Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Have a happy, healthy and holy New Year!

Wow it's so good to begin this new year knowing that our life and times are firmly in God's hands.  No matter what the inflation figures say, or the football pundits moan about, or the weather buffs warn about, those who know Christ and are trusting Him feel comforted by this great fact - God is still in charge!

I have been pondering what my priorities should be as I begin 2011.  Of course I long to be pain-free, and I do feel more hopeful about the latest development in this regard in my case. The pain team in London have decided to go ahead for full implantation of the spinal neuro- stimulator in me probably early in the year.  After the very disappointing start, the December trial of the kit turned out to be much more successful than expected, thank God!

But I have been thinking about the absolute priority of being ready for eternity. This became all too up-to-date for me in 2010 with the passing of my younger brother's long-term partner Janet.  Despite the tragedy of the illness that took her, she was granted the privilege, not given to all, to prepare for her untimely death during a period of weeks and then days.  I was with her in the final week, and saw the grace of God at work in her as she asked me to explain my faith again to her, and then she embraced God's love for herself.  I know I will see her again one day.  But what of the millions more who don't get any warning?  Surely if we believe the gospel we must become much more urgent about sharing it?

D. A. Carson says this: 'You cannot live faithfully in this life unless you are ready for the next.  You can't preserve morality or spirituality or doctrinal purity or faithfulness unless you are living in light of eternity' (taken from Be Still My Soul ed. by Nancy Guthrie, IVP, Nottingham, 2010, 115).  I really hope that I will take this on board in the coming year and do all I can to urge others to answer the question posed by the hymn-writer;

'Where will you spend eternity?
This question comes to you and me
Tell me, what shall your answer be?
Where will you spend eternity?'

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reality Check!

Most of Britain is shivering in the snow and ice.  Unlike previous years there is almost no doubt at all that this will be a white Christmas, at least in some part of the British Isles.  For us here in the Channel Islands it is very rare to get snow at all let alone before Christmas.  The salt air and southerly position usually keeps us clear of all that, but this time we are included in this mega-dump of frosty forces!  BRRR!  Another unusual thing for post-modern Britain is the portrayal on the main television channel BBC One of the events of the Nativity.  It has been beautifully shot in believable scenery and involves not just mainstream actors but is also written by Tony Jordan, a former lead writer on Eastenders, and is being transmitted at peak viewing times.  For a generation of largely biblically illiterate children and young people as well as adults this may turn out to be a real taste of the original story and its impact on the lives of those who took part.

The third and most moving episode showed the rejection that Mary faced when she chose to accept God's message and receive the implanted Son of God into her womb, and even more significantly into her life.  'I am the Lord's servant' Mary said 'may it be to me as you have said'.  From that moment she faced the hostility of all within her community, to the point of being threatened with stoning (in the televised version).  Most difficult of all would be the response of her parents who believed her to be pure and devout and would never receive the comfort of the angelic visitor in a dream that Joseph was to see.  He too, is portrayed as facing a great dilemma when his betrothed young wife to be became pregnant despite their own resolve to remain virgins before marriage.  Mary found herself out in the cold.  The stark reality check of choosing to obey God's will and go God's way came as a cold dose of frightening price-paying.

What a wonderful example she set us!  How much she deserves our admiration?  More than that, her difficult choice with its cost and pain has brought so much into our world, our lives and our eternity.  Without her willingness to obey God we would still be in our sins without hope and without God in the world.  Thank you Mary, and thank you Lord for breaking into our frozen wilderness with your love and your saving power.  And thank you too BBC One for bringing it to our screens.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hope Deferred?

I looked at Diane with that knowing look. She glanced back telling me with her eyes that she understood my sorrow and frustration. The nurses were still talking, still fiddling with their computer. They were trying to sound positive, but we knew the truth.  We've been there so often before that it doesn't take a degree in interventionist pain management to realise that something had gone wrong.  In the operating theatre the surgeon had placed two flexible cables into the epidural cavity surrounding my spine and now only one day later, the nurses sent to programme the equipment with their hand-held computer could only find one.  The major line of the two designed to deal with at least 60% of my pain had failed, been moved or had simply been misplaced. Now, despite all the anxious preparations and long wait, the air flight to London and all the expense involved, the maximum benefit we could hope for was that 40% of the area of my intense pain might be covered by the sensations produced by neurostimulation of the spine.

This has been the tale of our lives during the long fifteen years of atrocious pain that I have endured.  Diane and I have set off so many times for hospital, more than 70 times, saying to each other 'surely this time it will work'.  We have had the same attitude to receiving healing prayer ministry.  Over the years we have travelled to Toronto, Bethel in California, healing centres in the UK, and a missionaries care facility in France each time believing that God would intervene and heal.  Some of the biggest names in Christendom have laid hands on me - all without the single feature we do seek and daily expect - healing and deliverance from one of the most painful conditions known to man.  Don't get me wrong, we have been greatly blessed and encouraged to keep going, and we both know that I am only still alive because of amazing answers to prayer, but the frustrations of hope built up and then dashed have been hard to bear.  As the Bible says; 'hope deferred makes the heart sick' (Proverbs 13:12).

Then a small group met to pray for me on a snowy night.  One of them had a vision from the Lord of the scales of justice on top of the Old Bailey.  In one pan he saw our constant disappointments being loaded in, and then he saw the other pan being filled with joys that completely outweighed the other! 'There will be justice' is what he felt the Lord was saying, 'and great joy is going to wash away your frequent disappointments!'  Praise God. Then I remembered the promise For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Cor. 4:17 and I rejoiced, but I also dare to believe that there will be a fulfilment of that in this life too.  If not, I will still hope in God, for no-one who puts their hope in Him will be put to shame.

And who knows?  The trial of this piece of kit is not over yet, and God can do amazing things with people foolish enough to trust in Him and not in themselves.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tough Going

The old cigar advert blew clouds of smoke across the screen and burned the lyrics of the song into my memory for ever.. 'There may be Trouble Ahead'.  Remember it?  Well that ages you and me both.  But it feels about right for what's happening to me just now.  Once again I am facing surgery in a London hospital - Guys - and I don't really know how it will go.  I have been warned that because of the nature of the surgery on my spine, I will have to to remain awake for at least the first part of the operation, so that they can be sure that they are working in exactly the right spot, and then they will anaesthetise me.  Boy, do I hope they get a move on.  Pass me the Hamlet cigar box please!

Yet I am strangely feeling really hopeful this time.  Each time Diane and I have set off by plane for Gatwick airport to report in a London hospital yet again - many more than 50 times now - we have looked at each other and said 'Just one more time eh?'  We really hoped that it would be the last.  We were always wrong.  This time I know it will not be the final visit, nor the last surgery to be endured.  Next Tuesday (14th Dec) will only be a trial, inserting electrodes into my spine and tunnelling cables inside me to place a computerised piece of kit something similar to a TENS machine but much more powerful.  If the trial succeeds there will be at least one more operation to make the whole thing complete, but we are both really hopeful that this equipment will bring meaningful relief.  It may even enable my medical team to reduce the amount of morphine that I require each day to survive.  Who knows, I may even be set free to do what I love the best, preaching and teaching God's precious Word.

The sign above would worry anyone, wouldn't it?  Unless that is they are searching for the little Scottish village called - you've guessed it - 'Tough' where this photo was taken.  Then the sign would be a step in the right direction.  And that is what I am hoping to take with Diane next week, a step in the right direction.  Even if it is going to be 'Tough'!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Value or the Cost?

This is probably not the best of times to invest in the Euro.  Our 'friends in need' in Ireland are discovering that there is a big difference between knowing the cost of something and understanding its value.  They went headlong into the 'Green Tiger' economy, splashing and splurging their newly minted wealth, whilst failing to realise that the value of their shiny new 21st Century goods was pretty low whilst their cost would turn out to be immense - more in fact than they were able to pay.  And who will be the next?  No doubt other major Western economies are shivering in their designer shoes just now.

But am I guilty of making the same mistake?  Do I know the difference between value and cost?  I think not, and here's why.  The things that I really want in life, and value as 'success', do not have the same price tag on them in God's economy as in mine. For instance, I value being well thought of, and approved by the people who know me.  The Bible tells me that all I do ought to be done for the acclaim of an audience of One.  His 'well done good and faithful servant' should excite me much more than the idea of being a Christian celebrity or a famous preacher and conference speaker. But does it?  (Don't think I am going to tell you!! Aw - shame!)

And then there is that frightening verse in James chapter 1. 'Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colours. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.'  Now that is a problem.  I don't value pain, struggle, suffering and trials.  No way.  Those things bear a very meagre price tag in my store.  But hey - God says I am to 'count it all joy' (AV) when such things come my way!  Charles Spurgeon said of these verses, 'James teaches us in our struggles how to count.  He sets before us a different kind of measure from that which carnal reason would use: the shekel of the sanctuary was very different from the shekel in common commerce, and so is the counting of faith far other than that of human judgement. Write down the testing process as pure gain and instead of being sorry about it, count it all joy.'

So what does God value in me?  What precious commodity is He trying to bring to the surface?  One thing I do know, is that the very process itself cost Jesus everything.  To Him, the price of my redemption was worth paying because He uses heaven's unique value system.  And that is not measured in Euros or in pounds or in dollars, but in love, sacrifice, perseverance, faith and tears.  Are you willing to pay that price tag?  Am I?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanks Lord

I am so grateful.  I have survived a difficult and dangerous procedure in a London hospital with only an extended hospital stay of an extra 5 days due to complications and pain. Although I have to go back there in a few days to have a stent removed, I do feel that despite the fact that the war goes on, this particular skirmish is passing.  Hooray!!  And - do you mind if I say it again?  I am SO grateful.  Why?

I have a wife like no other in the world.  She is such an encouragement to me every single day.  She always comes to London with me to guide me through Gatwick airport in my opiate haze and carry the heavy bags!  Diane then remains on her own in hotels, and on this occasion she had to change hotel three times during her stay.  Morning, afternoon and evening she sits by my hospital bed.  A group of nurses were near us one evening, and one of them said to the others 'If you want to see a woman who loves her husband like no other you should look at this woman' pointing at Diane ' because she is amazing'.  Diane keeps smiling, keeps loving, keeps hoping, keeps encouraging, keeps trusting, keeps real and just keeps going!

As the Bible says in Proverbs 31 'A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds. Her husband trusts her without reserve, and never has reason to regret it. Never spiteful, she treats him generously all her life long...  Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise: "Many women have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all!"'

I am also so grateful for people who love God from around the world who also seem to love us and pray for us regularly.  This fellowship of love is like being in a warm and cosy bed on a rainy day.  It means that although the weather may not have improved outside, we feel safe and cared for, and protected.  This particular admission to hospital was potentially very dangerous for me because of my medical history.  I even wrote out my funeral arrangements before I went!  Thankfully the faith of our prayer partners did not waver, nor their persistence fail. In God's goodness He heard their cry and ours, and must have a purpose for me down here yet.

Most of all I am grateful for Jesus.  Through His word and by His Spirit I am able to keep hoping too. I want you to know that hope also, leading to joy and peace in all and any circumstances. 'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.' Amen to that!


Friday, October 29, 2010

A Fist Unfurled

Last evening our house-group came to call.  They wanted to pray with Diane and I before we set off for hospital in London.  We had a short but special time together reminding ourselves of God's promises and being the family of God.  Toward the end I had a picture in my mind of an upraised fist.  It seemed to me that this angry gesture was waving in the face of God.  I felt that God was showing me this so that we all could just examine our hearts, and especially me, to see if our attitude towards God at this time was the right one.  Now don't get me wrong - I don't think that God was saying that there is no place for anger in our lives.  Anyone who has read my book Storm Force will know that there is a whole chapter in it about the appropriateness and normality of anger when facing storms of all kinds.  Yet there is a good anger and a bad anger, a healthy anger and an unhealthy anger.

When I shared this picture with the group, one of them said that she was just going to read the verse Psalm 4:4 'Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.' which is very similar to Paul's advice in Ephesians 4:26 'Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath'. So it seemed that the Holy Spirit was trying to get through to us. The well known Christian writer and quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada has said 'Any crisis is meant to awaken us to the reality of God, His nearness, His care, His presence and His ever-present help' yet in my experience it is so hard to hold on to that kind of perspective.  My own battle with ill health is nothing compared to the conditions being faced right now by Christians in places like Iraq and Zimbabwe yet many of them have found it possible to keep trusting God in the most appalling circumstances and to remain hopeful and free from bitterness.  I aspire to those great goals... but hey, am I alone in saying that going is tough?  How should we respond?

The picture in my mind began to change.  The fist unfurled and the hand opened up, fingers flexing and extending.  God was showing me my part in the process, small as that may be.  He wants us to open up our hands to receive his amazing love, relax our anxious accusations and let go of our fears, worshipping and trusting him alone.  As Joni went on to say ''Will we allow the truth of God's promises to change the way we see life, with all its challenges and obstacles?  To ease our fears and calm our anxieties?  To give us hope and confidence when there doesn't seem to be any earthly reason for either?' (A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty)  As the group left our home last evening I felt more determined than ever to see God's perspective on yes even next week's trial, and to turn my fist into an open hand.  How about you?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Confronting the Unthinkable

Preparing for Battle
We all have our personal battles to fight.  Some will be minor skirmishes, others a matter of life and death.  One of the latter hit me in 1997 when I was subjected to a surgical/medical procedure known as ERCP - this what the Pancreatitis Supporters' Network warns about it: 'These are HIGHLY dangerous to us with Pancreatitis.  Our advice is ALWAYS make sure they are properly qualified and they are doing it for a valid reason - see statistics in Information Pack download for risk statistics'. It nearly killed me. I cannot describe to you the devastation it brought to my life.  I am only alive today by the grace of God and in answer to many people's prayers.  But it was one awful battle. 


Next Tuesday I will have another one!  'Is he mad?' I can hear you ask.  No, just very sick and desperately in need of the treatment, which despite its terrifying dangers does offer some hope of relief.  It will be a therapeutic procedure - even more dangerous than a diagnostic one like the one I had in 1997.  They will try to remove a stone that is blocking my pancreatic duct.  The team will also leave behind a stent to keep the duct patent and overcome a stricture or narrowing of the duct at present.  The pancreas in someone like me is a very unforgiving organ.  Once provoked to 'go rogue' and start using its meat-dissolving enzymes to eat itself and its surrounding organs it is almost unstoppable.  But - it can be beaten.


My team will be the best in the country.  Based at University College Hospital in London they know their art. I don't know how long I will be in hospital, but Diane will be with me, staying as she always has done during the more than 60 times we have been there, in a nearby hotel.  (It has cost us more than a medium sized new car for her to always be with me but I could not be without her support.  We have been amazed at the way people have given to us, and supported us with their gifts as well as their prayers.  Thank you Lord!).


So, today I am preparing for battle.  I am stacking up my ammunition - reminding myself of God's promises and soaking my mind in God's Word and His presence.  I am loading really good music onto my iTouch player, and got some great books to go with me.  Will I read them?  Maybe not, but I would rather prepare in hope.  By the end of next week I will know.  I am in a win/win situation.  Even if the worst happens and I succumb to deadly haemoraghic pancreatitis, I will wake up in the most exciting place in God's universe.  But hey - I feel I still have work to do.  So please join me as part of my back-up team.  I love and appreciate you.  Jesus does too. Bye now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cutbacks and Setbacks

The whole of Britain is waiting with bated breath for the UK Chancellor to announce his spending review and with it the details of the government's cutbacks in public spending.  Although we are not part of the UK here, we share an interest in what happens over the water as it will undoubtedly have an eventual effect upon us in time.  In any case, even though we have no national debt to speak of, Guernsey is facing a similar process of reigning in the spending of public bodies so as to avoid a deficit here too.  The phrase 'no gain without pain' comes to mind!


When it comes to undergoing pain in order to grow or make gains, I feel that I may have just a little experience of that in my own life!  Serious illness forces you to cut back and expend less energy and activity just to get through, and you find yourself having to let go of activities you would once have thought essential to your own sense of who you are.  These cutbacks appear to be setbacks, but they can actually also be opportunities to review and refocus on what really does matter.  It is amazing how much you think you need to hold onto in order to fulfil your calling, and how much you can let go of without losing effectiveness in ministry.  What we are is so much important than what we do.


I am reading a superb book on a similar subject at the moment. Written by Joni Tada A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty is a tremendous outline of the theological position I myself have written about in Storm Force.  It is such a comfort to those of us who believe in a God who heals, yet who are in chronic pain, to discover that in the kingdom of God there has been no cutback in the comfort of the Holy Spirit or the ministry of the Word of God.  We have had to cut all sorts of activities and busyness, but are still able to serve God in small ways each day.  I recommend this as good reading for you too.


Cutbacks don't necessarily have to be setbacks when God is in charge.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sweet and Sour

The smell rising from the kitchen aroused strong pangs of desire in me.  I knew that my wife was there, attractive, fragrant and radiant with her sleeves tucked seductively up over scandalously beguiling bare arms.  I trod the stair carpet gently, unwilling to break the spell of allurement.  Carefully I moved across the kitchen floor, positioned myself secretly behind her feminine form.  All was laid bare before my gaze.  Diane had been baking again!

I love her baking.  Her cakes are a constant challenge to my waistline, not to mention my low fat regime.  There may be death in the pot but hey, what a way to go!  I allow the fabulous fumes to arise into my searching nostrils while my hand creeps silently towards the newly made objects of desire. ‘Oi, get off!’ The slap to my hand is playful but has the desired effect. ‘They’re not ready yet.  You’ll have one with your tea’.

One thing I have noticed over the years that Diane has practised the baking arts is that the ingredients alone are never very tasty.  Baking soda hardly tickles the palate.  The whites of an egg or two make very sticky banality whilst lemon rind is bitter and choking.  Flour makes you sneeze and margarine is just slippery candle-wax.  No joy in stealing any of those.  But ah!  When collected and manipulated by my gifted wife together they become baking heaven.  The difference is phenomenal.  What you would not give a penny for, when brought under the spell of her recipe you could sell for a mint.

My life has been like that.  The ingredients alone are not very attractive.  Incidents and experiences that on their own are at best bland and at worse bitter and choking, are blended by Jesus Christ the master baker to produce a recipe that is for His glory.  Romans 8:28 says that in all things (even the sour and sad things) God works for the good of those who love Him. The isolated incidences alone are never satisfying and cannot easily be understood, but God takes all these sour ingredients and blends them together to produce an outcome that is good.  Mind you – it’s the heat of the oven that I can’t stand.


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Mystery of Darkness - Treasure in Secret Places

Making gemstones is a godly task.  Only eternal beings need apply.  Much of the work will be done underground and under intense pressure. Working hours will be measured in aeons - millennia may be taken as rest periods.  Inspection of the finished article will require a light source, preferably one which spawns a universe. Applicants will need wisdom to choose the appropriate material, and perseverance to pursue it beyond its many faults.  Giving up will not be an option.  The gemstone thus produced will reflect the glory of the master craftsman. But the stone itself - well that's just coal under pressure - carbon that forgot that its primary colour should be black. Stuff that without the vision and hope of the craftsman would never even see the light of day.

"But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? Man does not comprehend its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living... It cannot be bought with the finest gold, nor can its price be weighed in silver. It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir, with precious onyx or sapphires. Neither gold nor crystal can compare with it, nor can it be had for jewels. Coral and jasper are not worthy of mention; the price of wisdom is beyond rubies. Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell?

 ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’" (Job 28)
 
What does this mean for me?  It means that God does not have to explain to me all that He is achieving.  It means that only eternity will show the true beauty of what God was doing in my life through pain and waiting.  It means that 'the work of God' is so much deeper, higher, fuller and larger than my puny understanding of it to date.  In the darkness of my pain and sorrow God is making gemstones.  Far from the gaze of those who want quick and easy answers, the Almighty is getting Himself glory.  And I don't mind that really, just so long as these years of agony and pressure serve some purpose, somewhere, and that the carbon of my life ends up to the praise of His glory instead of the ash heap where it deserves to be, but for God's amazing grace.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Setback or Setup?

Time to Think
These days of silence since I last blogged have not been easy.  There was a period, following my prolonged 'nil-by-mouth' exercise, when I thought that a new day might be dawning in my long battle with serious ill-health. Encouragement came from folk who know me well pointing out that I was looking better, and the good old diary told me that it had been nearly four months since I had been admitted to hospital.  Four months?  Yes, that's a record that beats any period for several years now.  Sadly, during this time of hope, my dear Sister-in-law Janet Hulbert passed away, and her tragic passing was all the more painful because our parents are gone now, and Andy, her partner, is all of nine years younger than me.  I felt for him and did not want him to go through the funeral service alone.  In fact, he even asked me to officiate at the service near Manchester in the north of England.

Then, bang!  Three nights before the planned flight, at 2am, I was curled up in the foetal position choking with agony and in desperate need of medical help.  We hung in there at home for 12 hours, but then I was admitted as an emergency through the A & E department of our local hospital, with the raging pain and fever of acute pancreatitis. The staff could not have been kinder to me. 'We have not seen you for quite a while now, have we?'  'Four months - wow, well done!'  Meanwhile Diane was cancelling flight tickets and letting Andy know of our changed circumstances.  He was great - so understanding and kind in the midst of his own deep suffering.  There was no choice.  Only rest and acceptance could give me peace in my troubled situation.

Once the immediate scream of pancreatic pain settles, there is always the fear of not knowing which way this attack will go.  Will the serum Amylase in the blood just keep on rising to life-threatening levels, or will it give way and start going down.  Thankfully, within a few days, the crisis passed, and I had time to reflect.  What did I think?  Well, I thought about the fact that if I had been there and taken that funeral service, Andy would not have the ongoing pastoral support of a local person who did take it, and the Fellowship he represents which is nearby to where Andy and Janet's home is. Also, I found myself in a bed next to some very special people, whose needs were great and whose company was meant to be.  And Matthew, our son, now nearly 30, was able to travel and be there in my place, cementing his place into the life of the wider family.

And I got yet another reminder that my life is not my own.  We plan and prepare, but God decides whether we will even be there.  Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that." (James 4:13-15) Food for thought eh?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friend of the Weak

I was lying back in my lounger in the Sunday morning sun feeling sorry for myself.  After 7 weeks without food or drink whilst enduring 'total pancreatic rest' I was overwhelmed with weakness.  Diane's gorgeous garden swam before my misty eyes as I recalled, like the Psalmist, 'how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng' and now I am too weak even to get to church today.  My iPod serves as a link with the worshipping throng and even the teaching and preaching too, so I had the earphones on.  Then came this deeply moving song, like a water feature for my tired soul.

'You are the God of the broken,
The Friend of the weak...
You are the God of the humble
You are the humble King.'
 How odd it is that this 'God of the broken and friend of the weak' is so little spoken of in the modern church.  The emphasis of our worship and teaching so quickly rotates back to the triumphant, powerful, mighty and victorious - all of which are gloriously true also- to the negelct of the One who revelled in the title 'Friend of Sinners'.  People like me who love the power and presence of God but are mystified by the daily challenge of overwhelming pain and weakness sometimes find it difficult to feel we belong in the dynamic enthusiasm of much celebratory praise today.  I almost feel like starting a 'church for the weak and broken' - and I know it would quickly fill up, but then it too would probably be guilty of a lack of balance.

Yet the New Testament apostle Paul claimed that when he was at his weakest God was seen to be at His strongest through him!  This is the mystery of weakness.  The upside-down kingdom of Almighty God does actually have room for the down-trodden, the broken and the rejected.  Did not Jesus announce that He had come to 'bind up broken hearts'? So, I will not give up, I will keep on trusting, as the same Psalm that I mentioned above (Psalm 42) also says 'by day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life' - even when I am too weak to get to church.  Thank God!

Friday, June 04, 2010

New Teaching Videos

Despite the ordeal I am currently enduring - into the sixth week of 'nil-by-mouth' total fast in an attempt to rest my totured pancreas, I am glad to introduce the first in a planned series of short teaching videos.  I made this one just before the treatment began, and I will continue the studies in the book of Romans chapter 8 once this is over.  Meanwhile, sit back and watch the first one - Courtroom Drama - Guilty Man Escapes!



Do please let me have your comments so that I can improve these teaching vignettes.  There is a whole chapter about the Bible teaching about guilt in my most recent book Storm Force.  You can buy a copy of your own by clicking on the linked box on the left.  Thanks.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Home again!

Our Wonderful Island Home!
No - we don't live on a cliff!  But we do have the privilege of living in a most enchanting isle which is bedecked in the fabulous colours of Spring.  The gorse smells of vanilla and is bright yellow, the bluebells are ringing and the hedgerows are awash with colour.  No wonder we found the last two weeks in Central London a trial.  It is such a joy to be home, and to leave behind the manic noisy throng and fume laden atmosphere of Tottenham Court Road.  It is also a tremendous relief to be out of hospital, even if the UCLH is a bright new building and the staff are as good as it gets - there's no place like home.

So my long fast has begun.  A minimum of 6 weeks 'nil by mouth'.  I am connected to a special pump 20 hours a day which keeps me alive, but nothing will pass my lips for the foreseeable future.  This is called 'total pancreatic rest' and is designed to arrest the recurring acute attacks of pancreatitis and lessen the pain of chronic pancreatitis.  I hope that it works as the sacrifice involved is enormous.

I am so grateful to all those who have told me that they are fasting with me at this time.  Not for the whole 6 weeks, of course, but for a day, or two and three days, so that this period is covered by fasting partners.  Now that's what I call 'the local church at work'.  Many thanks to you all.

So I am going to try and distract myself from gnawing hunger and the hallucinations of cups of tea and coffee etc.  I find tremendous comfort in the presence of One who spent 6 weeks fasting in the desert once.  He knows the anguish and shares with me as a fasting partner par execellence.  Thank you Jesus!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hope Instead of Despair

Here is my wonderful wife Diane - whom I love more than words can say - speaking at a ladies breakfast last weekend where around a hundred ladies gathered.  The meeting was called Rock Chicks (Diane said that she felt like she was 'Crock Chicks'!) and she spoke there on a subject that she was well qualified to address, 'Hope in Place of Despair'.  Many ladies spoke to her since then to tell her that her words had affected them profoundly.  She prayed for several at the end, and there was a real sense that God was speaking through her.  Now the church have put her talk on their website so you can listen to it as well.  If you want to do so, you should go to http://www.rock.gg/ and look for her talk by clicking on the podcasts tab, and then you can either listen straight away or download it for later.

I really felt blessed by what she shared.  It moved me to tears to hear of her faith concerning my healing, and her steady confidence that God is still at work in our lives despite the pain and struggle of the last 14 years.

On the 27th April Diane and I will fly to London Gatwick Airport (volcanic ash permitting) and I will be admitted into the University College London Hospital once again.  During the next week they will probably commence the period of 'nil-by-mouth' total pancreatic rest, and also look into the reasons for the recent attacks of cholangitis as well as pancreatitis.  Please pray with us for breakthrough.  Several folk have told me that they are going to fast with me at times during the period I am on the treatment.  You cannot know how much that moves me, and how humbled and encouraged I am by that knowledge.  Thank you.

So, here is Diane's key verse: 'Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.' Psalm 42:11.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Other Disciple

I spent Easter back in my local hospital.  Good Friday was my worst day!  I remember the surgeon bending over me while I was prostrated on the hospital bed after a dreadful night, saying 'Well it's Good Friday today and we are going to try and get you on your feet by Sunday - you should rise on that day, if you'll pardon any blasphemy!'  Of course I did as there was none, just one more reminder that I was not where I want to be - in the pulpit at Easter.

When Easter day came I was feeling better, but still so sad to celebrate that wonderful day in hospital.  I read the account by John of his race to the tomb of Jesus that first Sunday morning.  He says that he outran Peter, arrived at the tomb first.  But he didn't go in, instead he lingered at the door, peeping in while impetuous Peter rushed past him.  For reasons of his own John called himself 'the other disciple' and I began to wonder why, and why he held back while others were hurtling headlong into this miracle.

John was close to Jesus, one of the inner gang of 3, Peter James and John.  He knew that Jesus loved him - he sometimes called himself 'the disciple whom Jesus loved'.  Yet, at that critical moment, he hesitated and held back.  Here's why:
  1. He Realised the Implications.  He knew that if what the women had reported was true his life would never be the same again.
  2. He Hesitated to Commit.  Don't we all sometimes?  I know I do.  A lot of people today are in relationships where they are afraid to commit.  They fear a solemn covenant like marriage.  Or they can't face the idea of giving up their old way of life.
  3. He Understood What the Final Outcome of all this would be.  He knew that if he committed and went in, he faced a life of ridicule by his friends and maybe his family. There would be persecution by those who would say he was mad.  (He did end his life in a hard labour colony).  But above all that, he realised that if Christ was risen, and had overcome death, then he was about to enter the most marvellous, magical and momentous truth - he too, the other disciple - might live for ever! 
So, with trembling heart and small steps into the dark, the other disciple went in and became the Apostle John. Much later he wrote the words of Revelation 1:17 & 18.  'When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.'

If you are peeping into the kingdom of heaven today, and wondering what you should do, I encourage you to go on in, and become in a very real sense 'an other disciple' today.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Familiar with Suffering

I find myself at a loss to know how to explain my situation at this time.  If you know me you will already be aware of my 14 year battle with chronic pancreatitis and recurring acute pancreatitis. Until last year I was also being admitted to hospital every month or so with a nasty illness called cholangitis - the inflammation or infection of the bile tree - quite a dangerous condition leading to septic shock and more!  I had a huge operation in London last July to overcome this.  It appeared to have worked.  The cholangitis attacks stopped, but then we fought a renewed outbreak of pancreatitis.  Now I am booked to go into the University Hospital in London at the end of April to commence between 6 weeks and 4 months of total pancreatic rest with nil by mouth.  Would you credit it?  On the cusp of this difficult and rigorous treatment - the cholangitis attacks have started again!

Please pardon my being a bit stuck for words to say. I am gutted.  I have just got home after 5 days in the local hospital with this latest attack.  So - here we go again.  Is there to be no oasis in this desert?  Are my tears in vain?  Does my cry get any higher than the ceiling?

Oh I know that is not true, but it does feel like it.  Still, it must have felt pretty rotten for our parents to endure the Second World War.  It must be pretty foul to have MS like a young Christian friend of mine.  There must be thousands of decent people whose situation is a zillion times worse.  And then - how did Jesus feel, brutally beaten and flogged at 33 years of age, hung on a cruel cross and for what?  'He had done no wrong, no violence, neither was there any deception in his mouth.  Yet, it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer' (Isaiah 53:10).

So - it's Holy Week and I for one don't feel very holy.  If it wasn't for that cross - for those hands - for those drops of blood - for that glorious first Sunday morning!  I'd be finished.  Sometimes I feel as though I am.  'Lord, please give me the strength to go on'.

Friday, March 05, 2010

A Call to Prayer

I read this report today on the website of the Barnabas Fund http://www.barnabasfund.org/. 'The situation for Christians in Iraq has steadily got worse over recent years. Baghdad and Mosul appear to be particularly dangerous places for Christians, with numerous examples of horrendous anti-Christian atrocities including rape, kidnapping and murder. Women and church leaders are particularly targeted. Car bomb attacks occur on churches, especially at times when there will be worshippers present.'

It just seems so sad and wrong that the Christian community in Iraq has gained so little from the so-called 'Iraq War' and are far worse off now than they were under Saddam's terrible regime.  It really does help me to put my own little cup of suffering into perspective when I read this, and remember that we are not promised a bed of roses on which we will be wafted to heaven straight from the point of our commitment to Christ!  Life is tough, and the Christian life is really tough.  Thankfully the One who calls us is faithful and will be with us in all our trials.  The blood of the martyrs is still the seed of the church in 2010.

Let's pray for the Church in Iraq and do all we can to support it practically too.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Policeman who called on churchgoers to ask God to help fight crime!

I read this really interesting article in the good ole' Daily Mail today and thought you might like to see it! I wonder if these statistics will make any waves further afield? Maybe you should spread the news of what's happening on the streets of Barnstaple since the people of God starting getting down and dirty with the problems affecting their streets just like most towns in the UK.


Policeman who called on churchgoers to ask God to help fight crime has his prayers answered Mail Online

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Warning! Obstructions Ahead!

If you are used to being blessed by my blogs, or are of a nervous disposition, then look away now.

Tell me, is there anybody in the UK National Health Service that has more than 2 brain cells to rub together?  I am fast despairing of it.  I mean - would you send a letter to someone who is really unwell and finds travelling a real trial, and who lives in a far-off island, telling them to attend a consultation with a senior doctor in a major London teaching hospital within one week, and when the patient finally gets there the man is on annual leave?  CAN YOU BELIEVE IT??  I mean, never mind the £500 it cost them, nor the hassle that they will go through having to fly to Gatwick Airport and back and stay in a hotel overnight just to be sure that they will be there to see him.  Not to mention the fact that it is half-term and all the planes are full so the fares are up, and the nearest hotel costs £165 per night - NO - let the patient go through all that and then sit down to chat with a locum. A LOCUM!!  Like I need a locum after 14 years of the worst pain known to man?  Hah Hah!!

As you will gather, my dander is somewhat elevated.  The administrator agreed that they should have phoned me to ask if I minded seeing a locum.  They were sorry - THEY WERE SORRY?

Ah well, at least we were able to express our concerns to them all, and so the locum went to find another consultant who works with the team sometimes, and he said that when Dr Whatsisname is back he will have a chat with him about my case, and he will telephone me.  Thanks a lot - I can hardly wait.

Monday, February 15, 2010

London Calling

Once again the summons comes for me to appear in London - this time at a hospital directly opposite the Houses of Parliament - St Thomases (which is now linked to Guys).  Following more than 60 such trips I am used to the itinerary - by air to London Gatwick airport and then the Gatwick Express on to Victoria Station and a cab to a nearby hotel.  To be honest, knowing how the trip will go is only half the story.  Having the strength to make it is a big chunk of the other half!  It is certainly a challenge to get through Gatwick airport with all that walking and the hustle and bustle of a thriving international aiport.  But the joy of having Diane with me should make that possible with as little hassle as can be achieved.

This trip is to begin negotiations with a new team for me - the Pain Management Team - and the idea is to see if I might benefit from the insertion of a Spinal Stimulator in my back.  The device places electrodes in the epidural cavity of the spine high up on the back, connected by internal cables to a control unit placed under the skin in a reasonably 'rolly polly' area!  No trouble there then eh?  A hand held remote control would then enable me to increase or decrease the current applied (I am probably using all the wrong terms here) to stimulate the spinal cord electronically so as to interfere with the pain signals travelling to my brain.  If this provides some pain relief without opiates, then it will allow me to come off these stupefying drugs.  Please pray that it will, and that this consultation will set the process going in quick order for a fast intervention in my desperate situation.  Thanks.

At least I don't have to win an election in order to get near to the Mother of Parliaments!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Crumple Zones and Crashes


The niece of a good friend of mine was badly hurt in this car accident just after Christmas in South Africa.  We are praying for her now as she passes through serious surgery and a prologed period of recovery from this dreadful ordeal.  The photo of the wreck was sent to me as an example of how bad such a thing can be, and how amazing it is that people sometimes survive such devastating impact.  I was interested in this picture, as it came to me just days after I had received something very similar from a pastor in the UK concerning a colleague working as a missionary in Spain who had also just survived a devastating head-on collision in that country.  Clearly, from his photo too, shown below, the escape was remarkable, even to the point of being nigh on miraculous.

In both sets of photographs it was clear to me that in these dreadful front-on crashes people had survived who should not have done by the mercy of God.  Along with that acknowledgement of Divine grace, I could see in the shots that both vehicles had collapsed in front of the passenger compartment, and in one case behind it too.  This was no accident either.  Car designers had planned it that way by the provision of 'crumple zones' - areas of the car's construction that will respond to huge impact by complete destruction, absorbing forces that would otherwise have been focussed on the driver and passengers.

Clever things, these crumple zones.  And they set me thinking.  There are certain factors that can be built into our lives to act in a similar way.  Tears, for instance, are created to be shed.  When they are, they bring release to those of us who have been through devastating crashes - and I don't mean just road traffic accidents!  Bible verses learnt when everything is dandy, and the sun is shining bright, will be there to come to the fore in crisis.  Lessons learnt in the school of prayer, even the disciplines of a healthy prayer life, may also suffer in a disaster but they will have already worked their magic, and could be life-savers.

There are more.  Forgiveness, good relationships with those closest to us, church friends, may all in their turn come up trumps in a crash.  So, thank God for crumple zones and Divine passenger compartments!

Drive safely!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Bleakness Engaged


This is not a view of our road this week - this was last February.  The contrast between then and now is stark.  Then the snow came thick and fast, and stayed - itself an unusual phenomenon in the Channel Islands.  Now, we have been talking snow all week, but not doing snow, and there is all the difference in the world between talking something and doing it!  I remember that I am like that too!  I talk trust - and then doubt.  I predict a great eternity - and then don't want to get there too soon!  I announce that Jesus is Lord of all my life - and then take back the broken bits to myself that I feel only I can fix. In a nutshell I am all forecasts and no gritter!  Talking up deep drifts and skating on thin ice.

You know bleakness has a life of its own.  It feeds on fear and does a lot of its work in the dark.  We talk joy when in company, and shiver with doubt and worry under the covers.  I'll be honest with you - my forecast is not good.  I saw the surgeon three days before Christmas in London (yes it was snowing!) and he described my options as 'dire'.  Major surgery to remove much of my insides permanently - or carry on facing the threat of acute attacks of potentially deadly pancreatitis every month.  As a start he wants to put me back on 'total pancreatic rest' with enteral feeding for 4 to 6 weeks in the early part of the year.  This means that one of my major sources of comfort is also going to be stripped away from me - food and drink!  It also threatens to put a great barrier between my wife and I because we share so much over a cup of tea or the food table.

But listen - the forecast is not always right, is it?  Sometimes they get it wrong, and make things sound bleaker than they are - just like this week in Guernsey.  And hey, even if the worst does come I still have choices between fear and hope, lies and God's truth, moaning or worshipping, despair or trust in God's Word.

So, things may not be as bleak as they seem, and even if they are, God's gritters are great, and His purposes still stand true.  He loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.  Get shovelling!