Saturday, February 16, 2019

Was Winston Churchill a Hero or a Villain?

Was Winston Churchill a villain or a hero? At first glance this question is ridiculous, especially to members of an older generation in Britain. I can only remember my father shedding tears once in all his life but he did so watching the televised broadcast of Winston Churchill's funeral on the BBC. Dad had lived through the Blitz in London as an evacuee from Guernsey and for him there was no greater symbol of victory against Nazi fascism than the bulldog features of the great man himself.

John McDonald, the shadow Chancellor and member of the UK Labour Party's frontbench, caused uproar this week responding to the question during an interview. He was pushed to a one-word answer and came down on the side of villain. Nicholas Soames, Churchill's grandson, said that he believed his grandfather's war record spoke for itself and was not in danger of being tarnished by the comments of a "Poundland Marxist!". McDonald defended his position in the press subsequently by pointing to Winston Churchill's record of sending in the military to the Welsh mining village of Tonypandy to suppress a strike, but he also acknowledged Winston's heroic stand against the evils of fascism.

So the question may be a stupid one, as the answer is complicated. My view is that at different times in his life he could have been described as both. Churchill himself was deeply embarrassed about his role in the First World War's Gallipoli campaign which went so badly wrong and in which hundreds of thousands of young men died. He might also have been viewed as a villain by the French because of his destruction of the French fleet after the surrender of France to the Nazis. He was certainly a very difficult man to work for, as many a tear-stained secretary has pointed out. But he was a human being, capable of great glory and yet making enemies and mistakes. He was as flawed as any of us who are marked by human frailty and sin.

The vicious ire stoked by John MacDonald's comment is not helpful in overcoming the terrible divisions that there are in British politics today. And we must avoid the temptation to either idolise prominent people from the past or demonise potential leaders in the present. We are all a mixture of villain and hero, and capable of great heights and profound depths in our behaviour. Thank God for a divine mercy revealed in the lives of flawed leaders like Moses, King David, Samson and Simon Peter that was able to take the clay of human frailty and create the fabulous tableware of redeemed lives.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Was Emiliano Sala Worth £15 Million?

The tragic and sudden death of Emiliano Sala, together with pilot David Ibbotson, is causing huge sadness around the footballing world. In Cardiff, Nantes in France, but particularly in his homeland of Argentina, his loss is felt so keenly by so many. Here in Guernsey we are uniquely linked to the tragedy due to the fact that the light aircraft in which he was a passenger ditched some 25 miles north of our island. Locals have followed the intense search both for survivors and then latterly for wreckage and bodies with bated breath. Our prayers are with the families of both men, and for their friends, team-mates and supporters.

One sad aspect of the disaster is the report that now Nantes are instigating legal action to recover the £15 million that they are due in respect of the transfer. There must be confusion over who is liable for this loss and whose insurers should cover it, and it appears somewhat insensitive and premature to be jumping straight into litigation even before the body was recovered and confirmed as Sala's, as it was on Thursday.

Some might claim that nobody should be worth such a sum, certainly not such a young person, but I want to say that the loss of the money might actually focus minds on the true value of any individual. My answer to the question of whether he was worth £15 million is "No - he was worth infinitely more than that!". It's a reflection of modern thinking that we would perhaps lament the loss of a footballer more keenly than another in similar circumstances but that would be wrong. This young man was precious in the eyes of his family, his loved ones and friends, but ultimately, in the heart of God. God gave his only son Jesus to redeem men and women who bear his image and share his spirit and the loss of any of us is a cause for immense sorrow. And David Ibbotson was of equal value too, whether or not his flying skills were in any way to blame - which nobody is yet suggesting.

Forget the £15 million - it's only money! Disregard the fact that a major team might get relegated from the Premier League - it' only a game! Focus on the families of both men in prayer and support, praying that David's body will also be found soon. And let's not kid ourselves that life is a given, or a guarantee, for any of us - we need to be ready and face our eternal future with hope - hope in Christ.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Now that's what I call a crisis!

Please pray for the people of Zimbabwe. While we in Britain feel the effects of political uncertainty and deadlock over Brexit, we should be grateful that we are not oppressed by a militaristic regime intent on suppressing dialogue and protest. The dear people of Zimbabwe are suffering 90% unemployment, the doubling of fuel prices overnight, runaway inflation and food shortages. According to BBC news this morning, hundreds of people have been arrested arbitrarily and people with guns are roaming the city streets. Police reportedly stand by and watch looting, whilst roads and shops are closed, along with banks and government departments.

Also, like in North Korea and other totalitarian regimes, the authorities have blocked the Internet and prevented WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook from being used in order to control news to the outside world as well as to prevent citizens from communicating with one another. Meanwhile the President is reported to be away in Russia seeking assistance in building up his military and other such aid. What a tragedy for a once proud nation that used to be known as the bread basket of southern Africa and now looks more like a basket case.

What can the outside world do? It is unclear. Sanctions usually only hurt suffering populations even more. But maybe pressure can be put by international investors and governments to force change. Until then, I hope that the world will pray and ask God to be merciful to that nation once again and send the rain of His Spirit on the church there, giving wisdom and great grace to the leaders and people who are enduring this situation. The God of the Bible says: "If my people, my God-defined people, respond by humbling themselves, praying, seeking my presence, and turning their backs on their wicked lives, I’ll be there ready for you: I’ll listen from heaven, forgive their sins, and restore their land to health". (2 Chron 7:14 The Message). Let's pray that will happen today.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Do We Belong in Europe?

I just enjoyed breakfast with four amazing people from Madrid, the capital of Spain They were passing through Guernsey airport after visiting the tiny northern Channel Island of Alderney. They are evangelical Christians and pastors in a large church in the Spanish capital. Prior to meeting with them I had read a report that said that 12 evangelical churches are being opened in Spain per month - yes monthly!✻ Now this group feel a missionary concern for little old Alderney and already have a member of their church working there and sharing her faith. What was clear from my friends is that they don't want us to leave! They feel a great affinity with us and thank God for what our involvement with them has brought about.

Speaking as a retired missionary I just want to say how much I thank God for the decades during which there has been freedom of movement between Britain and the nations that make up mainland Europe. Here in Guernsey we are only 30 miles from France with its only 2% of Protestants and can see it clearly (we are 90+ miles from the UK). If that freedom ends I know that God will continue to bless and prosper his work in the UK and in Europe, but I can't help thinking that an effective door of opportunity may have been closed.

I blogged recently about fear as I think that both sides of the Brexit debate seem vulnerable to this at the moment. We need to recognise when fear is becoming debilitating and deal with it early before it eats away at our peace. God's love, and trusting in his loving care for us, in the antidote to fear, and the words of the Bible can help us to overcome. 'Don't be afraid' is said 366 times in the scriptures - one for every day of the year and one for a leap year!

But as I pray for the UK parliament and for its government when they come to the critical vote on Tuesday (15th Jan 2019) I am also praying that the door of opportunity for cross-cultural mission and cross-border friendship will not close. After all, the UK may be going to leave the EU but there is no way that it can leave Europe!


Saturday, January 05, 2019

How's your temperature?

Mike Pilavachi, the well-known British youth speaker and leader of Soul survivor, tweeted this last week: “Never be cool. Never try and be cool. Never worry what the cool people think. Head for the warm people. Life is warmth. You'll be cool when you're dead.” Well that is a relief!!"

I know why people might want to be "cool" - I suppose I do too really - but hey, is cool what God wants for His church? "Head for warm people" is really sound advice I think. Maybe being cool is great but warmth always wins hearts and influences people.

Part of my worries about coolness is that I remember too well the cold-hearted Christianity of the past. Too many sincere believers made the mistake of imagining that holiness had to be cold, scowling and judgemental. They were cooled right down to the extreme!

Jerry Bridges says this: "Godliness is never austere and cold. Such an idea comes from a false sense of legalistic morality erroneously called godliness. The person who spends time with God radiates his glory in a manner that is always warm and inviting, never cold and forbidding."✱

Should church be cool?  I'll leave that to you to decide. But should Christians be warm? Yes - a thousand times yes. Sometimes I can be so project oriented, or task driven that I fail to spot the needs of those around me. I learned in African culture that they always had time to chat, time for friendship, for mutual support. Warm hearted people in a hot climate! Maybe it would be better to do the job just a little less perfectly but be warm and attentive to the people around us?

Come on - smile a bit!🤣😁 Give me warm Christians rather than cool church any day!

✱ Jerry Bridges, Holiness Day by Day (NavPress, colorado Springs, 2008) 11

Saturday, December 29, 2018

4 Questions that have Changed my Life.

As 2018 draws to an end there are many questions in my mind. Some are biblical, like "why do bad people prosper?" (Psalm 73) and "shall we accept good from the Lord and not trouble?" (Job 2:10). Maybe years ago Christians would have been discouraged from asking too many questions about their faith, but now we realise how mistaken that can be. Questions are good if they stir us up to think more deeply, and perhaps to find answers. Even if they don't achieve that they serve as pointers to a better way of understanding all that is around us. Here are 4 questions that have changed my thinking and my life over the years:

  1. "If you were arrested today and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" I was first asked this in the 1970's when Christians were being arrested in large numbers, especially in Communist countries. They continue to be persecuted right now, in even greater amounts, and even up to martyrdom. I heard on the BBC news that in 2018 around 250 Christian believers per month were killed for their faith. This has finally caused the UK government to act, beginning with an enquiry led by the Bishop of Exeter that will report back by Easter 2019. The question changed me in the 70's and challenges me even more today.
  2. "What is God saying to you through all of this?" It was 1998 and I had just been released from a long spell in hospital, mostly in Intensive Care, after an illness that had nearly taken my life. It had forced me to relinquish my ministry and leave the leadership of a great church that I loved, and had subjected me to a condition known as the most physically painful borne by man. As I tottered around my local shops, a dear friend met me and asked me this. I did not have the strength to punch her! Rather, her question floored me like an uppercut to my soul. I was so busy pleading for healing and trying to survive that I had not for a moment considered that God might be saying to me in all this. The Bible says "faithful are the wounds of a friend" and this lady was a faithful friend to me that day! My attitude was changed for ever by that question and I still seek to hear God in every situation I face.
  3. "If you only had one more book in you, what would you want to say?" The person who has been editor of 3 of my 4 published books, asked me this in 2018. Maybe I do only have one more book in me - only God knows, but this question has served me well. It has focused my mind on what I am learning and want to communicate to others. In a phrase - "God can be trusted" - that's what I want to say! What if you only had one more sermon to preach, letter to write, or year to work? Even more crucially, what if you only had one more day?
  4. "What would you do if you were 10 times bolder?" I was at Leadership Academy with my good friend and colleague Matt Gregor when we were asked this powerful question. It has stayed with me like a mantra every time I face a challenge about the church I serve, the people I meet or the circumstances I face. I want it to be my provocation throughout the coming New Year. I long to be able to say that by the end of 2019, and by God's Holy Spirit's power, I will have been ten times bolder than I have been thus far. A similar question is "what would you do if you knew that you could not fail?" Hmm. Food for thought.
Have a very happy, prosperous and peace filled New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Step Away from the Treadmill

 We spent three days in Southampton last week as I needed some tests done in the hospital there and whilst in the city we visited the famous West Quay shopping centre. Wow! What a temple to the gods of Christmas shopping! There was so much going on but none of it related to anything I could recognise as linked to the real reason for the season. Not one of the songs being played so loudly was a carol or mentioned God and you could be forgiven for thinking it was Santa's birthday coming, or an event promoted by the Society for the Protection of Elves and Reindeer!

I love the atmosphere of a real family Christmas and the whole celebration of God's great gift of His Son. I also really enjoy this festival of lights in the middle of a dark and dreary winter here in the West. One thing that does bother me, though, is the pressure that it seems to put on upon us all. The need to prepare for a perfect Christmas Day - to get or to give the very latest gadget - to ensure that our kids have all they want or ask for - the rush to make sure we have got everything in before the shops close for 24 hours (yes only 24 hours and some may even stay open then!).

There will be many Bible readings in churches up and down the land in carol services this year. The one I don't expect to hear is my favourite, in the Message version. It goes like this:
Jesus said: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matthew 11:28-30).

How I need to learn those "unforced rhythms of grace", rather than stumble along in the clumsy footsteps of so many who seem to head for Christmas, lemming-like, heads down in the rush of this crazy season. I don't think Jesus came into the world to give us stress, headaches, pressure and a sense of impending failure. He came to search out and to save people who are lost. He came into a messy stable to bring the fragrance of God instead of the stench of cow poo, and the light of God's glory instead of the shadows of self-doubt and fear. So step away from the treadmill. Put down your heavy bags and choose to walk with Jesus at His pace, His peace, and His perfect plan.

Happy Christmas!