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 Amazon.co.uk 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!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ground Hog Day!

It hardly seems possible but I am having to get back to London on Monday (15th June) for even further surgical work on my pancreas the next day to try and clear out the stones and debris in the pancreatic duct that is making me so unwell. I have a fever, extreme nausea and appalling pain, all of which are signs that I am blocked again, only one month on from the last trip to University College London Hospital. There are no words that can adequately describe my disappointment that this is the pathway mapped out for me, but I am determined to make every day count for the kingdom of God. It is so much easier to say or to write that than it is to do it, and life is throwing up some very real challenges each day at the moment. I feel that we have to just 'batten down the hatches' and choose to trust in the midst of the storm as we are buffeted and blown about by swirling gusts and opposing tides.

I have been doing some writing just recently as I have been asked to contribute to Scripture Union's Encounter series of daily devotional Bible readings. The study is doing me good and I hope that in some small way others may be helped and encouraged by these thoughts in due course. I was really challenged and blessed by these amazing words from the book of Hebrews "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8). Along with that amazing statement came into my mind a line from an old hymn "...has He lost His heart of pity? Is the risen Christ less strong?".  My heart shouts 'no' into the tearing wind, and I stretch out my hand one more time, more in desperation than faith, and take hold of a reality that will give me an anchor to prevent me slipping away in the raging storm.

Keep the faith!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Catch Up Time

Recent events have kept me from posting in my blog as I have been through another prolonged period of struggling to get through life with a dodgy pancreas! This 'infernal internal' gives me so much trouble that I often wonder if I could do without it. The answer is yes - but to get there would involve massive surgery in a much operated on organ full of scar tissue etc and may result in me being a brittle diabetic. Besides, experience shows that these huge and demanding ops don't always resolve pain for the sufferer. Time will tell, and I will be guided by my excellent pancreatic/biliary team, but I thank God that my life is held in higher hands than theirs!

This recent crisis resulted in another admission to UCLH in London and yet another dangerous and delicate procedure under anesthetic to clear out my pancreatic duct (for the 8th time in recent months). They found that my duct was so blocked with stones and debris that the metal stent that had been fitted a few weeks ago to enable flow had itself been pushed right out of the duct by the pressure! The pain has been out of this world. I saw recent research which shows that pancreatic pain is the worst a man can know - as the pancreas is full of pain-transmitting nerves. It certainly is the worst I have ever known! So now I am home again with no stent. The strictures they found in the duct are just the same, and my propensity for making stones and sludge is undiminished, so I don't know how long it will be before another attack of acute pancreatitis puts me back in hospital, but I hope and pray for relief.

Some people ask me how I cope with all this.  I often answer that I am not sure I do cope some of the time!  I get through and keep on going, despite over a hundred hospital admissions and two decades of battling this disease, largely due to the prayers, love and support of others, most notably my wonderful wife Diane. I also know that God is with me, and that Jesus is alive and real - a very present help in trouble as he is described in the Bible. I also know that my body is an amazing machine - even my tiny Pomeranian dog has a pancreas - and the One who made me can mend me, In the meantime, I choose to trust him and wait for whatever he has planned for me in love. Thanks for your interest and prayers.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Decision Day!

After 4 weeks of incessant electioneering in the UK I expect most folk there must be thoroughly fed up with it! We will have our own general election in 2016 here in Guernsey so we are not part of it, but as most of our media comes from the UK we are subjected to the overflow. It seems to me from a distance that there are big choices to be made at this election and I pray that the right outcome will prevail. One thing that is clear is that just about every vote counts and so I hope if you have a vote in the UK you plan to use it in a week's time.

Choices!  Life is full of them. Many of them are trivial - which coffee to buy, what kind of soap etc - but some are life-changing. When I was away at a Christian Healing Centre a couple of weeks ago I was presented with a very difficult choice indeed. Those kind folk who were listening to my story and ministering to me in prayer felt that I needed to choose to do God's will with joy even if that includes pain for me. As I write this now I am in intense pain, and under the influence of morphine. A recent op in London (the latest of several this year) appears to have failed yet again and the pain is extremely hard to bear. Yet, when challenged a fortnight ago to make my choice I did so, albeit with great difficulty, and I elect to stick with it today. I am content to let God set the agenda in my life whatever that may mean for me. So far it appears to have involved the most painful disease known to man - pancreatitis. In the future I hope that it will include healing and recovery but I am not certain of that.  All I am sure of is that there is a God who loves me, and if he never does take away my pain he has already done so much for me in his Son Jesus Christ that I can trust him for time and for eternity to do what's right for me.

For me, the choice as to who rules my life is not expressed in a ballot box but in my heart. I recall the words of a very special prayer, prayed each New Year in the Methodist Covenant service.  It goes:
"(Lord) - I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it... Amen"

Hmmm. Can you say 'Amen' to that? On May 7th in the UK you will express your choice with a cross.  God has also set out his desire for us at a cross, but we must daily cast our vote.