Friday, December 28, 2007

Tragedy in Pakistan


This is a tragic time for the nation of Pakistan following the appalling scenes of chaos and brutality yesterday in which Benazir Bhutto was assasinated. She was without doubt the symbol of moderate Islamic politics and whatever question-marks surround her previous administrations or her husband's record she did hold out the hope that extremists might be sidelined in the coming elections. Now she is dead and Pakistan is one step nearer to becoming a fanatical Islamist state posessing nuclear weapons.



I well remember my time visiting Pakistan and the impression made on me then by the people there. It is an amazingly busy place, with nearly three times the population of Great Britain and huge crowds of people jostling the cities and airports wherever you go. It is also dominated by mosques - some ancient some very recent - and the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer through his loudspeakers early in the morning is one of the abiding memories that I have. What we should not forget in all this political turmoil is the relatively large and growing number of Christians in that land. They meet in all the major cities and in quite a number of rural areas also. They are being persecuted for their faith, but are seeing the faithfulness of God to them as friends and neighbours are being won for the Lord. They need our prayers at this time.



In fact, in all the talk of Islamic extremism we should not lose sight of what God is doing amongst ordinary Muslim men and women. Large numbers of them are following Jesus and are delighting in the teachings of the injil (gospel). Whereas years ago, Muslim converts to Christianity were very rare, since 9/11 that is no longer the case. God is revealing Jesus to Muslims in their dreams. Christian radio like FEBA Radio and other media such as SAT 7 tv are reaching into previously closed lands. Muslim immigrants are coming to faith in the West and forming all ex-Muslim congregations of believers. Now is the time to pray for Muslims everywhere and to seek to befriend them whenever we can. Let them see that real Christianity is not the immoral materialistically bankrupt society they see on their cinema screens. Model before them what it means to follow the teachings of the prophet Jesus, and to walk in God's ways by God's grace. (If you want to know more about Islam you can purchase the download study guide that I have written called 'What Muslims Believe' from http://www.facingthechallenge.org/). Despite the tragedy in Pakistan God is on the march!



Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas!


When I visited the shepherd’s fields outside Bethlehem some years ago, I remember thinking what a very unlikely place it was for an angelic visitation. Despite all its fame it still remains a working area, where modern shepherds still keep small flocks of scrawny sheep and goats, and olive trees struggle through the dry earth to bring a crop that means a subsistence living for a poor Palestinian family. And it’s that ordinariness, that normality, which still speaks to me today of what God did at Christmas. He interrupted the ordinary, everyday lives of working people to place into their hands the Saviour of the world. And in a sense, that happens again this and every Christmas. Jesus comes into the midst of a busy, distracted working world, and asks us to pause and think for a moment about God’s amazing love. The shepherds were willing to do that, even to come and worship at the manger of which they had been told. Their lives would return to the ordinary, the routine, but they knew that now everything was different. Christ had come. Life had changed. God’s love had turned on their light.

‘And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests." 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
My most recent visit to Bethlehem was a very different kind of experience. Prior to the intifada – the uprising of Palestinian violence – we had been able to go right into the town and even into the church of the Nativity itself where it is believed traditionally that the manger was located. But on this next occasion we were not allowed to go right into the town of Bethlehem at all. We stopped at a hotel overlooking the area in the distance, and from there we could see helicopter gunships and distant plumes of smoke that may well have come from the battle that was then going on in the town. Today the little town of Bethlehem is behind the security wall that the Israeli government has built, and some of the Christians who are living there are finding it extremely hard to follow the Lord under pressure from the Muslims on one hand and the Jews on the other. It’s a pressure point, a place of conflict. Yet, that is where God chose to send His Son who would be called The Prince of Peace. Today the only hope for the Middle East, and for each one of us individually, is to ask Jesus Christ to come in and rule over our hearts as sovereign Lord, dealing with the problem of our sin as only He can, and giving us the benefit of His peace and joy. In the words of the ancient carol He was ‘born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth’.

‘Lord, help us to open up our hearts to you this Christmas time, and whether our situation is ordinary or even boring and routine, or whether we are in conflict or under pressure, come into our lives and make the difference that only You can do. In the name of Jesus, Amen.’

Have a very happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

So Privileged!




Some years ago we spent our Christmases in Zimbabwe, serving the people of that nation during a time of famine, drought and human deprivation. I will never forget one Christmas Eve when we were woken in the early hours of the morning by the cries of a young man who worked for us and whose newborn baby had died during the night. ‘Boss, boss,’ he cried ‘Come please help me. My children is dead’. I went with him to his tiny home and there saw his wife weeping and nursing the cold baby in her arms while her older child wailed alongside her. That Christmas Day we stood in line at the childrens’ cemetery outside the slum where thousands were pressed together in abject poverty, and we waited our turn to bury yet another infant who had not survived to see his first Christmas.

And so now, when people complain that Christmas in Guernsey is hard work, and a difficult time of the year, I am moved to remember the plight of my dear friends in Zimbabwe, and am just praising God for the prosperity, freedom and privileges of living in this fabulous island home. But I pray for them, that some of our blessings may fall into their laps also. And for ourselves, that we might live lives of gratitude, and show even a small measure of the joy and faith that the people I met in Zimbabwe still show despite the most appalling injustices and oppression. And I’m not really sure who needs the most prayer!

We are so privileged.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why all this Rush?



What a busy week this is with all the preparations for Christmas and the countdown to the great day itself getting lower all the time. I remember when this Guernsey family lived overseas and Christmas had a very different feel to it. We spent a couple of years living in the Seychelles – a fabulous group of islands in the Indian Ocean, a bit like Herm in the Channel Islands really but with hot weather all the year round. Christmas was a strange time living there because we felt so left out of all the dashing around that usually precedes the season at home. There were no Christmas decorations in the shops until Christmas Eve itself, and then just a few straggly paper chains to mark the coming of the special day. Christmas food was the usual spicy fish and rice followed by bread fruit or mangoes.

Yet in a sense that pared down version of Christmas was quite refreshing. Gone was the perpetual seasonal background music and the pushing and shoving of the crowds. In their place just simple, quiet reminders that people matter more than presents, and that some of the best things in life are free. In fact, when we tuned into the BBC World Service to listen to the nostalgic sound of carols from Kings College Cambridge thousands of miles away, we were probably closer to the real essence of Christmas then than we are today, despite the heat. ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie’.


Have a quiet Christmas!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Plot Thickens




John Darwin (photo above courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk/) the man who disappeared five years ago off the coast of Cleveland in north western England, was presumed dead and reappeared last week, has now been arrested on suspicion of fraud. It appears that his wife, who is now living in Panama in Central America, was spotted with him in a photograph published on the internet and dated around 18 months ago. The picture was taken in Panama and published on the front page of British tabloid newspapers shows them together and Mr Darwin alive and well.
Amazingly, his two sons are claiming that they knew absolutely nothing of their parents' deception and had been left to believe that their father was dead for the last five years. It would appear that the motive for all this was probably the insurance paid out on Mr Darwin's 'death'.

While the whole story gives the truth to the biblical adage 'be sure your sins will find you out' it also has other lessons too. The lengths to which people will allegedly go to deceive others for financial gain is enormous. The deceit of the immediate family, not to mention neighbours, employers friends and the rescue services (who risked their own lives in the prolonged search for Mr Darwin) beggars belief. And all through the last five years this apparently normal middle class British couple have been living a lie. After all that, they may even find the ordeal of exposure and punishment a relief now that the truth is out.
How much better to 'walk in the light' in the first place? Why choose to live a lie at any price? Jesus said 'I am the Truth' and those who follow Him do so in the strength of the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of Truth. Living a transparent and truth-filled life in Christ is the only path to peace. And at the end of the day, what is peace of mind and heart really worth?
More than a life-insurance pay out, that's for sure.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Back from the Dead



The mysterious reappearance in England of John Darwin after being missing for five years is becoming something of a cause celebre. When Darwin went missing he had been reported adrift in the sea in a canoe which later turned up smashed to pieces on the rocks and his paddle was found floating in the tide. A huge air-sea rescue search was unsuccessful and after a few days was called off. One year later, Darwin's wife went to court to have her husband declared legally dead. Then this week he walked into a West London police station declaring 'I think I may be a missing person!'

To add to the mystery, John's wife has recently gone missing, having sold the family home just weeks ago and reportedly moved to Panama. As to what happened to John during those five missing years - well, the police are still looking into it, but he claims to have lost his memory completely. His elderly father is a committed Christian, and when told of his son 's reappearance exclaimed 'Thank the Lord!' before bursting into tears.

What of course is clear is that John Darwin has not actually returned from the dead. There will be some explanation even if it takes a while to come out. But just imagine if that were not so. What if someone died a very public death and even went through a public burial in a borrowed tomb? Their death was certified by military specialists in judicial execution. Their body was smashed up almost beyond recognition. Then, suddenly and without warning, they were seen wandering about a few days later! Their family were shocked, their friends stunned. The one whom they had mourned was now actually alive and well and moving among them. The grave was now lying open and their loved one was speaking to them.

Surely if all this happened there would be massive public interest in the facts. What did you see on the other side? What did it feel like to die and then to rise again? Well of course, this scenario did really happen and the events described above actually took place. Even more amazing than the story unfolding in the Darwin family is the one that surrounded the person of Jesus. Now when we hear the news that he is back from the dead, we can really say 'Thank the Lord!'.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Getting the Balance Right


'Anger: Your Spiritual Ally' is a strange title for a book. Written by Andrew Lester and published recently in the UK it offers the idea that far from being the enemy of a Christian, anger is actually our friend!


Now if you're anything like me you'll find that a bit hard to swallow. After all, I've always thought that Christians weren't supposed to get angry, and if they did, they ought to keep it to themselves. We've all seen the damage that anger can do - fractured homes, frightened children, disappointed work colleagues, even violence and death itself - so what good is anger?


As I read the book, and more importantly the Scriptures on this subject, I came to discover some significant truths. Firstly, anger is part of that human nature of which the Creator said 'It's good' in Genesis. OK, so the events of Genesis 3 radically spoiled that assessment, but what I'm getting at is that anger is a normal part of human nature. Secondly, those who know their Bibles will agree that there is clear evidence that God gets angry (very angry actually, though we also read that He is 'slow to anger'). The events surrounding Jesus' rampage through the Temple courts armed with a scourge of cords are also evidence that Jesus (who was sinless) experienced anger. Thirdly, the Bible teaches that there is an anger which is healthy, and another expression of it which is not, in fact is sin. 'Be angry and do not sin' is the advice of the Apostle Paul, contrasting the two.


Now why am I reading that book? Well, partly because I am writing a follow-up to my own book Braving the Storm which contains a chapter on anger. Partly also, though, if I'm honest, I struggle with feelings of anger about my decade or more of chronic pain and serious ill health, and the effects they have had on my family and ministry. I am relieved to read what Mr Lester has to say, and am resolved to find ways of 'owning' my anger and expressing it to God so as to make it part of the healing and not part of the problem.


Now that's what I call a spiritual ally.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Death of a Good Man


This week a really good man went to be with the Lord, leaving his wife, children and work behind. This is what the Christian news media said about the passing of Rob Frost:

"Senior church leaders paid tribute this week to Revd Dr Rob Frost, founder of Share Jesus International, who died on Sunday, age 57. Dr Frost, a Methodist Minister and former national evangelist for the Methodist Church, initiated scores of projects including Easter People and next year’s London-based Pentecost celebrations. He died only months after being diagnosed with skin cancer in June. Methodist Church General Secretary, Revd David Deeks, said, ‘Rob’s passion for evangelism was boundless and he leaves a great legacy.’ Revd Dr David Coffey, President of the Baptist World Alliance, said, ‘Rob ranks as one of the most creative evangelists and able apologists of his generation.’ Evangelical Alliance General Director, Revd Joel Edwards, praised Rob’s ‘fervour and creativity’, his mentoring of young people and said ‘His aspiration to rediscover the spirit of Pentecost and make it accessible to the culture’ will be ‘his final legacy’."


I have always felt that Rob had an influence way beyond the circles that he normally moved in - he came from Methodism - and his testimony and ministry touched many lives. I can imagine that his family are finding this a tough time, and will need our prayers. It would have seemed so much more sensible for Rob to live and work on for another 10 or 20 years, but that was not in God's plan for him.


As we ponder the passing of a great servant of God, the tribute paid to King David comes to mind. He 'served the purpose of God in his generation and then fell asleep'. What a testimony, and one that we would love to have said about us. Rob was brave, clear minded about the gospel, filled with the Holy Spirit, and sold out for Jesus. 'His works follow him'.


There is a great mystery in the matter of God's timing for our lives, but one thing we can learn from this is to do all we can, with all the strength that we can, for as long as we can. The rest, we leave to God.


Goodnight Rob.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Networking

Now with the wonders of the Worldwide Web we are able to 'network' with our friends. All good stuff, whether it's on Facebook, MySpace or even on the special networking site for over 50's 'sagazone'. I am now able to catch up with friends all over the place, and am even playing Scrabble with my best friend Graeme who lives down under in New Zealand! Needless to say, I am ahead!

Got me thinking, though, about the issue of quantity versus quality when it comes to friendship. All this networking could still leave us sitting alone at our computers hardly ever meeting up with anyone. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for contact, especially over the miles, but nothing beats face to face get togethers over a great coffee. Also, there is room for fraud and identity theft in all this, something that was being warned about only recently on television in the UK.

This weekend I will meet up with some friends in the Lake District that I haven't seen for a long time - and I'm really excited about it! There's nothing to really beat the buzz of chatting and catching up on mutual friends and even with what God is doing in our lives.

If prayer is some kind of networking with God, I am realy glad that one day He and I are going to catch up in person. 'Face to face I shall behold Him' as the songwriter says. It's great having access to the Lord every day, and even in the night when you can't sleep, but it will be even greater to sit down and talk through a few heavy issues when I see Him!

So, to all my Facebook chums, if you are coming anywhere near Guernsey do let me know, and if I'm around your neck of the woods I'll get in touch. And Graeme - if you read this - let's meet up in Singapore for a coffee some time soon!

Mine's a cappucino.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No Greater Love




This week witnessed an appalling tragedy in Portugal. Robert and Deborah Fry and Barbara Jean Dinsmore from Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire, died there on Monday. The three Britons and a German were killed while trying to save their children from strong currents off Praia do Tonel beach near Sagres. When their children, who were playing in the sea near to a large rock, got into difficulties, the rescuers rushed to their aid without thought for their own safety. Following the drownings, all the children were rescued by some young surfers or managed to get ashore with only minor injuries.



It is deeply moving to consider the attitude of these people. Theirs was the ultimate sacrifice. I know as a parent what motivated them, and it is both awesome and humbling to be aware of such strong emotions in our hearts. 'Greater love has no man than this' said Jesus, 'to lay down his life for his friend'. We salute their bravery and selfless love, though mourn and regret their loss and the tragedy of the outcome.



The very fact of the presence of such compelling love is another sign of the handiwork of God in us. He is also a self-sacrificing lover. Jesus gave Himself on the cross for our salvation with no thought for His own comfort or feelings. He became a sacrifice for us - for me - because He knew I was in deep trouble. The rip currents of my sin were so deep and strong that unless He had come and hurled Himself into the waves I would have been lost forever. But here the image stumbles. Jesus did die in the attempt to save me, but He also rose again from the dead three days later. It is as if those parents had been able to walk from the sea and watch their much loved children being taken away in safety. Even more than that, by the death and resurrection of Jesus I will not only just survive this life but will live for ever.

We will remember them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Countdown to Letting Go

It has been a long time now since I felt that God was calling me to 'let go' and hand over my church and ministry to Him like Abraham offered his precious son Isaac on an altar in Genesis 22. These have not been easy days as I have tried every which way to weadle out of the deal and find another way of obeying God that did not involve loss or sacrifice. But now, the time is near, and in just a week's time, we will say farewell to the church we love with all our hearts and begin a season of rest and waiting on God for direction.

Why is it so hard to do what you know is right, and everyone who loves you is advising you to do? Well, partly because it involves uncertainty. Not knowing what the future holds is a risky business, and faith is often spelt r-i-s-k. Holding on to what you know and feel comfortable with is so much easier than stepping out into the unkown. Was it John Ortberg who coined the phrase: 'if you want to walk on water you have got to get out of the boat'? Leaving the comfort zone and letting your faith really work for you is proving to be just as hard as it sounds, but then faith is a muscle, it really does grow through use.

I suppose that what really is going on is God's way of finding out what turns my light on. Am I really in love with Jesus and following Him no matter what, or does my Christian service and position give me the security I secretly crave? I hope I'll stand the test, but if these early days are anything to go by, it won't be without its pain.

Still, the great thing is that we live in the 'upside-down' kingdom. Letting go is actually to receive, and the way down is the way up. If we are, as Paul says, stronger when we are weak, then in the topsy turvy reckoning of the Kingdom of God, this is really quite a good week! Lord, give me grace!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On Being Real



I have just enjoyed reading Brennan Manning's amazing classic 'The Ragamuffin Gospel'. In it he highlights the need for us to be real about ourselves and stop pretending that we have got it all together, because God's unconditional love flows constantly towards us whether we deserve it or not (and we don't!).


I try to say a similar thing in my own book Braving the Storm when I contrast the 'La La Land' where every prayer is answered just the way we want it with the reality of a life lived in a fallen world. Denial is such a dangerous folly because it robs us of the joy of knowing that we are accepted by a loving Father just as we are - though He loves us too much to leave us the way we are!


The problem we struggle with is one of image. Consider the image that this ID carrying guy has of himself. Hardly in touch with reality eh? Most of us try to project an image of ourselves that is not really in touch with what we truly are. In such circumstances we can't relax - we are constantly adjusting our image in the mirror to make sure that it fits with our preconceived idea of what we should look like. But God knows who we really are, and delights in us right now, singing over us with joy (Zephaniah 3:17). We no longer need to worry about our image when we relax in the grace and love of this caring God.

So let's make a decision to get real and stay real. To remember the words of the apostle Paul who said: 'When I am weak then I am strong'. Not 'when I am weak then He is strong'. Here's a prayer from the Ragamuffin Gospel (Authentic Classics, page 113):

'Lord Jesus, we are silly sheep who have dared to stand before You with our
preposterous portfolios. Suddenly we have come to our senses. We are sorry and
we ask you to forgive us. Give us the grace to admit that we are ragamuffins, to
embrace our brokenness, to celebrate Your mercy when we are at our weakest, to
rely on Your mercy no matter what we may do ... Amen.'

Amen to that!








Saturday, September 22, 2007

Seat of Power




I was in London this week. I went back there to see the consultant who has been in charge of my medical case during these last 3 years - during which I have travelled by air to the UK capital for medical treatment 40 times. Early in the morning last Thursday I had the privilege of speaking to the capital's population on a breakfast radio show about my book Braving the Storm, and then off I went to Harley Street to see the man himself. The result is that Diane and I will be going back this coming week for me to be admitted to the University College London Hospital for a couple of days for a procedure called a 'coeliac plexus block'. Apparently in two thirds of cases where it is given it can be effective in reducing pain and the need for opiates.


Whilst waiting for my train back to Gatwick Airport I went by underground to Westminster and saw the sights there. It was quite moving to be at such a historical location, and one where such influence is exerted over so many lives. There was a real sense of being somewhere very special and there were tourists there from all over the world.

One thing that struck me is how many politicians and leaders have come and gone over the centuries, and yet the grand palace of Westminster goes on as if they had never been there. There are statues of Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, Jan Smuts, and now even Nelson Mandela! Kindoms rise and kingdoms fall. now it is Gordon Brown's turn - but for how long?

I'm really glad to belong to a Kingdom that will never end, where the leader is someone who loves me and cares about my needs. We don't have to worry about future changes in leadership because Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever, and the 'government is upon His shoulder'! We can relax and trust in that fact.

His throne is the real seat of power.

Friday, September 14, 2007

One Painful Altar

The scene was a mountain side where the unthinkable was about to happen. Abram, the patriarch of the Jewish people, and a firm believer in the one true God, was about to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar. This was not what believers normally did! Only the pagans sacrificed their children in this way. What could he be thinking about?

This heart-rending picture taken from Genesis 22 tells of the anguish in a father's heart, and yet his willing obedience to God. Isaac was the son of God's promises, born out of due time, and to become the father of all that God had said He would achieve through Abram's descendents. Yet, here on this bleak mountainside, opposite what has since become known as the Mount of Olives, his number was up.

What had driven Abram to this extreme? God had spoken commanding him to offer up his only son whom he loved dearly. And now, this scene is speaking to me. I am at the moment in the process of offering up to God the most precious posession I have after my wife and son. My ministry, and the church I love with all my heart. It seems that He is calling me to do so - not with some boring job that I could do without anyway - but with my precious children in the Lord. For a preacher not be able to preach - well Mount Vesuvius has nothing to compare with the growing undergound pressure! But now to have to let go and let someone else take the ministry, that is a real Isaac on the altar situation.

Wonderfully, in Genesis Isaac did not die. God was not finished with him yet, nor with Abram who became Abraham the father of nations. I know in my heart that God's not finished with me yet either, but this altar stands right in my path at the moment. Pass me that knife.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Mountain King


They are some of the most moving words in the whole of the Bible. The prophet Habbakuk worked and ministered at a time when the spiritual, social and political life of God's people Israel was at its lowest. Before there would be any kind of awakening or renewal there would first have to be a 70 year period of exile and banishment. Things were pretty tough when Habbakuk
spoke or perhaps sang these words:


Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries
don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm–eaten and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the
sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m
singing
joyful praise to GOD. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior
God.
Counting on GOD’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.
I run
like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!


This statement of faith was wrung from lips that were more used to complaining. The whole of Habbakuk's prophecy is built around his complaints to God about the unfairness of all that was going on around him. He could not understand how God would allow His people to suffer at the hands of an ungodly heathen nation - the Babylonians. In chapter 2 God told him to write down a vision - and though its fulfilment would be delayed - to wait for it with hope and confidence for it will surely come.


I have my complaints too. I feel like Habbakuk in some small way. It seems so unfair to be in so much pain after so long, and following so much surgery and medical intervention - not to mention healing prayer! Yet, here we are. Now the doctors are telling to me to rest for at least 3 months and to return to London for more procedures. My heart is in the work of God at the church that I have the privilege to serve, and that is all I desire to do. Yet now, through nothing of my own doing, even that is denied.


Then the words of Habbakuk's final prophecy hit me. He shares my mystified sorrow at what is, yet he is rejoicing in the One who rules over all. The God of the mountain makes no mistakes and so the prophet see himself as 'king of the mountain' - dancing on the deadly heights. And this is the secret. Paul the Apostle knew it when he suffered under house arrest and in prison for years on end - and we are blessed by his writings during a period when he must have felt so frustrated. No situation is wasted with God, and even barren-ness is not empty. Out of our unfairness flows His promise of Romans 8:28 that God works every situation for the good of those who love Him and follow His way.


God of the mountain and the valley, help me to rejoice in You today.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Paprika Comes




So now we are three again! After a dogless year we have welcomed a new arrival - a four year old Pomeranian female called Paprika! Here's Diane with the newcomer. She enjoys cuddles - (well they both do actually!!) and is very gentle and sweet natured, so we are really grateful for her timely arrival. When I got back from hospital last week after another prolonged stay it was great to have this little furball doing somersaults at my feet and wanting to sit on my lap and lick my chin.


Isn't it good to be able to enjoy this little gift of nature and not worry about how I feel for a while? I am supposed to rest for the next few weeks, but at least I can write - and I have plenty to write about. There is so much that God is teaching me through all this, but I do get frustrated sometimes and long for freedom from pain, nausea and exhaustion. Still, God knows what He is about and as we await the Healer, this little furry friend is a great distraction. Who could feel miserable when this little one is smiling up at you?

'He has created all things and for His pleasure they are created'.

Well, this one has brought a great deal of pleasure to us too, so 'thankyou Lord'.

Bye for now.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

To Read or Not to Read?

I was in a bit of a quandry. The BBC had phoned and asked if I would respond to a taped interview with Christopher Hitchens the author of 'god is not Great' and review the book from a Christian point of view. Here was my dilemma - as a Christian pastor I am responsible for the people under my care and guidance and should not be afraid to speak out and warn folk about this spiritually dangerous and throroughly offensive book (Hitchens would be pleased to hear me say that as his stated aim in writing the book is to 'demoralise people of faith' and be offensive to them) - and yet I did not want to give the author any money or read a book that might harm me spiritually and perhaps even be the reason why one more person would buy it.

Following an evening service in which I had told the church that I intended to read the book and asked for their prayers, a spiritually mature and sensitive lady came up to me at the end said that she felt the Lord was saying that I should not read that book! A word from the Lord?

Here is what I did. I agreed to the interview but refused to read the book on the grounds that its stated goal is to demoralise people of faith. I have enough to demoralise my faith without that! I surely don't need to drink from a bottle labelled 'poison' in order to know that it will do me no good. When the book arrived at my house I sent it back unopened. I then read widely on the internet what much more clever people than me were saying about the book and the man. I found excellent material on the Christian site www.markdroberts.com and several helpful reviews from the Washington Post, the Spectator and the Mail on Sunday. The interview was recorded this morning for transmission tomorrow, Sunday 29th July. I am praying that the outcome will glorify God and help people.

Hitchens is a tragic and arrogant figure, a journalist who mocks God and anyone who believes in Him. He calls Mother Teresa a 'fraud and a fool' and St Augustine as 'a self-centered fantasist and an earth-centered ignoramus'. He believes that people of faith should be 'removed from the stage' so that the real debate about philosophy and the meaning of life can begin. His attitude is very similar to that which leads to anti-Semitism and the persecution of believers. He reminds me of an ageing comic on British tv called Alf Garnet who sneered and mocked at people of different races and creeds. We laughed at him then, but we cringe now. Hitchens is the Alf Garnet of the atheistic philosophical world. His views are poison.

Right now there is a real deluge of printed material from atheistic sources which has the aims of making money and demoralising believers. We don't need to drink it to know it tastes pretty bad.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Is there any Word from the Lord?

Today I at home struggling with a very high fever and the pain of yet another attack of pancreatitis or some associated infection. It is a particular sorrow to me because I was due to preach at my church this morning, and tonight we are baptising some recent converts who are very wonderful people. So, I thought I would put onto my blog the main points of my sermon in case anyone out there is looking!

My text is found in Jeremiah 37:1-4, 16-17 and is vs 17 ‘Is there any word from the Lord?’
This was a remarkable question from the King (Zedekiah). His predecessor King Jehoichim had a very clear attitude towards God’s Word. See Jeremiah 36:20-24. In these verses we see King Jehoichim cutting up the scroll of God's Word into strips and burning it in the fire. The worst thing was that neither the king nor anyone with him who heard God's Word read before it was destroyed, were moved by it or affected by it in any way. They had become really hardened to what God was saying! King Zedekiah himself had shown a very low level of interest in God’s Word in verse 1 (neither he nor any of his attendants paid any attention to the words the Lord had spoken). The only sign of spiritual life in Zedekiah was seen in verse 3 – ‘please pray for me’. (Contrast these attitudes with that of King Josiah 15 years earlier, 2 Kings 22:8, 11-13.) What is our attitude towards the words of the Lord? Do we hunger for more, saying 'is there any word from the Lord?' Or are we indifferent, or even hostile? It is vital that we answer these questions.

God is a God Who Speaks.
God is not silent. He speaks through His Word, the Bible. The Bible sells 44 million copies per year, 1.25m in the UK. It is uniquely popular – (according to a book report in The Times newspaper recently). It is also powerful – people’s lives have been changed by opening the Bible and obeying what it says. (I have a friend who was a prisoner in Cardiff jail when I was a Pastor in the same city, and who liked his Gideon's Bible because the pages made good cigarrette papers. One day he tore out a sheet to smoke, and started reading the words instead. Richard was convinced that he was a sinner and that he needed a Saviour! He called on God to change his messed up life and was converted. Today, 10 years later, he is a Pastor in Birmingham). But God also speaks today through His people who bring us a word from the Lord. It may not be exactly a Bible verse but it will always agree with Bible teaching.

We Need to Hear from God.
So that we know what He wants us to do… like King Josiah.
So that we can ‘hang in there’ when the going gets tough.
So that we can have something to give away to others (like the disciples at the feeding of the 5000).

Why is it so Hard to Hear from God?
Because of interference from the world we live in. (When we were in France – trying to get BBC – interference from strong French stations prevented us). Jer 37:1 shows the attitude of most people who were around Zedekiah and who affected him - his peer group. Amos 8:11-12 speaks of the atmosphere in our postmodern Western world today. There is a famine here, not of food nor of water (that's for sure!) but a famine of the Word of our God.
Because of a lack of real passion in our hearts to hear what God is saying to us. Not so with Job in Job 23:12, I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.
Because of an unwillingness to obey what He has already said to us. Zedekiah did not like what Jeremiah was saying. Neither did those who lived around him. If we are holding out in disobedience to something that God has previously told us, it is not likely that He will speak to us again until we put that right.

How Can We Know When God is Speaking to us?
There is always the danger of it being our imagination or just the words of others.
It will arise from the Scriptures or will be confirmed by them.
It will cause a quickening of your spirit or conscience. (Like when the embryonic John the Baptist leapt in his mother's womb when he heard the voice of Mary nearby!)
It will be affirmed by others to be a word from the Lord.
It will bear fruit in your life if you respond to it.

Is There Any Word From the Lord?
There is a call to follow Jesus Christ as Lord. ‘Come follow Me’.
There is a challenge to hush our hearts enough to be able to hear God.
There is a crisis of obedience to the last thing you heard. If God has spoken to you before about a relationship or an attitude, or about baptism or being filled with the Holy Spirit, now is the time to respond.

So, God is speaking, but are we listening? And if we are, are we doing anything about it? If not, now is the time to put that right.

Friday, July 20, 2007

French Leave





Bonjour mes amis! We have just returned home (early) from a really interesting trip to France. We crossed the little bit of sea that separates Guernsey from the nearby continent and emerged from the car ferry ramp ready to tackle the traffic on the wrong side of the road. We were not disappointed, as we found that everybody had gone mad and decided to hurtle around roundabouts the wrong way and throw their vehicles into high speed chases on the right-hand side of the road, of all places. When we found that they were simply not willing to adapt to our normal pattern of driving we concluded that in the interests of international peace and goodwill we would put up with theirs. So, we moved over. It was a good thing we did, because we didn't see another normal driver for the whole ten days!


Then there was the fact that they spoke our language with great difficulty. How strange! We found that the best plan was to shout very loudly in English and point with our fingers. This usually brought about some understanding on their part. Perhaps their education system isn't quite up to scratch yet, but no doubt they are working to upgrade it. Their food was bearable, but in the absence of decent gravy we opted mainly for seafood which, despite their cullinary lack of expertise, the French seemed to manage quite well. The one exception was their terrible habit of ruining a good plate of fish'nchips by covering it in black shellfish which was barely cooked (moules frites I heard them saying). It was almost impossible to get throught the groaning mound of obviously inedible molluscs, so we gave up and looked for a decent burger.


It is a real shame that the EU has not been able to get more aid money into Brittany as most of the town centres date back as far as the 12th Century! In the UK they would all have been torn down and modernised by now, but they are obviously very slow in getting around to it. Probably one of these days they will catch up and move those poor people into concrete tower blocks where they would all be so much happier. We felt particularly sorry for the folk forced to live in this ancient dump, where things have got so bad that there are even flowers growing out of the walls! When we saw their living conditions we felt like contacting some of the agencies in the UK that handle housing, like some of the city councils for instance, who would have been happy to advise their planners. Still - we can pray...

Finally, when we had planned to stay a fortnight, our visit was cut short by my illness, which neceessitated us making a run for the boat about 4 days early. Still, as I said to Diane, you can only take so much of visiting the developping world before you become weary for the civilisation of home. Next year we thought we might go somewhere really up to date, like Birmingham for instance!

(Mes chers amis, nous avons fait un excellent sejour! Merci tres beaucoup!)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fathers' Day Glow

Yesterday I went in search of a Fathers' Day experience, and I got it! I flew to the neighbouring island of Jersey and spent the day with my son Matthew - what a great day it was! I was really delighted to be with him for the few hours that we had together, and no matter that it rained so heavily, we just 'hung out' and enjoyed the time. It was also an opportunity for me to catch up with his new car. The old one had done well for a number of years, including University, and now it was time to ditch it and get something decent. The result is the shiny black Seat that we cruised around the island in. Wow, the smell of new, the purr of power, the pull of the acceleration, and all within the island's 40 miles per hour speed limit of course! 2 litres of horse-power tied down to a fabulous small frame.

Being a Dad is a bit like that ride really. You can't explain how much you care, how deeply you feel. Love and pride are mixed with concern and worry in almost equal measure! All the hopes and fears that you have for your offspring are surging under the bonnet like a powerfully tuned engine, but on the surface you remain as cool and calm as you can, trusting God to look after your most precious posession in all the world. You want to rush on ahead, to accelerate and overtake life's problems before they hit and steer them away from them. But there's a limit. You can't live their life for them. You have to let go, and believe that the heavenly Father loves them even more deeply than you do and will guide them through whatever life may throw at them.


For now I'm just basking in the glow of a really great father/son day and thanking God for the privilege of being a Dad at all. At least I get to ride in some great autos!


Friday, June 15, 2007

Put Shame to Shame

I had a real battle to take medication today. I hate the fact that I need it, but when pain becomes as unbearable as it was this afternoon, I just have to reach for the morphine again. The doctor tells me it's fine to use it. apparently when opiates are taken for severe pain like mine it does not become addictive. I certainly wouldn't want to take it for any other reason - it makes me feel sick anyway! But why do I struggle so much to take the stuff?

Partly, it's because of my sense of shame. I know I shouldn't feel this way but I can't help feeling guilty that a so-called 'charismatic Christian leader' and pastor needs to take morphine. It makes me feel less of a 'man of God' to do so. I remember being really embarrassed once on the hospital ward when I was in agony and needed a shot, and the nurse who brought it to me was a Pentecostal christian and a member of a church where a friend of mine is the Senior Pastor. The pain of my shame stung even more severely than the intra-muscular jab! The need for medical relief makes me feel that I am letting the Lord down. Surely if I really trusted the Lord I wouldn't need opiates?

Then, today, God spoke to me through a Bible verse that Diane shared with me. Romans 8:1 just hammered my shame and made it skulk away. 'There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those in who are in Christ Jesus!' Shame makes us hide from God and others. 'No condemnation' brings us out into the open again. God knows I need pain relief. He created the poppy, that like so many good things such as sex and wine, has been hijacked by evil and used or rather misused to bring people into slavery. But it was created to be our servant, not our master, and there is no shame in that.

I still seek God for my healing every day, as I share in my book Braving the Storm (www.bravingthestorm.com) but until that healing comes I am going to take the pain relief medication and give thanks to God as I do. Now that should put my shame to shame!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lakeside Inspiration






I have just spent two wonderful days in the Lake District staying at Eusmere House (pictured above) where the poet William Wordsworth was known to stay and where it is believed he penned some of his work. The house was built by Thomas Clarkson, one of the famous 'abolitionists' who worked with William Wiberforce to eradicate the slave trade throughout the British Empire. He used to commute to London from here, a journey of several hundred miles when there were no roads or motorways.

I was in Eusmere House, alongside the fabulous lake Ullswater, to take part in a writers' conference organised the publishers of my new book Braving the Storm. We were learning all about the media, and writing styles, and networking together with other authors and editors. It was really inspiring to be able to learn all together in these very special surroundings, as well as meet up with some exiled Guern's - Steve and Ruth De La Mare - who happen to live in the next village.

Nothing can really describe the exquisite joy of getting up in the morning and going down to the lakeside to take in the stillness and the freshness of a new Cumbrian day. It was breathtaking to look out over the lakes and mountains of that area, and to remember that 'the earth is God's footstool' (Isaiah 66). I almost expected to see two great big feet sticking up over the mountains! This was certainly the right place to put a group of writers and budding authors.

If you would like to know more about my book, go to www.bravingthestorm.com

Bye for now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Power of the Printed Word





I was sitting in the chair at the hairdressers the other day dozing quietly while he clipped away thoughtfully at the back of my head. Suddenly he surprised me with the question 'have you read any of the works of Thomas Merton?' Now being more used to discussing the weather with my hairdresser, or the latest football results, or the state of the fishing this season, my surprise bordered on the amazed. 'No, I haven't' I replied thruthfully 'but I am reading a book called Wounded Healer at the moment which was written by another Catholic philosopher and teacher, Henri Nouwen.'


Now before you get carried away with your respect for the erudition of my affaire de coiffure let me hasten to say that the conversation did not dwell too long on religious philosophy but it did give me a brief opportunity of sharing matters of faith with my friend. What interested me in all this was that he told me that his uncle had posessed a volume of Merton's works for years with it just sitting on his shelf. Recently, my haircutting friend had borrowed it and surprise surprise, found it contained some very interesting stuff which is having a profound effect on his outlook and world view. The power of the printed word.


I am really encouraged by that, and hopeful that my own book Braving the Storm (www.bravingthestorm.com) will have a similar, lasting effect. It is due to be published in May, and will come out simultaneously in the UK, the USA and India. It's the story of my 10 year battle with the extreme pain and life-threatening consequences of pancreatitis. It tells of those things which have been found to hinder and those which have helped the daily task of overcoming. Jeff Lucas, who did the foreword for me, said: 'Eric tells the truth about pain. There’s no gloss, fluff, hyper-spirituality or clich├ęs. The absence of them all makes me grateful, for slogans sting like salt on an already deep wound when you’re suffering. You won’t find slick answers in this book, or a satisfying, ‘they all lived happily ever after’ ending. What you will find is words that are written in blood, sweat and tears rather than just ink. You’ll look into the heart of a fellow traveler, who must have been tempted to slam the door once and for all in the face of a God who calls Himself good. Here is warm hope, honest empathy, faith that is gritty and authentic.'


So here's hoping that this book will live on long after I leave this earth, and that it might just speak when my own voice is silent. Perhaps some hairdresser or taxi-driver or doctor or person in pain might just find that these words were printed just for them. If they do - if even one does - the ten years will not have been in vain.


Monday, April 09, 2007

All is not as it may Appear


We are really being blessed with great weather in Guernsey at this time, and the island is showing off in all it's Spring-time beauty. It seems as though nature has just come alive with colour, scent and activity. The sea is spectacularly blue and inspiring, both in the good weather but also when the wind blows - as it often does with great energy.


I can't help thinking, though, about the amount of human need there is here, despite all the wonders around us. The calling I follow gives me insight into what goes on, not just behind people's curtains, but even deep within their hearts and homes. What exists there is just the same as the world over. Wherever you have people you have problems, and heartbreak, and sorrow and pain. One of the earliest memories that I have of the period that I have worked here is of walking on the beach early in the morning on the east of the island, where the sun rises gloriously over the outlying islands of Sark and Herm, and suddenly I came across the body of a young woman lying dead on the beach. She had taken her own life (it later turned out) in that place of incredible beauty and peace. So much outer calm, yet such inner turmoil.


From that day I have determined not be too charmed by the quaintness and beauty of island life, but to work hard at sharing with others the good news that Jesus offers an inner peace, a spiritual calm, that is not dependent on our outward conditions. I am grateful for the place in which I live and work, but I know that what really matters is my relationship with God and all that flows from that.


'You will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is steadfast because he is trusting You'.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Getting Broody




This week a wonderful Tibetan Terrier called 'Fabulous Willy' (no comment) has won the world's most prestigious dog show Crufts '07. Over the four days of the tournament we have watched it on the tv and have become very broody indeed to get another dog.


I know it will be a lot of hard work, and we will have to 'dog-proof' our garden, but there is nothing quite like those appealing eyes gazing up at your own and that eager expression of 'what shall we do next?'


It's a year now since we said 'farewell' to Ziggy, our latest Pomeranian dog. We've had Poms for 15 years and really love them, but it's hard to start again with one you don't know. As you can see he was quite some dog!

One thing I do find interesting is how much our appetite for having a dog again has been stirred by watching the Crufts programming on the box. There certainly is a link between the eyes and the heart, and we have been quite deeply affected in our emotions by what we have been viewing. That's an important lesson when you consider how many hours a week folk in the West spend in front of the telly.

Anyhow, we'll keep thinking about the canine connection and keep working on the garden. Until then, don't tell any professional burglars that our house is dogless!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hanging in there

As winter begins to turn to Spring here in the Channel Islands it is a real pleasure to watch the bulbs that have been lurking underground begin to poke their heads up. Of course they are all just a tad early this year thanks to global warming, but that makes them all the more welcome. They are a timely reminder that no matter how cold and hostile the climate might be, new life and a new start are always just around the corner.

We continue with our on-going struggle with pancreatitis in this home. This disease, which can be life-threatening and is one of the most painful conditions known to man, seems to keep coming around like the perennial seasons. Just when we are enjoying a 'Summer' of warmth and freedom, the Autumn sets in to warn us that another attack of Winter is not far away - and of all this cycle can take place over 3 months! Yet, just like it says in the Bible, 'Your mercies, O Lord, are new every morning' and we keep hanging in there, trusting God for strength for today and healing in His good time.

In the biography of a Christian lady whose life seemed to be one long disappointment and frustration, this sentence occurs: 'She made magnificent bouquets out of the refusals of God'. She did not allow the circumstances of her sorrow and pain to turn into the thorns of bitterness and resentment. She grasped instead the tiny shoots of hope and promise that are found in a relationship with God and she held on to them as a way of getting through.

If you are in a winter scene at this moment (and they can be beautiful too for all their desolation) I hope that you can take heart from the thought of all that God has prepared just below the soil, and hang in there looking for better days, praising and trusting Him.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year - New Start!


Some of the folk that I have met in 2006 have made a dramatic turnaround in their lives and discovered the joy of making a new start. Roderick, for instance, visited the island twice during this year, despite the fact that Guernsey is the place where he messed up so badly just a few short years ago. He was an inmate in the States’ Prison for a long period for importing illicit drugs to the island. His life was in tatters, his praying mother and family distressed. Whilst in jail he heard the good news of new life in Christ and became a committed Christian. By arrangement with the authorities at a certain point in his sentence he was transferred to an organisation in the UK specialising in helping drug addicts and today he is fully recovered from his addiction and is a worker there. He is a living example of making a new start.

I also met Billy and Bev recently. They divorced in the 1990’s due to Billy’s intolerable behaviour and drink problems. The little family of two small boys was torn apart by addiction and selfishness. Then, when on the verge of suicide, Billy remembered the God he had been told about as a child, and turned over his life to Him. Two and a half years after their divorce Billy and Bev remarried – each other! The transformation in their home is complete. Now four children can see that Mum and Dad have completely changed for the better.

The motto of our church at Shiloh is ‘Helping People Make a New Start’. The turn of the year is always a great time to make a new beginning. The old year will go with all its disappointments and failures, and the new year stretches out in front of us like a blank page in a notebook. What will your page read like in twelve months time? Will it tell that you took the opportunity of a new start in Christ, or that you missed it and kept on in the same old way? Only you can decide.

Happy New Year!