marionandrews

The path of the just is like the light of dawn which shines brighter and brighter until full day.

LENT

This year, as never in the last thirty years, Protestant Christians have been promoting Lent. Why? Do we no longer believe that Jesus Christ made the One Sacrifice that renders all others obsolete?

Why we have not practised Lent:

1. It is not Biblical. Jesus did not command it and the Apostles did not commend it.

2. When we become Christians, only what is commanded becomes our obligation. Whatever is not commanded in Scripture has no hold on us.

3. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ every Lord’s Day and make every Saturday a Day of Preparation, spiritually as well as physically.

4. Lent has been a breeding ground for hypocrisy and has brought ridicule on the church.

5. Special prayer and fasting is to be done in secret – Matthew 6:16-18. There is nothing secret about Lent. There is great temptation for people to boast and feel spiritually smug about themselves.

6. It is a religion of good works. The true parameters of Christianity are Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone. (Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides) Matthew records many times when Jesus challenged the religious leaders about their religion of good deeds and loading God’s people with burdens too heavy to bear.
Why I would never practise Lent:

1. Jesus made the One Sacrifice that makes all others obsolete. It is wrong for me to think I can add anything that will enhance either my salvation or my sanctification.

2. My time and effort is fully taken up obeying the Great Commandments of Jesus: Matthew 22:37-40. I will not add my own from some pick-a-box of options, whether it be no meat on Friday or no social media for a few weeks.

3. All bases are covered by way of preparation for Easter because we prepare for the Lord’s Day every week. ‘A humble and a contrite spirit’ is to be our every-day attitude in approach to God.

4. All my years at school, most of my class mates were either, in 1950′s parlance, CofE (Anglican) or RC (Roman Catholic). My memory of Lent each year was a time when my classmates ridiculed the hypocrisy of their elders. It was a joke: no icing on a birthday cake, no meat but everyone rushed to the fish and chips shop on Friday night, and so on. Is it any wonder so few nominally Christian Baby Boomers followed Christ into adult-hood? Is it any wonder so many became agnostic or atheist?

5. Jesus commands that I fast and pray in secret. (Matthew 6:16-18) Lent is very public.

6. “Nothing in my hand I bring…” I can add nothing that is any good in making right what I have done wrong. My righteousness comes solely and completely from Christ. My motivation to keep Christ’s commandments comes from gratitude.

[This is my own personal expression. I want to put the other side of the question as to why evangelical Christians have not practised Lent. I wish those better equipped than me were doing so, and if they are I would like to know about it.  I still love my friends and relatives who have recently adopted this practice and do not stand in judgment on them personally. Rather, I am concerned that this may be a by-path leading away from the straight road to heaven. ]

SEEING THINGS GROW

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Yesterday, we had steady, soaking rain all morning, the first good rain for many months. How we rejoice to see our newly planted winter veges holding up their fragile drooping heads! How we rejoice to see the garden clear shining after rain!

But this is nothing to the relief of those whose livelihoods depend on getting some grass in the paddocks before winter. This rain may be too late, or it may produce some winter feed for the flocks and herds. We shall have to wait and see whether the weather stays warm enough for the pastures to grow.

Why bother with the chances of the farming and grazing life? A few weeks before he died in 2001, my father was in a lot of pain with arthritis. Even so, he kept digging and planting his vege patch. He was about to turn 90.

“Dad,” I said, “why don’t you sit in your chair and rest? Surely you’ve earned it.”

The pain was so severe that sometimes he found it hard to get up from his kneeling position by the garden bed. Then he would call his companion dog, the old grey Irish Wolfhound, Go Go. She would stand beside him and allow him to climb up using her height and strength as leverage.

“Well,” he said to me in the firm gentle voice he once used to persuade me to eat my porridge, “I like seeing things grow.”

Right to the end, he loved watching things grow! I stopped urging him to take it easy. And so it was in his garden, a fortnight after he turned ninety, that the final pain of kidney failure struck him down. Though Go Go helped him get upstairs to his chair and the phone, she never walked by his side down to the garden again.

I think it is something like that for the people we know on the land, people who have stayed on their farms through thick and thin, some never really getting ahead. Some of them prosper during good seasons and hold on during the bad. They love to see things grow and thrive. They love caring for animals and watching the green pick come through the soil after rain. They have their own props and levers to help them get up again, just as my father had Go Go.

Those who have heeded Jesus’ words, “Take my yoke upon you …” know how to borrow the soul strength that makes them get up and go again after hard times. If a large shaggy dog can act as a yoke to help an old man get up and go, how much more can our Lord Jesus help us up and on our way, whether we see things grow or not.

‘And may the grass grow green and tall in pathways of the drover!’

 

THE GENEVA GOWN

 

ImageThe Geneva gown is a simple yet curious garment. It is a plain outer gown, modelled on the undergraduate student gown of the Reformation era. [1517-1648] Since then it has been worn by ordained ministers in the Christian churches that arose out of the Protestant Reformation.

The simple yet dignified gown is meant to convey the authority and solemn duty of the ordained ministry. Those who wear it are to be those called by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and preach the biblical Word of God. The bearer is to be a learned minister of the Word and teaching elder (presbyter) over faithful members of the Church.

Worn over street clothes, this gown avoids ostentation, obscuring individual grooming and concealing fashion preferences. Instead it draws attention to the wearer’s office and not the person.

In being an undergraduate gown, it signifies that the wearer is a student of the Word, no matter how senior or qualified he is in the church. There is no graduation day, no colourful silk hood to put over it this side of eternity. John Calvin and other reformers wore this style of gown. For many of them it was their warmest coat and a blanket at night. There’s a story of an old Scottish minister who sewed layers of newspaper inside his for extra warmth in winter.

Stuart wears his gown on Communion Sundays. People often ask him to wear a gown for funerals and he respects their wishes. His Geneva gown was professionally crafted as a gift for him by Mrs Narelle Irwin, wife of Elder Ian Irwin. It is made of heavy woollen material. If he needs to wear a gown in the heat of summer, Stuart has a cotton undergraduate gown that belonged to his father-in-law, Rev FWF White.

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These photos were taken at Walcha cemetery 13th March 2014.

WARRIOR WOMEN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

The twentieth century was the most bloody this world has experienced. The atheistic regimes of the twentieth century killed more people than all the wars of human history. Is it any wonder we who were born in the middle of it styled ourselves as warrior women? We gathered during school lunch break, called ourselves Crusaders and sang energetically:
The Lord hath need of me
His soldier I will be
He gave Himself my life to win
And so I mean to follow Him
And serve Him faithfully.
So though the fight be fierce and long
I’ll carry on, He makes me strong
And then one day His face I’ll see
And oh the joy when He says to me
‘Well done’, my brave Crusader.

Fifty years ago, Crusaders was what schools now call ISCF. There is still a Crusader Movement in some schools. My son rejoices that Crusaders is now flourishing at his old school, where 20 years ago the few members felt alone and lonely. He tells of the shining witness of the Principal and one of the Head Boys, and how Christian boys now lead Chapel Services.

In the 1960’s, I dreamt of the Crusader King, Richard the Lion-Heart. I followed him to Palestine and back again! And if, because I was a girl, I couldn’t do that, I would be waiting to give him a right-royal welcome on his return. He might even choose me as his Queen. This was the King Richard of ‘Ivanhoe’, far more romantic that the historical man, no doubt.

As a young Christian, the words, “though the fight be fierce and long …” held no fear for this warrior woman! I fully believed I could carry on in the strength of the Lord, fitted out in His armour. I’m glad I had such confidence then, as there have been times since when my courage has been tested to the limit.

Later, as young adults, some of us rejected the opening line: “The Lord hath need of me!” as poor theology. Our Creator God made the universe and everything in it. What need does He have of mere human flesh and blood? Doesn’t Jesus say that He could have called twelve legions of angels? That’s more than 60,000 angels, on the spot, immediately! The Warrior King David left us many Psalms. The tenor of them is how much he needs God. He never wrote that God needed him.

So where did the idea of “the Lord hath need of me” come from? Think of the wartime recruitment posters that shouted: “Your king needs you!” “Your country needs you!” That, it would seem, is the context in which this chorus was written. Jesus calls us to be Soldiers of the Cross in the spiritual war waged by our great enemies, sin, the devil and death. This epic war lasts until the trumpet of God announces the day of resurrection and judgment. Whether we think we are needed or not, every Christian is CALLED to “put on the whole armour of God,” and to “fight the good fight of faith!” Knowing you are called is compelling and energizing!

As for being needed; feeling ‘needed’ is warm and fuzzy and comfortable and perhaps God knows we ‘need’ that too! On the sole occasion Jesus announced that He needed one of His creatures, He was referring to a donkey! Perhaps, if I keep that in mind, I can once again sing this 20th century battle song with gusto and a grin.

TO HATE AND TO LOVE AN ADVENT ANTHEM

HILLS OF THE NORTH REJOICE

HILLS OF THE NORTH REJOICE

It has taken 50 years for hate to turn to love! In 1962, our Wavell High School Choir Mistress chose “Hills of the North Rejoice” to sing at the schools eisteddfod in the Hymn Section. I hated it! I hated it along with almost everything else about Year Nine. I hated Mothercraft Classes. Caring for babies was part of life to me, the eldest of seven, not something to study for an exam. I hated “Wind in the Willows”. How dare they demand I waste my time reading an infantile story! I hated the boys, but I loved beating them at arm wrestling! That was about the only thing I loved about Year Nine, being the unofficial arm wrestling champion of the class. That was fun!

Now our Choir Mistress knew my parents. She knew that my mother could hold a strong alto harmony, and she thought I would too. Sadly, I did not inherit her ability. I was happy enough to be in the choir and sing soprano, but our Choir Mistress insisted I join the altos. Hence, I hated choir too, as only a crossed fourteen year old can do! I was even suspicious of the words. They were probably some unbelieving nonsense. They didn’t have the theological import of “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Immortal Invisible”, nor the rattling good tunes of “To God Be The Glory” or “Tell Me The Old Old Story”. I slipped into the mode of singing words in tune without meaning. I didn’t even try to follow the sense or thought pattern through the verses, hardly remembering anything except the name from then on.

Now on Friday mornings at St Stephen’s, the Office Staff and Musicians get together to check that we know the tunes of the chosen hymns. My husband, our minister chooses hymns for their words and meaning and it is up to us to make sure the congregation can sing them. Mostly, we get it right. Some weeks ago, another hymn was set to the tune “Little Cornard (66 66 88)”.  Suddenly, the floodgates of memory opened and I remembered “Hills Of The North Rejoice”.

Later I went home and found the hymn in the old blue hymnbook. I studied the verses and fell in love with this anthem of vast missionary vision –
Lo, from the North we come,
From East, and West, and South…

Spanning the Day of the Lord, that Age between the first and second advents of Christ, it is a prophetic Christmas anthem.

Then I researched the writer, Charles Edward Oakley. This young Welsh clergyman was loved and admired for his ‘noble and gentle nature’ as well as ‘mental powers of the highest order’ and ‘brilliant and impressive eloquence’. After two years as Rector of St Paul’s Covent Garden he died aged but 33.

And so, whether they liked it or not, our Choir sang “Hills of the North Rejoice” as the doxology for our carol service last Sunday. I hope they liked it, or will come to at some time in the future. Its incubation of half a century has been worth it for me!

Hills of the North, rejoice;
River and mountain spring,
Hark to the advent voice;
Valley and lowland, sing;
Though absent long, your Lord is nigh;
He judgment brings and victory.

Isles of the southern seas,
Deep in your coral caves
Pent be each warring breeze,
Lulled be your restless waves:
He comes to reign with boundless sway,
And makes your wastes His great highway.

Lands of the East, awake,
Soon shall your sons be free;
The sleep of ages break,
And rise to liberty.
On your far hills, long cold and gray,
Has dawned the everlasting day.

Shores of the utmost West,
Ye that have waited long,
Unvisited, unblest,
Break forth to swelling song;
High raise the note, that Jesus died,
Yet lives and reigns, the Crucified.

Shout, while ye journey home;
Songs be in every mouth;
Lo, from the North we come,
From East, and West, and South.
City of God, the bond are free,
We come to live and reign in thee!

FOUR MINISTER’S MESSAGES FOR 2013

March 2013
FORWARD MARCH

We’ve been searching for someone to come to St Stephen’s to make connections with and minister to younger folk for over a year now – and no show as yet. How should we feel? It has become obvious that one difficulty before us is asking someone to come and start virtually by themselves. We need some creative way forward – one that we can’t quite see yet, but which the Lord will bring us to in His good timing.

I’ve been challenged myself as I’ve been reading through Exodus. In the book of Exodus, God’s people believed His promises and had the encouragement of His provision at the Red Sea. As the days went on though, they faced such difficulties and disappointments that their faith often was tested and sometimes failed. God did not fail them however.

Now God has brought us to the point of utilising our resources to begin a further ministry into the younger demographic of Tamworth. God has moved us in a wonderful way – a way I’d been praying over for many years. We don’t need any outside finance as we once did when we started TCPC with a Ministry & Mission subsidy. This is extraordinary! This is a very great blessing and encouragement! May we be confident that having begun this God will finish it in His own best time!

We have need of patience and perseverance, that, after having done the will of God, we might receive the promise!  This is the good advice of Hebrews 10:36!

On another front, Presbyterian Aged Care (PAC) is interested in looking at Tamworth as a possible town within which to develop their ministry to the aged. I have been talking with Paul Sadler (Chief Executive officer of PAC) for Session (both St Stephen’s and Scots Moonbi) and have some suggestions from him to place before both sessions. We would value your prayers and interest.

Your thankful minister,
Stuart

June 2013
FORWARD MARCH

This June Communion Service will be our first Sunday without TCPC using our facilities. They have been with us for several years now. The last visit of Jeoff Falls in November 2011 marked a watershed for us all. Up to that point we had been in limbo regarding vision and planning for the future. Until we knew what TCPC’s plans and desires were for their future, we could not go forward. The last eighteen months has seen us develop our strategic plan and look at ways forward. We have the necessary resources to go forward and God has given us the will.

I believe that we need to be optimistic realists as Christians. I know I have said this many times, but it is good to be reminded again. Our congregation’s age and stage and limited future are one side of that coin – the realistic side. While we must be realistic about ourselves, we must also be optimistic about God. He is Someone who keeps His Word. What He begins, he finishes. As Hudson Taylor (the famous China Inland Mission first director in the 19th Century) said: “God’s work done in God’s way will not lack God’s supply!”

Firstly, we need to be confident in God. Secondly, we need to be doers of his Word.

One doing that the Presbytery recommended to us during their visitation to the St Stephen’s & Scots Churches, is hospitality. Hospitality is a wonderful way of showing care and friendship towards each other and to newcomers. Age and infirmity has placed many amongst us unable to take part in such a ministry. Please pray that the Lord will call enough of us to this ministry of hospitality, especially when new people turn up at worship.

The key principle to successful hospitality is the KISS Principle: KEEP IT SIMPLE STU…!

Hospitality is the offering of ordinary good food, simply prepared and served with love and friendship. It is a sharing of sandwiches or whatever you would normally be having for a meal with others. Hospitality is not costly, nor does it take a lot of energy.

May God make us fruitful in small ways to the praise of His glory and the future growth of the Gospel in Tamworth and the well-being of St Stephen’s.
Your thankful minister,
Stuart

September 2013
FINDING OUR WAY FORWARD

One of our members, Glenn Mercer, will be starting soon as Chaplain to two BUPA aged care services – at Tamworth and Armidale. Please pray for Glenn as he starts this ministry within these BUPA centres.

As most of you know, I have struggled with severe back pain since June. I have had an MRI scan of my pinched nerve Wednesday August 7th. The main result of the MRI is that I will most likely have to have surgery on my back. A central disc bulge between my Lumbar L4/5 vertebrae combined with a ligament inflammation has caused the spinal canal to narrow and pinch the spinal cord. I will see spine specialist Dr Gordon Dandie on September 2nd. After September 2nd, session will be able to arrange things for supply while I’m away for that surgery. I’m also taking a fortnight’s annual leave to go and see my mother. Mum is not doing too well at present. While I’m away, St Stephen’s is employing Glenn Mercer to preach at both services each Sunday and to do one day a week pastoral visiting for me. I’ve been getting way behind in that. It is wonderful that the Lord has dovetailed things together so that Glenn is available at just this time. This is one answer to our prayers of the past year. I am also proposing that Glenn be contracted to continue some pastoral work after he starts at BUPA.

Hopefully too we’ll have the new data projector up and running for our September communion service. This will make a big difference. Glenda Mercer has been a big help in this with her expertise in using all this new technology as a high school teacher.

Paul Sadler, the CEO of Presbyterian Aged Care NSW, spoke to us on Thursday 8th August regarding Presbyterian aged care possibilities for Tamworth. What is very possible is the option of PAC applying for government funding to establish a community aged care service in Tamworth.  This would not require substantial property holdings, but could be based in an office linked to the church.  It would work in with PAC’s existing community care service in Walcha.  This could be a useful first step for future long-term developments.

Community aged care is funded and regulated by the Australian Department of Health & Ageing (DoHA), with the Department of Veterans Affairs directly funding some programs for veterans.  There are three main funding programs in community aged care:
•    Home Care Packages – Support services in the home equivalent to low or high residential aged care. New home care packages are distributed via annual Aged Care Approvals Rounds.  In late 2012, DoHA advertised 108 new packages in the New England region.
•    Home and Community Care – Provides range of low level home support services such as meals on wheels, domestic assistance, home nursing, day-care.  Annual competitive funding rounds for new services need to be applied for, and PAC deals with this.
•    National Respite for Carers Program – Provides services which give a break from caring for the family carers of older people. [This programme funds Walcha Day Respite Centre at Riverview.]

Please also be in prayer for me as I talk with some other young ministers about ministry here at St Stephen’s. When I’m in Sydney for the General Assembly of Australia in September 9th-13th 2013 I hope to discuss this with one of those I am approaching.

Your thankful minister,
Stuart

December 2013
MOVEMENT AT THE STATION

No younger ministers have yet been willing to look at a position here. However, the Lord has provided two older men who are willing to do ministry here within St Stephen’s – Dale Martin as Chaplain at St Mark’s and Family ministry Worker here at St Stephen’s, and Glenn Mercer as Pastoral Assistant responsible for ministry to older Members. Session is processing these possible ministries and will come to the congregation when we have something definite in the way of contracts and of how to finance these ministries. Hopefully this congregational meeting will be in early December.

After almost two years of searching for an assistant, I have come to the opinion that the time for the congregations of St Stephen’s and Scots Moonbi to call a younger minister will be when I retire. Having an existing ministry team will most certainly be very attractive for any prospective minister. The stumbling block before has been the weight of the task of rebuilding a younger part of our congregation. It is too great a weight for one person to bear.

It is fairly impossible for one minister to minister to an older congregation and, at the same time, to rebuild younger age-groups in the congregation. The hard reality is that the necessary time needed for rebuilding leaves very little time for ministry to older members. I have certainly found it outside my capabilities. We need a team to cover both. With Glenn and Dale we will have such a team for any minister to work with in providing ministry to these two necessary and vital groups within our membership.

Let us go forward with joy and hope into the new year. Christmas reminds us of that incredible gift of the Lord Jesus. In Him and with Him, we have all that the Church needs to grow and go forward. May this coming year be one that gladdens all our hearts in Him!

Your thankful minister,
Stuart

[Published in St Stephen's Church News for March, June, September and December 2013]

BRUSHFIRES AND BOILING WATER

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It was an obscure sort of question on Isaiah 63: “Are there two sides to God’s character, to either of which we may be arbitrarily subject?”

When our leader asked the question, I jumped in feet first. “No! No! A thousand times ‘No’!” I cried. But that was not obvious to our leader, nor everyone else in the group. After all, we were studying God’s compassion and his severity side by side. Surely these are two sides to his character! He loves and cares for His people on the one hand and yet chastises them with the other. Some in the group took the point that this lined up with the tough love of a good father and the study went on to point out the repeated reference to God as Father in Isaiah 63 and 64.

Wasn’t this the big question of “Who is God?” I accessed the Shorter Catechism in an attempt to shed light on the nature and character of God. “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,” did not immediately clear up the confusion around the room. Those splendid words needed more than a few minutes to digest and apply. Each adjective and noun is a study in itself.

So then we looked up the meaning of the word ‘character’: the set of qualities that make somebody or something distinctive; the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another. Ah… Light dawned. A combination of qualities distinguish God’s character. No, there are not two sides to God’s character. Among human beings it is considered very serious for a person to have two sides to their character. Many with this problem end up being locked away.

The passage itself gave us a clue. “…as when the fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil.” Our God is a consuming fire, a fire among the dry undergrowth on a hot windy day. This destructive flame burning against those who reject Him, especially among his blood-bought children, is a theme of Scripture. But God is also a fire that warms and nourishes. The same pillar of fire that warned off Pharaoh’s army provided comfort to God’s people in the desert. The fire that lighted on the heads of the first Christians and burns in the hearts of His children ever since, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit is God’s presence for our well-being.

And yet the fire is one! Are there two sides to God’s character? No, never! There are not two sides to God’s character! The fire that boils the billy burns the brushwood!

A PARABLE IN A POT

Spring cleaning is a time to be ruthless and throw things away. The other day I surprised myself by throwing out a lot of pot-plants, plants I have kept alive for years. It has been a dry season, without the prospect of much rain and the plants all looked half-dead. A begonia rex that thrived at Jean’s place in Toowoomba has never looked well in the constant dryness of Tamworth. The elephant ears that flamboyantly decorated Alison’s courtyard at Newtown die right off for more than half the year here. Even the zygo-cactus plants Jenny gave me in Miles never thrive. I did not reason much about these problems of gardening west of the range. I was in a de-cluttering mood, and I emptied them all into the green bin.

But there is one old cactus, the ugliest plant of all, that I will not throw out. It is a parable in itself. It is a great lump of a thing that survives neglect on the western balcony. It has no form nor comeliness. I am reminded of the classic Victorian children’s story, ‘The Crown of Success’. In it lame Nelly perseveres with her tasks while her clever brother and beautiful sister find more ‘fun’ things to do. The fruit in Nelly’s garden were plain to look at, yet they proved to be packed full of the most beautiful gifts.

So it is with my plain old cactus. Periodically it transforms itself into thing of beauty. It shoots forth stunning white blossoms, as delicate and crisp as the finest silk. The flowers last but a day. By next morning they have folded in on themselves and hang limp. Another day or so and the stems fall off. The plant resumes its disguise of ugliness.

This parable speaks to me at different levels. There are the days when I realize what a wrinkled old lump I am becoming. God’s word comforts me by telling me
‘Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.’ [Proverbs 31:30]

It reminds me to let my adorning be ‘the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.’ [1 Peter 3:4]

Beyond myself, the Scripture takes me to the One who
‘had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.’
Like my cactus, He
‘grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground’
[Isaiah 53:2]

Every time I pull back the curtains and see this ugly old cactus in flower, I am surprised by the joy of the vision. I think of my King in His beauty, and His land that is afar off, brought near by this parable in a pot. [Isaiah 33:17]

ONE MELBOURNE CUP

Art Class 1How much use is a dumb witness? Not much, if you want to find out the truth. And yet, every road sign is a silent yet useful direction finder. Try going somewhere unknown only to discover that the street sign you need is missing, or worse still, turned the wrong way.

How do you point people to Jesus in Australia on the first Tuesday afternoon in November? Do you arrange to go and do some open-air preaching at Flemington Racecourse? Two young men from Melbourne Bible Institute did that in 1938; permission given as long as they were quiet during the big race!

It was another Melbourne Cup Day thirty years later. I was at Teachers’ College. I sat at a desk by a window working at an assignment. For some reason that everyone but me seemed to understand, the lecturer had not arrived for the 2 pm lecture. Everyone else was huddled around transistor radios. I was quite ignorant and did not have a clue what a ‘sweep’ was. All I knew was that horse races were something to do with gambling and gambling was wrong. Besides that, the sweep involved money, and I had none to spare.

So I got on with my work. I certainly did not feel like a bright Christian that afternoon. There was nothing I could say to anyone to persuade them of the error of their ways because I did not understand what it was all about. I was negative and dumb.

However, I wasn’t left alone for long. Someone came and sat beside me. I looked up and it was Katy. What a pleasant surprise! Here was this clever, confident, good-looking girl choosing to spend time with me. She was everything I was not, and she was rich too! Why, her father had given her a new car for her 17th birthday! Other girls lined up for a ride.

We didn’t talk about horse-racing or gambling. I think our conversation turned to China. Being born in China was how people remembered me. It meant I had to explain about my parents being missionaries and that I didn’t remember anything because we had to get out when I was a baby. It always seemed such a hollow story to me. Yet Katy was interested. That Sunday, she started coming to church. A year later, when we were both school-teaching a thousand miles from each other, she wrote and told me she had become a Christian.

That Melbourne Cup Day I felt like a dumb beast, or even less. A horse on a racetrack had more purpose than a bystander like me. Yet my silent witness was noticed by one person. I was nothing more than a street sign, positioned on a corner identifying the way. Yet God used even a suppressed onlooker like me. You too can be a direction-finder for someone who is a seeker after the Way, the Truth and the Life, without a word!

IN OUR END IS OUR BEGINNING

IN OUR END IS OUR BEGINNING.

We had followed a sensible diet together for 27 years: the five food groups in recommended proportion, very few take-away meals, no alcohol or cigarettes. We walked together most evenings and grew our own vegetables. In short, we followed a healthy lifestyle.

It staggered me then when I had to call an ambulance for my 50 year-old husband who was having a heart attack. Three arteries were blocked with cholesterol at junctions. Triple bi-pass surgery was the only option. Any amount of good advice on diet, exercise and lifestyle was available to us and we studied it carefully. However, there were really only a few changes we could make. We substituted fat-free kangaroo mince and kanga bangers for beef mince and sausages; we changed to low fat dairy products; we ate fewer eggs which were mistakenly thought to be bad at the time. We already preferred wholegrain products and consumed lots of fruit and vegetables.

For some years after Stuart’s surgery, I was very strict, almost thinking that an icecream or meat pie would bring on another heart attack. Gradually though, some not-so-correct-but-yummy meals crept back into our diet.

From childhood, Stuart has loved salty potato crisps. He went without them for years. On our way home today, we called at the supermarket for fresh bread and milk. With a sidelong glance at me, he took a crackling packet of crisps from the shelf. He had that guilty little boy look.

“Hastening heaven!” I said, and we smiled at each other.

And really, that’s the end of it. We are staring down to our three-score-years-and-ten now and looking forward to our new beginning. We both love Christ and long to see Him face to face. We each have a parent who lived beyond ninety. We each have a parent who didn’t make it to seventy. Who will we take after? Who knows! If I am to reach 90, I really would like Stuart here with me for as long as possible and so I do all that I can to keep him healthy.

Ultimately, all my wisdom and care will not decide the matter. The Lord alone determined the dear day of my husband’s birth and He knows the day of his death. I must rest in the wisdom and care of the One who formed us both, who created our inmost beings, who will keep Stuart’s heart beating strongly until exactly the second when heaven is ready for him.

PSALM 139: 13-24

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!  …
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

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