I know, all the Media is jam-packed with news about Coronavirus, and just like with me, perhaps you too have all this already coming out of your ears. Especially with these Government announcements, appearing on Facebook and other social media, along with on television, constantly repeating what we had drummed into us for the past week - stay at home, don't go out at all except for essentials - food, medicine and exercise. And oh yes, keep a distance of at least two metres from the next person and always wash your hands.
And so a dog walker drives alone to a remote spot at the Lake District National Park or the Pennines National Park, both very large natural and undeveloped areas, and he is stopped by the Police while he was walking his dog on a leash. A bit odd that is, and as a result, these national parks are declared closed to the public. Indeed, only last Sunday, crowds were seen at such beauty spots as well as on our beaches, thanks to a very unusual early Spring sunshine accompanied by a calm, balmy warmth. Such sights of crowds socialising, whether it's within the National Park boundaries, city spaces such as London Kensington Gardens, or local open spaces such as South Hill Park, just a stone's throw from our house, the sights of such crowds has sent our Government ministers into a spin.
|Lake District National Park. Last visited 2016.|
Such beautiful scenery with ideal weather provides a level of distraction from these perilous times when one patient after another is rapidly dropping down like flies as the virus spreads. But as being human is all about taking our minds off the crisis should it otherwise drive us all insane. I, for one, will need some form of distraction just to stay sane. Indeed, both my wife Alex and I can be considered more fortunate in a way that we know God through faith in his Son Jesus Christ, and therefore time can be spent in prayer, as demonstrated in last week's blog.
And here I stood, at the back of a long queue slowly moving as it snaked some 150 metres to the entrance doors of our local Sainsbury's superstore. I found all this quite shocking, indeed, when considering my usual habit of "just popping in for a moment" was always taken for granted since I started going there for the last 25 years or so. But at least the queue wasn't as it seemed. Each person standing in line stood at least two metres apart, maybe more, thus fewer people than it first looked. One of the stewardesses patrolling the line and bidding us all good morning approached to where I was standing, and apparently, I was the only one in my area of the queue to respond with an audible greeting. It goes to show how just a little response is enough to lift her spirits and make her arduous day's work a little easier.
But overall, I was overwhelmed with apprehension. It is as if all of my life flashed before me. The times I "popped in" to buy something, and this goes way back into boyhood when mum despatched me to the corner shop to buy something she either forgot to buy herself or to have run out of sooner than expected. Oh, those were the days when innocence prevailed, a happy boy skipping along without a worry in the world, memorising what he needs to get.
I woke up at about three in the morning earlier this week. I found myself struggling to breathe, although I was not coughing, neither did I have a high temperature, two of the most prominent signs of infection. It seems as though shadows filled the bedroom as my wife slept soundly beside me. I arose and opened the window into the cool night and took deep breaths. That didn't help much. This was because I was filled with fear of death. Death by asphyxiation while asleep. I got back into bed and snuggled up close up to my beloved. This was the reason for the fear. To be separated from my wife, who would not cope well with widowhood due to her own physical lack of wellbeing. Furthermore, would I enter Heaven if I was to die now? Or would I tumble into Hell, in torment, never to experience the love of my wife ever again? Such thoughts kept feeding my fears.
As I lay there, I concentrated on the Cross of Christ and quoted Scripture, mainly John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10, 13. Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. That is how the Authorised Version has it. But according to the AV Interlinear Greek/English New Testament, the stronger words -will be saved- is used, as in all other versions. Thus, I whispered aloud, Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved, several times. Suddenly I felt much better and immediately dropped off back to sleep.
But this experience has caused me to reflect back on my life. How much for granted have I taken all of God's blessings since I was born? True enough, I failed at school, which had a domino-effect throughout the whole of my working life. There were many times when I looked at the young man in a suit and tie passing through the machine shop of an engineering factory where I worked, on his way to the office upstairs. How I wanted to be like him! Well educated. Well respected. So did my late parents who wanted me to be like him too, instead, at the time they were frustrated with my lack of school progress.
But what a difference it is to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ! As everything started to improve after conversion at the age of twenty years, it becomes easy for me to start taking my blessings for granted. Like the time I saw the Old City of Jerusalem for the first time in my life. That was in 1976. Such a view from the Mount of Olives has not only brought the Bible to life but also the memories of those crushingly dull R.E. lessons I had to take back at school. It wasn't until my second visit there in 1993 when I was mature enough to allow God to speak to me concerning the city, and how I was wonderfully blessed.
|Jerusalem from Mt of Olives, stock photo. Last visited October 2000.|
Transatlantic flights for leisure? During the 1960s, this wasn't even dreamed of, except perhaps by a handful of well-to-do aristocrats and a few prominent businessmen and celebrities. Even back then, the thought of foreign holidays - that is, to the Spanish Costas, was only emerging as the latest progress for middle-class vacationers, the asking price of about two to three hundred guineas for a full-package holiday was astounding but in 1970 such a trip was still financially out of my reach.
Therefore to board an aeroplane at London Gatwick on both the 1977 and 1978 trips across the Big Pond to Toronto and New York respectively was something I should have taken as a great gift from God, a blessing undeserved. Yes, I did think that way, but the temptation was also there to declare these trips as my own rights. The same applied to the 1990s. It took as my own right to fly to Singapore, Australia and California in 1997 as well-deserved when I also knew full well that such Round-the-World trips would have astounded just about everybody just two or three years earlier. Such as when I was at the Travel Exhibition held at Earls Court just a few weeks before take-off. There I astonished a TV cameraman and his crew when I told them what I was up to.
Travel aside, there are many other things I take for granted rather than giving glory to God. Besides our strong and robust marriage, this also includes going to the gym, also swimming and the sauna at will, with no hindrance. In the past, I was able to run distance races to raise money for charity, as well as compete in Triathlons and cycling tourism. Then, of course, to go shopping whenever I need to. Groceries of every form so readily available at a nearby superstore. No need for hunting trips or to travel miles to find water.
If all this is pure boasting, then let me boast in the goodness of God who has blessed me so well throughout my whole life.
And this is what this present Coronavirus crisis has done, in a way it has brought me to my senses. The sudden change in lifestyle - staying at home in isolation, the need to queue to visit a superstore, to see all the other businesses and traders shut down, no more visits to the Leisure Centre to exercise, the end of newspaper reading at Starbucks and Costa Coffee, something I have enjoyed doing particularly since 2015, all these is a sudden cultural shock, the forfeiture of my freedom.
Then the weekly church service. Like all the other churches, Ascot Life Church now has only virtual-meetings. That is, partaking in worship and listening to the sermon via a computer screen while I'm alone in the room, which could be anywhere in the world. I can't help thinking that this resembles a Communist country where all church meetings are illegal, and anyone meeting would suffer persecution including trial and a prison sentence, maybe even execution. I need to be thankful that our churches here in the West have not reached such a scenario and I hope they never will.
But I feel, in a sense, homesickness in my spirit. Ascot Life Church is my spiritual home, and since it isn't there, I do feel isolated, a wanderer looking for a home. This is another angle of my life this pandemic has exposed, that I love my home church fellowship far more than I thought I did. And I miss it intensely. Strange, isn't it? It can be quite easy to criticize the fellowship, how it's run, its structure of leadership and service, midweek meets and whatever, but it takes something big like this virus pandemic to expose my real feelings, my heart and soul commitment and sense of belonging.
|Old Paddock Suite, meeting venue for Ascot Life Church.|
A loving fellowship is not confined within the racecourse restaurant where we meet each Sunday. In the past months, even in the last few years, I had several one-to-one chats over coffee with elders and friends alike. Furthermore, a strong sense of brotherhood thrives between a doctor of philosophy, who excelled so well at school and university alike, and me who - er - didn't do quite so well at school! Thank you, Andrew Milnthorpe, for being such a great companion at the Leisure Centre, on day trips and on long weekends over the last few years. Now the crisis has forced us apart, I must admit, I miss your company.
It is my prayer that this crisis will pass, and to see all shops and businesses reopen, to be able to walk into any superstore without the need to queue up, to resume my exercise schedule, to enjoy a cappuccino coffee at Starbucks, to board a train whenever I need to and to attend church every Sunday. But most important of all, how I long to see for myself the turning of thousands to God through faith in Jesus Christ, a national and global realisation that God exists and the turning the heart to Him for forgiveness, salvation and in in-filling of the Holy Spirit. How I long to see existing churches swell in numbers and grow spiritually, and for new churches to spring up.
If anything good can come out of this dreadful time then let it be for greater awareness of God and the turning of many to him.