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Monday, March 30, 2020

Crying out from the dust  ...  a plea for mercy from on high!

Guatemala earthquake, 1976, claims 35,000 livesDear Friends and Prayers:

As of Monday, the Coronavirus had claimed 35,000 lives since it began in December, and the number infected is rapidly approaching one million people. Just to add some perspective to this, I was reminded that the devastating earthquake in Guatemala in 1976 also claimed 35,000 lives and left nearly one million people homeless—and that in a matter of hours and days due to violent aftershocks.

That said, our present-day reality has plunged us into a vast sea of unknowns. We don't know how far the pandemic will spread, or how long it will last. We find ourselves somewhere in a spectrum of information ranging from carefully calculated scientific projections to hair-raising apocalyptic speculations.

And in the middle of this media frenzy, we see some of the best and some the worst of human nature—from tens of thousands of good-hearted people volunteering their service at risk to themselves, to others trying to capitalize on the wider-spread pandemic of fear. So just where do we really stand?

Green wildflowers called ???Reading through Psalm 90 the other day, I was struck by these verses 1-6,
    "Lord, through all the generations
    you have been our home!
    Before the mountains were born,
    before you gave birth to the earth and the world,
    from beginning to end, you are God.
    You turn people back to dust, saying,
    'Return to dust, you mortals!'
    For you, a thousand years are as a passing day,
    as brief as a few night hours.
    You sweep people away like dreams that disappear.
    They are like grass that springs up in the morning.
    In the morning it blooms and flourishes,
    but by evening it is dry and withered."

In the great scheme of things, it is this truth that is by far the most significant. We are just passing through this world, and there will come a day for each one of us when our passage is over. David says a little further along in verse 12, "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." And just what is a heart of wisdom? I believe he shows the fruit of that wisdom in the first verse, in simply recognizing with David, "Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!"

Families together in isolationIn the middle of this growing worldwide crisis, we believe the Lord is opening up an unprecedented opportunity for the Body of Christ to shine as we were meant to shine. The doors have been closed to massive mega-churches with their polished public performances as well as small neighborhood churches and chapels. And now, in many places, meeting in groups of more than two people is prohibited to try and limit the spread of the virus. So, Church, this is the chance to "...always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you..." (1 Peter 3:15)

Someone phoned up last week to ask if I thought this crisis is God's judgment on a sinful world. Not having a clear answer I was reluctant to respond either way. I said at least it is a "wake-up call", but that was as far as I went.

Now back to Psalm 90. When I got to verses 7-9, I remembered this question and had cause to consider it again. "For we have been consumed by Your anger, and by Your wrath we are terrified. You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance." Sadly in our day and age, not many of our sins remain secret but rather are brazenly flaunted for all to see.

In Numbers 21 we read how the people grew impatient and spoke out against God and against Moses, and in verse 6 it says, "Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, 'We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.' So Moses prayed for the people.
The Lord said to Moses, 'Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.'

In John 3:14-15, Jesus himself says, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Ultimately, then, we can see that God's purposes are redemptive. His ways are surely not our ways, and His thoughts are far above ours. The mStreets of Cardigan are virtually emptyassive earthquake in Guatemala did not take Him by surprise. Of all those who perished, each one that was going to be saved was saved already. And today that nation has a very large Christian population.

We are fully convinced that this current situation of empty streets and limited contact with others will be no different. God's desire is that people in every situation and every walk of life would look to Him and His amazing gift of eternal redemption in Jesus Christ. And at the end of their days, they could look forward to meeting Him, who, through all the generations will forever be our home!

Paul makes it very clear in Philippians 3:20-21. "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body [of dust] that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself."

So let us cry out boldly from our place in the dust of this suffering world that God's mercy and compassion abound to those in need everywhere,

Dick & Gladys


Friday, March 20, 2020

Home safe from Spain, and C.S. Lewis tells it like it is!

Llanelli group prayersDear Saints: 

Last Thursday we were determined to get out into the Spanish countryside for at least one day before our return on Friday. So we took a train and then a bus to Serra Valencia about 20 miles north into the mountains. A beautifully landscaped zigzagging ramp led us to the top of this hill where an old hermitage stands. It was wonderful to breathe country air again!

The whole city had been in preparations for their traditional annual festival, Las Fallas, which draws huge crowds from across Spain and elsewhere. Part of the celebrations includes many large figures which are built and then set on fire. But earlier in the week, the first cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed in the city and things were changing fast. Due to the threat of the virus, this massive event was now canceled.

The celebratory atmosphere that greeted us just days before gave way to fear of the rapid spread of the virus. As panic took hold of people, shelves emptied in the stores and face masks started appearing everywhere. The non-stop media attention from Spain and abroad just added to growing tension.

Huge statue in Valencia with anti0virus maskDuring this time an old article by C.S. Lewis came to my attention. It was written 72 years ago, and is as relevant now about COVID-19 as it is was then about the atomic bomb. It was taken from his work titled, Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays.

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. "How are we to live in an atomic age?" I am tempted to reply: "Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents."

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors - anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddthe central Angel Guemera Metro Station in Valencia, Saturday 10 Marchled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.    C. S. Lewis

The remedy is clearly written out in Romans 12:2. "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

The following words of Jesus cut to the heart of the matter. John 6:27, "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."
John 6:32-33, "Then Jesus said to them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.'"
John 6:35, "And Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.'"
John 6:40, "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

This is our certain hope and assurance. And our most sincere prayer is that God might use the destabilizing and life-changing circumstances of this coronavirus as a wake-up call—that the people of this world might turn to God and live. Jesus has freely paid the supreme price for our ticket to life, but where are the passengers?

Dick & Gladys


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

An unexpected visit to sunny Valencia in Spain!

A plaza in old ValenciaDear Praying Saints:

Not long ago we had no idea the plans the Lord had in store for us. Yet here we find ourselves now in the warmer climate of mostly sunny Valencia, Spain! "So, how did this come about?", you might ask. Well, we would have asked the very same thing!

On Wednesday three weeks ago, a friend concluded his email to us, "As I type  I  feel excited -feel the Lord has a special surprise/ blessing in store in the next few days for you both. 'Yes Lord please bless this dear faithful couple, bless them more and more thank you, Jesus. Amen.'"

Actually, we had been praying for sunshine because there had been so much rain in Wales for weeks. Well, Friday morning, out of the blue, I got a call from an old friend that we have been connected with through Ffald-y-Brenin since we've been in Wales. And apart from seeing one another in meetings, and exchanging emails and messages, we hadn't spoken with him by phone for at least ten years. He asked us how we would like to spend a week with him in his flat in sunny Valencia in early March? And the rest, as they say, is history!

Detail from fresco in dome of churchWe arrived Friday night, and though still cold at night, the. temperatures are 10-15 degrees warmer than Wales, and it is DRY! We're a five-minute walk from the old part of the city, and it is fascinating place. On our first day strolling through the streets it somehow felt very much like home with everyone, of course, speaking Spanish. This has been a special bonus as both of us together can easily engage in and follow the conversations all around us.

I always jokingly tell Gladys, "Don't talk to strangers", which, of course she does everywhere anyway, and this has opened doors for lots of meaningful conversations. Someone told us we were being sent on a special mission, and so indeed it seems. In fact, Sunday afternoon Gladys asked if we could join a couple at a table where there was some shade. We quickly began to chat and the Lord opened a wonderful door to talk about the Lord. An overview of our testimony of how the Lord directed us to pray for Wales was like cool water to thirsty souls, and time just slipped away. We look forward to meeting up with them again before we head back home on Friday. And there were and will be other conversations as well. People are looking for answers, and Jesus is the only one they need.

Today I went again to the old town center with our friend to see the main square and buildings that we hadn't gotten to yet. We went into a huge old Catholic Church where there were lots of people sitting quietly. Most seemed to be there for religious reasons, praying or meditating, while quite a few others were tourists like ourselves, just looking around and admiring the elaborately ornate building with its statuary, stained glass, massive paintings, and beautiful frescoed ceilings.

Frescoed domeAs I sat there, I was immediately impressed, and a bit surprised, by a very tangible sense of presence of God. As I watched, prayed, and wondered, the words of an old song came to mind, "You can look, but you better not touch." It's fine to come and look and see, but God is so high and far above us lowly mortals that we can never approach him. As was if the liturgical hierarchy over the centuries was speaking out its mantra of "We are the intermediaries and you can only come to God through us."

Yet at the same time the Lord was crying out loudly, "Oh taste, and see, that the Lord is good!" "Whosoever will may come." traditional dress of historic Spain "Come ye to the waters, he that has no money, come ye, buy and eat!" And yet the veil still remains over the eyes of so many people here. The steeped-in-Catholicism Spanish culture has been profoundly changed here in our lifetimes. Especially in the last 20 years with the ubiquitous influence of the online world, the younger generations live in a very different world, devoid of the influence of the Gospel.

As we continue to pray for the coming revival for Wales and the nations, being here in Spain and seeing what we see adds extra depth to words of Jesus in Matthew 9:37-8. "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."

Dick & Gladys


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