Saturday, February 2, 2008

A Sure and Steadfast Hope

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest for ever Hebrews 6:19-20

There is something awesome about the sheer might of the sea.

Our thoughts and prayers have been with those who have been very much in peril on the sea these last few days. We take so for granted the goods we buy in the shops all too easily forgetting the seafarers who bring them to us. Hy-Way have been knitting hats for the British and International Seafarers Society – a Christian mission that continues to serve those on the seas.

The fate of that ferry in the Irish Sea was something that scarcely bears thinking of. The courage of those who rescued the lorry drivers, the passengers and then the crew is remarkable.
Pictures of the sea pounding against the sea defences take the breath away.

Living in Bangor just next to the spot where the air sea rescue helicopters landed to transfer their patients to the hospital you couldn’t help but be aware of the sheer immensity of the power of the sea.

I well remember preaching regularly in the English Baptist Church in Holyhead. I was told how the church was built at the same time as the sea wall for the harbour … and they used the same rock. I always felt that was a wonderful picture of what church and our Christian faith is all about.

Imagine being on board a ferry crossing an Irish Sea devastated by storm force winds and higher. The longing to get safely beyond that harbour wall. Against all the odds the ship makes it, enters the calm waters of the harbour and is moored to the harbour wall – the storms are strong, the winds devastating, an anchor is lowered to secure the ship even more.

That’s the picture the writer of the letter to the Hebrews invites us to have in that wonderful reading we shared earlier.

That writer knew all too well the devastating experience of living in an all too stormy world. It was a period when persecution was took its toll: it was a cruel world.

For him safety, the safety of the harbour, was real in the presence of God.

Where was God’s presence to be found? Steeped in the traditions of the Jewish people and the Hebrew way of thinking the author to the Hebrews was had had it drummed into him that the presence of God was to be found more than anywhere else in the Temple. That was the place where God’s presence touched earth, as it were.

In a very stormy world the temple was like the harbour. However turbulent the world around, make it into the peace of the Temple and you would begin to sense the presence of God. Go further and further into the Temple, and in the Holiest of Holy Places there the peace of the presence of God was felt more strongly and more securely than ever.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to reach that place of the peace of God! As wonderful as reaching the safety of harbour after a storm at sea. But only the High Priest could penetrate that innermost holy of holies and than only on one day in the year, the day of Atonement and accompanied by sacrifices.

Something happened on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that stuck in the memory of many people, not least the writer of this letter. The curtain that separated off the holiest of holy places was torn in two. It was as if through the storms of that painful experience of crucifixion Jesus had penetrated into the peace of God’s presence.
This was something of a thrill for this writer. Jesus it was who was the high priest, the one who penetrates into the innermost peace of the presence of God. And he has done that in such a way that he opens up for us a way to follow.

We can see ourselves in this Jesus – he experiences humanity at its worst and comes alongside us. He then enables us to share with him as we come into the presence of God.

What a wonderful thought.

Having opened up that new and living way into the presence of God, Jesus offers us the peace that we too can share. It is a remarkable and wonderful hope that we can hold on to no matter what the storms we may experience.

It is as if the ship has made it into the safety of the harbour, and then is anchored there as secure as can be.

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, that place where the presence of God is felt most intensely, that place where Jesus, a fore-runner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever.

What a wonderful faith we have to share, what a wonderful faith we have to share with others. In the face of the storms of our world, we have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.

What difference such a hope can make to our lives and to the lives of others Phil Arnold is going to tell us from his own experience.

Phil Arnold’s Story

Born in Liverpool, growing up in a Christian family in the Second World War, Phil has found the Christian faith making an enormous difference in his life. He takes up his story after his involvement in a care home for people with learning difficulties in Northamptonshire.

I felt God was moving me on when the Managers post became vacant in Wellingborough. I was told it was not a good position to apply for but knew it was the place God wanted me to be. After 18 months Social Services asked me to take a man who had suffered a breakdown. I soon found out he was a Christian and he started up a small group that grew and a lot of the clients started going to church with him.

At the centre we had been approached by the local prison if we would be willing to take one of their inmates and prepare him for life outside prison. This was not an easy decision so I went with the probation officer and met him. He was a lovely lad and he assured us he had learnt his lesson but the best news was yet to come. He had accepted Jesus as his Saviour over 12 months ago
He came on daily release and proved to be a great assest with the staff. One day while going through his weekly review he asked me if I had ever thought about coming a B O V (board of visitor) in the prison. "No I replied."

Over a period of five years I had to apply for my own job three times, but each time more responsibilities were placed upon me. I had fifty five staff, and a highly dependent special care unit. In 1995 I suffered a heart attack that came as a shock, and was off work for six weeks. I went back only to find that we were again going to have to apply for our posts again with ridiculous targets to meet. My health slowly went down again and it was
decided to end my working days.

I struggled to find any sort of good feeling for a number of months, Joyce gave up her job of working with the physically handicapped to make sure I was ok. It was a difficult time and I had plenty of time to wonder why
God had suddenly pulled me up to a stop. I asked many questions of him at this time. Within eighteen months I was much better and able to make contact with the schools. The two heads were committed Christians and working and planning with them was a joy.

Again God Leading.

I was approached about becoming a B O V in the prison, following an interview I was appointed. It was quite scary to be given keys and being able to go and visit any part of the prison. I was appointed to be involved in the kitchens, isolation unit, and the weekly meeting with the new intake listening to problems many had.

To make the job really worthwhile it was working with the chaplain and a lady from the salvation army. Before we did our rounds we would gather and commit ourselves in prayer and ask for wisdom and guidance in all we said or promised. The main task was to give the prisoner HOPE so they could see a way forward.

One case that will always stay with me is when we were called in by an officer to the isolation unit. A prisoner had been crying and had got nowhere with this young man. One of the ladies I who had trained me came with me. We opened his cell both went in and asked him what was wrong . He was totally distraught, we asked if he would talk to just one of us, even this did not work. Eventually the officer came and said we were wasting time and wanted us to leave.

We decided to stay eventually Ruth just said in a very calm voice "We love you and want to help you", with that he just collapsed into sobbing. I pleaded with him just give us a clue.

Eventually he asked us, "Do you really care and love me", we said "yes" . He then between sobs told us. He had been sent to foster homes around the country never aloud to settle, if he started to make friends he was moved on.

He ran away so many times because he was lonely then got into drugs heavily because it was the first time anyone had taken an interest in him.

He was sent to prison for six years and was about to be moved to an open prison and was scared. He then dropped the bombshell and told us we were the first people to tell him that he was loved.

He was 27 years of age. Before he left probation pulled out all the stops to assisst him, we went to visit him in the open unit and found a totally different man who was so grateful that someone had taken time to listen to him.

I can always remember the feeling when we got back to the office being elated but utterly drained.

The Chaplin promised to keep in contact with him. In our conversation we discussed how our Lord must have felt when he knew tiredness, and when the woman who had the issue of blood touched Him and He knew that something had gone out of Him.

We had joined a Church in Kettering and had fellowship for eight years. Being retired I was asked to speak at the ladies meeting and this became a regular invitation. We also took them out on trips. An offer was made to the minister to take a short service at an elderly persons home once a fortnight. We offered to help and when the minister could not make it we would take the service.

Another piece of the jigsaw coming together. Soon after the minister left, but felt it was so important to keep this work going. Most of those were use to going to Church in their younger days. They know many of the Hymns. Very often they appreciate just a chat to tell you something about their family.

At Christmas and Easter our service is longer in time and we have a celebration service which is opened to families and friends.

Even today we carry on this work travelling back to Northampton once a month. It gives a wonderful opportunity to tell the message of God's love and we pray that many will come to make a commitment to follow Him. The staff walk past and cannot help but listen so we continue to pray the seed may be sown.

As I approached my 69th birthday Joyce and I began to think about downsizing. We looked at flats locally and was praying for guidance. We sort of made a bargain with God that if we put our house on the market and it went quickly we would know his will. The house sold within six weeks.

We had visited Cheltenham to visit Betty & David and seen flats for sale we looked at some and knew they were not right. We visited the one in Prestbury and it ticked all the boxes, we moved and arrived in September 2006. We knew Gods leading, and the correct decision was made for us.

We feel at home and how he has led us to this Church. May we say a special Thank you to each and everyone for the welcome you have given.

My life on reflection has been guided by God , even when I went were I should not have gone, He is always there even during the hectic days of Ife. I am constantly reminded of the wonderful hymn

Thy hand O God, has guided
Thy flock, from age to age

God has given me HOPE each day , I pray that we may be the ones who can go out and give HOPE and teaching to the many who are needy in our local society.

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