Saturday, October 13, 2018

Leaders Gather to Plan and Pray

Had a great three days with Matt Gregor at Elim's Church Leadership Academy this week. Based at Birmingham City Church it offered us the opportunity to chat, think and pray about the future strategy for Vazon Church and our ministry together. At this October's AGM I will step into the role of Associate Pastor alongside Matt and look forward to supporting him in his exciting vision for the church, the island and beyond. As it is now over a year since my major surgery I am so thrilled with how my recovery has gone/is going and how prayer has been answered on my behalf after 22 years of the most appalling pain.

Something that really struck me at the Academy was how amazingly healthy some churches around the UK are, despite the kind of opposite impression most people seem to have, especially the media. Senior Pastors from Birmingham, Cardiff, Derby and Northampton came together as a team to share what God is doing in their locations, and to bless and help the several church leadership teams that were present. They told stories of huge gatherings of people of all ages, worshipping enthusiastically and making an impact in their communities for Christ. Of course, they have their problems too, but their willingness to share and be open was a real inspiration.


Here are a few of quotes:

"Some people think that if they have a million pound vision they will only have a one pound problem! A million pound vision usually comes with million pound problems!" (Stephen Ball quoting Paul Scanlon I think)

"We are traders in hope" (Stuart Blount)

"Sundays are for God" (Jason Heron)

"Does your team member light up the room and can you imagine working with them for a long time?" (Mark Ryan)

"The church that does everything usually ends up doing nothing" (Mark Ryan)

"All that we do in church life should be driven by vision not the fear of man or anything else". (Mark Ryan)

"The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them" Genesis 11:6.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Is there More to Life than This? Alpha@Vazon begins today


Alpha@Vazon 2018

Alpha@Vazon begins this evening, Sunday the 7th October 2018 at Vazon Church, Guernsey. Alpha is a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith, run over eight Sunday evenings and one Saturday daytime. Each talk looks at a different question around faith and is designed to create conversation. Alpha is run in over 100 nations all around the globe, and everyone is welcome. It runs in caf├ęs, churches, universities, prisons, schools and homes – you name it. No two Alphas look the same, but generally they have three key things in common: food, a talk and good conversation.

The food is going to be good – finger licking good with great desserts! Then, the talks are designed to engage and inspire conversation. Usually around thirty minutes long, they will be played as a video. They explore the big issues around faith and unpack the basics of Christianity, addressing questions from Who is Jesus? and How can we have faith? to Why and how do I pray? and Does God heal today? etc

Good conversation means just that – an environment where you’re welcome to say nothing or ask any question about life, faith and meaning. This is the chance for you to revisit the foundations of your faith or discover why others believe as they do.

So, please pray for us as we welcome around 50 guests this evening and if you would like to tell a friend, or even come yourself (if you're in Guernsey of course) then message me or email matt@vazonelim.org.gg.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Massacre of Innocents Plants Seeds of Hope and Faith

Tomorrow we leave for Malvern in the UK where on Monday a crowd of folk who have worked as missionaries in Zimbabwe will meet with leaders of the Elim Churches in that country. Present also at Elim's International Centre will be family members of the 9 Elim missionaries and 4 of their children who were killed in the Vumba in July 1978. This will be the first time that those bereaved family members will come together since the dreadful events of 40 years ago, and they deserve our prayers and support as their memories will be stirred.

When we worked in Mutare, the nearest city to the Vumba, we planted a congregation in a building that had been purchased at the time as the Elim Memorial Church. That church has since been renovated to a high standard and has become a real focus for the Elim Church's work in that area. At the time of our being there Elim had around a dozen churches in the country, together with schools and a hospital. Now there are over 65 congregations all over Zimbabwe and the work is thriving. Stephen Griffith's excellent book The Axe and the Tree tells the story of all that led up to the massacre of 40 years ago and the great suffering and faith of the national church and its leaders at that time. I recommend it.
Peter & Sandra McCann, Philip & Joy died in the Vumba

You may wonder what real relevance a memorial garden might have for today's generation of trainee pastors and missions workers. I did so too, but remember that one of my responsibilities was to keep an eye on the mass grave of those who died in the Vumba. Once a year, on the occasion of the graduation of the young men we were training as evangelists in what was known as Project Timothy, they would gather with me around the grave. I would explain to the young men that they were the fruit of the sacrifices these people had made, and then pray for them that, as they went out two by two into the community, they would remember the example of these friends of ours who paid the ultimate price. Each year it was common for tears to be shed and the impact upon the young evangelists was clear to be seen. So I pray that as young Bible students take time to wander in the memorial garden they will think about the example of those who have gone before them and perhaps come to a new understanding of, and a new commitment to, their own calling.

"They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated— the world was not worthy of them...

These were all commended for their faith" (Hebrews 11:38-39)

Saturday, September 08, 2018

First Things First

An ancient king of Israel once prayed that God would grant to him an undivided heart. He must have felt torn by the many responsibilities of state and the huge family of which he was the head. But King David reasoned that at the heart of the human condition lies the condition of the human heart. He wanted his heart to be undivided, so that in everything he did his faith and commitment to God would be at the forefront of his decision-making.

Recently, I have been thinking so much about the changes that have come about in the Western church of which I am a part. I know the danger of looking backwards where it seems that everything was once so much shinier than it is now, but I suppose that is one of the privileges of growing older. When I first became a Christian in my mid-teens I was a mad keen shootist. My marksmanship took me to the very peak of the sport, competing for Great Britain in Canada and annually at Bisley, the home of international shooting. I was a finalist in the prestigious Queen's prize, and fired competitive air rifles, smallbore and fullbore rifles virtually every day of the week, and I loved it. I loved the competitiveness, the company and most of all the buzz of winning. But once I began to grow in my understanding of what the Christian life would mean for me I had no alternative but to hang up my weapons.

We are what we aim at!
Despite the fact that there were real opportunities to witness for Christ in my sport I felt that I was two timing him and compromising my availability to God. Looking back today I think that I was too hasty in completely turning away from something at which I was obviously very gifted, but my decision was based on my commitment to the gospel. I joined with other young men in a gospel music band called Soul Enterprise which did pretty much what was written on the tin. My life was full with church meetings, prayer groups, band practices, outreach and gigs. I don't regret any of that, and feel that my life was enriched by what I let go.

In this day and age where leisure is king and being a Christian is wrongly presumed to be a lifestyle choice please join me in praying for young believers everywhere, but especially in the West, that we might all ask God to give us an undivided heart. You will know what divides your heart as I know mine, and I pray that these few words may just help you to take a look at your own commitment and ask if anything less than worthy stands in the way of your availability to God.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Pastors are People too.

News has come out of the US this week of the tragic suicide of a pastor, leaving his young wife and three sons devastated. Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California died last Saturday. He had fought a long battle with depression and anxiety, especially since the death of his father from leukaemia in 2015. But he was far from being a typically depressed person (whatever that means!). He led a vibrant, modern, growing congregation and shone in his dynamic preaching ministry in particular. He was loved by his people and his family and will be greatly missed.

I have also just finished reading Jack Deere's latest book and autobiography Even in our Darkness in which this outwardly successful author, Bible School Professor, pastor and conference speaker tells of his life-long battle with his own inner self, damaged by his upbringing. The tragedy of his son's suicide, his wife's alcoholism and his own many internal issues and relationship problems makes hard reading. It has shown me, though, that we should not put pastors and church leaders onto pedestals of presumed perfection. Flesh and blood like us they are. Cut them and they bleed. Treat them harshly, rudely or with disdain and they can find themselves under dark clouds of despair, self-doubt and depression. Yes they have to learn to deal with that, but let's not add to their pressures or pain by petty church politics or religious phoney baloney about 'men and women of God' being different to the rest of us.

This sad story comes against the back-cloth of a report by the Samaritans that shows that suicides among men under 50 are a big problem in the UK, as they are in Guernsey. Their report reads: "Although there has been an overall downward trend in suicide rates over the past decade, the statistics are clear – in terms of age, gender and socio-economic status, the group most at risk of suicide are men, in the lowest social class, in their mid-years. Men are three times more likely than women to end their own lives." This is something that needs serious action by all social agencies, including the church. Maybe the tragic events in California's Inland Hills church will increase our concern about this issue, and also make us pray for our pastors more urgently, and love them more fully.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Fire that Changes Everything

This was the week that saw a huge black plume of acrid smoke envelope the east coast of Guernsey. The dark cloud was so extensive there are satellite pictures showing it from space. Reports came in from all over the island as a raging fire blazed out of control for a couple of hours at a local scrap metal facility. Soon the Fire Brigade managed to get the blaze contained but it was many more hours till it was declared to be under control. The molten metal and oils continued to smoulder for the rest of the day and into the night with fire crews only standing down in the early hours of the next day.

Amazingly the yard was back in business within just 48 hours, admittedly only on selected activities, but it was business as usual within a remarkably short time and thankfully, nobody had been hurt in the fire. I heard an interview with the general manager of the scrapyard on BBC Radio Guernsey and he was asked what effect the blaze had had on the materials that had been affected. One of the things he said was that actually the fire had 'purified' them, and even helped to prepare them for export!

This concept of a fire that cleanses and purifies is not new. Centuries ago it was written about in the Bible and is one of the pictures used for the work of the Holy Spirit of God. John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus would one day baptise people with the fire of the Spirit. When the followers of Jesus received the power of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and began their work of spreading the good news of God's love and forgiveness in Christ, people saw a vision of tongues of fire settling on each of their heads.

But fire is never predictable or safe. This has been a terrible season of wild fires around the globe and many have died or lost their homes as a result. But there can be an element of starting again - of being purged - by fire, and so in that sense it can be one of the mysteries of our amazing world. The fire of God, however, is to be welcomed and fanned into flame. Too many people, even Christians, see themselves as a kind of spiritual fire brigade, searching out and stifling even the tiniest spark of divine life and Holy Spirit activity. 'Do not quench the Spirit' is the advice of the New Testament. In the words of the well-known song:
 It's fire we want for fire we plead
 Send the fire
 The fire will meet our every need
 Send the fire today
 For strength to always do what's right
 For grace to conquer in the fight
 For power to walk the world in white
 Send the fire today
 Send the fire today!*


*1994 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

On the Road Marked with Suffering

Staring into the rising sun can be both exhilarating and dangerous. The same light that dazzles, inspires and beckons us also causes migraines, can damage our eyesight and even cause complete blindness. Hope in God and that a new and different day would dawn has kept me going through some pretty tough times, particularly over the last couple of decades, but that very life-giving hope carries safety warnings. 'Hope deferred makes the heart sick' wrote an ancient scribe and he was right. The very same stuff that helps and heals can also send the acid rain of disappointment.

I have found it helpful to take short glimpses at hope and then knuckle down to the daily grind of just 'hanging in there'. For most of my long walks down the roads marked with suffering (for those of you who know this, 'where there's pain in the offering'⭑) I try to find help in God's written message to us - the Bible - early each day, and glance at it now and again as I go. Motivation also comes through tough times in recalling that God is actually at work on me, refining, changing, training, disciplining, preparing and providing for me. My road is not random nor my pathway meaningless. I am heading somewhere even when I can't see very far ahead. In the words of blind pianist Marilyn Baker's great song 'Jesus, you are changing me'.

A friend of mine who loves God and serves his people well is currently battling with chemotherapy, aimed at halting the deadly cancer threatening him, his family and his ministry. He recently posted a poem that I found a challenging help some years ago, despite its mysterious message and almost menacing prose. It comes from Oswald Sanders book Spiritual Leadership and reads...

When God wants to drill a man
   And thrill a man
   And skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
   To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
   To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
   Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
   Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
   And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
   Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
   And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
   When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses
   And with every purpose fuses him;
   By every act induces him
To try His splendour out--
   God knows what He's about!
                                    (Author Unknown)
So, I'm not sure if that glimpse of glory comes into the category of helping or hurting, but I choose to receive it as an insight into some of the more mysterious circumstances of the Christian life. In any case, on any road marked with suffering, the shadow of the cross shades me from the most blinding rays of the sun, and comforts me with the knowledge that God has been there before me.

Words taken from Matt Redman, Blessed be Your Name (LP Sing Like Never Before: The Essential Collection, sixstepsrecords/Sparrow Records, 2012)