Saturday, November 04, 2017

Hope not Despair for the Battles of Life

Despair really is the abandonment of hope. In my book Braving the Storm I write about the German Underground Hospital built in Guernsey during World War 2. It was, in its day, the largest man-made underground structure in Europe, but today is a ruin only barely available to tourists who want to recall the Occupation. It is dark, smelly and eerie, with definite ghoulish factors to give goosebumps even to people who enjoy Halloween. It came into its own during the period after D-Day in June 1944, when these islands were cut off from the nearby continent and wounded soldiers from the front were shipped here for surgery and care. Almost immediately it was found to be useless as a place of renewal and healing. This was largely because of its dark underground design, and the total absence of natural light and warmth. They might just as well have written over the entrance "abandon hope all ye who enter here"!

Healing really does need hope, and the Bible says that "hope deferred makes the heart sick". The temptation to despair is something familiar to those of us who have fought long battles with chronic ill health. There surely must be similar pressure to despair in marital conflict, redundancy, or abuse. Once we dig our own bunker to hide in and determine to abandon hope we are in danger of the very cynicism and bitterness of soul that has destroyed people much more clever than we are. Despair poisons our emotions and robs us of peace. It trickles down into our spirits like the lime-stained seepage that mars the walls of the Underground Hospital. Ultimately it dethrones God in our hearts and is a form of what I also call in my books "sweet rebellion". This is usually present in the lives of people who have despaired of their situation, future or church, but are still running on fumes and acting like good, sweet Christians. Only a change of heart will heal. Only a change of language and attitude will bring the longed-for hope. The Bible calls that kind of thing repentance.

When the Jewish King David was going through a particularly wounding patch in his often troubled life, he refused to dig a bunker and despair. He wrote the immortal words of Psalm 42 - "Why are you so downcast, O my soul? why are you so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God." (v5) If you are reading this because you are tempted to dig a hole and despair I just want to urge you to think again. While there is a God in heaven there will be hope on Earth available to all who come humbly and desperate to Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. His Spirit and his words of hope can lift us up from a horrible pit even worse than the Nazis left in Guernsey.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Privilege of Suffering and Believing

I have been so challenged and helped by a little book that Dr Helen Roseveare wrote before she died last year.  The manuscript was discovered after her death and has now been published. The title is "Count it all Joy" and is published by Christian Focus Publications. In it Helen recalls her 20 years of service as a missionary doctor working in the Congo. After 10 very difficult years there she was caught up in the Simba rebellion of the 1960's and was imprisoned with others for several months. She was brutally treated, beaten until they broke her teeth, and raped. Finally she was rescued by an international force re-asserting the government's rule. After time to recover at home in the UK, though, she went back to the place of her intense suffering and served a further decade there.

In this final manuscript Dr Roseveare prescribes for us some tough medicine to swallow. At the time of her dreadful suffering, during which she fully expected to die, she felt that God spoke to her - whether audibly or through her inner thoughts is not made clear. She felt that the Lord who had suffered so much for her on the cross, asked her if she would be willing for Him to trust her to go through these terrible experiences even if He never explained why.  She writes:"Somehow in the darkness of that appalling night, I managed to say to my dear Lord, 'I don't understand what you may be doing, or who can be helped through this ordeal... but yes, if you ask this of me, thank you for trusting me with this experience, even if you never tell me why'. Wow, what a prayer - and what a lady.

I don't make any pretense of having been through anything like as serious as what Dr Helen went through, or like any of my missionary friends and colleagues who were attacked and brutally killed, but I have known what it is to be "long-suffering" as you may be aware. I look back over 2 decades of the most dreadful pain and the nearness of death, not in the Congo but in over a hundred admissions to hospital seriously ill with one of the most painful diseases known to man. I believe that I have survived to this day for a reason. In her funeral address, the speaker (Louis Sutton, the International Director of her mission agency WEC) pointed out that Helen's favourite word was 'privilege'. She counted it a privilege to be a committed Christian, to serve others in the name of Christ, to be a missionary doctor, writer and speaker. But above all, she looked at her sufferings as a privilege.

If you are a reader I recommend any of Helen's books, but none more so than her last testimony. "Then, when we trust Jesus in our suffering, it will be a powerful sign that Christ is worthy of our absolute trust. And we can count it as a privilege." (Louis Sutton). Please help me rise to that place, Lord, even though you may never tell me why.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Big 'A'?

Wow - I don't like being too apocalyptic (who does?) but today even the Daily Mail has used the word. Its report of yesterdays strange atmospheric phenomena over the Channel Islands and right up to the north of England warns "Apocalypse now!" I must confess that it was eerie. It felt like an unscheduled eclipse of the sun.  Mind you, early in the morning I thought it was the moon we were looking at but soon realised that it was rising in the eastern sky so it must be the sun. Across these islands automatic street lights came on in the daytime (we don't have such things in my part of Guernsey but Jersey does). An iridescent orange hue covered most of us through the day. Spooky or what?

My best theory is the Saharan dust one plus the Iberian smoke from wild fires. The two came together to show us these strange events. Today it is passing, though some are reporting a strong smell of burning, smoke or ash in the air.

The Bible does address these kind of things, speaking of the end of time. In Luke 21:25  Jesus said; "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring".  When the apostle Peter was speaking on the Day of Pentecost he said this: ..."the sun turning black and the moon blood-red, before the Day of the Lord arrives, the Day tremendous and marvelous". I reckon that the physical events of yesterday show us two things. One, how the Bible predictions could easily come about, maybe even quite soon, and two that people do think deep and even spiritual thoughts when they see something like this happening.

Taking the Bible at its word, though, its biggest forecast is that one day Jesus Christ will come again. Our responsibility is to be ready for that day which, if yesterday felt "apocalyptic", will prove to have been as nothing compared to the real thing. The events of Monday certainly got us all looking upwards and Christian believers may have recalled the words of Jesus again "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Lu 21:28)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Surgery for the Soul

Since my pancreas was removed, together with my spleen, and the 'Islets of Langerhan' previously housed in the pancreas were transplanted into my liver, my life has changed. Gone is the dreadful pancreatic pain of the last 20+ years, and gone is the fear of yet another admission to hospital with an attack of acute pancreatitis. I think over 100 such admissions in the last 20 years is enough for anyone! One of the things that has changed for me, apart from the obvious joy of hoping to travel and maybe preach again from early next year, is the need to regularly check my blood glucose levels. At the moment I need to do this 8 times daily. I also have to inject Insulin for possibly up to 6 months until the Islets develop their own blood supply in the liver where they have been placed.

This constant checking before meals and 2 hours after and even during the night, is to prevent glucose rising to levels (9+ mol) that could damage the transplant. I really don't want to do anything that would undo the wonderful work that was done in me by Professor White and his team. Yet checking is an annoying practice causing my poor fingers to protest at all this blood-letting! I can tell by this though that all is well with my amazing surgical outcome.

I don't believe that God wants his children to be constantly looking inward or navel-gazing but I do recognise the need for occasional checking in my spiritual life too.  This is just to see that we are not doing any harm to the wonderful work that God has done in us when he saved us.  I recall that few lines from the hymnbook of ancient Israel, the book of Psalms, that says "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life" (Ps 139:23-24). Jesus also initiated what we know as the communion service or Eucharist, and in it we are told to examine our hearts and see if all is well with God's work within us.

I am glad that the Professor's work in me has been so successful this far, but I am more glad that God has also begun a work in me that offers me new life and a new start each day. After saying farewell to a dear friend at her funeral service last week, I am also glad that this work in us leads on into everlasting life.  Surgery for the soul if you like!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Let Some Things be Sacred

Another terrorist attack has just happened in London and many hundreds of people who were on the train that was bombed will be grateful today that they are still alive. According to the news media, the bomb did not fully detonate and so mass fatalities were narrowly avoided. We can thank God for this small mercy in what would otherwise be a significant disaster. What compounds this dreadful act is that those who perpetrate such things do so in the name of their god. Well, he isn't my God and if you want to know what he is like, you only have to look at the person and deeds of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace!

But I was really concerned that the national newspaper I bought the following day contained page after page of intense analysis, pointing out how such a device could be made from information online. There was even a detailed account of what it presumed the police and MI5 would be doing in order to catch the culprit.  Wouldn't it be much better and safer to keep some things under wraps until a later stage when their investigations are more advanced?  And should certain subjects be off-limits completely? Of course, we have grown accustomed to this level of media speculation but we should not forget that it is being done to sell papers and make a profit.

I felt the same when the news media reported the fact that a stalker had got access to the school where Prince George is studying. They included close details of when and where the school is, what security it has in place, the positions of security cameras etc and even how and where the police might be setting up their presence there. What a giveaway to any terrorist group wanting to do the royal family and the nation harm.

Some years prior to the Good Friday agreement that brought the Irish 'troubles' to an end, the government told the media to cease giving terrorists the oxygen of publicity. Now I am not suggesting that such draconian methods would be right today, but surely there is a place for certain aspects of news to be played down, or even kept to the relevant authporities at least for the time being? What do you think?

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Destruction in Paradise!

 We have had the joy of living and working in what many would describe as an island paradise. I am referring to Seychelles, a wonderful chain of fabulous islands in the Indian Ocean. We found the humidity and heat to be quite challenging but there were so many positive things to enjoy and even to marvel at. Thankfully there were no hurricanes in that part of the world, but there were occasional heavy storms of torrential rain.  My heart goes out, therefore, to the folk living in the chain of islands in the Caribbean which have been so badly hit this week by Atlantic storm Irma. Their glorious paradise has been turned into chaos and disaster by this huge storm and even lives have been lost in its destructive track.
It must be so hard to find a lovely homestead or other property being trashed by the powers of nature. The fear and dread among children and adults alike must be great, especially when evacuation is not as easy as it might appear on the US mainland. I am praying for those affected by Irma and all involved in rescue, recovery and repair, as there is another storm expected soon in that part of the world.

It seems to me that we need to realise that sometimes our dreams of paradise and a fabulous lifestyle on Earth surrounded by the warm waters of the Caribbean, may be just a pipe-dream. There will also probably be cruise liners taking shelter at this time, robbing the hopeful passengers of visits ashore in this blighted archipelago. But this is a much more normal understanding of life. In the most sublime of situations, dreadful storms can come and cause us so much pain. Whether through family upheaval or divorce, sickness and pain, redundancy or loss of meaningful work through retirement, our image of a great life can be spoiled in short order. This is one of the reasons why I have published at least 2 books on the subject of storms - Braving the Storm and Storm Force and am currently working on at least one more (After the Storm!)

Jesus led his first-century followers through many storms - quite literally on the changeable waters of the Sea of Galilee - teaching them that in the most awful storms threatening our lives and dreams, he wants to be with us and see us through. After 20 years of being struck repeatedly by one of the most painful illnesses it is possible to endure, Diane and I have proved again and again that life can be rebuilt, and even if not down here, there is a Paradise that awaits Christ followers that no storm can destroy.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

I have been watching birds around our home lately and am really amazed at the freedom they have just to spread their wings and take off. Well, it's my 65th birthday today, and at the age when most people are winding down and retiring I just feel I have been given a new lease of life! Certainly, following the massive surgery of last June I have a real sense of being spared - there was a risk of death in the operation - and spared for a reason. So I'm going to say this day is my retyrement day - new tyres on an old vehicle ready for the start of a new journey.

Thank you so much all of you who have sent me good wishes and cards etc. In Diane's card to me she wrote this Bible passage: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honour me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise".

So like the free bird pictured above, and despite the immense weakness I feel in my body after the op, I am stretching my wings today to catch the breath of God's Spirit, and prepare for the new things he alone can give us. How about you?