Autumn is a popular time for conferences; the summer is over, and schools having started families are back to a routine, while the sluggish winter days of January to March seem far away and not slowing everything down. So I went to one of them just to sit and listen, not to speak . . . well, I’d learn as well as teach; it was the Salisbury Conference and there I heard Richard Barcellos of Owensboro, Kentucky give two addresses on the law of God and another on worship. The law of God is a crucial subject, and Richard is an authority as well as an author on this theme. I felt that everyone who believes in the perpetual significance of the law of God should be present. I found it helpful. Richard was fresh and engaging, lightly dealing with John Calvin’s teaching on the subject and then majoring in examining the law in the light of Scripture saying much that was insightful and relevant. There were over 150 present.
The next conference was a week later near Manchester, the twelfth annual conference of the “God’s Glory our Joy” series planned by a number of reformed churches in the north west of England. There is a Pentecostal church in Warrington which has bought an old people’s home and they offer freely their facilities to these men. We were 40 ministers on the Friday afternoon listening to me speaking on (and on and on) “The Legacy of Dr. Lloyd-Jones.” It was the first time I had given it and I must tighten it and improve it before the next time on Monday next in London. There were other messages on Experiencing and Imitating the Triune God (by David Last, the father of six sons), Profiting from Worship (John Palmer), and Speaking the Truth in Love (Phil Arthur). I closed the conference with a message on Acts 19, Paul’s question to the Ephesian Twelve, the disciples of John, whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. I was helped by two editorials from Cornelis Pronk in the Canadian Reformed magazine. There was a fine spirit in the meetings. The reports’ session on outreach was grand, the patient and unspectacular visitation and return to various terraced houses over a few years I found to be moving.
Back at Aberystwyth I completed the twenty messages on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. I though that I would soon be starting a little series on Sunday evenings on the first ten psalms. In the morning, when unbelievers are more in attendance, I am preaching through Luke’s gospel. We have quite a large group of students, over twenty of them on Sunday mornings. They are grounded in the Bible and hungry to know more. They are, of course, the icing on the cake. What has been more encouraging is local people coming, a single mother and her daughter have settled with us, a couple from Macedonia who have moved here and even come to the mid-week meeting. I have been working for three years with a former felon. He has made things more complicated for himself by his smoking and drinking addictions. Those who have ever tried to help such people know how hard it is to wean them away from either addiction. He has them both, but not strongly. He has the bad health that accompanies such addictions and so for months he has been not attending. Then he called on Sunday night as we were leaving asking if we could give him a lift. He lives a few miles out of town and it was too late. But fifteen or twenty minutes into the service he came in and sat with Iola and sang everything lustily, rather overlustily maybe, and wept when I preached on being filled with the Spirit. Iola touched him to comfort him. I drove him home and he said how amazed he was with the welcome he’d had. “Everyone talked to me and said how pleased they were to see me again.” I went back on Monday to see him. He asked me to pray with him again and then he prayed, “I’m not much of a Christian, Lord . . .” and afterwards he cried again.
I was 70 on Wednesday and so at the mid-week meeting on Tuesday I preached from Psalm 90, “The length of our days is seventy years, or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” People don’t like sermons on solemn verses. I sympathized with Barzillai, the old retainer of David, invited by the king to live with him in Jerusalem, but the old man didn’t want to leave the place where he had lived most of his life: “I am now eighty years old. Can I tell the difference between what is good and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats and drinks? Can I still hear the voices of men and women singers? Why should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? Your servant will cross over the Jordan with the king for a short distance, but why should the king reward me in this way? Let your servant return, that I may die in my own town near the tomb of my father and mother.”
Wednesday was a happy day; presents opened in bed, grandchildren calling from the two capitals, London and Cardiff, and singing Happy Birthday in Welsh; cards were opened throughout the morning as people popped them through the letter box as they walked past, and then the postman brought a clutch. I had almost fifty cards and another half a dozen electronic ones. One card came from Hawaii, and one packet of photos came from Mississippi. One cheeky card had ‘80’ on it as the church member, pulling my leg, was undecided how old I was but certain I must be more than 70! Iola’s sister Rhiain bought me a large framed John Deere Sign with a Model GP 1928-1935 tractor on it. It is already hanging on the wall. One lady brought me a huge box, very light, full of fine cut wrapping paper amongst which was hidden 40 chocolate bars, all individually wrapped in silver paper. Two people sent me an identical card which said,
You’re 70 today; that can’t be denied,
But it’s only a number, you’re a youngster inside.
Two witnesses can’t be wrong. At 5.00 21 officers and their wives met in a hotel and we had tea together, lots of finger food which was fresh and tasty, crisp vegetables and warm savouries. Iola made a cake and we cut it together while they sang Happy Birthday. Then I gave them a verse from Isaiah 41, “Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Then they gave verses to me and gifts which I had requested! But with the stipulation that they were not to cost more than 70p. Gerwyn was funny sending an official letter on the solicitor’s office paper where he works and a piece of paper with 70 peas in the form of ‘70’ stuck to it. Is this what I meant, the letter asked. I had a couple of carefully wrapped muffins with 7 on one and 0 on the other with an hidden heart. Other gifts were a raspberry covered in fine chocolate, a bar of ‘Divine’ Chocolate, a couple of candles, a penny from 1938 and a 2008 penny with the verse, “The Lord changes not.” I had candles and a coaster with 70 on it, bulbs and a packet of seeds, and a Dairy Queen advertisement (the pastor’s temptation). They all patiently waited and watched as I opened these. Bud made a sweet speech and I spoke about how I, as an only child, belonged to such a big blessed family. Ieuan, our senior elder and member, closed with prayer. It was a happy blessed occasion.
One of the deacons’ wives has a friend who told her about a strange experience she had when she was in Africa in a safari park. She heard someone laughing and knew without any shadow of a doubt that it was me. She would recognize that laugh of mine anywhere. She told her friend there in the Park, “Geoff Thomas is here.” “No,” she said, “he can’t be here.” “Yes, he is,” she said. I laughed again and so she walked across to find me, and what did she find? A hippopotamus . . . ye
s a hippo. She has bad hearing doesn’t she?!! I was told that at the birthday party.
The birthday this year is a week-long event. On Saturday and Sunday in London Gary Brady my dear son-in-law is celebrating his 25 years at Child’s Hill Baptist Church. There is a family get together for the week-end and I am preaching on the Saturday and again on the Sunday at both services. Then I am speaking at a local ministers’ fraternal on Monday on the Legacy of the Doctor, a revised edition, before we return home.
On Sunday Martin Downes of Christchurch, Deeside, was due to preach here, but the baby his wife was carrying died in its 16th week last Friday and was delivered on Tuesday and so he is staying with Debbie. I have a promising student, Geoff Lloyd, to preach here on Sunday night and my colleague at our sister Welsh congregation, Derrick Adams, is preaching here on Sunday morning. It is all God’s gracious provision, but here are two people, equally joined to Adam and lost, me and Martin’s unborn child. The latter dies in the womb of its mother without breathing a breath while I live my allotted span and together through the Redeemer’s mercy we shall share in the Lord’s glory and be eternal siblings in the Father’s house of glory. What discrimination! Even so Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.
The Lord help us to apply our hearts to wisdom and make our final years the best years.