Monday, August 15, 2016

Going for Gold

The amazing efforts of all medal-winning athletes and sportsmen and women is filling our TV screens and dominating our newspapers at the time of writing. Rio 2016 is proving to be a good year for our Team GB, now second in the long list of medal winning nations. But repeated over and over is the mantra that these Games are only the tiny summit of a huge mountain of training, preparation and commitment. I was listening to an interview on BBC Radio 4 this morning and heard a remarkable few sentences from one of the coaches working with the British Cycling team and Sir Bradley Wiggins in particular. He said that without commitment of the highest order, none of these participants would go home with a medal.

Commitment is what gets them up every morning long before the rest of us, to train, exercise and prepare. Then, after a full days work in most cases, it is their high level of commitment to achieve their Olympic gold, that gets them out to train in the evenings also. It must be a lonely road in order to prepare properly for these few days of competition, as others may not share or appreciate the single minded devotion to their sport that they must show.

One of the early leaders of the Christian faith urged those who follow Christ to recognise that they are in a race or are competing to win in life.  Winning may not have the glamour of the Olympic podium or win the applause of others, but it will only happen when a life is lived with a clear-cut commitment to a cause outside of oneself. Maybe we need a commitment check-up right now?

We have seen the look of utter exhaustion but also of ecstasy on the faces of medal winners as they meet the goal for which they have been committed for so long. I wonder what our faces would reflect if we are truly committed to do God's will and serve his purpose in our time? In fact, I wonder what our churches would look like where a majority shared a level of commitment that would not settle for second best?  I may be down at the moment, like Mo Farah in the final of the 10,000 meters, but I am determined not to stay down! The glint of life's greatest gold beckons me on!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Honey from the Rock

"He's as hard as a rock!" is a well-known comparison and descriptive phrase. So is "between a rock and a hard place" as a way of saying that times are tough and options are very limited. Living as I do, on an island made of fabulous granite rocks, I am well aware of their enormous hardness and impervious make-up. Can anything good flow from a rock?

In the ancient hymnal of the Jewish people there is a song/psalm which suggests that rocks can be more than a good foundation - they can also be the source of sweetness and joy!  Psalm 81:16 portrays God speaking "with honey from the rock I would satisfy you". Each day I enjoy reading the daily devotion in the Psalms written by Timothy Keller and his wife Kathy called 'My Rock My Refuge' and this is the set Psalm for today the 19th July. New York pastor Timothy Keller is known for his ability to connect a deep understanding of the Bible with contemporary thought and the practical issues we all face in our lives. Mr Keller says that this idea that sweetness flows from hardness crops up several times in the Bible.  Samson experienced this when he killed an attacking lion and then, some time later, was able to eat honey from the carcass (Judges 14:18). For Christians, the significance of the cross is that out of the hardness of being crucified, as Jesus was, life and forgiveness flow to satisfy the needs of all who believe.

This concept of receiving honey from an impossibly hard place has sustained and helped me for a long time now. I am "between a rock and a hard place" in the circumstances of my long battle with serious illness. But, despite that, I feel the comfort of knowing that God is with me and wants daily to feed me with the spiritual nourishment of hope, peace and the joy of forgiveness, no matter how hard the rock gets.

Your rock will be very different to mine, because each of us is unique, but be assured today that God wants to slip you something really good even from the very thing that threatens to flatten you.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A 'Remainer' Reflects on the Referendum Vote

Change can be unnerving. Britain faces a massive change following the referendum vote this week in which a small majority voted to leave the European Union. So the UK and the EU will go their separate ways and nobody can foretell what the outcome of that choice will be for good or ill. After more than 40 years of entanglement with the European project under its various names or formats, it will not be easy to find wriggle-room and pull away. The tendrils of the EU will surely be with the UK for a few years to come while this divorce takes place. Some people fear the whole process and are worrying about what is to become of their future now.

One thing is clear - there will be no going back from this vote. The decision taken this week will now determine the UK's direction for the foreseeable future and beyond. Our children and grandchildren will feel the outcome for good or ill. So, how should a Christian react to these critical events?

Fear is never healthy or helpful in our lives, no matter what is causing the heart to be afraid. That's why the Bible tells us 'don't be afraid' 365 times - once for every day and a spare one for leap years! God is still on His throne and does not plan to vacate it soon, whatever votes may be taken on earth. The Bible also teaches us that He has a plan for us that is for our good (Jeremiah 29:11 'I know the plans I have for you', declares the Lord - 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future!'). This knowledge has been a mainstay for me through all the troubles I have seen, and I believe it can also help you to overcome fear.

This is also the time for us to increase our fervent intercession and prayer for the leaders and potential leaders of the UK. It is rightly said that evil triumphs when good people do nothing, and we need to pray for the nation now more than ever.

Our little island of Guernsey has done very well outside the EU (as one French foreign ministry spokesperson acknowledged this week) and the UK can do so too. Now, more than ever though, we need the peace of God that passes all understanding to keep hearts secure through a time of change, and a sincere trust in the living God who wants to guide us all, whether in or out of the EU.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Dealing with Disappointment

Waiting is never easy. It can cause immense disappointment when you get 'psyched up' to have a major operation, for instance, and then it is postponed. That's the situation I am in now and it is really tough to handle.Our working-up visit to Newcastle went well, and after seeing people in 9 different areas in 3 different hospitals it really seemed that the op. booked to take place on June 23rd 2016 would go ahead as planned. I was dreading the surgery but really hoping for the new start it could well give me, - and then suddenly - STOP - well you can imagine how I felt. Apparently I am not sufficiently recovered from the acute attack that put me in hospital for 3 weeks after Easter to allow the Professor to proceed as scheduled. Now, instead of going for it next week, we will have to have scans in August and subject to those showing marked improvement, the surgery could take place in September.

Some few years ago I was asked to lead a seminar at Elim Bible Week on the subject of "Dealing with Disappointment"!  Well this week, in the spirit of the old saying "physician, heal thyself!" I have been dusting down my notes for that seminar and reading them again. I said then that among the weapons that we have to help us cope with disappointment is learning to trust that God is in charge and is working out some unseen but beneficial plan for us in love. I quoted the famous prayer of Reinhard Niebuhr:
'God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference'.  My disappointment is certainly in the camp of 'things I cannot change' and I need to let go and let God have his way in my life.

Another thing that can help in this fierce battle with disappointment is learning to embrace mystery, and along with it, the power of stillness and rest. It's not that I am worked up about this - amazingly I feel quite at peace about it - but that is something I have to choose and work at each day of the long waiting period.

So if you are disappointed, I hope that you might find help in what I am sharing here today, and the realisation that although these things do happen for us, Jesus is not a disappointment and he has "got our back" and is silently planning for us in love.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Trekking North for Breakthrough.

We are setting off for Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north of England this evening as we prepare for a few days of tests, meetings and discussions that may well lead to a major operation in about four weeks time. This statue is of the 'Angel of the North' and we are really glad that the Lord of the north is going before us! Why Newcastle?  Well it is the only place in Britain now that offers the surgery that I need - a total pancreatectomy with transplanting of the islets of Langerhans into my liver! Wow - space age stuff eh?

I confess to being very nervous even of these few days, but I do feel a settled peace in my heart, and it is so important in life to 'follow your peace'. Getting the funding for this operation was a miracle of answered prayer in itself, and so this is just the next step in a long journey that we hope and pray will lead to a better day.

Thanks for being with us in prayer as we make this journey.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

This motivational text was used by the UK government during the Second World War in an effort to raise the people's morale at a time of great distress.  Enemy bombs were raining on some major cities and the young people of the nation were losing their lives in huge numbers at the front. There were food shortages and evacuations such as only those who have had the misfortune to live through a war can know, and the desire of the country's leaders was to try and get folk not to panic.

Recently this same slogan has returned as a decoration for mugs, tea-cloths and wall hangings, and this has had the effect of trivialising the words so that they have almost lost their power, but recently I have come to understand them in a brand new way. You see, I have found out that the fear of something can be almost as bad, and sometimes even worse, than the thing happening itself. As this has come about I have had to re-learn the wisdom of the old adage and "keep calm and carry on!"

I am facing major surgery once again, probably about the tenth time, although there have been more than thirty 'surgical procedures' each of which has been fraught with danger and pain. But, this is the big one!  An op that the professor described as 'the mother of all operations' awaits me in about a month, that has the potential to end my two decades of battling crippling pain and illness. But - I am really afraid and I don't mind admitting to it! I know that God is with me and that He will guide the surgeon's hands, but I'm only human and have had rather too much of this particular trial thank you. So, I have decided to live as if I am at war - fighting fear and the negative thoughts that assail me.  I recall the Bible verse that says 'take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ' (2 Cor. 10:5). What I face is terrifying but I am determined to "keep calm and carry on" trusting in Christ to see me through. Praising God and keeping the powder dry you might say!

Monday, May 02, 2016

Lessons from Weakness

Sorry to have missed out on blogging for a while. Things have been a bit tough for me recently. In the last month or so I have spent 3 weeks in hospital with a vicious attack of acute pancreatitis on top of chronic pancreatitis. This has also involved a tangle with ascending cholangitis (nothing to do with the colon - this is an infection of the bile ducts and/or liver) and left me with pleurisy in both lungs and a partially collapsed lung. I just wanted to say all that to show that I haven't been lazing around all day taking it easy! It has been particularly difficult this time because of the problem of physical weakness just when I need to be strong for the possible major transplant op planned for this summer in the UK. But also because I want to encourage you if you also are passing through a time of weakness for any other reason. This too shall pass.

I think it's a man-thing not to want to own up to any weakness. We blokes like to see ourselves as immune to frailty or fragility of any type and it is so hard to become dependent upon the kindness of nurses and relatives to be able to meet even the basic demands of the day or night. My time in hospital has given me insight into the awful frustration that men and women feel when they become overtaken by weakness. All I can say is that I believe that this experience will not be wasted, and that it can have a really formative effect on our soul, our faith and our experience of God. When we place our weak hand in his powerful grip then despite our weakness we can learn, develop and grow spiritually.  That's why the apostle Paul said "When I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).

One of the ancient prophets of Israel, a guy called Habbakuk, once went against the grain of the myth that says if you are a reasonably good person then you should enjoy success, wealth and strength. He wrote: "Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights". (Hab.3:17-19)