Saturday, April 04, 2015

Easter Saturday - a place of comfort and strength!

"It's Friday - thank God Sunday's coming!" is an attitude to Easter that I can understand. But Saturday seems to have fallen off the Christian radar as an irrelevant day. Jesus died on Friday - so that dreadful day becomes Good Friday for those who realise that he died to obtain our salvation, the forgiveness of our sins. Sunday is self-evidently the highlight of the Easter story. Jesus did not remain dead, he rose again and destroyed the power of death over our lives. But hey - don't forget Saturday!

At the heart of the amazing achievements of the first Easter is a day of disappointment. The great teacher and prophet is dead. Hope lies discarded in a Middle Eastern tomb. Despair and sorrow are the emotions filling the hearts of all those who loved Jesus. Except perhaps for one. Joseph of Arimathea was the one who asked Pilate for the broken body of Jesus. It was he who pulled out those cruel nails and laid the frail frame down, wrapping him in a clean linen cloth. Then he carried the bloodstained mess to his own garden and laid it in the grave that he had prepared beforehand. I reckon that Joseph had heard and understood the prophecies Jesus made about his coming death and resurrection. He welcomed Saturday as a vital part of the Easter story. He knew that for the power of the Easter message to work there had to be a pit of despair and death in his spring garden. In a miracle much more profound than Christmas Joseph carried the Lord of Glory as a broken corpse and welcomed mystery into the heart of his faith.

As I face my own twentieth Easter with the appalling pain of chronic and recurring acute pancreatitis I find comfort waiting in the garden belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. I find the "now but not yet" message of the Kingdom of God becomes clearer sitting and waiting outside this cold tomb. My Jesus is Lord of Easter Saturday with all its pain and disappointment even if it does not look like it. His broken body did not stay that way but the fact that it was even laid in a cold stone tomb gives me hope.  Of course I can't stay here - because he is not here now He is risen! My own body will one day be like his resurrected body and until that day I choose to embrace the mystery of as-yet unanswered prayer and trust that God knows what he is doing. But for today I take comfort from my Saviour's tomb. "It's Saturday - but thank God Sunday's coming!"

Friday, March 27, 2015

As I prepare to leave for London again on Monday, the tenth such trip for medical help and hospital visits in the last 12 months, I can't help reflecting on the fact that it is the start of Holy Week. My particular battle is with physical pain so that for me, the cross of Calvary is very pertinent, and the sufferings of Jesus there for me seem stark and real like the sudden death of a close friend or loved one. It is amazing that my God should plan it that way so that the maker of the universe was made subject to the most appalling pain on my behalf. There was no accident about this.  Jesus did not stumble into taking my bullet - like the Indian clerk who takes the shot for the lead character in television's Indian Summers - no, he chose to go that way and experience that pain because he loves me and cares so deeply about my destiny.

For that reason alone my pain becomes more bearable.  But there is more. This Jesus did not stay dead. Against all scientific reason and historic precedence he rose again on the third day. Now by his death and bodily resurrection Jesus becomes the means of my own redemption from sin and death. My pain is temporary.  It may be extreme at times, and I long for it to be over, but even if I am not healed this side of eternity, and I pray ever day that I will be, I know where I am going when I do die. Not for me the 'hope so' uncertainties of balancing scales or trying to climb a crumbling pile of good works to see over my skip loads of mistakes and regrets, no!  Because he lives then we who trust him will also live!  His empty grave is our visa and his book of life our passport.

So in this momentous week for every Christian I set off to face the uncertainties of a delicate and dangerous surgical procedure knowing that all will be well. Easter changes everything. 'Calvary covers it all'.

Friday, March 20, 2015

One Step at a Time

After nearly two decades of battling serious ill health and severe pain I am learning to take each day one step at a time. It can be very difficult to do this, especially because I like to have my path well laid out before me and prefer to know where I am going and what is just around the next corner. But that is not how God has led me and life has definitely been, as the old song title has it 'One Day at a Time'.

In the last few months I have been back and forth to London with monthly interventions at University College London Hospital. Each time we have been there Diane and I have looked at each other and said 'this must surely be the last time!' but we have been wrong.  Despite the dangerous and difficult nature of these surgical procedures, and the fact that I seem to be becoming immune to the anesthetics being used so that the last couple of occasions are clear in my memory, it seems that I must have yet another one. So we will leave for London on March 30th for admission on the morning of Tuesday 31st and spend a few more days away while we seek an answer to my desperate situation.

But this step by step approach to medicine and treatment is no stranger to the Christian pilgrim. Our journey of faith is one of daily increments in our walk with God. Any attempt to hurry the divine will or rush ahead seems doomed to failure as we discover that this Christian life is a walk and not a mad dash to heaven! 'Step by step as you go the way shall open before you' is God's promise to us all and we need daily grace to be able to accept that.

So despite the natural fear and disappointment of facing it all again, I guess I need to stretch out and take one more step on this journey, praying that the outcome will turn out to have been a giant leap in securing victory and getting well again. Please Lord!

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Leaders who don't Listen!

Over a month ago I wrote a passionate letter to a senior medical consultant doctor asking for answers to several important questions. I have not yet received a reply, and from speaking to his assistant I know he received it but do not expect a response. At this time in the UK an election is looming and although it doesn't affect us in Guernsey I watch with interest the antics of the leaders involved. Now the sitting Prime Minister, one David Cameron, has refused to engage in debate with the leader of the main opposing party on television during the actual election campaign itself. Ed Milliband is urging him to do so, as is much of the general public, but the PM is above all that! He appears to be yet another leader who does not listen!

The Bible tells us about a leader like that. The apostle Paul wrote a letter to one Diotrephes asking him to engage in debate, and the church leader refused. According to the text Diotrephes 'loved the pre-eminence' or 'loved being first' and felt he was above entering into debate with anyone, least of all Paul.  Truth be told, he was probably afraid that he might lose that theological contest and so refused to budge, but the real reason was arrogance. In the case of a previous UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, a very similar haughtiness preceded her political downfall. "Pride" as the saying goes "precedes a fall".

I don't expect either my consultant or the Prime Minister will suffer any great consequences from not being willing to answer questions and debate their position, but after a lifetime of leadership roles within the church, I hope for better things from Christian leaders. Diotrephes is a very poor role model for Christian leaders, who should always be ready to give an answer for the faith that is within them, for their conduct, and for the sacred charge that is given to them by the Lord. Any leader who finds him or herself loving 'being first' should note the example of Jesus who washed his disciples feet and declared that they who desire to be first among us should be servants of all. That is a long way from the kind of leadership we see in the worlds of politics and medicine, but we are entitled to expect better of those who lead the church.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Clearing out blockages...

I wish it was as simple as cleaning out a blocked drain.  Unfortunately, stents in the pancreatic duct are not quite as easy to deal with! After only 3 weeks from my last procedure in London I am already aware that the two stents which were inserted into my duct are blocking already. What sorrow this has brought to me, and frustration. When there is a blockage anywhere in the body, the whole body feels unwell. There is great pain, of course, in anything to do with the pancreas, which is situated so close to major pain carrying nerves so that any inflammation or blockage causes immense discomfort and pain. But there are other effects also, all pointing towards this same problem.

The same is true of course, in other areas of our lives.  When there is a blocked duct or tube then communication is hindered and the whole of life gets out of kilter. Whether in our minds or in our marriages, we need to keep using the old plunger if we want to stay healthy. In the Bible book of Genesis 26:17 the Old Testament character Isaac went to the wells that his father Abraham had used and which had been filled up and blocked with stones and soil and he cleared them out. This determination to clear out the ducts and draw water from the same source as his godly father brought Isaac mixed blessings. His enemies hated him all the more for it but God saw his actions and commended him by repeating the promises to Isaac that He had first made to his dad. A cleared duct was all it took for Isaac to be completely renewed in his faith.

I wonder what might be blocking your ducts? I know what's blocking mine and it will mean yet another trip back to hospital in London eventually to get it sorted out. But there are plungers we can use for some of the other channels that get stopped in our lives. Forgiveness, re-commitment, surrender, prayer, all can assist us in getting the life-giving ducts of our hearts clear. Whatever it takes it must be easier than what I am facing, so why wait?  Get plunging today!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Will I Ever Learn? - Snowbound Enthusiasm

This is not what our back yard looks like today - this is how it was in March 2013! But today we are waiting for the threatening snow that is expected to hit our community, and it is proving to be a bit of a disappointment! Yet, if I turn my mind back to 2013 I can still remember how bad the experience was. We were unable to fly in or out of our island for three days, during which my wife was in Southampton with our son and daughter-in-law for the immensely difficult hospital birth of our first grand-child. I longed to get there to be with them but could not. I had recently undergone surgery (again!  Am I ever not?) and had stitches in, and burst them while shoveling snow! I had to be restitched but couldn't get to the hospital - grrrrr it was a dreadful experience full of frustration and extreme cold. So, why am I secretly hoping that it might snow again?  What kind of masochistic longings do I have to want to go through anything as horrible as that again?

Well, I suppose the old adage holds some truth, that time does heal. I have forgotten the feelings of frozen fingers and toes, the soaking wet freezing mess that goes down your neck when snow falls off the roof onto your shoulders.  And mostly, I have allowed the pain of that experience to fade and am ready for another go! What?  Am I crazy? Or maybe I am not alone in this child-like delight in a blanket of snow on a winter's morning.

The truth is that it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and even in the most adverse of circumstances there is something we can marvel at if we have a mind to try. The old story is told of two men who looked out of the same prison bars, one saw the mud and the other the stars. It is all a matter of perspective and, awful as it was, those terrible days of March 2013 did pass, and dear Maggie, our grand-daughter, is doing well now and we love her very much. My wound did eventually heal and I did get to Southampton to be alongside Diane.

And I wouldn't mind if it snowed tonight!  Do you think it will? Oooooh - how exciting is that?

Friday, January 16, 2015

'A pill for every ill' - is the oral myth of the 21st Century. It says that there must be a cure for everything and if there isn't then there should be. Our Western sophistication has led us astray and given us unrealistic expectations of the medical profession. They can treat and care, but only God heals. They can cut and cauterise, but only the Creator recreates and cures. As a long-term user of the medical services because of chronic ill health lasting over two decades I have come to see that we simply cannot expect that our every problem can be fixed in the surgery or the treatment room. The long lines of waiting ambulances queuing up outside UK Accident and Emergency rooms is testimony to the fallacy. Thank God for the expertise and excellent care that is given us but we really should not expect too much from them.

Our God is a healing God.  One of his names is 'the God that heals you' and even before Jesus began his amazing miracle ministry God has revealed his desire to heal and restore those whose lives have been blighted by disease. My long experience of illness has not dimmed my understanding of this great truth nor my hope that he will heal me. I submit to his sovereignty and great wisdom, and acknowledge that he has plans for my life that I cannot understand this side of eternity, but my hope is in God - not in the medics. That does not make me anti-medicine. No, I am pro-recovery and that puts me on the same side as the medics!

I was deeply moved by the kindness expressed in the voice of a young registrar from University College London hospital who telephoned me today to say they are expecting me next week. I felt sorry for his obvious frustration and sympathy for me in my extremely painful condition, and was touched by his desire to help me. I am grateful, but I wanted to reassure him that I am not expecting him to heal me.  To treat me yes - but not to heal me - because that job belongs to God. And into his loving, healing hands I commend myself once again.