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.


‘… more than conquerors …’


Earlier this year on the day before Valentine’s day, my Bible study at that time was on the subject of ‘witnessing’. It included a text from Luke I considered to be appropriate, given the task I was about to embark on. In the text, Luke quotes Jesus, saying:

‘And he said to them, “The Harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.”‘

Luke 10:2

The following day, I met with some friends at our church to hand out Valentine’s Day roses to passers by. Attached to each rose was a brief greeting and invitation to attend our church services.

I explained to one of my friends that I’d felt unwell that morning and almost declined to attend. I reasoned I was probably being coerced into feeling that way. Satan wanted me to stay at home.

My friend replied that this was to be expected. While we remain inside our churches, singing our happy songs and enjoying fellowship, Satan leaves us alone. But once we venture outside – to witness or spread God’s word – we become a threat.

This threat is also reflected in Luke as he continues to quote Jesus:

‘… behold I am sending you out as lambs into the midst of wolves.’

Luke 10:3

Matthew also refers to this quotation in his own gospel:

‘Behold I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’

Matthew 10:16

The wolf metaphor intrigued me so I reflected on why it should be used. Why wolves? What was it about wolves that prompted Jesus to choose them? Among those things I found were these:

  • Wolves are relentless predators
  • They hunt in packs
  • They begin to devour their prey while it’s still alive

It’s fair to say I’ve often felt as though I’m being devoured at times – sapped of spirit or wearied by a world changed beyond all recognition from the one of my youth. A world in which we’re assailed by an endless parade of headlines that appear to have one of two agendas:

  • To divide us
  • To make us ever fearful

Now, it is the Coronavirus ‘pandemic’. Before that we had:

  • Sars
  • Bird Flu
  • Ebola (1 & 2)
  • Aids

As a backdrop to this we have ‘climate change’ and numerous terrorist events and other acts of mindless violence, all of which – to those with eyes to see – appear to follow a defined playbook.

Today, evil activities and agendas previously conducted covertly have breached the surface, visible for all to see.

Satanic symbolism is flaunted openly, transgenderism encouraged, abominations and perversions applauded and countless thousands of children and babies murdered by traffickers and abortionists alike.

What happens to the bodies of these innocent victims? The victims of wolves in the form of men and women? Here the word ‘harvest’ takes on a new and horrific connotation.

We all know what a wolf looks like.


How do we recognise a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Truth about our world is far more horrible than we could ever imagine. But truth will out – it always does. And when that happens, we need to be ready.

One thing the Bible teaches us, however, is that we’ve been here before.

The previous quote from Matthew took me to the book of Ezekiel, chapter twenty-two. In it, Israel is being judged and found wanting. The wolf metaphor is used once again.

‘Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing their prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain.’

Ezekiel 22:27

Destroying lives for dishonest gain.’

This paints a familiar picture. One has only to consider today’s geo-political chess-game, the perpetual wars, terrorism and misery. The text continues:

‘The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted the sojourner without justice.’

Ezekiel 22:29

If this image isn’t yet familiar, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary provides clarification:

‘All orders and degrees of men helped to fill the measure of the nation’s guilt. The people that had any power abused it.

It bodes ill to a people when judgements are breaking in upon them, and the spirit of prayer is restrained. Let all who fear God, unite to promote his truth and righteousness; as wicked men of every rank and profession plot together to run them down.’

Matthew Henry’s Concise Comentary

Where am I going with this?

I’ve painted a picture of a small number of Christians going out, roses in hand, into enemy territory. It is a territory of ravening beasts tainting God’s creation with their evil, perversions, greed and corruption.

Under such circumstances it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, except God has left us with numerous reassurances scattered throughout the Bible. Such as:

‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’

Romans 8:37

On Valentine’s Day there were three ‘conquerors’ manning the front line.

This has since put me in mind of the TV series, ‘Band of Brothers‘. In one scene depicting the eve of a battle one officer warns another: ‘Looks like you guys are going to be surrounded.’ To this the series’ hero replies: ‘We’re paratroopers, lieutenant, we’re supposed to be surrounded.’

In another, the film ‘We Were Soldiers‘, Mel Gibson and his troops face off against the Vietnamese in a Hollywood account of the first major land battle of the Vietnam War.

In one scene, the situation is dire as Mel’s boys are about to be overwhelmed by advancing Viet Cong. All appears lost when Mel snatches a radio mike, contacts HQ and calls in an airstrike, saving the day.

As Christians we not only man the front line, but we operate behind enemy lines, surrounded and vastly outnumbered – on the earthly battlefield. But, just as Mel Gibson could rely on his wireless link to headquarters, we have a direct link to God.

We need no radio, microphone or antennae. We simply pray.



I delivered this piece to my church in February 2020, little knowing the degree to which the ensuing months would increase its relevance.