Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pray for Israel

Those of us who love Israel and care about both its past and its future are deeply concerned about current events in Gaza. These can only serve to increase tension in the region, as well as to inflame hatred in Israel's enemies and misunderstanding amongst her allies. The outrageous over-reaction in the name of self-defence appears ludicrous to onlookers. If the British government had reacted in a similar way during the struggles in Northern Ireland we would have seen the RAF bombing and killing civilians in Londonderry and parts of Belfast. The provocation of Israel is clear - their reaction is way ahead of what seems to be fair or reasonable force.

Yet, every story has at least two sides. There may well be Palestinian connivance in what is going on as the Hamas group in Gaza is the sworn enemy of the Fatah faction operating in the West Bank. Maybe some old scores are being settled within the Palestinian camp. Others are saying that the Israelis are trying to make up for their defeat at the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon a while back by attacking their smaller brother, Hamas, now.

Whatever the political wheeler-dealing that is going on, men women and children are dying now in Gaza, swept aside by a gigantic hand of hatred, violence and counter-force. How should we pray? Here are some suggestions you might like to add to your list:

  • Pray for believers in Jesus on both sides of this appalling conflict that they may be true to their faith whilst not denying their cultural identity.
  • Pray for the innocents in Gaza and Israel who fear for their lives now.
  • Pray for the international aid agencies trying to bring help to the beleagured people of Gaza under this infernal pounding.
  • Pray for recent developments bringing reconciliation and understanding between Arab Christians and Messianic Jews which are being jeopardised by the bombardments.
  • Pray for the church in Israel and in Gaza.
  • Pray for the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian community - both secular but heavily influenced by their religious backgrounds.
  • Pray for peace.

'For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.' Isaiah 9:6-7.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Shopping Blues

A mum was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable; and hearing both her children asking for everything they saw on the shelves, she finally made it to the lift with her two kids to leave the store. She was feeling what so many of us feel during this time of the year. Overwhelming pressure to go to every party, taste all the holiday food and treats, get that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list, not forgetting anyone on our card list, and the pressure of making sure we respond to everyone who sends us a card.

Finally the lift doors opened and there was already a crowd inside. She pushed her way into the lift and dragged her two kids in with her and all the bags of stuff. When the doors closed she couldn't take it anymore and she said, "Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot." From the back of the lift everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, "Don't worry we already crucified Him." For the rest of the trip down the lift was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.

Don't forget this year to keep the One who started this whole Christmas thing in your every thought, deed, purchase, and word. If we all did that, just think of how different the whole experience could be.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Christmas rejoicing

So, just 2 weeks ago my Mum died. It was a very hard time in the months leading up to her death, and it was so difficult to watch her suffering during her long slow decline. Maybe you have a loved one going through just such a time, or have recently been bereaved, and if so, I know how you feel at the moment.

There are many tough aspects of this post-bereavement period and I really appreciate all the kindness and support that has been given to me. Maybe you will have the opportunity today to encourage or care for someone who has recently been bereaved. But the greatest encouragement I have is that because of the message of Christmas, I know that one day I will meet my Mum again.

You see, for the Christian, the sting of death has been taken away by the coming of Christ that first Christmas. He did not stay a baby, but lived a life of miracles and died on the cross for our sins. Finally, on Easter Day, he rose again from the dead, and declared that if we trust in him we will not die eternally, but will live for ever in his presence.

So I have not lost my Mum in one sense of the word, I know just where she is, - she is with the Lord, waiting for me to join her. Now that’s one reason to rejoice on Christmas Day!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Violet Gaudion (nee Smith) 1929-2008

Born in Glasgow in November 1929 Violet (Vi) Smith was the oldest daughter of Robert Smith the Butcher in Kelvinside. Throughout the bombings of the city of Glasgow she remained at home in Lugar Drive near Bellahouston Park, where her milkman was a handsome young refugee from Guernsey, Len Gaudion.

Len and Vi were married at the Moss Park Congregational Church on 30th August 1949 and then moved to live in Guernsey. Their first son, Alan, was born in August 1950 and then Eric in 1952. Andrew joined the pack in August 1961. August seemed an important time in our household!

Mum spent the first few years of her married life at Midvale, and then at Bella Cottage in the Rue Mainguy, Vale. Here even I remember the dirt floor and outside tap, not to mention the outside loo which was just a hole in a wooden board over a pit. In 1959 Len and Vi bought the property in St Saviours which they renamed Kelvinside and set up business in the growing industry. Many hardworking years followed for Mum, working in the tomato packing shed and then with freesia and iris crops.

From 1959 on Mum was a member of the United Reformed Church at Grande Rue, St Saviours. She was baptised there in 1972 as a confession of her faith, by the minister at that time, Rev Graham Long. That's where her funeral service will be held on Friday 28th November at 11am.

Mum died this morning, 20th November, at 7.30am. It was the end of a long vigil at her side. At least we were able to pray together with her and remind ourselves of some of the good old days (and not so good!). She was a good lady - a real Scot. Sometimes she could be feisty, and when it came to her many illnesses she was a real fighter.

Good night Mum. We love you. See you in the morning.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Stepping Out

Most of life's steps are small ones. Even the big ones are usually just a procession of smaller ones leading up to the big leap. Faith is the final step in a long line of small understandable steps that take you up to a point where you have to make a choice - do I stay here so near and yet so far - or do I leap out over the final gap in faith. All the arguments and discussions in the world can only bring us so far in our knowledge of God and His ways - the last step is the leap of faith.

For me, this week, the final step is to do with restarting my preaching ministry this weekend after a gap of quite a few months. All being well I will be preaching this Sunday and the one after at the Church on the Rock where we are now in fellowship (http://www.rock.gg/). What makes it a leap of faith for me is the amount of pain I am still experiencing and the extent of the medication that I currently still require. Even this week my doctor has increased the dose of morphine that I must take and even that does not take the pain away for long. Several small steps of recovery from major surgery have led to this, but now is the big jump! I am learning some facts about faith here:

  • You gotta do it alone - noone else can go there for you
  • It's exciting to obey God and step out where you cannot see how it can be done
  • It's great to exercise faith in a community of folk who love you and are cheering you on
  • Every step of faith - leads on to another one!
  • They don't get any easier as you get older!

Still, since the story of Peter walking on the water to Jesus, it has always been the case that if you want to walk on water you have got to get out ofthe boat! So, here we go, and by God's grace, I'll be here again soon to tell you how well things went.

And if you have a moment - a bit of prayer support would be welcome. Thanks!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Is the Tide Turning?

Feathers are flying at Broadcasting House. The BBC top management are in uproar about the public's reaction to the obscene phone calls made by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross on the late night BBC Radio 2 show hosted by Brand. Over 30,000 complaints have been recorded and even the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have called the jape outrageous and unacceptable.

As the result of the furore both Brand and Ross have apologised publicly and in person to Andrew Sachs, the elderly actor whose telephone answerring machine received the obscene messages. Now Russell Brand has resigned from the BBC and Jonathan Ross has been suspended without pay for 3 months as a sign of the Corporation's displeasure.

Is this an early sign that the tide of public opinion about indecency on the airwaves is turning? I think it is. Both artists are well known for their wild and wacky sense of humour, and for pushing back the boundaries of what is acceptable, but maybe the licence payers have had enough.

If one effect of the outburst of national rage is that producers and editors pay more serious regard to the nature and content of their output then well and good. I have found myself increasingly sickened by the fare served up by the BBC and others broadcasters even before the so-called watershed. So much programming is built around humiliating people, mocking decency, promoting violence, murder and abusive sex. The time has come for a sea-change in British broadcasting - in fact, it is long overdue.

Messrs Brand and Ross may well have done the British public a favour. They deserve no thanks for that, but it is amazing how some good can come out of the most perverse circumstances.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Shack - a Warning

I know that by writing about the bestselling Christian novel The Shack I may possibly get more people reading it than would otherwise have done, but before you dash out and buy it as a Christmas present, I want to sound a warning.

As a writer I found the literary devices used by the author deeply dissatisfying and sometimes disturbing. The underlying idea of the kidnap and brutal murder of a Christian's little girl is distasteful. But it is in the image of God that the book presents that I have the most difficulty.

Despite the rave reviews by people like Eugene Petersen and Michael W Smith, there are those who share my deep unease with this work of fiction. A friend of mine, Pete Greasley, Senior Pastor of Christchurch, Newport, found this item on a radio broadcast from the renowned American theologian Dr. Albert Mohler, who dedicated a radio program to presenting his review of the book. He closed the radio program with these words:"...Whenever you have an issue in which you are dealing in a narrative-fictional context with theology, you need to be really, really careful. It's dangerous enough to write theology. But when you try to put it in the form of 'theological fiction,' or 'Christian fiction,' it gets all the more dangerous because you are inventing dialogue and inventing characters. And this is one of the grave, grave problems I have with this book [The Shack]. If you put God in some kind of character format-in this case as an African-American woman-you're going to be creative and create a fictional character. Now, is it responsible to do that with the God of the Bible? I have grave concerns about that, but the concerns grow more grave when you look at the dialogue imbedded within the book and the fact that this simply, by any measure, falls far short of biblical Christianity. There is very little in this book about salvation, but there is absolutely nothing in this book that would help you to understand how one comes to be made right with God through the atonement achieved by Jesus Christ, the Son. My main issue is not with the particulars of the story-in some sense a story is a story. My problem is with what is imbedded in the story and this is a danger regardless of whether the story is presented as Christian fiction or something else. Remember, everyone has a purpose in writing a story. In this case, regardless of intention (I cannot read the man's heart), I can tell you the effect of this book is deeply subversive of the Christian faith and I think inherently seductive as well."

In my view the book is not only built upon a literary device that is nothing short of trickery, but is in breech of the second commandment about creating false images of God. So - I won't be sending out free copies with my Christmas cards!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Our tiny island of Guernsey is feeling the heat of the meltdown in global finances. Landsbanki (Guernsey) Ltd was placed into court administration yesterday and all its assets were frozen. This means that savers and depositors cannot get their money out. This is particularly hard for them, as in Guernsey there is no depositor's rescue scheme such as exists elsewhere.

Bankers around the world are not yet throwing themselves out of upper storey windows but the situation is tough and getting worse. Guernsey is sheltered from the worst of all this because of the stability and independance of our financial institutions, but Landsbanki is, of course, an Icelandic bank.

Speaking to a Landsbanki investor yesterday he said to me that if I was preaching at the moment (I am not because of my recovery from surgery) I would certainly have plenty say! Well, that's not just because of my verbose nature, but because the Bible does say a lot about money. In fact Jesus himself spoke about finances quite a lot and there is some good advice in the scriptures for those of us feeling the pinch.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal." (Matthew 6:19-20)

From the Old Testament book of Proverbs (11:28) "Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf." But of course, alongside these warnings there are some amazing promises for those who trust God for their finances and honour Him with their giving. "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus"(Phil. 4:19).

So, this is a time for turning over to the Lord our worries about our financial future and choosing to trust in Him. Clearly the meltdown has not yet bottomed out, but it will do, and God's Word and His promises will remain the same.

Monday, September 29, 2008

'Serious Financial Consequences'

One million people, mainly children under five and pregnant women, die every year of malaria, most of them in Africa. Now in a new development, world leaders have gathered and decided to do something about it. Result? They're going to give $3 Billion to end this scourge.

The largest slice of the new money comes from the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has approved $1.62bn in country grants over two years and then the World Bank, which is putting $1.1bn into Africa over three years.

The Bank is focusing especially on Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, where 30-40% of all malaria deaths take place. Group president Robert B Zoellick said that endemic malaria also has serious financial consequences for families.

Ah - that must the key! 'Serious financial consequences'. Never mind that a million people die per year - what is this costing the global economy?

Maybe that is why there is all the action to bail out the US banking industry to the tune of $700 Billion! And it is amazing how quickly this has been resolved. 'Serious financial consequences'

Ask not how many people die of AIDS each year, or how many are starving. Don't enquire too closely where much of the existing foreign aid ends up anyway, as the people die in third world countries and their political leaders get fatter by the day. Ask only 'are there any serious financial consequences?' Going by the fugures involved in the twin bail-outs, that's all that really matters to us anyway.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Facing your Demons

It was the valley of death for me. If you have read my book Braving the Storm you will know about that. The Intensive Care Unit of my local hospital is where I have fought battles with the powers of death - and Hell! Last Wednesday I found myself there again.

The young nurse who welcomed me to the surgical ward could not have been kinder. It was her throw-away comment that gave me the eebie jeebies! 'Oh you won't be coming back here after the op, you'll be going to Intensive Care'. All at once the images of pain, humiliation, fear and near-death encounters rushed unbidden into my mind. ICU? I thought I would never have to set foot in the place again. Well, I didn't have to set foot there - my feet were firmly on the bed - but I did go there last week and I survived.

As the ICU nurse was leading my trolley back to the ward a couple of days later I said to him that the time there had been healing in more ways than one. Physically, of course, I needed to be there, and am grateful for their care after a painful big operation. Spiritually, and emotionally, my short time there taught me many lessons. Among them was the fact that sometimes, even after many years, you can't get completely free of some things until you face them.

I wouldn't have chosen to do so, especially at this low ebb in my illness. But God had other plans for me, and other business to transact in my soul. Back into the fiery furnace I needed to go. Back into the lions' den. And God was with me. He did bring me through, as He had done the first time. And you know what? I did feel His presence there, and His peace. 'Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for You are with me.'

I hadn't planned to face my demons last Wednesday morning, but it was in God's appointment book for me. Thanks to your prayers and His blessing, I am here to tell you about it.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Step up in Faith

I have been reading Mike Mason's book The Gospel According to Job. It has already proved to be a real inspiration - a great read. It is helpful to me that it comes in bite-sized chunks of just a couple of pages per chapter, which is just about all I can manage in one go at the moment. It quickly becomes clear in the reading that Mike has suffered, and he has a heart for those who suffer also.

Job speaks to me. As a Bible book it is remarkable for what it does not say. No mention of Israel, of temples or tabernacles, Law or prophet. That's what makes some scholars think it might be the oldest book in the Bible - pre Abraham even. Yet I find it bang up to date with what I am going through right now.

One early lesson from Job chapter 1 is the picture of the man with all the weight of his appalling suffering bearing down on him, on his face in worship before God. 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away' he said 'may the name of the Lord be praised'. The author of the book then makes the incredible statement 'In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing'.

A preacher visited an island church recently and challenged the congregation to 'step up to a higher level of faith and claim your healing'. Some who have survived appalling circumstances, like Job, without accusing God of wrongdoing were in that meeting and struggled to step up to the new mark being set for them by the earnest young (healthy) preacher. None of them were healed that day, but then none of them needed to step up any further than where they already stood.

It may take faith to receive a miracle or to heal the sick, but it takes an even higher level of faith to look God in the eye after losing your children, your wealth, your reputation and your health and say through cracked lips and choking cry 'May the name of the Lord be praised'.

Thanks Job, and thanks Mike Mason for reminding me of that.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Once more to the breach...

The open doors of the ambulance beckoned me once again. The concerned looks of the paramedics - the plastic smell of the oxygen - the disinfected cleanliness of the inside of the vehicle - here we go again! The journey to the hospital took only about 20 minutes but felt like 20 hours! Every bump and jolt made me wince with pain. Each corner left me strapped to the bed and suspended in midair as the ambulance leaned right over. I was so septic and sick that all I longed for was the hospital stay that lay ahead of me, sad eh?

Thankfully the word was getting around that I was in trouble again. As if the 46 visits to the hospital in the UK in the last four years were not enough I was being admitted as an emergency with a severe abdominal infection on top of chronic pancreatitis. People began to pray. Despite the fact that it took 3 hours of waiting in A & E and a good performance by Diane in 'tiger mode' on my behalf before the antibiotics were dripping their way into my arm, at last I had a chance to start fighting for myself.

For 24 hours I was 'on the danger list' as they say. I felt so desperately ill. Yet around the churches in Guernsey and much further afield - even as far as Australia and New Zealand - people were beginning to become aware of our great need and lift 'Eric and Diane' up once again in intercession and prayer.

Now, a week later, I am home again. Surgery awaits in the early part of September. Through it all can see the hand of God in mobilising the St John's ambulance and rescue service, and the Church of Jesus Christ emergency prayer warriors on my behalf.

Thankyou Lord!

Monday, August 18, 2008

It's Family First

When it comes to ministry if things are not working at home then they are not working at all. God's servants must learn to show integrity and wholeness in their family and sexual lives if they want us to take them seriously in the pulpit. Todd Bentley is learning that to his own awful cost at this time (see letter from the Board August 15th at http://www.freshfire.ca/).

What should our response to this tragedy be?

  • Pray for the thousands who respectd Todd and who will be dreadfully disilliusioned

  • Pray for the leaders of the churches who supported the Lakeland outpouring

  • Pray for those who were healed during these events

  • Pray for Shonnah Bentley and their children

  • Pray for Todd to come to a sincere and godly repentance worked out in submission, humility, honesty and accountability.

And what of the Lakeland revival? Was it of God? Should we now write it off with all those 'revival police' who are gloating over Todd's fall?

I think not. Many were saved and healed through the Word and the worship. Before Todd fell I was among those saying 'don't focus on Todd Bentley, this is bigger than him'. I still say this now. God honours His Word. Healing gifts and other charismatic gifts are not an endorsement of character. Samson in the Old Testament and Corinth in the New teach us that. Thank God that this matter has come into the light so that it can be put right.

'But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us' (nor from TB).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Small but Beautiful!

Having offended cat lovers everywhere by my last post I thought I would show you the little doggy I mentioned then and reveal that I am an old softie at heart really.

Paprika is smaller than most cats at 2kg - the weight of a bag of sugar. But in her heart she is as big as a Great Dane and as brave as a Mastiff! Nothing worries her except fast traffic passing nearby or the sudden slam of a car door. When big dogs come near she shows them the door. And woe betide the neighbour's cats!

My involvement with small animals doesn't end there. I have been helping out an elderly lady who was being troubled by rats in her garden. Not wanting to poison anything else out there I offered to trap them for her. Each night I have diligently set out delectable menus of bacon, banana and cheese for their delight. So far I have had two customers in my traps - both hedgehogs! These lovely creatures are no problem, but I transported them alive to a nearby nature reserve. Aww! Impressive eh?

So small animals are occupying unusual amounts of time just at the moment. Is this some kind of sign? Am I being called to join the RSPCA? Mind you, I am leaving the back door open a lot just in case those missing moggis are around! Mee-ow.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

That's the price but what's the value?

What a surprise to read a couple of adverts in our local paper the Guernsey Press about missing cats. Don't get me wrong, we love our little dog and if she went missing we would make every effort to find her, but when I saw these ads I just wondered where this will end. £200 for a missing loved pet is one thing, but £750? I notice that in the blurb for Ginger, the more expensive of the two missing moggies, the cat has no tail. If he had one would the reward price be more - say £1000?

Diane and I were joking that now we have no salary we should get up to those areas with binoculars and a strong net and see if we could find them! It would be quite a good day's work wouldn't it? Mind you - if we found a ginger one with a tail - well we might have to make some alterations to get our money!!

Before you cat lovers get all huffy and cry 'foul!' just think for minute about the value we place on people not pets. Cats in Guernsey get fed a richer diet than children do in many parts of the world. If these two felines are worth one thousand pounds between them, how much is the Zimbabwean orphan bereaved by HIV worth?

In the heart of God even a sparrow is precious. (Sorry cats, but it's true - the Bible says so!). Yet the value of one human being, however big or small, whereever they were born, is beyond estimation. The price God was willing to pay was the death of his own dear Son. So, when He hears that one of His precious little ones is lost, He stops at nothing to redeem them. That's how much we matter to Him.

In the meantime, if you see us round the high parishes with a pair of binoculars - well, pray that we will have a 'word of knowledge' will you?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Weak but Indispensible

It came as quite a shock - and just the jolt that I needed. I was feeling sorry for myself, which is not an unusual thing when I am in pain. The morphine based drugs, including Fentanyl, that I need to take just to dull the pancreatic pain, can't remove it. They also have a slight depressive effect. So I turned to the scriptures for help and encouragement, but I wasn't expecting what I got!

'The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don’t need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don’t need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable' (1 Corinthians 12:21-22).

I have had some experience of parts of the body of Christ saying to me 'We don't need you' and it has been tremendously hard to bear, especially on top of the battle already going on. What struck me so forceably was the second and last parts of the passage. Christ is the head of the Church - and He cannot say to the lowest part of the body 'I don't need you'! That is so precious when you are feeling weak and vulnerable.

But what follows, and caused me to stop and take a deep breath, was that wonderful statement that those parts of the body of Christ that seem to be weaker are indispensible! Not just necessary, nor even important, but indispensible. So if you are feeling weak, or have experienced rejection yourself, hang on to these great facts

  • Jesus says He needs you

  • You are indispensible to Him and His church

  • You deserve 'special honour' (vs 23)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tragic Lesson

In some parts of the UK teenagers have been shocking their communities by taking their own lives. In Bridgend, a small town in South Wales, 22 youngsters have killed themselves in the last 18 months. Now, even here in Guernsey, a 14 year old boy, close friend of someone I know, has hanged himself in despair. Tragically, his death occurred at a local beauty spot, and it is so hard to understand how such misery could be doled out in such a lovely place.

On the coffin of this young man at his humanist funeral was the insignia of a dangerous new cult - Emo. Related to the Goth phenomenon it encourages members to characterise themselves as 'emotional' and wear dark, deathly, symbols and clothes. Here's how one reporter described the movement:
The Emos - short for Emotional - regard themselves as a cool, young sub-set of the Goths.
Although the look is similar, the point of distinction, frightening for schools and parents, is a celebration of self harm.
Emos exchange competitive messages on their teenage websites about the scars on their wrists and how best to display them. Girls' secondary schools have for some time been concerned about the increase in self harm.
One governor of a famous boarding school told me that it was as serious a problem as binge drinking, but rarely discussed for fear of encouraging more girls to do it.
Although it is invariably described as a 'secret shame', there is actually a streak of exhibitionism about it.
The internet has many sites dedicated to Emo fashion (dyed black hair brushed over your face, layering, black, black, black), Emo bands (Green Day, My Chemical Romance), Emo conversation (sighing, wailing, poetry).
The Instant Emo Kit site gives advice on identity... 'show your inner despair by looking like you are too sad to eat. Obesity and emocity do not mix.'

Those of us who are parents or who care about young people need to know about this movement and be warned. If we see signs of it we shouldn't be indifferent or see it as just another passing phase. You can't lock people away from danger but you can be there for them in their insecurity and look out for ways to share their pain. Most of all, as Christians we need to share the good news that Jesus knows our darkest thoughts and loves us more than we can know - just as we are. He also loves us too much to leave us that way.

If you know someone fascinated with Emo, pray for them and try to get alongside them - or encourage them to seek help. This virus is infecting more than just computers, and families need firewalls of faith and power to protect them.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Gems in Dark Places

I have been reading Job 28 recently. In this ancient explanation of mining techniques - possibly pre-Abramic - there is one clear message. Precious things come from dark places. "There is a mine for silver and a place where gold is refined. Iron is taken from the earth, and copper is smelted from ore... sapphires come from its rocks, and its dust contains nuggets of gold." None of the animals place any value on these things, or has any idea of the potential beneath their feet. Only man - made in the image of a creator God - sees the potential and has the will and the means to excavate it.

How does this affect me? Well, I am in a dark place at the moment. After high hopes that the dreadful pancreatic pain may finally have been defeated my old enemy is back. I enjoyed 10 weeks of freedom following the celiac plexus block of early April, but now the effects of that have worn off, and I am in need of opiates again. The word 'disappointment' may be long enough, but it's not deep enough to express my feelings.

But then - God's not finished with me yet. Nor with you. Our final chapter has not been written. And out of the dark places real gems can come. Diamonds are formed under immense pressure. They only exist where conditions are dark are hostile. Their beauty comes at a price, both for them and for the one who mines them. Those of you who know your Bibles know all this already. But when I feel discouraged, I like to remind myself of this great truth. God's promises do not depend on our feelings. "I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name."

Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but it appears that the Almighty has an interest in them too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Don't Write Off the Disappointed

She waved her arms enthusiastically in the air. Well, who could blame her? The healing evangelist had just called out her painful condition in front of nearly 2,000 people. He had said that there was a woman present with painful osteo arthritis affecting her knees and other joints and that God was going to heal her. This use of the charisma called 'a word of knowledge' (see 1 Corinthians 12:8) is common in the healing revivals going on around the world at the moment, and especially in America. When it happens, the sufferer must surely conclude that their moment has come. God is calling them out - He must be going to heal them!

We were standing right behind her in Bill Johnson's wonderful church in Redding, California. When Bill prayed for her she went down on the floor with a thump and stayed there for a good time. When she got up the meeting went on, but those who had been prayed for were encouraged to do something that they couldn't do before. This lady tried to flex her sore knees, and nearly stumbled once more to the floor. She struggled in obvious disappointment back to her seat. Later, when Bill asked 'who has been healed tonight?' many hands went up, but not hers.

As a pastor and a fellow sufferer of chronic pain I felt very keenly for her. I praise God for the many healings taking place right now, but I want to urge people not to neglect the need of the disappointed. We need a theology of suffering alongside our theology of healing.
  • It will bring balance to our prayers and our comments
  • It will assure the disappointed that they still matter to God and to us
  • It will hold them in God's love while they wait for God's power

So, what was happening that night? Was God calling this lady out? What for if not for healing? Well, I suppose that in such a big crowd there may have been others who fitted the description given. It may not have been her time for healing, but it may well have been a test of her responsiveness and obedience to God. It may just have been a well-intentioned mistake. What it did do was make me determined not to neglect the disappointed in my ministry. I want to find ways of reaching out to them and to continue standing with them while they wait for God. After all, in this as in other aspects of the Christian life, whilst we may be disappointed in a ministry or a meeting or a man, Jesus should not be a disappointment. I have found that He is not, and even in the heat of the battle with pain, I have proved Him to be faithful and true.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Belgian Waffles

What an absolute delight! Crunchy sweet Belgian waffles with syrup. Yum yum! Deadly but delicious. Mind you - my diet means that I could only sample one or two during my visit to Antwerp last weekend, but that was a joy. 'More Lord!' Hee hee.

The sweetness of the waffles was only matched by the fellowship I enjoyed with some wonderful people. Leo and Hazel, the pastor and his wife, are the most precious servants of God you could hope to meet. Real and loving, gentle yet determined, they have led the church through a difficult year or so. The work of the Evangelical churches in Belgium is not easy - partly due to the remnant of Catholicism in the culture, but also to the spread of secularism and materialism - but the congregation at the Philadelphia church in Antwerp is large and thriving.

I had the privilege of spending time with the leaders and also with the church. I was deeply moved by some of the great needs among the people, who are choosing to trust God in spite of their pain and disappointment. They are an example of their New Testament namesake, the Philadelphia church in Revelation 3. Jesus said of them that they had kept his commands and endured patiently. I feel that a great future is before this church, just like the 'open door' of Rev 3:8. Pray for them and for all who serve God in the challenging spiritual atmosphere of modern Belgium.

God zegene U!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fresh Fire in Florida?

Since returning from California two weeks ago I have been watching the events taking place at Lakeland Florida under the leadership of Todd Bentley. This is being televised nightly on the GOD channel via both satellite and the internet (http://www.god.tv/). Whilst I share the concerns of some who have been put off by certain aspects of the revival, it does seem to me that this is a genuine expression of the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit, and the emphasis is on healing and the manifest presence of God (they refer to it as 'the Glory'). One pastor friend of mine in Northern Ireland took his leadership team to the meetings.

'The place was immediately filled with an awesome sense of the presence of God as a team of young men began to dance to a worship song. The leader explained that the team (dancers and singers) was made up of young people whose lives had been messed because of drugs and rape etc. We then went into a time of worship that I would defy anyone to even suggest was not of God! It was truly amazing as we worshipped a truly amazing God.'

My visit to Bethel Church in Redding, California, served by Bill Johnson as Pastor, showed me the same phenomenon in a different setting. There, the revival has become systemic and is rooted in the local church. 'Seldom a week goes by' said Bill ' when we don't see at least one hundred miracles in this church'. There I could see the final outworking of what is going on in the Lakeland arena and being taken, it seems, by visitors back to churches around the globe. Local churches burning with revival fire - all of God's people full of passion for Jesus - many getting healed and saved on a regular basis - missionary teams going out from these centres with mercy missions empowered by the Spirit and God's love - the supernatural as a part of the normal Christian life.

So, I cringe at some of the things I see in Lakeland, but I refuse to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I choose instead to remember:
  • that Todd's obvious shortcomings are a real reminder that he is not God
  • that I am not his judge (neither am I God!)
  • that television is a very poor medium for communicating spiritual experiences, being focussed on the carnal and the outward
  • that I long for the presence of God however disturbing or different that may be.

As my Irish Pastor friend put it, 'As a Leadership Team we are all in total agreement that our visit to Lakeland was an awesome Spirit filled experience. It made me feel that it was better being inside the Upper Room than standing outside.' I am sure that he's right, so I pray for 'More Lord!' 'More fire, more power, more healings, more glory'!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Everything's Bigger in California!

My recent silence on this site has been due to our wonderful two week visit to California! What amazing people and what a fantastic place. We have always been a bit dubious of Hollywood glitz and the image of America that it casts, but this trip has changed all that. We were enchanted by the welcome and hospitality we received, and awed by the mountain views and the natural splendour of northern California. And yes, everything does seem so much bigger there - from beefsteak to bras and from watermelons to wildernesses.

We spent the second week mostly up the mountain around Mt Shasta. At 14,000 feet, one of the high peaks of the USA and a fabulous view. The lakes and valleys of that area, together with the clean air and majestic waterfalls, make it a place probably second only to Switzerland for beauty and charm. Here it was a little cooler than in nearby Redding, where the temperatures were in the 90's F and are now well over 100.

The highlight of our time there were the two weekends we spent with Bethel church, Redding, where Bill Johnson is the pastor, and where a healing revival is taking place. There was a dynamic sense of the presence of God and definite healing miracles taking place including cancers and open wounds being healed. I received powerful prayer in their 'healing rooms' and am looking forward to seeing the outcome in my own precarious health situation.

So - things are big in the US of A - but their God is still my God, and their Bible is in my hands. The size of our bras - or our mountains - may not be as great, but Jesus said that if you have faith as small as a grain of mustard seed you can actually move mountains. So I am not discouraged, just grateful and blessed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Election Fever

On April 23rd the good citizens of Guernsey go to the polls to elect their new government. The general election takes place every four years and each candidate stands as an indepenedent, there being no political parties. Election fever is all around us now, with hustings and manifestos making bold promises and grand statements, so different from the record of achievement during the last administration. It is a bit of a big yawn, really, but it has to be done.

Sadly, in this election the turnout will not be high. I say sadly because the privilege of casting your vote is one that was dearly won by our predecessors. In Britain women chained themselves to lamposts and threw themselves under racehorses, just to win the right to vote. Elsewhere in the world the ballot box has only just replaced the bullet as the way of deciding political outcomes. The turnout in Iraqi elections was nothing hort of staggering given the amount of danger and intimidation.

So, I shall cast my vote and believe that I am making a difference - and even if not I will be honouring those who have paid the price. And speaking of paying the price - I am really praying that in another so-called election, Mugabe will go!

Now that would cure any election fever!

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Gift of Pain

London was crazy! Every time we go there (and there have been a lot of times in the last four years) we come away amazed at the stress it must put on its inhabitants. Never are we more grateful to arrive back in Guernsey than we are when we have been in Central London for medical treatment. But things went well, and London is where the expertise is, so that's where we go for help.

My battle now is to overcome exhaustion and other symptoms of pancreatitis but that will be so much easier without the dreadful pain, at least for the next while. While we pray for the procedure to keep working for as long as possible, what we really long for, of course, is the healing and eradication of the underlying disease. We know God can do this, and we await His touch and timing.

In a sense there is another lesson here. Extreme pain can become your whole focus, making it diffiult to pray, to write and to even think straight. Yet the pain itself is only a symptom. Sometimes it is a very important signal that all is not well within. Leprosy sufferers lose their fingers and toes because they have no nerve endings in them to warn them of the danger caused by heat or injury. Pain can be a gift - though one that I certainly don't enjoy!

If your life is marked by pain, physical, mental, emotional, or family pain, try to look beyond it and see what God is saying about underlying issues like your relationship with Him and His love for you. I have written more about this in my book Braving the Storm, and will come to it again in the follow-up Storm Force due out later this year or early next. This is not an easy process, and one which cannot be achieved alone. But let's try to look beyond our pain and address the issues that lie within.

We may be able to see pain as a gift then. Maybe!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Relief on the Horizon

Apparently the joy of banging your head against a brick wall is the relief it gives you when you stop! Relief can be exquisite and I am really praying for some. I will travel next week to the University College Hospital in London where the doctors will perform a celiac plexus block in an attempt to give me some relief from pancreatic pain. I am looking forward to it with great anticipation, as you can imagine.

My relief, however, will be as nothing compared to the great sigh of relief that would go up from millions of Zimbabweans if Mr Mugabe should actually stand down this week. After 28 years of misrule he has finally reduced his country to ruin. Despite the riches of the goldmines and the millions of acres of lush arable land that now stand idle, Zimbabwe has been transformed from being the bread basket of Southern Africa to being its begging bowl. We pray for relief for that land and for its people. It will take generations to undo the damage that he and his cronies have done.

I can only speak for the Shona people, never having worked among the Matabele (though they have suffered even more under Mr Mugabe who is a Shona). They are a wonderfully warm and kind people, well-mannered and not easily provoked, who deserve so much better than the rulers they have had in the past. We must pray that the new government, if it is gven a chance, will show a new face in African politics and turn away from the choking stench of corruption and hypocrisy that has sullied the leadership so far.

Now that would be a relief.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tears of Pain

This has been a particularly painful Easter for me. The pain of chronic pancreatitis can be beyond description - it has been likened to that of a heart attack but it keeps on going. I have known relief since having a celiac plexus block performed at University College hospital in London last September. The slow release deposit of local anaesthetic combined with steroids gave me three months of pain relief. Then in January it was done again, but was not quite so effective this time. It lasted for just 7 weeks, and so I am back on a drug called Fentanyl - reputed to be 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine!

Thankfully I now have a date to go into the UCL hospital (for the day) and have another one done, Tuesday April 8th. We are praying that this one will be at least as effective as the first, and perhaps even longer lasting.

I'm not ashamed to confess that this pain sometimes reduces me to tears - even if they are hidden and secret at the time. I was encouraged to discover yesterday that we humans are unique among the animals for the fact that we cry! Apparently, no other 'animal' (I don't feel like an animal even if I behave like it sometimes - and God's Word doesn't call me one) has the ability to shed tears like we do. This fact, like speech, walking on the moon and asking questions, are the marks of the Divine image in us and set us apart from the rest of creation.

Speaking of questions - I find it so comforting to recall that in the Easter story God's own Son cried out 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' He knows how I feel, and has sampled the salty taste of his own tears mixed with his own incredible pain. If my tears make me unique among creation, his understanding and death in my place make him unique among the 'gods'.

God gave you those tear ducts. Don't be ashamed to use them.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Cry for Help

Two of the gospels tell of a moment that took place as Jesus enterred Gethsemane on the evening before his crucifiction. In both of them Jesus said "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, stay here and keep watch." At which, he went off to sweat blood alone and they promptly went to sleep.

Jesus was calling out for help. 'I feel like death' may be one way of looking at it, but 'I am so depressed I might die' may be closer. He was the son of God, fully divine, yet also fully human. His humanity was at an end of its resources. He needed company - someone just to stay up and watch out for him while he agonised over the issues he was facing.

I wonder if any of the 17 teenagers who have killed themselves in the last few weeks in Bridgend, South Wales, had approached anyone with the information that they felt so down? Is it possible that the Chief Constable of Manchester who is alleged to have taken his own life on a bleak mountainside last week actually gave out enough hints that others should have read the signals? Maybe they did.

And are there any 'Gethsemane people' who are at the end of their resources around me? I suspect that there are. The terifying thought is that I may be too dull, or too tired to recognise their cry for help. While I snooze they bleed. While they pound their fists on a rock and heave with great sighs of sadness, I snore with self-contented ease.

Of course, the disciples didn't realise what was going on. You can't blame them. It was late and they had travelled a long way and were very tired. But they failed to read the signals and missed the most profound moment in the life of Christ and possibly the history of the world.

'Lord, please forgive me for ignoring other peoples' cries for help. And also for missing your own. I was asleep when you nudged me to pray the other day, and missed the moment. I was tired when that lady phoned and so was correct but curt with her - she was hurting, and actually it was you on the line ('for as much as you do it unto the least of these...'). When I could have got out to serve you I dozed, and now I know that you needed me to be there. Thank you Lord for your mercy, forgiveness and grace'. Amen.

Have a good Easter weekend.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Child Safety Issues

The list of child safety stories in the media is huge. Haut de la Garenne in Jersey, where the possible remains of a dead child have been found (speculation is that it may be a fragemnt of a child's skull), child abuse cases in the courts in these normally peaceful Channel Islands, the missing Madelaine McCann along with the thousands of little children that disappear in Europe every year, and now the mysterious case of Shannon Matthews in Yorkshire.

One of the remarkable facts to emerge from the case of Shannon Matthews, who was abducted on her way home from school and held captive for 24 days before police broke down the door of the apartment where she was being held, is the time it took to locate her only a mile away from her home. The police, who mounted the second biggest manhunt in the history of their force to try and find her, pointed out that one of the reasons for the delay was the size of her extended family and the fact of there being over 1,300 registered sex offenders within a 30 mile radius! Of those, more than 300 were known to be paedophiles, and these are only the registered ones.

Has the world gone mad? How did so many men - and it is usually men - trade their dignity and peace of mind in order to violate innocent children? Is it the modern phenomenon of the Internet that is to blame? Or television? Well, they will have made things worse, that's for sure, but the sin of child abuse is as old as man himself. Child labour and child prostitution have been twin ills of society from long before technology took its recent giant strides.

Jesus spoke about the issue two thousand years ago. He warned that those who sin against little ones will face a court of justice much more fearful than any human judicial system. 'But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.' So it was a problem even in his day too.

Can any more be done? Only the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ one by one to as many individuals as possible so that sinful hearts can be changed and cleansed. Also, we need to pray over our children daily, and when in prayer for our communities pray for childrens' agencies and the police to have success in their fight against this evil. In spiritual warfare terms, we must see this as an attack upon a section of our population least able to defend themselves and closest to the heavenly Father's heart. It comes from the pit and bears the fingerprints of Satan.

For that reason, if no other, we pray, 'Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!'

Friday, March 07, 2008

Amazing Race

What wonderful people the Poles are! They get a bad press in the UK these days because of immigration issues, but it is such a privilege to visit them and see them in their own setting. Warm-hearted and hospitable, they welcomed us with open arms. We were able to preach in large public meetings, teach small groups of leaders and visit some very precious (but quite poor) people. The spiritual need amongst the Poles is great - there is a lot of religion about (mostly Roman Catholic) but not much evidence of New Testament life and power. In the city of Elblag there are around 150,000 people and this is the only Pentecostal church - about 200 members.

This is team member Colin Rabey (left) speaking to the church at Eblag in north eastern Poland on Saturday 1st March 2008. The interpreter is David Kantorek, oldest son of the pastor and our good friend Witold. Colin was a great asset to the team, providing Diane and I with vital carrying power, prayer support and reassuring company as we made this ministry trip. Colin had been before, and it just gave us such a boost to have his strong, quiet presence with us.
An abiding memory that I have from my four visits to Poland now are of strong, persevering faith among the people. They have suffered greatly as a nation, yet have an inspiring passion for God. Certainly if God is sending large numbers of Polish immigrants to our country we should welcome the opportunity for fellowship and evangelism amongst family-orientated, hard working people.
So, thanks for your interest and prayers. If you would like to see a few more photos of our trip, you can view them when you visit http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/EricGaudion.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Poland - Here we Come!

This is the church in Elblag, Poland where we will be travelling this week to share God's Word with the folk there at the weekend. The Pastor is called Witold Kantorek and in the picture he is standing in front of the beautiful church building they have built in that town. We will fly from Guernsey to London Gatwick, and then direct to Gdansk where Witold will meet us with his car.

There are hundreds of thousands of Polish people coming to the UK and other parts of the EU since the once Communist country joined the Union last year. The links between our two nations have probably never been stronger since the Second World War. The Poles are a strongly religious nation (mainly Roman Catholic of course) and the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches are growing there too.

The great thing about mission is that it is a two-way street. For years we have been sending teams with relief supplies to Poland and now the tide is turning. Polish people are revitalising the Catholic church in the UK and I hope that a similar effect will be seen in the Protestant sector too. I will be speaking to Witold about the large number of Poles in Jersey and the UK and seeking ways that we can evangelise them.

So, it's off to Poland we go, in search of fellowship, their renowned hospitality, and the opportunity to minister in Jesus' name. Please pray for us as Diane and I and Colin Rabey from Shiloh Church in Guernsey make the trip. I would be particularly grateful for your prayers for my health as we set off on this journey north and eastwards.

Djin Kuje (Thankyou in Polski)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Life in the Fast Lane

Time to slow down! It is amazing that major road accidents could happen in an environment where the over-all speed limit is 35 miles per hour - but they do. Just last weekend a young driver in Guernsey had to be cut out of his Volkswagen Golf with two broken legs after a horrendous pile-up, and two more young people were seriously injured when their vehicle hit a granite wall. In both cases it seems likely that speed was a factor, even if not the main one or the only one.

Where were they going anyway? The islands maze of roads only really go round and round, and if they had taken more time they might have avoided the danger of being dead on arrival. Speed just seems part of our culture. We rush about and dash around like mad things, just to squeeaze out another few seconds from the day.

And that's the daft thing, of course, because it doesn't matter who you are, none of us can eek out more than 168 hours in any one week. That's your lot, rich or poor! So - let's slow down and enjoy the ride. Let's take in the view, and notice the little things. Let's be grateful for the privilege of time anyway, and spend it with care. After all, when it's gone, it's gone!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Flickering Flames

I came across a remarkable verse or two in Isaiah 50 this morning. It took my breath away. Standing in front of the mirror of God's Word I felt exposed and vulnerable. I decided to do something about it. I want to be a doer and not only a hearer of what God says. Here's what it says:

'Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.'

What really bothered me about the passage (Is 50:9-10) was when I read again in the Amplified Version:

'Who is among you who fears the Lord, who obeys the voice of His Servant, yet who walks in darkness and deep trouble and has no shining splendour ? Let him rely on, trust in, and be confident in the name of the Lord, and let him lean upon and be supported by his God. Behold, all you who attempt to kindle your own fires , who surround and gird yourselves with momentary sparks, darts, and firebrands that you set aflame!—walk by the light of your self-made fire and of the sparks that you have kindled ! But this shall you have from My hand: you shall lie down in grief and in torment.'

I saw the light! My own 'self-made fires' are just so inadequate to light up my path. In the darkness of my current situation - and it is very dark - the advice from God's Word is to 'rely on, trust in, and be confident in the name of the Lord'. Now that's quite a challenge. I am guilty of lighting my own lamps and setting my own torches in place all the time, and they simply will not do. I need to exchange my flickering flames for the blaze of His words if I going to find out His ways. And I don't want to 'lie down in grief and torment' either - I've had quite enough of that already thank you very much.

So, you guessed it. I've made up my mind once again to go God's way and to wait for Him not to try and organise my own future. And with that - I sent off a few emails!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Dangerous Ground.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has started a bushfire of outrage and criticism in British political circles with his call on BBC Radio 4 for Muslim Sharia law to be accepted alongside British law in the UK. Dr Williams said the UK had to "face up to the fact" some citizens did not relate to the British legal system. He said adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law could help social cohesion. For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.

It is understandable that a major leader of Britain's Christian community would want to find ways of building bridges of understanding and tolerance with its increasing number of Muslim neighbours. It also makes sense for an archbishop to be concerned about the place of religious 'conscientious objection' in a secular legal setting that is legislating for areas such as abortion, human fertilisation and sexual equality. What is not acceptable is for a Christian leader to fail to acknowledge certain facts that are pertinent to the life of the wider church in areas where Sharia law is already practised. In parts of Nigeria, for instance, and other places in sub-Saharan Africa, Christians find themselves in real difficulties because of the spread of Sharia law. Under it, the rights of non-Muslims to give evidence against Muslims are discounted, as are the equal rights of women under the law, both Muslim and Christian. In similar ways to Old Testament practices, the evidence of a woman is not admissable in court, except where it is corroborated by a man, or in some cases by another woman.

Basically, the problem is that the imposition of Sharia law in those parts of the world is seen as part of the dominance by Islam of its surrounding culture. It is a refelction of the desire of some Muslims to extend the 'caliphate' or rule of Islam across the earth. Not content with dealing with matrimonial issues and matters of the family and inheritance, exponents of Sharia law would want to see it expand to encompass all of life as part of their conviction that the whole world needs the teachings of Islam. The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks for the Church of England in part of the UK, but he also has a role as a titular head of the Anglican communion which is being sorely affected by the practise of Sharia in many places overseas.

It is also a mistake for the Archbishop to presume that the practise of Sharia law is an evolving and increasingly enlightened affair, such as some might regard the development of Christian theology and ethics. There may be one or two educated Islamic jurists who argue for modernisation and mercy, but Sharia law is basically a system of regulation, similar in style and content to the Old Testament, and rigid in its interpretation and penalties. The European court of human rights has declared it to be incompatible with democracy.

All three British political parties have spoken out against Dr William's opinions, whilst acknowledging his right to hold and express them. What we as Christian must beware of is forgetting our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith in many Islamic countries around the world and who may feel betrayed by the position taken by this Western church leader. We also need to pray for him in his vital position of leadership, and for them as they struggle for the faith against such violent and oppressive opposition. We should also pray that the liberties we enjoy in this country to celebrate and proclaim our faith will be protected, from militant secularism on the one hand, and the spread of fundamentalist Islam on the other.

Take care, Dr Williams, you are treading on dangerous ground.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Pearls of Great Price

I visited some friends in Guernsey not long ago who had been out fishing for ormers. Now these shell-fish, molluscs, are related to the abilones that are found in Australia and South Africa. In Guernsey hardy individuals wade out into freezing sea-water at low tide six times a year to turn huge rocks over and search for these highly prized gastronomic delicacies. My wife and I really love them. Once the shell is removed, you beat them with a hammer on a stone pavement so as to make them softer to eat, and then bake them slowly in the oven with butter, tomatoes, onions and herbs. Yum yum! Well our friends had taken pity on us because I am not well enough to go ormering by myself and they had kept six of these fabulous molluscs back for us to enjoy. Amazingly, when they were cleaning them and removing the shells, a beautiful pearl fell out of one them, which they eagerly held up for me to admire. They planned to mount this very rare example on silver and give it to their tiny grand-daughter to keep.

Pearls are mentioned in the Bible. Twelve gates to the city and each one of them made from a pearl. That’s what John saw in the Revelation 21:21 as he gazed by faith and by special invitation of the Lord at the eternal city that is to come. In other words, symbolically every entrance into the life of the heavenly city will be through a pearl. Now what is a pearl? Well basically it is a healed wound. When oysters are bred for pearls, a wound is made in the shell, and then a tiny grain of sand inserted. The irritant settles into the wound and then all the healing resources of this remarkable creature set to work and surround the intruder. As the layers build up over time, the grain of sand becomes a pearl, an object of exquisite beauty and value. Yet no wound, no pearl!

So God does not waste our wounds and neither should we. My irritants can become his pearls.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Don't Worry!

This has been a worrying week for anyone involved in the stock market! New lows have been recorded in markets around the globe following the wobbles caused by the so-called 'credit-crunch' and the American sub-prime mortgage crisis. I suppose a lot of people are affected, especially if they are saving for a pension or have savings and investments. For those who work in the industry it must be a challenging time. Then - along came the French 'rogue trader' - robbing the huge SG Bank of 3.5 billion pounds worth of 'futures' (a kind of global stock market 'betting on the gee-gees' scheme) just to make the point that the whole world of finance is only a fictional kind of security anyway. To emphasise that point, consider the words of Jesus:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

So where is my treasure? What do I really value? What am I prepared to give up in order to posess this? Jesus gives the answer again doesn't He? '..store up for yourselves treasures in heaven'.

What does that mean? Well it means committing our 'futures' to Him. It also means letting go of our over-depenedance on earthly posessions. We need to grow in our confidence in a heavenly Father who knows how to provide for His own. In short - it means we need to quit worrying and trust more! Now that's a challenge in any situation - but in a falling market????

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Miracle Indeed

'A miracle' is how one national newspaper in the UK described the crash of a British Airways Boeing 777 at Heathrow airport this week. 136 passengers and 16 crew walked away alive from the wreckage, and only a small number needed hospital treatment for minor injuries. When we view images of how close the aircraft came to plunging into nearby housing or onto a busy highway we are forced to agree with that description, even if it does come from the words of a cynical secular newspaper more used to mocking so called 'acts of God' and dismissing talk of miracles.

One aspect of the story is that in a news conference today the captain, Captain Burkhill, paid tribute to his crew. He said Senior First Officer John Coward had done a "most remarkable job" in landing the aircraft. He also praised all the crew for showing "the highest standards of skill and professionalism". "Flying is about teamwork and we had an outstanding team on board," he said. Clearly however outstanding that crew might have been - and definitely was - it would have been powerless if the circumstances had been different and the aircraft had dropped onto houses or buildings.

But it's not just flying that is about teamwork. Life is too. We need one another, and never more so than when the chips are down and we are sinking fast. We need the encouragement that others bring, and the occasional corrective rebuke too. We each need to be aware of our own unique contribution and make it to the best of our nability, but when things get rough there is something about sharing with others that makes teamwork so important. Mind you, every team, however good it is, needs a helping hand from above sometimes. Captain Burkill's team certainly had theirs, and I pray that you will have yours too.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Rejoicing in all Circumstances.

'Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade— kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.' (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Rejoicing can be a tough call. Nowhere in the Bible are God's people promised an easy ride. Again and again the model shown is one of choosing to rejoice no matter how rough the ride gets - David encourages his soul by worship while hiding for his life in a cave, Paul and Silas sing praises at midnight with bleeding backs in a rat-infested dungeon, John is 'in the Spirit' as he breaks rocks in a prison work party - and so on. In fact, when the pain is greatest and the stress is stretching us the most, that's when our small acts of thankfulness and rejoicing are the most meaningful.

The phrase 'a little while' is a poignant one for me. Years ago I felt that God spoke to me and promised that after I have suffered 'a little while' then He himself will step in and heal me (see 1 Peter 5:10). I am finding that God's idea of a little while and mine are very different. So I thought I might revisit a sermon that I preached on the subject of 'God's Little While' a little while ago! Here is the outline of what I said:

In John 16 Jesus used the phrase “a little while” 7 times. He was referring to the 3 days and nights He would be in the grave before the resurrection. In Ezekiel 11:16 the phrase means 70 years! So it appears that a little while in God’s economy may not be to with a quantity of time, but rather a quality.

What are the Marks of God’s Little While?
· A Time When God is at Work no Matter How Dark it Appears. This was true of the dark days when Jesus was in the tomb and the years that Israel was in exile. God was working out His purposes. When we submit to God’s timetable, He is at work.
· A Time When God is Looking After His People. In Ezekiel’s day God said He was being a “sanctuary for His people”, even tho’ their own sin had led them there.
· A Time that Ends Only When God Determines. It only ends when He says it is over, but we can be absolutely sure it will end. This will come to pass.

Why Does God Allow the Little While of Our Trials to Occur?
1. To Fulfil His Divine Will and Plan. The little while that Jesus spoke about was God’s plan of redemption (like the nearly 20 years Joseph spent in the Egyptian jail). So it was with the 70 years little while of Ezekiel’s day.
2. To Bring Something Unique to Birth. John 16:21-22. There are times in life that are like a pregnancy.. the pain leads on to something new and good. Just as a pregnancy can seem like forever, so a little while can really drag, but God knows what new era will be born in our lives because we trusted Him.
3. That our Joy May be Complete. John 16:22b & 24. Like James 1:2, 'Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.' There is a depth of joy, not happiness, that can only be discovered in the place of suffering, where intimacy with God is the only comfort, trust in God the only hope.

How Do We Keep Going Until the Little While is Over?
Jesus gave His disciples keys to hanging in there in John 16.
1. The Work of the Holy Spirit Within. Verse 13-15. He guides, He counsels & comforts.
2. The Word of God Keeping us Alive. The Spirit of Truth uses the Bible to speak to us and lead us into all truth. Diane and I have lived in the Word during this little while.
3. The Fellowship of Other Disciples. Jesus addressed His words to a group of disciples not an individual. We need each other, especially in the little while’s of God’s dealings with us.
4. Utter Reality in the Meantime. Vs 20, “you will weep & mourn”.
5. The Power of Persistent Prayer. “Ask and you will receive..” verse 24.

I hope that you might find that short Bible study useful - I certainly did. Now - about that rejoicing??

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Painful Start to 2008

I knew it would not last very long. When I had a procedure known as an endoscopic ultrasound guided celiac plexus block done at the University College Hospital in London at the end of September they told me that those who respond to this treatment usually get up to three months relief from chronic pancreatic pain. It was wonderful to be pain free for those weeks, and to come off all the pain relieving medications, but just before Christmas I began to feel unwell again, and now I am back in the most awful pain. One of the drugs prescribed for this kind of pancreatic pain is Fentanyl which was recently described in the press as being between eighty and a hundred times stronger than morphine. So I have been in touch with the consultant in London and they will be in touch with me when they can fit me in for a repeat procedure.

Pain has a way of focussing the mind in upon itself. It screams for attention like a frustrated toddler in a supermarket queue. It distracts you from anything creative, anything effective, anything else at all really. When that is combined with the stupefying effects of opiates then it can be a real battle to remain aware of the needs of others, and of what God is saying in and through it all. But it is important to do so. 'Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.' (Phil. 4:8). If we choose to give in to screaming toddlers they catch the habit and turn mothers into victims. So also with pain. We need to fight it and resist it in every way, from prayer to paracetemols. But then we need to let go of it and turn our hearts towards anything that is excellent or praiseworthy. When we do that, we really are 'more than conquerors'.

If you are in pain today - and there are many forms of pain - then I pray that you will find courage to bear it, faith to look beyond it, and hope to know that it is not in vain, and will not last for ever. And may you also know the healing touch of Him who came to bear our sorrows and infirmities, and who is touched by the feelings of our pain. Now He is worthy of praise!