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Sunday, 20 July 2014

Travel - And James 4:13-17.

Holiday time is here again! That time of the year when I take a break from the humdrum of daily work and responsibilities to go away to a different location simply for rest, recreation and enjoyment. This year it was the result of a decision made just a few weeks ago, when we agreed that Bournemouth, in the English county of Dorset, was our first choice of destination. So booking a room at an inexpensive hotel over the Internet did not pose any problems.
This will be what I call a "round the corner" holiday, which means that it is local in comparison to other places visited. But the big advantage of this is that it would not be a big loss if something were to crop up which would lead to a cancellation. Rather, it is a location that can be easily re-booked, maybe even a couple of weeks later. After all, the resort is only ninety miles (146km) from home, and involves no passports, airport check-in, the threat of flight delays, or even a possibility of picking up a foreign bug. Neither, on the other hand, any guarantee of wall-to-wall sunshine, as most likely the case of any Mediterranean destination such as Crete, where I was to take my beloved for our wedding anniversary last year (2013). But her illness and resulting hospitalisation resulted in a cancellation which ended with a messy involvement with insurance afterwards, accompanied by a wretched gut feeling of imagining some other couple occupying our seats at take off.

Bournemouth Beach
But with us, life goes on. There have been ups and downs in various areas in our lives, and particularly on health issues. For example, my wife has been out of hospital since last December, and since then there has been no need for her to have returned as an in-patient. I am very thankful to God for that. But in the last couple of months, I have found myself lying awake in bed and literally gasping for air in the middle of the night, like the state of a runner just after crossing the finishing line, together with rumbling noises in my throat and upper chest. My wife pleaded with me to visit the Doctor. But as a typical male, believing to be just a bug that would clear itself up, and therefore avoiding wasting the medic's time, she eventually succeeded in persuading me to go. I was sent to have a chest X-Ray at a nearby clinic. Just two days later the Doctor called me back into the surgery, only to be told that I have heart trouble, and needed to have a echo-cardio scan at a local hospital. At this point in writing, I'm still waiting for the result, together with an appointment to visit a Cardiologist in the near-future.
To discover myself in such a condition was quite a shock, believe me! Even with the awareness that my father had a pacemaker fitted to his heart a number of years ago. But rather than running around in panic like a headless chicken, I thank the Lord for sending me warnings that something was amiss.  It is a comfort to know that I'm in good hands. Furthermore, I firmly believe that the National Health Service is the main avenue for God to work out his mercy in physical healing, perhaps unlike the beliefs of some Christians who insist that God only works through miracles. After all, here in the UK the NHS was founded on Christian principles, and the number of patients who had benefited over the years is countless. So for the last month I was prescribed three courses of medicine - one to remove the fluid from my lungs (the cause of the rumblings), the second to widen the blood vessels, and the third for the heartbeat itself. I can't help but comparing this with the healing powers of the Holy Trinity - the three in one course of medicine which has brought my health to a level where I can live a normal life, and to sleep at night.
And go ahead with the trip to Bournemouth, something which I might have had to cancel, had my pride got in the way of my wife's pleading to see a Doctor in the first place. Of course, during this writing, we are not there yet, anything can happen. But one of the lessons in life I have learnt, and come to appreciate is what James included in his general letter, which reads:
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we would go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appear for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it's the Lords will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All that boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.
James 4:13-17, emphasis added.
If it's the Lord's will. In the past, especially when I was single, I always assumed that every travel decision I made was approved by God. And according to my testimony, this has always been the case. But on the weeks, even months, on the approach to these trips, I always prayed to the Lord for none of the four things to occur:
1) Industrial dispute at the airport or affecting flights.
2) Falling ill just before date of departure.
3) Hospitalisation due to an external injury, e.g. bone fracture from an accident.
4) Sudden, unexpected expense or other loss of funds.
Each day, or when I thought about these things, I often went out for "prayer walks" - that is, going out for a walk alone in the evening for the purpose of prayer. And throughout all these years of long-haul travel, I never came across any serious problems. The only exception was a six-hour delay at London Gatwick in 1993 for a flight to Israel. And believe it or not, that trip was inspired by a vision I had from Heaven, some ten months previously, instructing me to go to Israel specifically to pray over Jerusalem. Since then, I have rated this city as the greatest destination I have ever visited - and I have been around the world ever since. I certainly appreciate and give thanks for such blessings from above! 

Western Wall, Jerusalem - taken 1994
And by reading the above quote from James, the apostle does not forbid any of these things, as he was aware that all good things comes from God, travel included. But what James was writing about was not to take such things for granted, as if it's our right. He then writes with a degree of sarcasm dripping from his pen, reminding us that our life here on earth is like a mist, or a wisp of smoke, which vanishes as it rises. This to me is sober reality, as my heart condition has so much brought home. It has made me realise that the very breath in my nostrils is sustained by God, as all the involuntary anatomical functions, including the heartbeat.
So as it comes to this Malaysian airline disaster which occurred over the Ukraine within the last few days. I won't mention names here, but two Britons who were university graduates springs to mind, along with two devout football supporters who were following their team to New Zealand. The two students, both I believe, were unknown to each other, were on a work placement in Australia, set by their university tuition. One was brilliant at maths, the other on business and finance. And by reading the testimonials, no doubt all four Brits were excited about their trip - the two students in vivid contrast to my school-leaving experience, when my first day at work involved pushing a broom across the factory shop floor, and making aware of my place right at the bottom of the ladder. Small fry indeed.

Small fry I may be, even to this day, but still alive in my sixties, as I also have a story to tell. But international travel had always been something of a privilege for me, the desire to explore another country - its geography, history and culture. Some people prefer doing this as part of a tour group, others may "flydrive" - that is, to hire a car after landing, or having a pre-booked vehicle awaiting at the airport; or to backpack with a small group of friends, or as in my case, solo. But whatever the preferences, the whole of travel, as I see it, is to experience life overseas which has the power to broaden the mind, to expand the horizon, to see natural features not found in the UK - the splendour of the Grand Canyon, the constant roar of Niagara Falls, the lofty mountains of the Alps, the coral reefs of the Red Sea and of the Great Barrier Reef, to stand on a mountain looking down across Lake Como, to stand on the lip of an active or dormant volcano - or to admire the beautiful architecture of historic buildings such as in Florence and Sydney, or the ancient ruins of Rome, Sicily, Greece, and Israel - to fascinate over flora which cannot grow naturally in the UK without a greenhouse: such as the Cacti of southern Arizona, the lush palms of Singapore, the mangroves of Australia and even a taste of a tropical rainforest of Blue Mountains National Park. All of these along with hosteling - the sharing of a dormitory, the members kitchen, the capacity to meet people and make friends. Oh boy! What of the joys of travel when I was single. Then not to mention the slow boat-train from London to Rome of the early 1970s when after disembarking from the cross-Channel ferry at the French port, the train awaiting there took some 24 hours to cross mainland Europe, including finding a way to navigate Paris through on what otherwise was a disused branch or link line. To sum up: Travel was an end in itself, and not merely a means to an end.

A pavilion at Singapore, taken June 1997

As was the case of these students and football fans. I have found it odd to travel to New Zealand, on the other side of the world from home, to watch a football match, without perhaps the admiring of the Southern Alps, or to fly to Australia to work in an office without much thought for the vast areas of natural beauty waiting to be explored. But again, perhaps academics and well-educated people have a very different perspective to world travel to someone like myself who was not allowed to forget my humble adolescence.

But the reality of James 4:13-17 could not be more horribly realistic than on that doomed flight. Excited and anticipating the glories of their chosen destinations, instead the airline was shot down, most likely mistaken for a hostile military aircraft, and all in it passed suddenly into eternity. Life is indeed like a mist which vanishes away. The reality is, it can happen suddenly to anyone anytime. As I look forward for a trip to Bournemouth for a few days, I too - or my wife for that matter - or even both of us - can succumb to fate, and not make it to our destination. Sure enough, a train is very difficult to shoot down, but all it takes is someone to lay something on the tracks, and the fast train could de-rail, sending it tumbling over the bankside, resulting in numerous casualties. What guarantee is there that such an accident cannot happen? After all, a points failure on the London-Edinburgh track caused a very similar catastrophe of a fast train at Potters Bar a few years ago, with quite a number of casualties.

Those four Brits boarded the aeroplane at Amsterdam, possibly on a much cheaper airfare than that of a direct flight from London. They were glowing with happiness and anticipation on what was to come, as well as assurance of a glittering career for the two British students, not to mention other students from Holland, and other nationalities also on board, including a group of scientists, along with businessmen and women, as well as young children. I have no idea whatsoever whether any of them were aware of the short Scripture passage. But I am aware of their sudden and unexpected passage into eternity, which proves James to be terrifyingly correct.

Nobody knows when their time is up, except God only. Maybe this coming night could be the one that I'll never wake up. Or the train journey could end up with fatalities, or I could cross a road and a car could appear suddenly out of nowhere. I can collapse with a heart attack - on board the train, at the hotel, at home, at work...

There is one safe course which all men everywhere should take heed. That is to believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour, be filled with the Holy Spirit, serve God, and be thankful for all the days of your life, not forgetting to count your blessings. For nobody knows when their name will be called.

As always, comments are welcome here, but since I may not have access to a computer in the next few days, publishing may be delayed. No fault of yours. God bless.


  1. Dear Frank,
    I am so sorry to hear about your heart condition and pray for your rapid and complete healing. May you and Alex have a blessed and peaceful holiday! It is so true that we are not promised tomorrow, or even our next breath. Even if we are blessed enough to live on this earth until Christ calls all His children home at the Rapture, the signs of the time suggest that this too could be at any moment. May we live each moment for His glory and in His perfect will.
    God bless,

  2. Will be praying for you. Hope you have a wonderful vacation. Too bad so many people refuse to understand how little control they have of their life. If they did, I am sure some would think about making changes.