Wednesday, September 30, 2015

For when a little while seems a long time!

Every Saturday evening several millions of viewers sit down to watch another edition of the long-running medical soap "Casualty". As one of them from time to time I am amused by the fact that such complex problems are always solved within 50 minutes or at the most a couple of episodes. Great issues of life and death come so neatly packaged that they simply can't be real! Life just isn't like that.

A couple of decades ago Diane and I felt encouraged by a Bible verse which we took as a personal promise from God to us. It's in 1 Peter 5:10 "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." We took it then as a sign that my dreadful battle with pain would be time limited - and it will be - but there is a catch, an issue with God's timing. It seems so different to ours. We want the whole problem fixed within an hour at the most, but his "little while" may vary in length greatly.

In John 16 the disciples of Jesus had the same problem as I do. They kept asking each other, "What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying." God's timing seems so different to ours. I was just thinking of this the other day when it came to me just how long some of God's dealing with his people Israel were. They were in slavery in Egypt for 400 years.  That's the same as from the year 1615AD to today! Think of how much has happened in our country and continent in those 400 years. Then when the people were being led by Moses they were turned away from the borders of the promised land because of their unbelief and wandered in the desert for 40 years - a whole generation! When poor old Joseph was put in prison for something he didn't do, he was probably there for 20 years. Yet even after all that he was able to say that God meant it for his good (Genesis 50:20).

So what I am saying is "slow down a bit - God's not in a hurry"! He doles out his plan for us one day at a time, and the timing is OK in his hands. In fact, I prefer it that way, and I want to learn to move through life at his rhythm not mine. I recall the lyrics of that old song "One day at a time, sweet Jesus" and determine that what matters is who is in charge and calling the shots, not how fast my problems can be dealt with. Now, that would probably not make a good story line for Casualty would it?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Small breed big personality!

She may only be tiny - all of 2Kg in weight - but our little Pomeranian dog is a huge personality! She almost dominates our lives with her expectations of walks and outings. Her barking can sometimes drive us to distraction BUT she is so sensitive to my pain. In the last few days it has returned with a bit of a vengeance as I think the latest stent is starting to block, but this little character knows my deepest feelings and whenever I am in pain she nuzzles my hands and asks to come up and sit on me. Sensing even the site of my anguish, if I lie down she curls up on my abdomen (perhaps the softest place around!) and settles down to nap with one eye on my facial expressions! This is a one man dog with a big heart, and we often say that if the Holy Spirit is called "The Comforter" in the Bible, which He is, then this little doggy works for the Holy Spirit!

Isn't it amazing how God puts things and people into our lives just when we need them?  It might be a timely book or article, or even a helpful TV programme.  Mind you, flesh and blood comforters are the very best, so cats and dogs come into that category. They may not be able to speak but the language of their love and understanding has much more than words in its vocabulary.

So, although I would love to be free of this pain today, I count my blessings and give thanks for the small ones that add a ton of value!

Friday, September 18, 2015

You Don't Deserve this!

The migration and refugee crisis currently dominating the news in all of Europe and beyond is unlikely to go away any time soon. Hungary may have sealed its borders for now, but the flow of Syrians and others fleeing war and desperate danger is unstoppable and will find other ways through to the nations of north-western Europe. Listening to a radio interview this morning from within Serbia, a non-EU country along the route being taken by hundreds of thousands of migrants I was struck by one comment the lady speaking made. With a desperate choke in her voice she sobbed "we don't deserve this!" My heart went out to her and her children as they stumble along the harsh highway from hell in the Balkans.

This started me thinking about the apparent unfairness of life generally. It can seem unbearably so sometimes, and must do today to the countless thousands fleeing misery in this way. Maybe you are feeling like this too. I know that I do from time to time, and it doesn't pay to analyse too deeply how others get along and seem to do so well when one's own load is so heavy to bear. If you have time to read Psalm 73 you will see that Bible writers also wrestled with this issue of unfairness and their words can be a help to us when this problem gets us down.

We don't always get what we deserve in this life. In fact, very few do. The creator of the universe surely had a right to be respected and obeyed by the people he had made when he appeared among them, but they crucified him instead. In fact, when all the furor of the first Christmas died down, the Son of God became a refugee in Egypt. He too was hauled along by terrified parents fleeing the screams of bereaved mothers in the Middle Eastern village where their baby had been born. They had been warned by an angel to get going and took to the road with what little possessions they could carry (not much room there for gold, frankincense and myrrh!). Jesus didn't deserve that, and neither did his dear mother, who might well have been interviewed on the road out of Israel if media had been invented then.

And you don't deserve the pain you are feeling today - neither do I. Yet if I am honest, if I got what I really deserved out of life, I might have been in hell today. In some ways then I am relieved not to get my just deserts! When the load seems too heavy to bear, remember the holy family on the road to homelessness in Egypt and thank God that he knows what you are going through. "Lord, I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterwards you will take me into glory... My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever." Psalm 73:23-26.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Book of Life

Have you read any good books lately? Perhaps a summer break has helped you to get turning the pages. I hope so. Recently I have been ploughing my way through the famous Lee Harper's To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition because I read somewhere that it was the greatest book of the 20th Century. At about the halfway point I can't see why that would be so, but hey, it's not over yet! On a more serious note, I have been deeply moved by a new book about suffering by Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering and there are some profound insights there into a subject with which I am living daily. If you want a deeper look at the theology of suffering I really rate his book.

I was encouraged this week when two different people told me they had been reading my own books on suffering and found them really helpful. Braving the Storm: Survival Tactics seems to really help folk even though it only covers the first decade of my struggle with chronic pancreatitis. For those who want to think more deeply about a Christian approach to suffering and healing my book Storm Force seems to be hitting the spot. One reviewer on wrote about Storm Force "If you feel disappointed due to unanswered prayer for healing or struggle with why God allows your suffering to continue I highly recommend this book". You can click on the titles of all these books above and get straight to where you can obtain them.

Every day I also read two or three different passages from the Bible. Recently, the book of Jeremiah has been challenging me deeply and helping me through a very dark time. Jeremiah was called by God to preach and prophesy from a very young age, and was very good at it, but he faced great opposition. One day his enemies conspired to get him arrested and thrown into an underground cistern. This vast holding tank usually for thousands of gallons of water was exceptionally dry apart from a deep layer of sticky mud. There was only one opening at the top of the cavern for air, light, or access. Jeremiah would have fallen about ten metres or more into that foul mud and into total darkness as the top was sealed. He must have felt so devastated and frightened. But God saw him there and used a practically unknown man who argued his case before the king, and Jeremiah was eventually rescued, being hauled half dead out of the stinking dungeon. Within a few hours he was taken into the throne room of the king who asked him a loaded question "Is there any word from the Lord?". Transformed from the mud to a throne!

I feel like Jeremiah just now, at least in the muddy bit! My pain is unbearable, requiring huge doses of morphine. I mourn the interruption to my preaching ministry and the two decades spent battling this awful disease. I fail to see the point of it. Next week, after the Bank Holiday, I must fly back to London once again, only a month after the last time, to undergo yet another risky and delicate procedure to clear my pancreatic duct and remove a stent that may be causing this upsurge in pain. With Jeremiah I cry "Why Lord?".  Yet, like him, I also know that in a moment God can use an obscure source to come to my rescue and lift me out of the pit. I love that verse on which famous songs are based: "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand" (Ps 40:2). Now, that would make a good book eh?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"Swarm" or Human Crisis - a Biblical View of the Migrant Issue

The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has been widely criticised for describing the migrants crisis in the Mediterranean and at the UK border in Calais as "a swarm" of people. In doing so he risked dehumanising what is an intensely human problem that is as old as humanity itself - the issue of refugees and the granting of asylum. Whilst Mr Cameron should be forgiven for using an unfortunate word in a live interview - after all he too is only human - it is sad that we so soon forget the fact that many of these migrants are on the run from deathly threats of violence and brutally cruel and repressive governments. Many of them are Syrians, displaced by four years of brutal civil war, or Iraqis, whose country is being eaten up by the vile IS group seeking to drag it back into the dark ages. The UN Refugees Chief Antonio Guterres said recently “We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago.”

Of course people in Britain want to put up the "house full" sign and deny access to this tide of refugees. In some areas the NHS is over-run and schools, roads and public services built even only 20 or 30 years ago are woefully inadequate to cope with the numbers of people now making use of them. BUT - and here's the rub - if I lived in those originating countries today and knew that getting to Europe and perhaps to Britain was the only hope for my children, I think I would begin the dreadful journey too.

What should our attitude be as Christians?  Well, quite a few of these folk will be believers in Jesus Christ, who have seen their loved ones and pastors back home beheaded for their faith. Where can they go except to the land that sent the missionaries who told them of God's love in the first place? And if some are indeed "economic migrants" travelling to find better prospects away from their homeland, who can blame them when Britain boasts of her amazing recovery from recession on worldwide television news?

The Bible teaches us to love and care for refugees - strangers as they are called in the Old Testament.  God made the Jews build six "cities of refuge" in ancient Israel where people who had accidentally fallen foul of the feudal system of revenge and retribution - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth - could flee to and find acceptance without too many questions being asked. The Jewish people, God's people, have been refugees for centuries without a homeland, depending on the kindness of gentile nations to take them in. Our Lord Jesus Christ was himself a migrant refugee from the vile and murderous anger of King Herod just after the first Christmas time.

Maybe, just maybe, there is a force behind this tide driving a needy crowd to our nation's shores, as a kind of test of our so called Christian heritage? We should be proud that they look to us for help. The mission field for which we have prayed over the years is now on our doorstep. We should guard the vulnerable and needy from exploitation by wicked people smugglers if we possibly can.

There is another side to this story and I know I may be called a tree-hugging liberal and worse, but I think we should consider it when the media forces us to a much harsher position than our Bibles allow.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Play it Again Sam!

I have lost count of the number of times Diane and I have flown to London for hospital treatment, but here we go again! Next Sunday morning (2nd Aug) we will set off for the capital and have a dangerous and delicate procedure repeated on Monday morning. Hopefully this will clear out clogged ducts again and set me up for the next few weeks! People sometimes ask us if we are going to "take in a show" while we are there! The only theatre we will be visiting will be in University College Hospital in Euston Road and the show is very boring indeed - so much so that I usually snooze my way through (most) of it.

When we fly through Gatwick Airport it is always so full of holiday makers and lots of excited children either about to embark on their break or arriving back tired out after an overnight flight from somewhere exotic. Another phrase people often use is "You could do with a break!"  Yes, thanks, great idea, yet have you noticed that when you go on a break you tend to take your body with you? Now take a break from this body of pain.. ah, that would be something else.  Even I could get excited in the terminal if the break included freedom from pain.

Our lives are in the hands of a God who never takes a break.  In fact, He neither slumbers nor sleeps!  He who watches over us is on duty 24/7/365. I'm so glad about that because it means that even in our disappointment and frustration we are travelling on His watch. And when those hands are fiddling with my innards on Monday? Actually, holding them are higher hands and I am glad.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Power of Helping Hands

They had carried their friend a long way already when their way was blocked by crowds. Like a troop of soldiers gripping their fallen comrade following the urgent cry of "man down!" the young men faltered only for a few seconds. Of course, if the healer from Nazareth is in a house there will be scores, if not hundreds, of people trying to get in. In a flash they changed their battle plan and set to again to reach Jesus inside the house. Climbing to the flat roof they flung the roofing material aside and like bearers at a graveside prepared to lower their mate down with strips of cloth, down to the feet of Christ.

And they got their miracle. Their pal was not only healed, his whole life was changed - and all this because of the power of helping hands.

I am so grateful for the people who help me in my pain. As I write this now I can see your faces, some smiling some crying, some creased with joyful laughter, but all expressing love and concern. I thank God for you all. It gives me confidence that I am not alone and that there will always be some who will bring me before the Lord, carried in their prayers, no matter how many things crowd to stand in their way. And I want to do the same for you too. Because we fight a common foe whose attacks may hit any of us. Whenever you hear the cry "man down!" remember that this is why God "sets the solitary in families" and that he has set healing power in helping hands.

Those hands have lifted me!