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On 13th September this year a precious baby – a fourth daughter – was born to my friends. Sadly, little Amber had Edwards Syndrome. But this special little one defied all the odds time and again; she was able to come off oxygen, go home from hospital, and gave her family 68 wonderful days of joy, love, tears, hope and peace. Amber Hope was God’s gift to her family and all who met her.
One of the places Adrian and I visited in Bavaria was Coburg Fortress. It looked impressive, perched up high, looking down on all below. With its high, thick, stone walls and mean-looking portcullis, it seemed a good place to hide from enemies in safety. Inside the fortress were rooms containing suits of armour for both men and horses, as well as deadly weapons of all shapes and sizes. It gave the impression that in the days when the fortress was lived in, there was all that would be needed to combat potential enemies.
Someone who appreciated the safety of such a stronghold was Martin Luther, the sixteenth century Christian reformer, who once fled to Coburg Fortress to hide. I found it both humbling and inspiring to visit the two dimly lit rooms where he slept, ate and worked for six months, and to peer out of the windows he once looked out of.
Martin Luther knew the value of having a stronghold, a place of refuge for when trouble loomed. I wonder if he felt safe and secure as he walked in the rooms where the suits of armour and weapons were stored? Perhaps this very fortress inspired his famous hymn:
A safe stronghold our God is still,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He’ll help us clear from all the ill
That hath us now o’ertaken.
The ancient prince of hell
Hath risen with purpose fell;
Strong mail of craft and power
He weareth in this hour;
On earth is not his fellow.
Visiting Coburg Fortress certainly made me think of my stronghold. It’s not an imposing building on a hill, but a person: Jesus Christ. The Bible describes Him as a strong tower, a place of refuge, and a fortress. He’s the one I run to when trouble looms, when life seems overwhelming, when I’m aware of the enemy of my soul and temptation is fierce. In Jesus I am completely safe and secure. Nothing can separate me from His love. I wonder if Jesus is your place of refuge?
Adrian and I visited good friends in the Franconian area of Bavaria (in Germany) last week. It was a fantastic week and we had a great time with them. They went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and for that one week we became part of their home-life. We ate delicious Franconian meals with them and were introduced to the delights of fizzy apple juice (Apfelschorle), cola and orange soda (Spezi), and Radler beer. We stayed in one of the family bedrooms, shopped with them and relaxed around the table in the evening, playing either the fast-paced family game Ligretto or the more strategic Take It Easy.
We all went out sight-seeing every day, visiting brightly decorated Christmas markets in the cobbled squares of various towns and cities, with the scents of mulled wine and gingerbread lingering tantalising in the air. We saw castles and fortresses set high on hills. With their high, thick walls and vicious portcullises, they looked impregnable. And I mustn’t forget to mention the magnificent fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein with its beautiful interior and swan-like theme.
Yes, we had a wonderful time and have nothing but happy memories of our week in Franconia. But I was always aware that none of it was home. The castles and fortresses were impressive and interesting, but I couldn’t imagine living in any of them. Our friends’ home was warm and welcoming, and we loved staying with them, but it wasn’t our home. We were just visitors.
Another friend recently asked me whether I ever felt homesick for no apparent reason. And the answer was yes. It is possible for a Christian to be at home, surrounded by all that is loved and familiar, but still to have a sense of homesickness. This is because here isn’t our home. We were made for Heaven, and that is where we belong. Heaven is our true home. Whether or not we realise it here, followers of Jesus are like fish out of water. When we get to Heaven, we will truly relax because we will be Home. Home where we belong like fish belong in water, like trees are rooted in the ground.
The Apostle Paul put it like this:
For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.
That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming. 2 Corinthians 5:1-8