Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Secret Ingredient to Glastonbury

Glastonbury is cooking today! At 30 degrees C the 170,000 rock festival goers are sweltering. More used to acres of mud and constant rain they must find these conditions trying. Yet, still they come, pouring into the ancient Somerset town and its surrounding countryside like moths drawn to a flame. Let's hope they don't get too burnt!

I've never been a fan of big crowds and wonder what it that draws them. Maybe for many it's the music. For others, especially the young, the thrill of being away from parental oversight and school & college rules. 'Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll' you might argue.

But I think it has got a lot to do with an ingredient you don't often associate with such events - fellowship. We get a buzz from being with others who share our interests and enjoy similar things to ourselves. Belonging to a tribe or family group satisfies us in a way that other things don't. Festivals offer the opportunity to spend a long weekend with like-minded people and 'hang out' in atmosphere of celebration and freedom.

There are some Christian festivals too. Spring Harvest and the Keswick convention are among the oldest, where tens of thousands of believers gather to encourage one another and celebrate their faith. But I feel that our local church should also offer more of the stuff that draws people to festivals, whatever the weather. We should be giving and receiving a real sense of belonging in our local congregations, perhaps much more than we do. Celebration should be real and emotionally empowering, glorifying God and drawing us to one another at his feet.

None of that can happen if we stay away, of course. Too many Christians have cut themselves off from fellowship, or treat it as a lifestyle choice to be indulged in occasionally. We need each other, and being together in celebration, reflection, mutual encouragement, fun, laughter and occasional tears, are the stuff fellowship is made of. And no need for drugs to get high either!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

What we are in the Dark

Watching the leadership hustings from Birmingham today I was struck by a question that was booed by the audience. The chairman asked Prime-ministerial candidate Boris Johnson if what goes on in a person's private life is of any relevance to their suitability for high office. He refused to answer and was cheered by the audience of Conservative Party members. That got me thinking.

Surely integrity and trustworthiness in private life does matter when it comes to selecting who should lead a nation? Integrity means completeness or wholeness. We might use it to describe a building that is well put together so that it can withstand bad weather. When applied to people, it speaks about consistency between each facet of our lives, private and public, family and front-line - when the light is on us and when it is not. It's what we are when no-one is watching!

So, the driving instructor needs to be morally trustworthy when spending long hours with students. The policeman that attends vulnerable people caught up as victims of crime must not view them as fair game to be used. And if a Prime minister or President expects to be believed when they make promises then they must be promise keepers in their private lives too.

Integrity is not perfection, as if it was, none of us could ever stand or lead. We all fall short of God's standard - which is Christ - in so many ways. God loves us as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us that way. The whole point of redemption is that we can repent and start again. But as Konrad Adenaur, onetime Chancellor of West Germany said, 'To fall is neither dangerous or disgraceful. But to remain prostrate is both'.

Friday, June 07, 2019

I was taught as a child to yell a loud "thank you" to the driver as I jumped down from the bus. Expressing our gratitude was expected of us as part of our growing up. It was simply regarded as good manners but I have come to see that there is much more to gratitude than this. Saying "thanks" is an important part of our humanity and offers dignity to the recipient as well as humility to the giver. Being unable to be grateful leads to a shrinking of our soul, a diminishing of our humanity, and a trip wire in our approach to relationships.

During the 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day here in Britain and across the sea in Normandy we have heard several expressions of gratitude. Her Majesty the Queen ended her speech by saying thank you, as did President Trump, Monsieur Macron and Mrs Theresa May. In the presence of the veterans, most of them now in their 90s and perhaps there for the last time, it just seemed so appropriate to be grateful. These world leaders set the standard for us and spoke on our behalf, but they also gave a pointer to something that can really oil the wheels of our society and make a change for the better.

Diane and I will travel to Newcastle tomorrow. On Monday and Tuesday of next week I will be in two different hospitals there - the Freeman one day and the Royal Victoria the next. It is the second anniversary of the amazing space-age surgery that changed my life and set me free from 22 years of some of the worst physical pain known to humanity. I am really looking forward to seeing the Professor and other members of the team, looking them in the eyes and saying "thank you".

Gilbert K Chesterton said "I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder". Yet, maybe gratitude needs to be shown in more than words. Acts of kindness, enquiries about the well-being of others, even generous tipping can all be further expressions of such grace.

Respect has many outfits to wear and gratitude is one of them. So - let gratitude be your attitude!

Saturday, June 01, 2019

 I have many questions about prayer. I suspect that everybody prays at some point in their lives, but I have been intentional about prayer for over 50 years since I became a committed follower of Christ. But it is far from easy. How does God answer conflicting prayers from different individuals? Does praying make a difference to our lives and the experience of others? It may be true that we are changed by our praying, but does prayer change things? How can I be better at this thing called 'prayer'?

I want to recommend a new book. I bought this book and am not being paid for reviewing or recommending it! But - like a beggar who has found a great source of bread - I don't want to keep it to myself. How To Pray by Pete Greig: a simple guide for normal people is the best book on prayer that I have read since E M Bound's 19th Century classic Power Through Prayer. Pete Greig's handbook on prayer is described by Nicky Gumbel from HTB and Alpha as 'The book I've been waiting for'. Well you're not alone Nicky - me too!

Basing his teaching on the Lord's Prayer Pete shares his vast experience as the founder of a 24-7 prayer movement with his readers. He has helped me to see again the importance of daily prayer, and offered me practical ways to make that experience happen and be more fruitful. His examples of the power of intercession and the difference prayer can make in our troubled world are thrilling and inspiring. His wisdom about how to cope when prayer is not answered is honest and instructive. This guy speaks my language, plain down-to-earth advice with a smile and a self-effacing chuckle. I love this book and recommend it heartily. You can get a copy by clicking the link above, or searching for it at www.eden.co.uk or if overseas, through international pages of Amazon.

I pray that you will 😇

Saturday, May 25, 2019

It has recently been Mental Health Awareness week in the UK and hopefully it will have gone some way to enlighten the fear and lessen the stigma that surround conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, stress and other similar disorders. The support provided by the Royal princes William and Harry recently has highlighted the issue of mental health across Britain. Personalities from sport, stage and screen have also been lining up to add their own unique insights into a much-misunderstood part of our human nature. It must be helpful to shine light onto this shadowy area and dispel some of the myths and mistakes that we may hold on to.

Diane and I know too much about this whole area from past experience. Both our mothers needed lots of support and help as they battled with long term mental health conditions. Diane suffered really badly from anxiety and depression for the first 13 years of our marriage, and at various times in my 22 years of serious ill health I have known bouts of depression, paranoia, mental confusion and great fear. Yet, I know that God has been with us through all this and that he understands the unfathomable depths of the human psyche. He made us so he can mend us.

There is a lot of helpful insight in the Bible on this subject, telling us in picturesque language to “strengthen those who have tired hands and encourage those who have weak knees”. In the New Testament St Paul writes about his own battle with depression (2 Cor. 1). Jesus also healed the sick, changing lives, and giving a new start to people who had been tortured by years of chronic ill health, urging his followers to receive his love and make it known to others. And he calls his church to be a community of care, understanding and grace that will offer safety, acceptance and patient support to all in need. When that need is invisible or at least non-physical, as in mental illness, then the cost of that care and understanding may be high, but it is a vital part of our calling and mission.

Research shows that during any single week an average 1 in 6 of us will experience some mental health incident. Families, friends and work colleagues will all be affected by this. If we are not suffering ourselves just now, we still owe it to others to show respect, love and understanding when they are overtaken by these marks of our frail humanity.

Jesus said “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest”. Those of us who follow him should also be a means of support to all who stagger under the weight of modern living and its many pressures.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Liberation Day memories in the Channel Islands

May 9th is Guernsey's Liberation Day and all around the island the people are hanging out their flags to mark 74 years since the end of the Nazi Occupation of the Channel Islands took place.

We went to a country church this morning to give thanks for our freedom with hundreds of islanders. Bright sunshine greeted us as we came out of the ancient building at St Peters in the Wood, grateful for being able sing and worship freely due to the sacrifice of so many. We sang our anthem "Sarnia Cherie" with great joy, despite the tears, and remembered our parents for whom this day was ever one of thanksgiving and memories. Winston Churchill said on the radio on May 9th 1945 "...and our dear Channel Islands are to be freed today!"

Among the many unsung heroes of the Occupation was Rev Gilbert Dunk, seen here with his wife Irene and family. He looked after three Elim churches on the island throughout those dark days, riding everywhere on an old bike with hosepipes for tyres. He cared for the flock of God despite great hardship and deprivation, fulfilling his calling in the most challenging of circumstances. After the war, the Dunk family were asked to go to New Zealand in response to an invitation from a group of Pentecostal Christians there who wanted to set up an Elim church. From his work then the congregation grew till it numbers today many thousands and planted out a further 40 or so churches. A truly remarkable family, they exhibited the quiet and humble faith that helped so many to persevere in appalling circumstances and to keep trusting God when it seemed so hard to simply do that.

Maybe we could learn a few things from their courage and determination to make the best of a tough situation and invest themselves in hope and encouraging others through adverse times.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Filled with Hope and Gratefulness - Watoto Children's Choir

This amazing choir of Ugandan children are in Guernsey this weekend. If you're in the Island - don't miss them! The Watoto Children's Choir has sung in the past in the US White House and this choir has performed before the Welsh Assembly and even Her Majesty the Queen! Just listening to them on BBC Radio Guernsey it was so moving to hear their stories:

  • Precious, who was abandoned as a baby outside a hospital and taken in by the 'Baby Watoto' programme
  • Eric, who wants to be a pastor when he grows up (Yay!!)
  • Kim, whose parents have disappeared after their house was destroyed
and many more! Watoto offers hope and a future to so many young children and single women too through their neighbourhood projects.

When the small group of children on the radio interview sang 'I am Grateful' I was moved to tears. They have so little compared to children in our community and yet they are so thankful for their lot. Their music and dance is powerful and inspiring. Plan on catching them while they're here, or go to their website.

See them at: Eldad Elim Church, Union Street, St Peter Port, Guernsey Sat. April 27th 6pm
Vazon Elim Church, La Mare road, Vazon, Guernsey, Sun 28th April, 10.45am & 5pm.