Fearless

In nineteen eighty-nine, three enterprising young men created a clothing brand, billed as an ‘extreme sports brand with added attitude’. It now includes its own highly successful energy drink, and the brand has even been promoted by Hollywood through several of its ‘blockbuster’ movies.
The brand’s name?

No Fear

No Fear has been a global success story. So much so that the logo could often be seen on bumper-stickers, vehicle windows and, of course, on the clothing itself.

At one time, if you were to walk down almost any high street, you’d probably see the name – ‘No Fear’.

Fast forward to 2020 and what do we now see as we walk those same streets? We see fear. Despite faces half-hidden by masks, we see a population afraid. A demoralised people living in fear. But fear of what?

We’re warned of a dreadful ‘hidden enemy’ that stalks our land like a bacteriological Grim Reaper, striking down countless thousands as it cuts swathes through the nation. So goes the warning. But what do we actually see?

We see TV bulletins. We see headlines in newspapers. On the radio we hear an unrelenting chorus of pessimism and hopelessness every hour, on the hour. Of course people are afraid. Isn’t it inevitable?

But …

… what if that which people fear most is simply the bad news itself? They dread the next baffling bulletin, the next bizarre broadcast. What if it’s these things that are blighting their lives?

Like moths drawn to a flame, they can’t resist the urge to do that which causes their pain and they switch on, tune in and hang onto every word. Unbeknown to them, their greatest fears are being realised each and every day.

Fear.

Of course, there may be some whose desire is for us to be fearful; some who consider that fear renders us compliant, placid and helpless. After all, before 2020, were the headlines that much different? Were they, really?

Whatever the reasons may be, God doesn’t want us to be afraid.

“… do not fear for I am with you …”

Genesis 26:24

Any non-Christians reading the above verse may doubt the relevance of a phrase written fifteen hundred years before Christ. What validity does it have to those events occurring in the twenty-first century?

However, the bible teaches us that a fear-less life, living under the assurance of God’s love and protection was not something that was limited to Abraham’s generation all those years ago. The verse is a timeless one and applies to every single one of God’s children. I am one. As are you.

Despite the extraordinary and perverse events I see around me I don’t allow fear to dwell in me. I never allow it to gain purchase. That’s not to say that I’m a stranger to fear. I’m no more brave or resilient than the next man. Far from it. Fear has featured in my daily life for many years.

With God’s help, however, fear is now a temporary intruder, hastily evicted, rather than an unwelcome lodger permitted to squat in the basement of my psyche.

Such control over this unwelcome guest hasn’t always been the case. I’ll explain.

In 2017 I was invited by my medical specialist to give an account of living with uncontrolled epilepsy – a condition that goes hand-in-glove with stress and fear. This is what I wrote at that time:


Imagine if you will, driving your car down a busy road at night. It could be a narrow road such as those in North Yorkshire, flanked by dry stone walls. The walls have stood for over a century. They’re solid, rugged and unforgiving.

As you contemplate the stone-cold walls, you hit black ice and spin out of control. Please now focus on the nauseating fear you have in the pit of your stomach. Imagine removing your hands from the wheel—for you are no longer in control of your body’s motor function.

Now, remove all your lucidity, knowledge of the likely outcome; eliminate any memory you may have of previous such experiences. Disregard your earlier sense of logic— for at the onset of an epileptic seizure, logic no longer has a seat in the house.

You may fear crippling injury; you can’t influence the outcome. Anxiety piles on distress. You may die. Your fate is out of your hands.

Now, imagine how that feels. But let me tell you, you’re still not even close to experiencing the all-consuming fear of a seizure.

Consider the sickening sense of relief you experience as you regain control.

Your heart rate settles, the trembling in your limbs eases. Sweating ceases as your body and mind recovers.

Now, contemplate the dawning realisation that this will happen again later in the day. It will happen twice, three times maybe. And you have no idea of when they’ll hit you or where you’ll be when they do. Imagine the dread at facing a tomorrow loaded with the same constant threat— and every day of your life.

Now, put on a smile and carry on.

You see, the fear doesn’t come and go with the seizure activity. It remains a constant feature, albeit at a fluctuating level each day.


That was my life in 2017.

Two years later, almost crushed by the burden of responsibility in an increasingly hostile and dysfunctional world, whilst at the same time struggling to maintain control of body and mind, I cast my cares onto God, and declared:

‘Lord, I can’t do this on my own. I need Your help in my life.’

I waved the white flag. But mine was not a flag of surrender, but one of victory, for that’s when my life changed.

That’s when my unwelcome lodger was finally expelled from the basement.

Worry and anxiety not only drain the spirit, but deplete our physical strength and consume our joy for life. Worry and fear are unacceptable. Jesus told us not to worry. He knows it can break us physically, mentally and spiritually – and this is not what he wants for us.

‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’

Phillipians 4:6-7

To further illustrate the secure, unflinching confidence of a life filled with God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, what follows is a statement written by a Christian brother. Before proceeding, you may read his brief testimony here.

Here is his declaration:


Declaration

Fifty-three years ago as a hard-drinking foul-mouthed soldier who tried to kill his friend who had become a Christian, God used that same friend to bring me to the cross of salvation.
God took me from the barrack room and anointed me to preach His Word.

He took me to nineteen different countries on four continents, some of them up to eight times. I have traveled on every type of transport known to man, and some that should not be known to man. I have slept in high-class hotels and under the stars. I have lived in villages and shanty towns in Africa and India, have walked through war zones and deserts, and have climbed mountains and traversed forests.

I have faced wild animals, been chased by angry mobs, had guns pointed at me and been caught up in riots (not of my making).

I have been with kings and politicians and with street beggars. I once climbed a mountain to minister to two dear souls and have preached to vast crowds at open-air meetings. I have conducted seminars for hundreds and Bible studies for two seekers.

I have worked with some of the finest children of God in all of the countries I visited. I have been inspired by their devotion to the work of His Kingdom and have counted it a great honour to have been able to work alongside them.

Now I am nearing my seventy-sixth birthday. I am still on fire for God and His Word; I am fit and (as far as I have ever been) am of sound mind.

I will not be cowered by a virus or intimidated by immoral liars of any political party. Nor will I be kept down by weak church leaders.

I am an eagle and I will rise up and proclaim the Word of God.



A final word on ‘fear’.

In the words of a song by American artist, Zach Williams, fear is also a liar:

Fear he is a liar.
He will take your breath,
Stop you in your steps.
Fear he is a liar.
He will rob your rest,
Steal your happiness.
Cast your fear in the fire,
‘Cause fear he is a liar.

To hear the song, click here.


Every Good Gift

Before life pitched one of its unforeseen curve-balls, I was a keen amateur writer. I wrote fiction, non-fiction, screenplays – pretty much whatever took my fancy. Monetary gain was never a priority … sure, it was good to get paid, but for me that was always ‘the cherry on top’. The pleasure of writing was its own profit.

Prior to putting words to paper, or onto a screen, I’d ask myself two basic questions:

  • Who am I writing for?
  • What do I want to say?

In the case of this blog post, the first question is an easy one.

My ideal reader will be one who’s possibly received the gospel – either as a child or later in life. Someone who’s taken the view that it isn’t for them – life has been ticking along okay, and all that ‘religion’ is for other people. But now, in 2020, life has pitched the mother of all curve-balls, and nothing is so certain any more.

I’m writing to someone who no longer has any idea what the future holds for them and who may be afraid for themselves and their loved ones; someone looking for assurance in an uncertain world.

That’s the first question answered.

The second question is one I can’t yet answer. By the time I’ve finished this draft, things may be a bit clearer, but not right now. I felt a need to get things down and I’ve not yet sorted the finer details. Moving on.

I, like many other people, have been sensing an increasingly oppressive mood descending on not just my local community but on the nation as a whole. I don’t need to sketch out the nuts and bolts of this. We all see the inescapable insanity only too clearly each and every day. Further analysis is just what we don’t need.

Sickened by so much gloom and hostility in the media and on social media, too, I recently felt compelled to retreat into nature and enjoy God’s gift of creation. I knew this would lift my spirits. I knew it would re-align my focus onto things beautiful, and away from the grubby absurdity of global politics.

I hauled my bike from under its dusty cover in my shed, pumped up my tires and propelled myself out onto the country lanes that surround my village.

It was then, with a fresh breeze sweeping away the last shreds of gloom and the sunlight glinting off my handlebars that the idea of writing about this day in a future blog post occurred to me. I figured that, if the ride could lift my spirits so immediately and so easily, it could – with a few carefully chosen words and phrases – do the same for my readers.

But … that still hasn’t answered the question of what exactly I want to say – the message I wish to convey.

I’ve found that the only thing to do under such circumstances is to keep bashing the keyboard and to write as the spirit takes me. Here goes.


The title of this piece suggests that, at some point, I’d write about a gift. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising as, despite everything we see, hear and experience in the unfolding madness of 2020, there are an abundance of gifts to be found. All we need to do is to look. Personally, I always try to find them as early in the day as possible.

We know from our familiarity of Christmas mornings and birthdays, too, that to begin the day with a gift is heartwarming and adds an abiding joy. The daily gifts I receive and which add richness to my life are often to be found in the wide, uncomplicated outdoors.

I begin each day by walking our Border Terrier, Freyja.

We’re blessed to live in a rural location and our walks often take us onto narrow lanes, farm tracks and bridleways. It’s here I often find the wealth of creation and it’s here I feel closest to God.

It’s little wonder. His handiwork is visible in every blade of grass and every oak tree. It can be heard in the warbling of a songbird, and can be felt as a breeze on the skin or a drop of rain on the face. When enjoying the outdoors I’m reminded of a verse found in the Book of Psalms:

“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”

On the morning of my ride for example – in fact it was this event that prompted me to dust off my bike and take to the open road – my early morning gift was a wonderful view of a small Egret.

Egrets are now a native of Britain but it’s a breed of bird I rarely see.

My walk with Freyja had taken us onto a bridge that spans a fast-flowing beck, known locally as ‘The Skitter’. It was here I saw the snowy-white bird as it launched itself from the beck and into the air on slow, laboured wing beats. It was a joy to see, and like many such sights, is a memory that will endure.

Later that morning, my ride through the quiet back-roads of neighbouring parishes followed a regularly-used circuit. The sun shone, there was little wind and traffic was almost non-existent – aside from the occasional tractor. This was to be expected. After all, the harvest was now in full swing.

Here is a pictorial account of my journey.

The lure of the open road





Thornton Abbey – Inspiration for my children’s novel ‘The Door to Caellfyon’

I had begun the day blessed with the sight of one beautiful bird, and ended it having been showered with an abundance of gifts – the sights sounds and smells from a simple ride in the countryside.

Cycling the tranquil lanes between their wide verges and hedgerows so lifted my spirits, I’m sure at one point I heard the sound of applause:

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Isaiah 55.12

To bring this piece to a close, allow me to share a further gift. This time it’s one from this morning’s walk.

This modest dandelion flower was growing along a field edge. It was a solitary thing of colour that drew my attention and prompted me to take this picture.

It wasn’t long, however, before I realised that today’s gift was to be one of two parts.

As I resumed my walk, a large flock of sparrows flew out of the hedgerow to my left, so close that one or two almost brushed my face with their wings. I’d been given a flower, then sparrows. I immediately understood the significance.

Today’s gift was a clear message.

It was a reminder that the Bible tells us that neither the flowers of the field nor the birds of the air need fret about what to wear or what to eat, for God arrays them in beauty and provides for their every need. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus expands on this assurance by saying:

“Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Today, I was being told in no uncertain terms that, whatever befalls in the coming weeks and months, I need have no fear.

You need have no fear.

And that assurance is a gift to treasure.


Powerful Illusions


When I was growing up, I knew to be quiet while in the lounge when the news was on TV. At six in the evening and later for the news at ten I kept my mouth zippered so Dad could hear of the day’s events. My parents also received the Daily Mirror newspaper, satisfying my Dad’s political leanings.

Consequently, the BBC, ITN and Daily Mirror were my family’s windows to the world and shaped their view of it. Fifteen minutes at six pm, thirty minutes at ten and however long it took to read the Mirror which, as anyone who has ever read that rag can tell you, was never very long at all.

My formative years were the sixties and seventies. Amidst the trials and tribulations of global politics at that time, not once did my parents – or anyone else in my family – become agitated by the issues of the day.

Threats of annihilation – and life went on.

Current affairs at that time included the so-called ‘Cold War’ with its threat of nuclear annihilation. We had a continuous chain of union-led industrial disputes that featured the miners’ strike, power outages and the consequential three-day week. On top of this we also had the Vietnam War and, of course, the Northern Ireland ‘troubles’.

Despite all these and more, life just went on. As it should, of course.

My, how things have changed.

Now we’re bombarded twenty-four seven, through TV screens, newspaper headlines, computers, tablets and more. We even have constant access close at hand through Smartphones, which for many are never far from ever-twitchy fingertips.

We’re now receiving up-to-the-minute updates on events occurring thousands of miles away within moments of them happening. We’re so used to this pace of delivery that, for today’s news corporations, speed has taken precedence over accuracy.

First with the news is more important than being correct with it.

It’s also a sad fact that bad news sells better than good. Media executives may ask ‘who wants to hear uplifting or heart-warming stories nowadays?’ The answer to that is ‘we do.’ But sadly these accounts are rare, and are never given top-billing. No, that’s reserved for the ‘bad stuff’.

‘Bad stuff’ assailing us constantly from all sides can be overwhelming and unhealthy.

Worse still, it can be dangerous to some. It’s therefore vital that we pause and reflect on the impact so much distressing news may be having on us.

Is the news helping us? Or is it having a detrimental effect on our life quality?

The following questions may help you arrive at an answer:

  • What is your mood after watching the news, or hearing of world events?
  • Are you afraid?
  • Do your resulting views lead to arguments or division among family or friends?
  • Does social media leave you anxious?
  • Does the news influence your opinion of other people – people you don’t know anything about, aside from what has been revealed in a short, often deeply prejudicial broadcast?
  • On hearing negative information about someone, be it politician or celebrity, do you then feel an urge to express your anger on social media, without taking time to check the accuracy of the story? And does this anger lead to you submitting posts laced with bitterness and spite? If so, do your actions leave you satisfied or more anxious than before?
  • Do you rely on the news for comfort in an ever-changing and increasingly turbulent world?
  • Do you tune-in hoping for the best only to be dismayed upon hearing the worst?

It’s hardly surprising that many of us are stressed to the limit, living lives that are lacking in joy, and devoid of hope.

Polish-American diplomat and political scientist, Zbigniew Brzezinski, stated:

‘Shortly the public will be unable to reason or think for themselves. They’ll only be able to parrot the information they’ve been given on the previous night’s news.’

We see this happening today. It’s therefore vital that our sources are trusted and are proven to be reliable.

Are your sources widespread or narrow?

We often have our go-to news outlets, but to gain a balanced view it’s helpful to expand our sources. This allows us to weigh information and arrive at a well-considered viewpoint. Exercising freedom of thought often helps us to rationalise details, and to arrive at a more educated perspective.

The mere process of researching truth for ourselves imparts a degree of control. We become our own journalists – citizen journalists. Once we demonstrate freedom to employ critical thinking we may even find that real truth is often contrary to what we’re being told through the mainstream echo-chamber.

One such undeniable truth that flies in the face of mainstream assertions is that God does exist.

Another profound reality is that our own existence is no accident of physics. This leads us to yet another significant truth:

We are all loved by the very God who created heaven and earth. In fact, we feature in His plans and He eagerly awaits every one of us to accept Him and turn to Him.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I taking in more information about events happening around the world than I am in understanding who God is?
  • Am I spending more time scrolling through Facebook or Twitter than I am in reading God’s Word?
  • Have I processed the news with Jesus?

If the answers to these questions is ‘no’, is it any wonder that many of us struggle to find peace?

In a world beset by lies, another awesome truth is that Jesus is standing by your side right now, waiting for you to share your burdens with him. A problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes.

Furthermore, it is also true that a load will get heavier when the only person carrying it is you. That’s why it’s so important to not only regulate the amount of so-called news we’re consuming every day but to also ask Jesus to help us process it.

Each day, it’s critical that we tell Jesus in prayer how we’re feeling, before asking for his wisdom. Looking up Scripture is a crucial way to ease our minds and hearts when we need to know the Lord is in control.

Once we learn to interpret the news through the lens of what God’s Word says we find that, like most things in life, the news isn’t all bad or all good.

When the news begins to impact our joy, our relationship with Jesus and others, and begins to jeopardise our overall mental health, it’s time to take a step back and assess whether being informed is helping or harming us.

It is vital that we balance our desire for information against our absolute need for a close relationship with God.

Our overall health – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual – depends on it.