Thursday, October 30, 2014

What are you Wearing Today?

My wife tells me that changing seasons are a real nightmare for a lady! Getting the right clothes for the new weather patterns can be very challenging especially when, as at present in the UK, the seasons are sort of blending into one. As for me I don't worry at all about seasons and my decisions on what I wear each day are largely made on whatever is nearest to the wardrobe door! I seldom think about what to wear and certainly don't spend long choosing - well there's not a lot to choose from for us blokes, is there?

In my Bible reading today I found a real challenge to think more deeply about what to put on today. Colossians chapter 3 describes some of the ways in which First Century Christians lived before they started following Christ and how that changed once their faith started affecting the things they "put on" daily. "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices." (Col. 3:8-9) That is a wardrobe of clothes as ugly as the bottom of an eagle's nest after dinner time! Those are the old tattered garments of a life lived without Christ and with no concern for others or their feelings.

Within a few lines, though, the author of the New Testament letter shows the contrasting outfit that Christian believers are invited to "put on" each day. "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity". (Col. 3:12-14). Now that really would bring about a new season in my dress code!

So as we face the world today, let's choose what we will wear from the wardrobe of faith and peace that Jesus holds open before us. It will lead to peace in our hearts (vs 15), unity in local churches, and a powerful sense of Christ's lingering presence in the world reflected in the lives of his modern day disciples.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

London used to be regarded by millions as the centre of the civilised world. Even now it vibrates to the echo of every language under heaven and creaks under the weight of countless crowds of visitors, tourists and immigrants alike. In the last couple of weeks we have been there twice for medical help, as the hospitals in the nation's capital are among the best in the land. Whilst being grateful for the skill and dedication of the team that have worked with me to try and overcome the chronic pain of pancreatitis, I am only too well aware of their limitations. The government that sits in Westminster may control the lives of many millions but there are lots of things they simply cannot fix.

As we dodged the teeming crowds around two of the biggest of the capital's hospitals we were struck by the fact that all the wisdom, power and sophistication of man simply cannot clear the streets of the detritus of self-destructive patterns of life. People of all ages sleep in shop doorways while piles of rubbish are picked through regularly by those seeking something to eat, or to sell. Desperately needy people can't get a hospital bed due to overcrowding and everywhere people are gazing into small screens and tapping gadgets rather than speak with one another. Loneliness abounds in the place of such human activity.

In all this it seems that a return to the basics of the gospel is desperately needed. People matter more than political power posturing and personal profiteering. God loves us so much that he gave his only Son for our salvation and to offer each of us a purpose and an eternal home in heaven. May God bless his church in central London and prosper every effort to reach the nation's capital with the message of his love. London needs Jesus - I need Jesus - and thank God he is available for us!

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!