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.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Trusting When it Seems so Wrong to me

Last week I had a few glorious days at Harnhill Christian Healing Centre in Gloucestershire, a truly wonderful place of ministry, peace and quietness. I went to wait on God for his guidance in my life but also to receive prayer for healing. I was not disappointed and really enjoyed my time there, but I learned some valuable lessons by just observing nature around me. With the warm weather that week and the sights and sounds of scores of new born lambs leaping in the sunshine it felt like a glimpse of heaven! I saw one ewe give birth to triplets, only then to discover that there was a fourth lamb on its way. This tiny creature slithered into the world and the long-suffering mother began to lick off the protective yellow coating with a sigh as if it had just come in home late after falling in a puddle. Yet the beauty of the week was challenged by the fact that the farmer had to then remove two of the lambs due to the ewe not being able to suckle them all. He seemed almost heartless in his matter-of-fact approach to his task even though I knew him to be a man who cared deeply for his sheep. The bereaved ewe could not have known this but those lambs would be given to other sheep that had lost their own lambs by being stillborn. There was method in his harshness and even a touch of mercy in his apparent indifference to her bleating cries.

Clearly from the ewe's point of view the shepherd was being really harsh and cruel, taking away her precious offspring and the fruit of her hard work. Only he really knew what the gift of those lambs would mean to some distant bereaved sheep, perhaps even on some other farmer's land as they co-operated together in lambing time. Being a shepherd is a tough job and those who undertake it are not soft, though they are usually well meaning and wise. Our divine shepherd asks us to keep on trusting him even when his actions may cause us grief or pain. Having been a patient in a London hospital many times in the last 12 months I have reflected on this mystery often. What I have discovered is that in every circumstance of life it is important for the sheep to keep trusting Jesus who described himself as "the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep". No flock could ask for more from its shepherd even if they fail to understand his methods. He has good plans for us even in the difficult times. He knows what he is about and our job is to welcome him and trust in him.

So Harnhill was good for me.  It enabled me to reaffirm my confidence that I am willing to let God set the agenda in my life even if that means the awful pain I go through daily. I can't discern or describe any worth or purpose in this but I do acknowledge that my 'good shepherd' has a plan and I choose to trust in him.  And you?

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!