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? ' 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!