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'!