Friday, August 10, 2018

Fire that Changes Everything

This was the week that saw a huge black plume of acrid smoke envelope the east coast of Guernsey. The dark cloud was so extensive there are satellite pictures showing it from space. Reports came in from all over the island as a raging fire blazed out of control for a couple of hours at a local scrap metal facility. Soon the Fire Brigade managed to get the blaze contained but it was many more hours till it was declared to be under control. The molten metal and oils continued to smoulder for the rest of the day and into the night with fire crews only standing down in the early hours of the next day.

Amazingly the yard was back in business within just 48 hours, admittedly only on selected activities, but it was business as usual within a remarkably short time and thankfully, nobody had been hurt in the fire. I heard an interview with the general manager of the scrapyard on BBC Radio Guernsey and he was asked what effect the blaze had had on the materials that had been affected. One of the things he said was that actually the fire had 'purified' them, and even helped to prepare them for export!

This concept of a fire that cleanses and purifies is not new. Centuries ago it was written about in the Bible and is one of the pictures used for the work of the Holy Spirit of God. John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus would one day baptise people with the fire of the Spirit. When the followers of Jesus received the power of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and began their work of spreading the good news of God's love and forgiveness in Christ, people saw a vision of tongues of fire settling on each of their heads.

But fire is never predictable or safe. This has been a terrible season of wild fires around the globe and many have died or lost their homes as a result. But there can be an element of starting again - of being purged - by fire, and so in that sense it can be one of the mysteries of our amazing world. The fire of God, however, is to be welcomed and fanned into flame. Too many people, even Christians, see themselves as a kind of spiritual fire brigade, searching out and stifling even the tiniest spark of divine life and Holy Spirit activity. 'Do not quench the Spirit' is the advice of the New Testament. In the words of the well-known song:
 It's fire we want for fire we plead
 Send the fire
 The fire will meet our every need
 Send the fire today
 For strength to always do what's right
 For grace to conquer in the fight
 For power to walk the world in white
 Send the fire today
 Send the fire today!*

*1994 Thankyou Music (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

On the Road Marked with Suffering

Staring into the rising sun can be both exhilarating and dangerous. The same light that dazzles, inspires and beckons us also causes migraines, can damage our eyesight and even cause complete blindness. Hope in God and that a new and different day would dawn has kept me going through some pretty tough times, particularly over the last couple of decades, but that very life-giving hope carries safety warnings. 'Hope deferred makes the heart sick' wrote an ancient scribe and he was right. The very same stuff that helps and heals can also send the acid rain of disappointment.

I have found it helpful to take short glimpses at hope and then knuckle down to the daily grind of just 'hanging in there'. For most of my long walks down the roads marked with suffering (for those of you who know this, 'where there's pain in the offering'⭑) I try to find help in God's written message to us - the Bible - early each day, and glance at it now and again as I go. Motivation also comes through tough times in recalling that God is actually at work on me, refining, changing, training, disciplining, preparing and providing for me. My road is not random nor my pathway meaningless. I am heading somewhere even when I can't see very far ahead. In the words of blind pianist Marilyn Baker's great song 'Jesus, you are changing me'.

A friend of mine who loves God and serves his people well is currently battling with chemotherapy, aimed at halting the deadly cancer threatening him, his family and his ministry. He recently posted a poem that I found a challenging help some years ago, despite its mysterious message and almost menacing prose. It comes from Oswald Sanders book Spiritual Leadership and reads...

When God wants to drill a man
   And thrill a man
   And skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man
   To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
   To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
   Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
   Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
   And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
   Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
   And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
   When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses
   And with every purpose fuses him;
   By every act induces him
To try His splendour out--
   God knows what He's about!
                                    (Author Unknown)
So, I'm not sure if that glimpse of glory comes into the category of helping or hurting, but I choose to receive it as an insight into some of the more mysterious circumstances of the Christian life. In any case, on any road marked with suffering, the shadow of the cross shades me from the most blinding rays of the sun, and comforts me with the knowledge that God has been there before me.

Words taken from Matt Redman, Blessed be Your Name (LP Sing Like Never Before: The Essential Collection, sixstepsrecords/Sparrow Records, 2012)

Friday, July 20, 2018

Around The World in Twenty Minutes!

I had a great day out fishing this week with local lobster fisherman Roddy. He is a hero of mine as he has worked the coastal waters around Guernsey for most of his life and seems to know his way about, even in fog. His boat is a simple local boat with a tiny cabin at the front and a winch to raise the heavy pots. I used to go out with him occasionally but haven't been able to do so for a few years due to my ill health, but now, following the change in my life since surgery, I was thrilled to be able to go again. We were out for between 6 and 8 hours and on the way there and back we passed 3 amazing cruise liners moored just outside St Peter Port. Among them was The World - the biggest privately owned ship in the world!

Since its launch in 2002 The World, the largest private residential ship on the planet at 644 feet, has continuously circumnavigated the globe, spending extensive time in the most exotic places, allowing residents to wake up in a new destination every few days. With only 165 individual apartment style homes, The World’s residents enjoy one of the most exclusive lifestyles imaginable. Not only do they own their individual residences, but collectively, they own the ship and employ its crew. They are on a permanent holiday!

Now I'm not going to pass comment on whether that is a lifestyle I would like to take part in, though I could never afford it of course, but I do feel that it is, strangely, a kind of comment on our Western society in general. The desire to be on a continuous vacation must surely be a fantasy as life is just not like that for most of us. There are family responsibilities, community involvements, causes that need our attention, even they might only be the garden that needs to be tended or the cat to be fed. Sailing off into the sunset for good may appear very attractive at times (especially for a pastor on a Monday after a tough Sunday before!). The ancient Jewish King David did pray 'Oh for the wings of a dove that I might fly away' BUT surely that can't be the way to purpose and fulfilment. Our humanity, made in the image of God, can only find real satisfaction in service, family and community as we lay down our lives for others in his name.

And another Bible passage sticks in my mind too - with some alteration here - but this is what it says in 1 John 2:15 -17, "Do not love [The World] or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does— comes not from the Father but from the world. [The World] and its desires will pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives for ever".

Mind you - a short trip on a good cruise liner - ah maybe that would be something else eh?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

At last! Hope for sufferers of the most appalling pain.

At last! After years of ignoring this life-changing surgery due to its complexity and mainly its cost, NHS England has published news that it is going to commission the same surgery that I had last year! Total Pancreatectomy with Islets Transplant is now to be made available at 4 regional centres around the country.  They estimate that up to 75 patients a year will be treated and given the chance to live again after the ravages of this dreadful disease, one of the most painful known to man. The pain of chronic and recurring acute pancreatitis is described in the report as being extremely severe, requiring opiates and causing multiple hospital admissions, and of course, the inability to work and in many cases death. I cannot express fully how grateful I am for this answer to prayer on behalf of my fellow-sufferers around the country. And, indeed, thanks to my own independent health authority, for the fact that I was offered this a year ago when still in the trial stages.

There are many reasons to be grateful today. It's coming home! Not the team that England sent to Russia, but the football team of boys who were rescued from the deepest, darkest caves in Thailand! Hooray! God answers prayer! Imagine the joy and relief of those parents as they welcome their sons home again after their dreadful ordeal. What an amazing international rescue operation too! A real reminder of the depth of compassion that still beats in the human heart - a remnant of the divine pattern so deeply spoiled by sin - yet revealed so fully in Jesus.

For those of us fed up with Brexit and Trump there are many other matters for which we should be grateful and rejoice. There is a God in heaven and he may not support the England football team but he has acted to make hope and help available in the world in so many ways that should make our hearts sing. 👍☝😀

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Cave Rescue Enters Critical Phase.

In the gloomy farthest reaches of the bowels of a mountain range in Thailand lie 12 sons and their football coach. While the rest of the world is following the efforts of a handful of teams left in the World Cup in Russia, Thai families are riveted to their own media in support of this precious team. From around the globe rescuers have come to add their support and expertise, including the British divers who made first contact with the lost boys.

The people of this Eastern land are deeply spiritual.  They are gathered in their thousands to pray for the boys' safe rescue. Faith is at the heart of their anguish, moving them to cry out in recognition of their great need. They lean naturally towards things spiritual and do so with a sweet sincerity and intensity that stands in contrast to our materialistic and secular Western ways.

Sadly, in the last couple of days, a brave rescuer has lost his life trying to reach them with fresh supplies of oxygen. Apparently the journey into their location from the mouth of the cave takes 6 hours to travel, and he just ran out of air. If that can happen to a SEAL-trained diver then it illustrates the great challenge it is to get these weakened, emaciated boys, some of whom can't even swim, out of the caves alive. Prayer is really needed here. Let's join our hearts together too and cry out to God for mercy in Jesus' name, and ask him to give those in charge the wisdom and strength they need.

But when I see the extent the Thai authorities are going to in order to save these young men, I am moved to consider how much we may be neglecting the young boys and girls of our own communities. When young teens are being used by the thousands carrying drugs across 'county lines' in the UK, and most children entering secondary school own their own smartphone and a majority acknowledge having seen pornography online, are we concerned enough about the 'saving' of a generation? While multiple teens are being stabbed on our city streets, and even our neighbouring island of Jersey is officially owning up to a culture of institutional child-abuse, - are we any more 'civilised' than the people of Thailand, despite our post-Christian heritage? Maybe we can learn a lesson from this tragedy while we pray for a successful outcome. Certainly, Jesus cared for young children in his day, and rebuked his followers for turning them away.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Can brutal deaths ever do any good?

Elim Martyrs' Memorial Church in Mutare (before renovations)
It was on this day, the 23rd June, exactly 40 years ago, that 9 adult Elim missionaries and 4 of their children were massacred in the Vumba, Zimbabwe. This was in 1978 and was part of the long independence struggle in what was then known as Rhodesia. The Elim Pentecostal Church had worked in the eastern part of that land since the early 1950's establishing a hospital, clinics, primary and secondary schools, and planting churches. It was to this area of Zimbabwe that Diane and I went just 12 years afterwards, with our son Matthew. We served there for only 3 years until we were told to leave by the government, but saw so much of the amazing legacy of the wonderful people who laid down their lives there four decades ago today.

Joyce & Roy Lynn
Among them was Joyce Lynn, previously known to me as Joyce Pickering. We had been at Elim Bible College together when Joyce, a trained nurse, prepared to go out to Rhodesia as a medical missionary.  Soon she would meet and marry Roy Lynn, a pastor from Northern Ireland, and they died this night, 40 years ago along with their 3 week-old baby, Pamela Grace. There was nothing out of the ordinary about these two, other than their firm commitment to serve God and others come what may. I happened to be in the Elim missions office in the UK on the day they left for their final term in the Vumba. I asked them both how they felt about returning to such a troubled and violent location. "Ma" Lynn (as we called her in college), simply gave me her shy smile and shrugged her shoulders. They both knew the dangers, but they said they simply wanted to be where they could be of use and serve God.

Each year while we were in Zimbabwe I led a training programme for young evangelists called Project Timothy. At the end of their initial 6-week induction course at the Martyrs' Memorial Church in Mutare I would take the graduates to the nearby cemetery where our precious friends graves lie. There I would challenge these fine young men that they were the outcome of these wonderful people's faith and sacrifice and that they should go out and do what they could not now do, namely evangelise the nation. The boys and I were always deeply moved by this simple ceremony, and many tears flowed. Some quite remarkable things were then achieved by those 'Timothy Boys' going out in twos to proclaim the faith of the martyrs. At the time of their deaths there were around a dozen Elim Churches in Zimbabwe, mainly in the Eastern Province of Manicaland. Today there are more than sixty spread out all over the country and more are being planned. The blood of the martyrs is still the seed of the church, and this must be the very best kind of memorial for these lives well lived and sown in death forty years ago today.

(a special memorial garden is to be opened at Regents Theological College, Malvern, in September this year, bringing together the families of those who died and leaders of the Zimbabwean church. If you would like to know more see the link at click here)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Celebrating tough but amazing times!

Fabulous Hybiscus flowers adorn the plumbing as part of our welcome back to the Seychelles this week! This strange combination of the beautiful and the mundane, if not downright humble, matches our reason for being here at this time. We both wanted to be somewhere glorious today to remember the first anniversary of my life-giving surgery and to celebrate still being alive! The 14th of June 2017 was a terrible date for the UK, as the dreadful fire raged that night in Grenfell Towers, but I knew nothing of that. I was facing my own battle with near-death that day, as Prof. White and his team spent more than 16 long hours labouring over me in theatre. He had told me that the only person in his 60's to have undergone this operation by him had died as a result! When Diane and I said "see you on the other side, my love" to each other one year ago today we did not mean the recovery room. Our faith stretches to higher places than that, and to even more wonderful locations than Seychelles, but we really did hope that our time together on earth might be extended. By the grace of God it was. Thank you for your part in that by prayer and practical support.

This, then, is the chance to relax and enjoy things that have been denied me for over 20 years. Things like freedom from intense pain, from having to take industrial doses of opiates, from watching everything I eat to judge how much pain it might cause, from the fear of an acute attack of pancreatitis putting me back into hospital. And above all this, is the feeling that life really might begin at 65 and that God is not finished with me yet!

To God be the glory, great things He has done!