Every Day Lives – Dan Day-Robinson
Every Valley Worship Sunday at the beginning of the service we have an ‘Every Day Lives’ section to the service in which someone from the congregation speaks about their faith journey. This Sunday, Dan Day-Robinson was interviewed. An approximate transcript of what he said follows. If you would like to hear a recording of him speaking please contact email@example.com
My father and mother were farmers in Wiltshire, so I was brought up between Devizes and Salisbury and I went to school near Salisbury just near Devizes. As you can probably tell by the red trousers and my accent I went to a private school, so I was brought up in a Christian tradition of Sundays and Sunday best and a very formal upbringing on the Christianity side of things.
I have travelled abroad I went to live abroad and sadly my wife left me about 10 years ago. I have three grown up sons William, George and Edward who are now 30, 28 and 26. You may have seen them come into church from time to time – they are very grown up and they are the apple of my eye. I am so fortunate because I love children and Lou Lou, my finance, has two children a boy and a girl and sadly her husband died at a very young age and so they are now mine as well. I now have five. One of my boys was asked a week ago ‘do you ever wish that you had a sister’ and he said ‘but I do have a sister’! So we are what would be described in modern terms as a ‘blended family’. We moved into the Parish and the village has been fantastic, very friendly. My interests are bookbinding and welding.
I have always believed in God and I have always said my prayers and my boots are firmly planted in the soil in the mud. When I moved into the Parish, I suppose you could say I was a stuck up Sunday type: go to church on Sundays, put on a tweed coat and go to church and do communion and feel good and have a sherry afterwards, actually I still have a sherry afterwards! So when I came to the Parish, I have always had a sense of a calling from God, but never done much about it, always known that he is there, and probably Alex (and others), recognised that and he said to me ‘why you don’t go on the Alpha Course?’ Just to give you an idea of how I was at that time, I thought ‘well I will go on the Alpha Course, because, intellectually, I should at least see what the other side are saying, in the sense that this is a more evangelical approach to Christian worship and if I go I will know what they are talking about, why shouldn’t I have an open mind? But I am not going to go with Alex, because, as Elizabeth I said, I don’t want to open a window onto my soul – because, if I go on this, then they are all going to find out how awful I am in the process. So I went to Winchester Vineyard (which by the way is a fabulous Pentecostal church) and I went there and did the Alpha Course and met a wonderful man called Nigel Hemming who is the pastor there and I went through the whole course.
I went in quite sceptical. I think the fear for someone like me, who you might describe as a ‘Sunday Christian’, the fear was that I would be required in some way to fundamentally change myself and become some kind of ‘God basher’, but I went on the course. Some people will know the format: there is a series of videos, which are basically given by a team from Holy Trinity Brompton and the videos are amazing, they are very slick and when I watched the first two I said to Alex ‘it’s all a bit slick’ and it has a sense of marketing. Everybody seems to be flying around in planes and they seem to be wealthy and I had some concerns. But I listened and I read the Bible and I followed what they were saying and I loved the course. It was absolutely fantastic and I started, from the perspective that NIcky Gumbel, who is running the course, is a bit of a sort of snake oil salesman but by the end of it I realised that he was genuinely happy and understanding and trying to convey what had happened to him to everybody through the programme. There was no sales in the course at all. I just went and watched and looked.
Then on the very last or second to last session the pastor Nigel Hemmings invited us to say some prayers together and I don’t know about some of you but, for me, it was very difficult to say prayers openly for other people, very embarrassing, not very British, and so we said these prayers and he said a prayer for me and in fact I can feel this now. He said this prayer and, as Vanessa described a different experience of her own, I felt this overwhelming flood of love (its embarrassing to say it) but I felt it anyway and I could scarcely contain myself and since that moment I quite often have these moments; they come and go. The way I have rationalised this in my mind is I thought Jesus/ the Holy Spirit/ God, they were always there and they were always there for me, its just that I was like a child in the play ground not understanding that my parents were loving me. I suddenly felt that was plain to me.
It doesn’t change the pathways to be quite honest. I still get along with old hymns the old traditions and choral hymns, its changed me but it hasn’t changed my perspective, except that I have understood that I am loved by God and I love him back and I want to do the things that I am told I should do and I feel I want to do. I don’t know if I am explaining it very well. So I am walking along thinking I am mindful now the whole time of God on my shoulder. I even had a nasty dream a nightmare last night in the middle of the night and in the middle of this nightmare I had that shivery feeling up your spine when you feel God is close, I actually felt God intervene during the dream and then I suppose the reproofs if you look over your life and look at all the things which happen and you think are coincidences and are not.
I will give you one example. I was asked by the friends and neighbours locally if I would join the DCC and lots of people were very supportive. I got involved and I realised that this was largely administrative. There was a lot of administrative stuff and I thought ‘well I am in this faith journey and I don’t really want to do this at the moment because I want to focus on God and I don’t want to focus on the church walls’…if the truth be told I am not sure that I even care about the church walls, any more, but I do care about it as a conduit, but not in comparison with the faith journey. I said to Lou Lou that I was going to back out and she said ‘you can’t do that everybody will be upset’ I said ‘I am going to try to explain to Alex that it is not because I don’t love the church or love God’. This was miraculous, I think. I was agonising about this on Monday morning and it was about 1130 or 12noon and I sent the email to Alex. Some days later, I saw Nigel Hemmings and he said that he and his wife had had a day off and decided to walk round Itchen Valley and they had run into Alex. They said that they had told Alex about my journey with Alpha. They had told him that ‘Dan’s a nice guy, but a bit direct or something like that’. He had had a conversation at almost precisely the same moment that I wrote to Alex to say I don’t really want to do this DCC thing. I want to concentrate on my faith journey. There you are you can’t really put that down to coincidence. I was getting some help. And if you look back through your life, you find these moments of help happening all the time.
And the other day I had been putting together this gazebo and injured my hand, it was agony bright red and awful and at the end of the Bible meeting, we all said prayers and Alex said I want you to say a prayer to fix Dan’s hand. Everyone sat round and said a prayer and Alex then said said ‘Does it feel any better?’ and I said ‘it feels a bit better’ and then he said ‘OK lets have another go’ and then does it feel better..and it did…and of course I was thinking ‘it could be psychosomatic thats the way you go isnt it ‘But yes it does feel a bit better’ so he said ‘lets have one more go’ and then we said a big prayer to have it gone by tomorrow morning – can you imagine – this sounds ridiculous. And in the morning it was gone. That’s all I can tell you….
If you would like to attend Alpha in the Autumn please do contact Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart
Alex Pease then went on to preach on Blessed are the pure in heart.
Imagine the scene: it’s a prayer meeting, in a little cottage, in a remote farming community. There are two old ladies, one 84, the other 82, one blind and the other lame. The church they belong to is failing – no young people attend; it is a church which is sliding into irrelevance and closure.
But one of the old ladies has a vision about their church in which it is crowded with youth; jam packed to the doors.
So what to do? They pray and pray! The two old ladies pray together in the cottage, night after night….for weeks for two or three hours at a time, with various church elders.
One night , one of the deacons of the church gets up and reads Psalm 24:
‘Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord. Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god, they will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their saviour’
The deacon then says to the assembled gathering: ’it seems to me to be so much humbug to be praying, as we are praying, waiting, as we are waiting, if we ourselves are not rightly related to God’. And then he lifts his hands and prays: “God are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?’
As many of you know, we have been conducting a series at Valley Worship over the course of this year on the Beatitudes, Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. This month we are looking at verse 8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God’.
Most of the commentators tell us that Jesus is referring in this beatitude to Psalm 24 (which was written between 1440BC and 586BC). The book of psalms would have been a very familiar book to Jesus, preaching as he was in around 30AD.
‘Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?’ asks the Psalmist and he answers: ‘The one who has clean hands and a pure heart’.
Jesus is reminding us we will not be able to come into God’s presence or, in his simple words, we will not be able to ‘see God’ unless we have a pure heart.
But what does having a ‘pure heart’ mean?
Psalm 24 is very helpful here. It talks about ‘clean hands and a pure heart’.
It seems to me that: hands are external, heart is internal. So, if you like, the state of your hands are what you show of sin on the outside: by what you say, by what you do, by the action that you take, by who you appear to be to others. Of course, this is difficult to manage, but we can put on a good show on the outside, but the heart…. the heart is what is going on in the inside; that swirling whirlpool of emotions which most of us don’t let break the surface, except under great stress: the anger, lust, envy, pride, resentment, lack of forgiveness, greed…….and that’s just me….
Most of this stuff is temptation and we have no responsibility for that. Please remember we are not a bad person because of what we have been tempted to do or tempted to say
But a split second later temptation becomes sin, unless we deal with it immediately. As Martin Luther said ‘you cannot stop birds flying around your head but you can stop them nesting in your hair’. Temptation is the birds flying around your head, sin is letting them nest in your hair. Sin is allowing yourself to dwell on the temptation that we have been given by the enemy. It is sin even before we have taken any action or said anything in response to that temptation.
Years ago, when I was waiting for the results of my law society exams, I needed to earn some cash and so became a security guard at Earls Court and Olympia exhibition venues. There was this cornetto stand in the corner of the venue. i don’t know if you know cornettos, the ice cream experts among us may know them….but this is a particular ice cream to which I managed addict myself during this job….as I walked around Earls Court for the Motorcycle exhibition; in theory, looking out for thieves and vagrants.
I found myself continually thinking about cornettos and not about my job. I found that that corner of the exhibition centre, where the cornetto stand was situated, was the place that I wanted to be and got continually patrolled. I found myself there, all the time. At the maximum, I probably only had three cornettos during the course of a day, but it was money I absolutely could not afford. But it was the constant thought about them which was the problem and filled my working hours.
If we are to stop ruining ourselves with ‘cornetto eating’, we need to fight the battle first in the mind, as there is no point acting or being without integrity, if we are to stand any chance of our behaviour being an example to others being salt and light in our communities, as Jesus expects us to be; we need to aim for a pure heart.
Whenever I hear of the fall of a great Christian leader, often in the area of lust, but it could equally be greed (stealing from the church) or anger or lack of forgiveness, I often wonder to myself ‘what on earth was going on in his heart? and for how long, before he did this terrible thing?’
The battle needs to be fought in the heart, before it has any manifestation in our actions or words; before it has any manifestation in our hands…
But how? Three points to bear in mind: three ‘Ds’
We need to make deliberate decisions about where we go…about our direction and we will need to choose not to go to places or even to spend time with people, where we are likely to be tempted, beyond our endurance.
The Lord’s prayer says ‘lead me not into temptation’ and of course the Lord is not tempting us, its the Enemy, but perhaps this line of the prayer means ‘lead me to places where I will not be tempted’ or at least ‘where the temptation will not be too much for me’.
So, in my example of the cornetto, that might involve not going to the corner of the exhibition centre where the delicious cornettos were on sale, or it could be not going to that particular bar with your friends….If drinking alcohol makes us angry, then the decision might be to give up alcohol altogether. We need to pray ‘lead me Lord in decisions that make temptation less likely to succeed’.
But, whatever we do, there are always going to be some temptations and in the nature of things we will fall…even becoming a monk would not entirely remove them.
So firstly, Direction
There is an element here of personal self-discipline. We are living in society, society as it is in the 21st century, we don’t live in Victorian times, we are not going to be monks. so we are going to have to deal with temptation when it comes.
In Job 31, we see Job saying ‘I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman’ or it might just as well have been ‘I made a covenant with my belly not to eat another cornetto….’ except that I didn’t.
But you may say ‘that is all very well but saying ‘won’t, won’t’ doesn’t get me very far’ and I agree.
St Paul is more practical. In Philippians 4:8 he suggests that instead of trying not to think of something, the best approach is to think of other better things. He says ‘Finally my brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things’.
We need to find ‘a go-to good place’ with which to fill our minds when we are tempted.
I find thinking of Lucy (and indeed my daughters) is a good go-to place, regardless of the temptation.
But however self-disciplined we are, we are going to fail continuously, as the swirling mass of sin and temptation runs its daily riot in our consciousness!
So first Direction, second Discipline are important but don’t completely solve the problem.
So third ‘d’: Divine
Most importantly, we cannot obtain a pure heart on our own. As John Stott writes ‘all you and I can do is to realise the blackness of our hearts, as they are by nature, and as we do so we shall join David in the prayer (psalm 51) ‘Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew in me a right spirit’.
We need to ask God daily to reveal to us the depth of our sin, to acknowledge it and ask the Holy Spirit into our hearts and give him free rein to cleanse us.
You see the key truth that the deacon in the farming community, who I was telling you about earlier, what he recognised was that it is God, through the Holy Spirit who needs to reveal to us where we have unconfessed sin, whether we have clean hands and a pure heart, otherwise we will not recognise where we are going wrong.
As he held up his hands before God, he was totally convicted of his own sinfulness and was brought to the floor….
But, this was the beginning of the revival on the Isle of Lewis in 1949. Extraordinary things started to happen. Hundreds of people spontaneously started to gather at the church, rushing from all over the island from dances from their houses, some of who had already gone to bed….all desperate to know the forgiveness that God gives those who repent and come to him.
Duncan Campbell, a minister who visited the Island at the beginning of the revival and helped the church respond to what was happening, described it as ‘a sovereign act of God’ and said that it went on for three years ‘until the whole island was swept by the mighty power of God’.
It is clear that the people of Lewis had seen God. Did they have pure hearts? Certainly not when the revival started, but as soon as God’s presence was revealed to them, they were desperate to rid themselves of sin, to repent, to seek his forgiveness and that is what God grants us…
The people of Lewis had the immense privilege, in their generation, of seeing God.
What about us?
Will we see God in our parish, in our generation?
Perhaps we need to be like the deacon willing to be open with God about his own sinfulness.
And we are going to have that opportunity now….
We then started A time of prayer.
In a moment of silence, just ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you, your own sinfulness. Say, in the silence of your heart: Come Holy Spirit, Are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?
As He reveals things to you, bring them before him and ask him for his forgiveness……
I will conclude by pronouncing the absolution from Common Worship
who forgives all who truly repent,
have mercy upon you,
pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness,
and keep you in life eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition., Mt 5:1–17). London: Hodder & Stoughton.