Friday, October 10, 2014

All Things Tough and Testing

I've got a new line for the old hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful"! Now it begins "All things Tough and Testing".. It doesn't work musically but boy does it fit my recent experience! I won't bore you with the details save to say that I am facing 3 operations in the next few weeks and am in desperate levels of pain. Apparently I am sitting on a time-bomb with stones and a stricture in my pancreatic duct, and the £30,000 worth of electronic gadgetry inside me has failed (again) and requires me to go through the whole July surgery once more! Add to that some decidedly unpleasant personal plumbing and you have a mixture fit for the 'dunghill' to wax all King James Version.

When I can think clearly through the fog of opiates and the sharp sense that there must surely be a spear right through my upper abdomen - and doesn't it stick out at the back too? - I startle myself with a sense of well-being. Before you call the men in white coats there are reasons for this state of calm that are not just drug induced. I have found special help this week in certain obscure (but not pointless!) Bible verses. One is found in Ephesians 4:6 where it says that my God and Father is "over all and through all and in all". I had not considered that before but it has sealed my soul in a firm compost of comfort this week while I try to bear fruit in a barren environment. God is in charge - not the doctors, nor the devil and thankfully not me!

Another came at me sideways from the good old book of Psalms - ancient Israel's national songbook. Reading almost like a medical report it says: "You couldn’t stand the sight of food, so miserable you thought you’d be better off dead.Then you called out to GOD in your desperate condition; he got you out in the nick of time. He spoke the word that healed you, that pulled you back from the brink of death." (Ps 107:18-20 The Message) Wow!  Now that gave me hope.  Of course I realise that wishful thinking may be at work here, but actually choosing to trust in God's promises and his words is proving to be a powerful steadying force in this trying time.

So although I am messing about with the first line of the old hymn, perhaps the ending can still stand?  "The Lord God made them all" And if that's true then I'll be OK, even if the time-bomb does go off.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bowing Down to Rise Up!

It's time for this old horse to bow out gracefully!  Or should I say donkey because Guernsey folk are often caricatured as being stubborn like donkeys! It is vital for every servant of God to bow the knee before Him and say 'have Your way Lord!' and that's what I am doing right now. After 43 years of full-time Christian ministry in the UK, the Channel Islands, Seychelles and Zimbabwe, I will retire this weekend. BUT - I am not finished yet! My work is entering a new phase and I welcome the opportunity to see what God is silently planning for us in love. Romans 8:28 is still in my bible and I know that there is a plan in all this and that the important thing is to remain positive, hopeful and yet submitted to God's will. Diane and I are so grateful for all the prayer support and encouragement we have received over the years and are still receiving now, and boy are we going to need it over the coming months!

I had an MRCP scan at University College Hospital London this week and it revealed an extensive stricture or closing of my pancreatic duct with what appeared to be stones piling up behind it. This accounts for the severe pain I have been in for some time and means that in 3 weeks I will be having a surgical procedure to open this up and clear the duct, similar to one that I had some years ago and put me in ICU for quite a long while! Yet I have peace about this one and trust my loving Lord to watch over me that day. Then I also have to go back to Guys and St Thomas' hospital in London too in order to find out why the spinal neuro-stimulator fitted to relieve the awful pain of pancreatitis has failed - and if it is faulty as suspected I will have to undergo having the operation of last July done again. I am also waiting for all this to be finished so that I can have a routine plumbing operation in my local hospital! Plenty to be getting on with then!

I am still praying for healing and release from this every day, and look forward to the day when I can put all this behind me and press on to new and better things. When a horse is being trained, however, to be useful to its trainer there comes a moment when it is 'broken'. The stubborn will of the creature is won over, and it desires whatever its master wants it to do. Now we are not animals and God treats us very differently, inviting our love and joyful surrender as an expression of our partnership with Him in the redemption and recreation of all living things. But even Jesus went through the experience of 'brokenness' when He submitted to His father's plan for salvation. When we follow His example and allow God to master us and use us in His plan, then much can be achieved in and through us.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Where next? Finding our Way!

We were walking on a fabulous headland near our home - Fort Hommet if you know Guernsey - when our little dog Mysty seemed a bit confused. In that part of the common the ground cover is quite low, only a couple of feet high, and mainly gorse and ferns, but Mysty only weighs 1.95kg and is tiny in comparison! She stubbornly set off on a slight pathway worn into the shrubbery but from my vantage point I could see that it was going nowhere. To her it must have seemed a really viable option. Maybe her Pomeranian nose, which is 10,000 times as powerful as mine, was telling her that there were really interesting canine smells down there. But I knew she would soon be in trouble and get stuck.

Thankfully at my call she stopped, turned and tossed her head as if to say 'I know what I'm doing!' But give her due, she then dashed away from her pathway into nothing and joined me on the high path. You see, it's all about vantage point, vision and clarity. Smells are great but in that kind of landscape you can't beat perspective!

My way is like that just now. I sense that this way or that may be interesting, productive or just pleasant - and we could do with something pleasant after years of suffering. But I need to listen to the call of one who has perspective - height. I am 62 today - and formally retiring from full-time employment due to severe and ongoing ill-health. I will continue to serve Eldad Church until later in the year if I possibly can so that my successor can take up his or her post, though even that is in God's hands not mine. After more than 43 years of leading and serving churches pursuing a call that came to me as a very young man, I still need to hear that voice from above - now more than ever really. To be honest, this path smells pretty naff - stinks really - but what I need at this time and for the future is perspective that comes from height, not smells that come from my own carnal nature or ideas that form in my vivid imagination.

As the writer of Israel's ancient hymn book prayed "LORD, when my heart is overwhelmed within me, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I am".

Monday, June 16, 2014

Living Hope

Near our home in Guernsey is a concrete disaster. Not one of those monstrous office buildings erected in postmodern style all glass and girders, but an underground hospital left over from the Second World War. Built, or rather excavated, by the German occupying forces, it was in its day the largest underground concrete structure in Europe.  This subterranean hospital briefly received wounded troops from nearby France after D-Day until the Allied advance liberated Normandy and cut off these islands until the end of the war. I shall never forget my first visit to the eerie structure as a child because it caused me to shrink in sadness at the thought of anybody being taken down there already unwell or badly hurt.  It never really worked as a hospital because it robbed its patients of something that is so badly needed in recovery - sunshine. They might as well have inscribed over the entrance the famous words from Dante's vision of hell 'Abandon Hope all who Enter Here!'

Hope is vital to recovery - and I don't mean just the vague feeling that things might improve either.  Christian hope is based on the character of God and his great love for us. It works like sunshine on our life systems and gives us something to hold on to in the darkest times. This kind of hope is the confident assurance that God is good and that he has good things planned for those who love him.  But the abandonment of hope is the opposite of that and is called despair. Several young people visited Guernsey over this weekend who know what real despair is like.  They have known the degrading power of drug and alcohol addiction in their lives that has led in similar cases to prostitution, imprisonment and premature death.  Now following their rehabilitation through one of the UK's Teen Challenge centres they sing together in a remarkable girls' band called Living Hope and tour prisons, churches and schools telling their own stories of hope restored. We are so privileged to have received them in our home island and heard their amazing stories of God's hope - a living hope that changed their lives!

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Learning to Lean

I was reading in the book of Psalms the other day and came upon this comment 'He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield' (Psalm 91:4).  It is a passage from the Bible that I have preached about (and Diane has too quite recently) but it is probably one of the hardest things to keep in mind when things are tough.  For me, the blinding, searing, literally sickening pain of chronic pancreatitis together with the thick fog caused by morphine, combine to make it hard to hold on to this image.  This picture taken from a friend's Facebook wall is a real help in the this process of visualisation.

A great deal is said today about 'mindfulness' - a meditation programme or technique that does have some very helpful insights and advice but is also limited (in my opinion) due to the overwhelming intrusion of severe pain or emotional trauma many suffer.  'When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock than is higher than I am!' I want something more than simply being mindful of the present and my surroundings - I want to know the presence of One who shelters, who cares, and who has a plan despite the disappointments.  The writer of Psalm 91 had found someone like this in his or her faith in God.  I have too, but it is a daily discipline to call these truths to mind - a mindfulness of a different kind perhaps?

So, whether in pain, trauma or in just the humdrum of daily life - I offer you Psalm 91 to be what Diane recently described as 'God's duvet'!

As for me - I'm under the feathers today!  It's one of those days!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

That's a Relief!

At last - a few days of pain relief after months of the most appalling pancreatic agony!  Diane and I travelled last week to University College London Hospital for a procedure called a 'coeliac plexus block' which is done under heavy sedation in the endoscopy unit there. A large amount of steroids and narcotics are injected directly into a bundle of nerves right near the pancreas in an attempt to interrupt the pain - and voila - a pain free Easter pour moi!

Years ago I had a series of six such blocks and they gave me varying degrees of effect, ranging from nothing at all (twice) to six weeks of glorious freedom. I don't know how long this one will last, but it is such a pleasure to experience life like so many do without the nerve tearing, burning, intensity of pancreatic pain.

In all these 18 years of battling this condition we have found it essential to take hold of something someone reminded us of in church this morning. Jenny stood at the front of the building and said that she has come to understand, through her many years of sorrow and struggle in different ways to mine, that our sufferings are there for a reason. 'They are', she said, 'allowed by God so as to make us more Christ-like'. Now I wish that God had other ways to make more Christ-like - in fact I'll bet Jesus Himself would have preferred other methods to that when he heaved the cross to his shoulder that first Easter, but he knew I needed him so he went to an unimaginable place of pain for me (and for you).

Jenny was right.  The bible actually says so. There may be many other reasons why we battle, some our own fault and some the fault of others, but God has not finished with us yet and we need to trust him even when we cannot trace his ways.

Meanwhile I'll just be grateful for a few days off and pray it lasts a long long time!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Are You Driven or Being Led?

When our son was small he used to get so excited whenever the cartoon programme Road Runner was on TV. I must confess that I loved it too - all that mad dashing around by the tragic character of Coyote (left) who was constantly trying to figure out ways to entrap and possibly cook and eat the serene escapee Road Runner with his familiar call 'Beep Beep!' The shows were produced by Warner Brothers between 1948 and 1960 but were then carried by TV stations for years afterwards both in the UK and the US. Poor old Coyote used to get so upset and even poured out great drops of sweat as he laboured on his latest idea usually assisted by props made by some company called ACME, but he always failed and usually got killed in the attempt - only to rise again miraculously to have another go next week!

Meanwhile the frustratingly smug road runner appeared to sail effortlessly through life chanting his call and overcoming every scheme of the wicked one! As I reflect on my life I can identify so much more with the scheming, worrying, driven Coyote than I can with the untroubled bird that floated over all of life's obstructions.  Most of my days - and nights - have been consumed with working out new strategies to succeed in my mission, whatever it has been at different times. Sometimes it has been to lead a struggling church into growth, or to serve a large and busy fellowship as it's senior leader.  At other times the struggle has been to learn a new language and fit into a new culture so as to serve alongside a national group of churches overseas.  And still other challenges have had to with fighting pain and discouragement, like now, in my long war with serious ill health. But in every situation I have had to learn to be led and not driven.  Being led by the Spirit of God is what children of God are supposed to experience (Romans 8:14) and not being driven by inner needs or the expectations of others.

Coyote never found the key to being led and was driven to despair. I want to be led by the sweet Spirit of God, not driven by ambition, the needs of my body or selfish desires, or the demands of others around me. 'Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, for there are many enemies'.