but will not do so here. But please give thanks with me. Give thanks also for colleagues who have shared, especially for Gordon Banks, one of our trustees.
The diary is full to the end of the month and we value your prayers each day for sensitivity to the Holy Spirit as we seek to be led by God. Doreen has a cataract operation on Friday.
May God’s peace overflow in your life.