Saturday, February 25, 2017

Set free from the tyranny of being fine.

Now, as a bloke I don't like to use the word 'fragile' about anything that involves me. Men are supposed to be 'fine mate' or 'yeah, great thanks' when responding to any greeting. But I am gradually being set free from the tyranny of having to be fine all the time.  In fact, during the last couple of weeks things have been mostly decidedly down and pretty painful really.

I won't bore you with the details but simply say that this week I have found real help in the ancient hymnbook of the Jewish people - the book of Psalms. I am not going to add much to it, but just set out some of Psalm 6 for you here.  Read it as a kind of prayer and insert your own unique 'enemy' or challenges into the dotted line.

Have compassion on me, LORD, for I am weak. Heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.  I am sick at heart. How long, O LORD, until you restore me?  Return, O LORD, and rescue me. Save me because of your unfailing love.  I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears. My vision is blurred by grief; my eyes are worn out because of ..............(your own issues)all my enemies. Go away, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD will answer my prayer. May all my enemies be disgraced and terrified. May they suddenly turn back in shame. (New Living Trans.)

You get the drift?  So if, like me, you just don't know what to say when someone asks how you are, and you can't say 'fine' but know that they don't really want a blow by blow account of your day/week, why not admit 'fragile'and hold on to the Book of Psalms like a life-line.

Monday, February 13, 2017

4 Keys to Waiting Well.

I think I am discovering the reason why people waiting for medical care in this country are called 'patients' - it's because patience is the one asset we are going to need again and again! I am on a long pathway of care that has kept me waiting for major surgery for many months now and shows no sign of coming to an end soon. This time last year I received the welcome news that full funding for this surgery has been approved by my local health authority. Getting to that point alone seemed like a miracle, but not one that happened quickly. I am grateful for the faithful support of family and praying friends who have not given up on me yet, and who encourage me to 'hang in there' when the waiting seems to be overpowering me. Here are some of the helpful tips I have received and I hope they may assist you if you are waiting for a longtime for your prayers to be answered:
1. Occupy your mind as much as you can. This is diversion therapy and can really help us if we engage with it. The Bible says of the final return of Christ that his people should 'occupy themselves until he comes'.. another of those bits of wisdom that we thought were new but prove to be centuries old in God's Word.
2. Believe that you are Special and not Forgotten. I find the hardest part of waiting can be the fear that those who may be responsible for our care have forgotten us.We may have good grounds for thinking like this when we see in the media about people abandoned on trolleys and even left in linen cupboards by over-stressed health-care workers. But God has not forgotten us.  He has engraved (or tattooed) our names on the palms of his hands.  In fact, in the Bible God says that even if our father and mother forget us - he will never let us go.
3. Avoid Negative Stuff like the plague! I know that I have to guard my intake, especially of media, books, magazines etc that feed my fears and not my faith. I am having to turn off the TV much more than I used to.  Don't be lured into watching nihilistic, negative and nasty programming like much of the soaps and even some documentaries. Choose your intake wisely and make room for the promises of God. You may even have to be choosy about the people you hang out with.
4. Remember that God's in charge - not the devil nor the doctors, and certainly not me! When we place our hands in the hand of the one who stilled the storms on Lake Galilee we can trust in his love for us. There is not one tiny jot of abusive intent in his love. He will see us through, in his time not ours.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

When Simply Trusting is the Hardest Thing to do...

There are times in each one of our lives when we need to let go and learn to trust the loving watch and caring presence of a good God in heaven. When our son learned to ride his bike without stabilisers we were on holiday in France. A small village concrete playground provided the ideal venue for teaching him to ride the little bike we had squeezed into our car and taken on the ferry. All was well while the extra little training wheels were in place, but there came a sea-change when I decided the time was right to take them off. The only way I could do it was to assure Matthew that I would be holding on to the back of the bike. "Off he went.." would be an exaggeration for the timid, tottering, try-it-if-you-dare kind of movement that ensued.  It is so hard to learn to balance the bike, pedal and find the way forward whilst at the same time constantly checking behind you that Dad is still holding the back of the bike! In the end there was no other way to grow and develop into the confident cyclist he and we wanted him to be.. he made his choice and took his eyes off me and looked ahead. And "off he went" for at least 20 meters, shouting out all the time "I'm doing it, Dad, I'm doing it!"

You simply can't live this challenging thing called the life of faith by constantly checking that God is still there and that he hasn't let you go. At some point you have to quit checking and choose to believe. Only I could make the choice when to let go because, of the two of us, only I had the maturity, experience and faith to stand back and risk him falling off. Only he could make the choice to trust me and grow.

Now the tables have turned and I am the child again. Not this time wanting to ride a bike but facing other kinds of growth challenges. I have a terrifying, dreadfully painful illness that could flare up at any time really, and kill me in hours. I live with a time-bomb inside me. Now the Professor who could operate to take it out of my body, says that there are problems, not of his making nor mine, that are preventing that surgery for the time being. I ask you to please pray with me for the political blockage to be removed and for the delay to end. But I also ask you to pray, that you and I both, will learn that checking whether God is real and fretting that he might let go by mistake and at our cost is no way to grow. "Lord, please help me to trust you when trusting is the hardest thing to do".

I may only be the possessor of what the Bible calls "fledgling faith" (sometimes translated as O ye of little faith) but I only need a tiny bit to make it through life's toughest challenges. Jesus said that faith the size of the smallest of garden seeds - the mustard seed - is enough to move mountains, but at least I'm growing, and who knows where this faith will take me in the days and years to come.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Lessons from a Christmas Baby

Christmas has come around again and then the weeks of advertising it and the days of frenzy preparing for it will be ended. I hope that you will have a few moments to yourself and take stock of what this season of the year is all about. God has come down to live with us in the form of a baby boy. The miracles that are associated with Jesus in his later life, and even the raising of the dead, all pale into insignificance in the light of this great mystery - that the Creator God should confine himself to the form of this little child and live among us.

"Mild he lays his glory by,
Lives that man may never die
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth!"

Some years ago I was a Pastor serving a church on the south coast of England. Every year, just about Christmas, a little family would turn up at the church asking me to dedicate (christen) their new little baby. Johnny and his crew were travelers, Gypsy folk, who hove to in our town annually so that the minister could pray over their latest arrival! One year, I held the little one in my arms, and shared with Johnny and his family my hope that one day, when she is of age, she might accept the Lord Jesus for herself as Lord and Saviour. Well, something must have touched Johnny's heart, because on Christmas day he was back again in the building. This time he waited till the end of my sermon, and when I invited anyone present who wanted to commit their lives to Jesus Christ, maybe for the first time, Johnny was the first one at the front, head bowed and with tears in his eyes. That Christmas Day Johnny Sparks became a believer, and through a little baby, another tough heart had melted.

Just like the shepherds really - the night shift outside Bethlehem. They were ordinary men, quite tough too, but their hearts were melted as they bowed and worshipped the tiny babe. And the wise men, drawn from their intellectual pursuits to make this baby the object of their adoration and pilgrimage. And what about you? Will you come and bow before the baby who became a man and died to save all those who would believe and trust him? Why not? Why not now? Why not you?

Have a really happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Most folk who have driven over long distances in either the UK or the nearby European mainland,with children in the back, will be all too well acquainted with this question. "Are we there yet?" In fact, over a long journey, it could drive you crazy if you let it! Repeated queries as to when something big or exciting is going to happen is a very human thing, but it’s also child-like. God calls us to live as His children, and there is room in our relationship with God for excitement, anticipation and hope. The Bible tells us that God Himself is a “God of Hope” (Romans 15:13) so He invented the idea of expectant joy.

The word “enthusiasm” derives from the Latin term meaning “having a god within”. Well, that’s what Christmas is all about isn’t it? God coming to us in the form of a little child. Not "a god" but "the God" in astounding vulnerability and humility. Jesus was God’s perfect gift chosen with just you and me in mind. Mind you – as with all gifts – we need to receive it with gratitude. Then, if it’s electric, we must switch it on. Not much point just being all excited but not receiving and using the gift, is there?

Christmas Day is coming and the whole Western world seems to be champing at the bit for it to arrive. When it does come, though, the day will be over quite quickly, but the process of opening and receiving God's amazing gift can take a lifetime. Joseph was told by the angel "Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

Are we there yet? Well, very nearly!  

Friday, November 25, 2016

"Carpe Diem" means taking life in small steps.

Life is best taken in small chunks. One day at a time may have been a great song title, but it's not the whole story. In reality one step at a time may be nearer to the mark, and a far greater challenge. "Carpe Diem" literally means "pluck the day" but is best translated as "seize the moment". Yesterday is gone, never to be repeated. Tomorrow may never be ours to enjoy. So seize the moment and live in it to the full. A young father and husband I know lies desperately ill in the Intensive Care Unit, his life in the balance. Each heartbeat is precious. Every breath to be treasured as a gift. I pray daily for his recovery.

This can, of course, work in two different ways. One may lead to a profligate lifestyle, saying "ah well, blow the future, I'm just going to enjoy myself today". But the Bible tells us to number our days and be careful how we spend them, always seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness. It also shows us that our lives are like a tale that has been told, just a breath on a windy day. We need to make every moment count.

I took a small step forward this week in that the results of a liver biopsy show that the state of my liver should not adversely affect the chances of a successful main operation to remove my pancreas etc and transplant part of it into my liver. It is so hard to wait for the next step. Every time the phone rings I jump thinking it might be the Professor or his secretary. I find a day to be quite a long time when you are waiting for answered prayer. It stretches out interminably, especially when pain or other symptom prevents much activity. Learning to be grateful for the small step taken this week, and then trust God for the next one is the challenge facing me today, and possibly you too.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Angel of the North

We leave tomorrow for yet another trip to the north of the UK for medical help. Getting there involves two flights to cover the 450 miles or so. The stop-over means a journey time of around three to four hours if there are no delays. I will be admitted onto the liver transplant ward at the Freeman Hospital for a liver biopsy to be taken on Thursday morning. This is one of the most prestigious units in the country for anything to do with the liver, pancreas etc. At the top of the nearby old main road to the area stands the Angel of the North statue, a contemporary sculpture, designed by Antony Gormley.

Completed in 1998, it's a steel sculpture 20 metres (66 ft) tall, with wings measuring 54 metres (177 ft) across. The wings do not stand straight sideways, but are angled 3.5 degrees forward; Gormley did this to create "a sense of embrace".

As I continue along the road that will lead, hopefully, to a new start for me, I am not particularly impressed with modern art, but I am distinctly aware of a sense of embrace. Firstly, Diane will be with me. The BBC have been doing some research recently into what constitutes beauty.  Well they can stop right there, because I am embraced by one of the most loyal, kind, selfless and caring of people I know, whose smile can light up a whole hospital ward! Then we are supported by the prayers of so many. Yet the greatest reassurance comes from that which is described by the hymn writer as "the love that will not let me go".  Now that is some embrace.