Friday, December 23, 2011

No Vacancies

If Mary and Joseph were to arrive in Bethlehem today having travelled from Nazareth they would have found an even bigger problem than they did then. It's very difficult to get in!  Just as 'David's Town' is playing host to huge crowds of international visitors, the people of Bethlehem themselves, many of them Christians, are struggling under the restrictions being placed upon them by the Israeli authorities.  Father Ibrahim Shomali told the Guardian newspaper this week how he thinks the 'holy couple' might fare today. "If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed," says the priest of Bethlehem's Beit Jala parish. "He would either have to be born at a checkpoint or at the separation wall. Mary and Joseph would have needed Israeli permission – or to have been tourists."  Bethlehem is no longer the place we imagine it to be.  Welcome to the real world of the 21st Century Middle East!

But then, this would not be the shock to them that Father Ibrahim imagines.  There was already a 'no vacancies' sign where the young couple wanted to stay.  Luke's gospel calls it 'the Inn' and says that for the lady bearing the Son of God there was no room.  In the original language of the gospel the word translates better as 'guest-chamber' and probably describes that part of the upstairs family accommodation in a typical two-storey dwelling of the period.  Family and guests were upstairs, animals and their mangers were downstairs.  So, maybe Joseph went to his own family relations expecting to be housed there and was refused.  His only option was to place his little family down among the animals where God's Son and his step-son could be born in warmer conditions than outside on the street.  Bethlehem behaves the same then, in 1st and 21st Centuries!

What about my home?  How warm is the welcome in my heart for the Son of God this Christmas?  Is there room for my family - all cosy around a fire - but Jesus finds his place in some draughty church building or even out on the street?  Perhaps the real lesson of the suffering residents of Bethlehem today is that the work of the Prince of Peace is now needed more than ever even in our sophisticated world.

O Little Town of Bethlehem How Sad we see Thee Lie!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Come Alive!

This was the scene in Nazareth Village last week when Matthew and I visited there as part of our special week in Israel.   We took this time out to be just 'father and son' together in advance of Matthew getting married early in 2012 and my starting work again.  It was just great to be touring such special places together.  We hired a car and a Jewish tour guide and saw some spectacular places.  This moment in Nazareth saw us in a re-enactment of a first century Jewish 'carpenter's shop' such as Joseph worked in and Jesus grew up in.  Nearby was a first century wine-press which would almost certainly have been a centre of community gatherings at times of the year for Mary, Joseph and their special son.  All of this helped to prepare us for this special season of Christmas - yet knowing Christ today is so much more important than visiting the places that he walked in 2,000 years ago.  Having said that, it adds a certain colour to our seasonal celebrations to be more able to picture the events and the atmosphere of that time.

Another very special open air place was the Garden of Gethsemane with its ancient olive trees thought by some to date back to the time of Christ.  They need protecting and preservation now after the centuries but they still gave us the opportunity to pause and reflect here on what Jesus went through in that garden, and why.  Funnily enough, prior to my first visit here I always imagined Gethsemane to be an English country garden with lawns and flower beds perfectly symmetrical in their layout with sprinklers and trimmed bushes!  Now that I have seen its stark and dry harshness again I can appreciate how much pain this place meant to Jesus and yet how significant it was to him, and is now to his followers.
Our visit to the Holy Land has given us both food for thought.  We thoroughly enjoyed each other's company and the good nature and hard work of our guide Omri.  Above all, we were grateful for the health and strength granted to me after my long battle with serious illness and the joy of doing something so different to the scores of trips made to distant hospitals in the past.

Christmas came early for me!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tragedy in Paradise

Yesterday a huge explosion tore through the Hotel Cordial at Puerto Mogan in Gran Canaria where we stayed last June. Reports say that at least one tourist has died whilst many others are seriously hurt, together with members of staff.  My brother Andy and his wife Gill, who were married at the resort whilst we were there with them, had returned to the hotel for Gill's birthday and were shaken by the blast.  They were staying very near the block of rooms which included the sauna that was blown up in the gas fireball that engulfed it.  They saw some of the victims with nearly 100% burns and witnessed the rescue and recovery efforts that continue as I write. They are due to make their way home to Manchester tonight and we are praying for them and for all affected by the tragedy.  Andy has said that some of the victims include children and that current estimates of the number of deaths and serious injuries are likely to be exceeded.

Hotel Cordial is the most wonderful, refreshing place to stay under normal circumstances. Puerto Mogan is a lovely fishing village with marinas and is called Little Venice because of its canals and bridges. We loved our time there in the summer.  The staff are kind and thoughtful and it must grieve them so that this has taken place.  It is a reminder that even a holiday paradise is only an illusion and that the reality of human need and frailty follows us everywhere.  Let's pray for all those affected by the shock of this event, and especially for those whose loved ones lie terribly burned or have already died.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Making a New Start

Whilst we served Shiloh Church in Guernsey for some years we coined the strap-line for it - 'Helping People Make a New Start'.  I always felt it to be the best descriptive phrase about church life that I had ever come across, and now it is coming true for Diane and me too.  After more than 4 years of not being able to work because of the agony of chronic pancreatitis, and the all-too-frequent admissions to hospital near home and in London, my situation has improved dramatically.  Recently my GP started saying that he thought I might even be well enough to consider starting work again, and for Diane and myself that could only mean one thing - active Christian ministry in one capacity or another.  We just love preaching and teaching the Word of God, and mentoring and encouraging Christian leaders, while all the time sharing the good news of the love of God with folk of all faiths and of none.  This was our great desire, though the exact details seemed to elude us for a while.

For some weeks we have been praying about this, in particular the possibility of serving the Eldad Elim Church, in St Peter Port Guernsey, as its minister.  The present incumbent and my close friend John Bristow will retire in December and he and his wife Iris plan to move to New Zealand.  Through different talks and negotiations, both with Elim's National Leadership Team and the Eldad church leaders, we came to the settled conclusion that this is what we should do.  Last Sunday morning it was announced to the congregation that Diane and I will be joining them in the New Year, and we are so thrilled that we can even contemplate this.  It is a daunting challenge, but one in which we know we will be joining some wonderful people and will learn much from them.

We are so grateful  for all your love, support and prayers.  To all our friends in the Pancreatitis Supporters Network we say 'hang in there, guys - we can beat this'.  To Katie Bassett, a dear Christian friend who is our pain control specialist nurse and who arranged for my implant at Guys' hospital last February, 'God has really used you, Katie.  You were really meant to come to Guernsey'.  To so many much-loved prayer partners - Brian and Doreen, Hazel, Daphne (and the late Clarence), Jean and David, Jean P, Eileen, Peter and Dorien, Kev and Mary and so so many more - many thanks and don't stop now!  There is an encouraging verse in Revelation 3:8 where God says 'I have set before you an open door which no man can shut, and I know that your strength is limited.'  If He is leading us to this new start, then all may not be easy, but it will all be well.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Preacher's Prayer

Some may find this a bit corny - that's ok, but I found it deeply moving. It reflects the heart of a man who wants to live for God in a challenging world. The desire to live right before God, to build committed relationships, to forgive those who sin against us - all this is expressed in this song.  The well-known and much-loved tune Finlandia was not written for these words but offers them a platform that just seems to fit so well.

When I was ordained to the work of the ministry we sang a song written by one of the pioneers of the Elim Pentecostal churches, E C W Boulton.  The words remain with me as a very similar cry from the heart as the one sung by Haase and his team.

Move me, dear Lord, and others I shall move to do Thy will;
Mould Thou this life into a vessel fair Thyself to fill;
No charm with which to draw do I possess,

In Thee I find the secret of success.

If you preach, or aspire to do so, this prayer isn't a bad place to begin.

Friday, September 09, 2011

What a Day!

It is so hard to face this fact - but on this very day, the 9th September 1972, yes, 39 long years ago, Diane and I were married.  We had absolutely no idea of the kind of exciting life we were destined to lead.  Maybe if we had, at least one of us would have pulled out before the ceremony!  The service was held in our home church at Vazon Elim in Guernsey within earshot of the nearby sand races on the beach.  The windows of the church building were open and we could hardly hear ourselves think above the roar of motor bike and racing car engines.  But I do remember these words:
'I, Eric, do take thee, Diane to be my wedded wife... I will love her, comfort her, honour and keep her, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, will keep myself only unto her, as long as we both shall live.'  Diane said the same to me.  We meant it.  I was at her side as she battled through 13 years of crippling anxiety and depression. Together we faced the issues that were tearing at her peace.  Together we found answers that would enable us both to receive not only wholeness, but to go on and serve God in remote corners of the world.  Not without fear, but in spite of it.

Then Diane has stayed by my side like a limpet through my 15 year battle with the appalling disease pancreatitis.  She has been there for me when I was deep in coma, acting as my advocate in hospitals around the British Isles.  She has protected me, prayed for me, believed for me when my faith was failing, waited for me, trusted with me and rejoiced with me in these early days of return from the battlefield.  I want her to have the joy of many more years without pain, but this is a partnership that will not be measured in years or even decades.

Without doubt the best part of our wedding day was flying away at the end on honeymoon.  We crossed by air to Jersey and in those days the airline used to weigh passengers on a big public scale and then assign your seating according to your weight!  As you can see, we did not have too much to be embarrassed about getting on to the scales then - but if it was now!  Well, we sat on the pier in Jersey eating chips out of the paper, in a Morris 1100 hire car with no carpets or heater, and just gazed into the distance together.  Good thing we could not glimpse what was really up ahead.  But Jesus did, and He chose us for each other. We are so grateful that He did.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Peace, be Still!

I have just spent three days of study break at the beautiful new Elim International Centre at Malvern in the UK.  Here my old college has been established after its move from Nantwich in Cheshire and the new facilities are terrific.  It was so inspiring to be able to spend significant time in reading, prayer and reflection.  Walking up the Malvern Hills, in the armpit of which sits the new Centre, was a special joy.  Don't you just feel that there is something unique about high places?  I do, and as I gazed out over hundreds of square miles of glorious English countryside, I felt inspired enough to start writing poetry!  Now that's a first for me!

Being quiet and still are vital ingredients in catching the whisper of God.  I have found it challenging to hear from the Lord during my long battle with pain as agony shouts louder than any competitor.  It has sometimes been a real act of discipline to sit and be still in the presence of God when my body has been wracked with pain and my mind clouded by opiates.  Now in the aftermath of such wonderful improvement as I have known this year I felt like I had met with an old friend after a long period of being in touch only from a distance.

The most moving part of my dialogue with heaven this week was the flow of repeated assurances in both Bible readings and the whispers in my heart that God's love for me has not diminished.  He also seemed to be saying that this is a new season - 'after the storm' - and that the day of fulfillment of so many promises is upon us. If that is so, then thank God for that!  All I know is that God seems to come close to us when we can make the space and the time to be still, focused and alone.  Try it some time!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Headline News

I was listening to the morning radio news here in Guernsey.   Now I know that this is the time of the year that the news hacks call 'the silly season' - mid summer in Britain - but I was unprepared for the shock of the main story but one. 'Outrage as dog attacks small bird on the beach!'  In this small community we get a daily local newspaper which is eagerly read from cover to cover in the majority of homes.  We are used to being regaled with lurid reports such as 'Boy falls from bike: taken to A & E'.  Don't think for a moment that I minimise the potential danger of falling from bicycles as one poor man did just that over here recently and died as a result.   No, it's just the quaintness I suppose of a community where thankfully major crime is rare and small things become newsworthy.

By the way - the dog was being very naughty - and the owner was negligent as there were warning signs nearby.  The bird was no ordinary one either - it was a young Oyster Catcher.  So, the plot thickens.  The headline didn't quite say it all - but it still brings a smile to my lips when I remember that there are places where even the murder of human beings hardly makes news.

And then I thought about a headline from two millennia ago. 'Sale Price of Sparrows Hits an All Time Low - Two Sold for a Penny'.  Nothing unusual there you might say.  But it's the next bit that grabbed my attention.  'Yet not one of them falls to the ground without God knowing it - and allowing it' (my paraphrase of Matthew 10:29).  So maybe the headline writer at BBC Guernsey was right.  It is news that a small bird was killed on the beach near here, at least to Almighty God!

When I think about that I take heart.  For the very same passage in the Gospel goes on to say that even the very hairs on my head are numbered - and that in God's eyes I am of more value than many sparrows. And so are you.  And yes - I will keep my dog on a leash when there are birds about - you never know Who is watching!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Oh What a Glorious Day!!

Wey hey!!  We have just returned from a triumphant time of holiday and family reunion in Gran Canaria, and the real miracle is I have kept well!  We went there because my younger brother Andy wanted to marry his fiancee Gill and they had decided to wed in the beautiful resort of Puerto de Mogan - where Andy proposed to Gill just weeks before.  So, we set off with a little trepidation because of my record - we have not flown anywhere except to travel to London for hospital admissions and appointments for nearly three years now - but our concerns were groundless.  The pain control gizmo I had implanted last February worked a treat and we all had a great time.

On the day of the wedding itself it was really hot, around 30 degrees C, so the service was planned for 6pm.  I officiated at the wedding itself - and at the end my shirt looked like I had just been in the pool, as I was soaked in perspiration.  The best man was in a similar state, but the groom looked quite calm, and the bride was serenity itself! It was also a real joy to have our son Matthew with us in such an exotic location.
Waiting outside the chapel for the bride
The bride looked lovely in her Canarian made ivory gown and was given away in marriage by her son Martin who is a soldier in the British Army and was dressed in full uniform.  Gill, like Andy, was widowed a couple of years ago and it was such a joy to see the two of them being joined together in matrimony.
The Bride and her fine son
So, we thank God that as with our tremendous Easter trip to Cardiff, this journey to the Canary Islands has become a confidence builder in my recovery.  We have a real anticipation in our hearts about the adventures that God has planned for us in this next season of our lives - watch this space!  Thank you for your interest and prayers, and for the patience and faithfulness of my dear wife Diane who has longed for this day.  To God be the glory!
Diane and I outside the Chapel
Bride and Groom cut the cake (with a sword!)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

All Sunshine Makes a Desert!

I suppose we really do need some rain, don't we?  Speaking for us here in the Channel Islands we have been receiving some refreshing downpours in the last couple of weeks, but it will be really good to see the sun again.  Strange, though, how all sunshine makes a desert eh?  You can have too much of a good thing.  When we lived in Africa we longed for the changing seasons of life back home in Guernsey.  We enviously pictured ourselves walking bent before the howling wind on a freezing day in February with an icicle hanging from our noses.  We sat on the beach on Boxing Day and actually missed the cold!!  Crazy or what?

But hey, life needs its seasons too.  Get over it when clouds form.  Is this why the writer of the New Testament letter said 'in all circumstances, rejoice.'?  Maybe.  I have certainly known some dry and thirsty times when going nil-by-mouth for over 7 weeks last year for instance, and I want to thank God for the rain!  Where we live our reservoirs are full, but they would not be for long if we always had the sunshine we crave.

And by the way - talking about the changing seasons of life - it is now 4 months since the neurostimulator was switched on in me and I have not had to go back into hospital once in that period (compared to 10 times last year). Praise God my pain is well under control, and it seems that the pancreatitis has just subsided too.  So I really do welcome this new season whatever the weather!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

When There's Pain in the Offering

Nobody likes pain.  Not me not you not anybody. And no-one wants to be an expert on pain - who would be so silly?  Last Sunday morning I was introduced to an audience as 'Eric is an expert in suffering.  He has not only written books about the subject, but he's been there!'  Well, if you think I want to be known as an expert in suffering and pain you've got another think coming!  I made a joke of it with the gathering - and I think they understood.  It's not long since I started public speaking again.  For a bloke who has a PhD in preaching it's been really tough to be silent.  But it all comes into what the Bible book of Romans calls the 'all things which God makes work together for good' in the lives of those of us who follow Jesus.

So I sat down on a  bar stool and began reading from the Bible book of Job (pronounced Joeb).  As I did I felt a distinct sense of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit all over me.  I still do, because I did something really narcissistic a few minutes ago - I listened to myself speaking on the internet.  Weird eh?  And I'm still crying.  I don't want to be the one who has to share this kind of message - that God allows us to go through dreadful stuff sometimes but remains sovereign - in charge.  I don't find it easy, but I do think it is the one thing that many of us need to hear and to know.  The devil may be banging us about but God isn't resigning.  He's in it for the long haul and I'm grateful.  He's really there when there's pain in the offering!

If you want to, you can listen too. 

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Pill Popping and Prayer - do they Mix?

In an age of drug addiction and the abuse of chemicals it is small wonder that  Christians find themselves bothered when asked by their doctors to take certain medications to control their illnesses.  Among the many different kinds of drugs that are particularly hard to swallow if you are a committed follower of Christ are anti-depressants, tranquillizers and opiates. I have used all three at various times in the long battle with pancreatitis, cholangitis and the emotional fallout of chronic ill health.  Just at the moment I really thank God that I am doing better, especially with regard to pain, and so I am weening myself off morphine after a long period of using it in large doses daily in order to cope with excessive pain.  Cutting down and coming off these kinds of drugs is a tough and testing process and is taking much longer than I would like, but if you lower the doses slowly in line with medical advice, this can minimise the awful effects of withdrawal.

Despite their place in medicine, I hate taking drugs.  In fact, I have so resisted taking medication that I have suffered far more over the years than I need have done, not only from physical symptoms that could have been relieved, but also from emotions like shame, embarrassment, fear and guilt.  I remember how sad and ashamed I was to be receiving shots of morphine when in severe pain in a London hospital, especially when the nurse giving me the jabs told me she was a Pentecostal Christian and, like me, believed in Divine healing!  It is also so hard to keep taking antidepressants when you are supposed to have 'a joy that the world cannot give' - and you have but it does not meet your immediate medical and emotional needs.

Through all this foolish shame and guilt, I have learned important lessons.  Firstly, like sex, these drugs were created by God for the benefit of mankind.  Also like sex they have been abused and subverted to serve selfish and evil purposes, but this does not take away their usefulness in medicine, nor their appropriateness for Christians as well as anybody else to take.  Secondly, like food, if these substances have been given to man by God, they are to be received with thanksgiving.  In fact, the next time you take your pain-killers or your anti-depressant or your HRT or your insulin, it might help to bow your head and say grace!  'Thank you Lord for these little pills that are helping me today.  Amen'  Thirdly, we have no right to criticise or condemn others who may need medication to get them through a short term crisis or attack of disease. Even though we believe in God's healing power, we don't have to flush the pills away unless we are very sure that it is the right thing to do - right before God and those who are caring for us in His name.  We are not against doctors and nurses, after all, we are against suffering and disease!

Let me know if you have struggled with this issue and would like to chat about it.  Don't be embarrassed or ashamed, but trust God for healing and recovery in due course, and His love and presence in the meantime.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Time for Change at Last!

I am really looking forward to Easter this year.  I have always enjoyed Easter more than Christmas or any other time of the year, and despite the relatively late arrival of the season it is so welcome this time around.  Selfishly, this has a lot to do with the help I have received in overcoming chronic pain.  After 15 years of battling with chronic pancreatic pain, one of the worst pains known to man, I have at last found some relief.  The neuro-stimulator that was implanted at Guy's Hospital, London, in mid February, and then switched on a couple of weeks later, is proving an over-whelming success!  At last, I feel like a new man, and can actually look forward to celebrating this wonderful time of the year.

Diane and I will be travelling to Cardiff in Wales where we will be taking part in the Easter Celebrations in The City Temple, the church where I was the Senior Pastor prior to getting ill.  It is such a joy to be able to even plan to do this with any degree of confidence, but that is how powerfully the equipment has affected us both.  Praise God for this mercy!

Of course we wish it could have been done sooner.  And I still have to be careful with food and abstain from alcohol because of the underlying condition, but it is great to be pain controlled and to be coming off the large amounts of morphine that have been necessary up until now.  I am doing that gradually so as to avoid withdrawal symptoms, but am already down to one third of what I was taking a month ago.

I hope that you too will find help, peace, life and healing this Easter.  After all, that's what it is all about.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A Prophecy from Satan on the BBC!

I have just witnessed a prophecy from Satan.  Who else would turn the best advice you could ever give to a British audience into an excuse to mock Christians and Christianity - but this guy achieved it in one?  I was watching the BBC following a favourite programme and on came this stand-up comic - now he was good, don't get me wrong, and funny, but he really used and abused some of his large audience to get cheap laughs. Then he made his prophetic announcement.  'Ladies and Gentlemen', he yelled, 'we are living in broken Britain'. No arguments there.  'The only hope for this broken society is that we return to two fundamental truths.  One, we need to restore the sense of shame to individuals in our day.  And two, we need to remind people in Britain today of the reality and the awfulness of Hell.'

Well, the laughter became pretty nervous at this point, but I was riveted to the screen. He asked if there were any Christians among the thousand or so in the audience.  One brave young man put his hand up.  His name was Josh.  I started praying for him.  Others had been humiliated by this fast worker and I thought Josh's time had come.  Then, the comedian (and I am not going to name him because I don't want anybody else to watch him on iPlayer) started describing the horrors of Hell in lurid extra-biblical terms.  His joke became a simple lampooning of the different European accents used to describe the same appalling suffering and what that revealed of the different stereotypical ideas we have about other nationalities.

But I was sure that I had heard a prophecy from a being who knew what he was talking about. A beast that had seen the realities of the after-life without mercy, love, grace, beauty, music or Jesus, and definitely without hope, had spoken, and had done so with this intent.  That by making us laugh he could slip in the truth and we would miss its stark message.  What broken Britain needs RIGHT NOW is a recovery of its sense of shame, and its understanding of Hell.  Please Lord, don't let me laugh about that, and don't EVER let me forget it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Through the Valley of Death

There is no greater peace than knowing your sins are forgiven and that when you die, the Prince of Life will invite you into His eternal kingdom.  This week three friends of mine have made that transition.  They have come to the end of their earthly journey and have gone right on into their heavenly reward.  And it is so tough to let them go.  There is no pain on earth like the pain of loss and bereavement, but at the same time that is the price of love.  Surely it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

It is such an amazing comfort to know that the Jesus we serve is the One who has conquered death and returned to us with the offer of life itself.  Here in Guernsey the hedgerows are bursting with colour.  All around us the daffodils are blooming, the gorse is heavy with yellow flowers and the primroses and violets are splashed like the overflow of a vivid and generous imagination.  What is it all in aid of?  Well, the arrival of Spring, of course, and with it the celebration of Easter's great answer to the dark of the grave.

But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

So, don't give up hope, and don't let the icy blast of winter fool you either.  The Spring is coming, and life will overcome death.  And those of us who have trusted Christ and followed Him will dance with Him in the fields of heaven's dawning like lambs enjoying the sheer delight of being alive!  Hallelujah!  He Lives!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Overwhelmed by good wishes

Thank you SO much for all the messages of encouragement and thanksgiving that have come in since my last post with the news that the neurostimulator fitted at Guy's Hospital in February is now switched on and doing its job effectively. After 15 years of battling daily the dreadful pain of recurring acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis I have some relief from its claws.  We have both wept tears of gratitude for the research and technical know-how that has provided this equipment, and the care of those who fitted it.

I want to give you the real facts of my situation now, despite the personal nature of this information, not to seek your pity, nor to take away from the wonder of what God has done for us, but in respect for truth and a desire for continued prayer support.  This has eased my pain, but the underlying disease and damage done to my pancreas remains.  I am really hoping that with the pain defused, any future attacks may be more easily controlled, or that they simply will not occur.  We are also both exhausted, and my stamina is low.  Recent surgery on top of the many procedures endured before last year and during it, has left me weak.  Also, in these early weeks, I am restricted in my movements so as not to undo the effect of the electrodes in my spine. Scar tissue will eventually hold them in place, but that takes time.

I look forward to planned preaching engagements ahead with real joy at resuming my first love - the teaching of God's precious Word.  Please pray for needed strength and wisdom to pace myself.

Thank you.  God bless you!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Eric's Laws of Do-it-yourself!

Every job sets out really simple - of course I can put up a coat-hook - I mean what kind of idiot do you think I am?  Well, I did it, but not without proving the home truths of Eric's Laws of Doing it Yourself!
Law 1 It is always harder than it looks
Law 2 You never have the right tools
Law 3 If it can fall off or break it will always land in the most difficult place to retrieve it from
Law 4 If it can go wrong it will go wrong spectacularly
Law 5 If it can break it will always break at the most inopportune moment
Law 6 You will be going back to the DIY store
Law 7 You will regret not measuring one more time
Law 8 When your wife/significant other arrives to look it is always at the moment of most difficulty
Law 9 When your wife/significant other arrives she will ask you why you didn't get a man in
Law 10 You will ask yourself why you didn't get a man in!

Still, I must say that it has been a pleasure feeling well enough to at least have a go myself!  Thanks to this wonderful neurostimulator, since I was switched on two weeks ago I have experienced a complete break from pain.  Thank God for the sheer pleasure of not being in agony.  Now it's a joy to make a fool of myself, but when you come to my house, please don't ask me where you can hang your coat!

Friday, February 25, 2011

How long, O Lord?

As I know you may well be one of my readers who takes time to pray for Diane and myself I just want to bring you up to date on the latest situation regarding our on-going war with pancreatitis and pain.  Last week's surgery in Guys Hospital London went well, although the journey home with my 3 stitched wounds was quite an ordeal.  The weekend saw me holding my belly and gritting my teeth as infection set in to the wound on my front, and it seemed a long time till Monday when we could get some antibiotic help.  Thankfully they have worked and the infection is subsiding.

As you may know, the surgical team have a new policy from the start of this year (one which they failed to tell me about until I was in the recovery room!) in which they delay programming the spinal stimulator for at least a week or so after the operation. Previously this had been done the day after the op, as I had experienced during the trial procedure last December. This means that we will be hauling my s.a. (if you don't get that don't ask!) once again back through Gatwick Airport on this coming Tuesday, not a pretty prospect. On Wednesday they will programme the kit and switch me on. If you get a moment to pray, please ask for strength to undertake this journey feeling as sore as I do from the surgery, and still battling strong pancreatic pain daily!

We are both so grateful that I have been chosen for this treatment and that the surgical part is now behind me. It offers the prospect of real benefit in terms of pain relief if it works as well as in the trial, and the hope of much better days to come.  We still hold on to the promise of 1 Peter 5:10 'The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good.' (The Message).

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Headache Cure for All.

Oh boy - all this deep thinking gives me a headache. When I start thinking about my problems and the sufferings in the world - life often doesn't seem fair does it?  When you look at the Beckhams of this world, or maybe even just your neighbours, and they seem to have so much money and possessions yet care so little about God, or the needs of others, and then I think about my lot in life - ouch time! That's what the writer of Psalm 73 said (in The Message version).  'What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch? Nobody’s tending the store.The wicked get by with everything; they have it made, piling up riches. I’ve been stupid to play by the rules; what has it gotten me? Still, when I tried to figure it out, all I got was a splitting headache…'.

Do you feel that way sometimes?  Oh maybe not today but you know what I mean, what the Psalm writer meant.  What's the answer to this life induced pressure on the mind? Well, it's not to deny the reality of how hard life can be.  Nearly two thirds of the whole of the book of Psalms is made up by what is called 'lament' - a kind of religious poem or song designed to describe how bad things are.  No denial there then.  Yet, in many of these very honest declarations there are also found statements that turn back our faith and confidence towards God.  Like here in Psalm 73.  The very next line to the one quoted above says this: 'Until I entered the sanctuary of God. Then I saw the whole picture: The slippery road you’ve put them on, with a final crash in a ditch of delusions.'  So what we see today is not the end of the story.  The writer went in to the place of prayer 'the sanctuary of God' he or she calls it, and was granted there a revelation of the end of all humanity without Christ.  Suddenly the eyes of their heart were opened, and they understood the bigger picture.

This world is not all there is.  In fact, the Bible describes what we have today as being as brief as the falling of a leaf, like a tale that is told or a breath that is breathed momentarily and then is gone forever.  None of the trinkets that society might envy as the signs of success really matter to God.  At the end of the day He reads the thoughts and intentions of every heart - and holds our allotted number of breaths like a loan ready to be called.

There's only one cure to that kind of headache.  It's trust in Christ as saviour and Lord.  Only in truly following Him can we be ready for the day when that most vital of all loans is recalled.  'Because He lives, I shall live also' is a great reminder that our values need to reflect eternity if they are to be properly balanced on earth.  Any other approach is fertile headache country.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Young Guy Turns Out Not So Bad After All!

Hey Dude?  Who is this good lookin' young guy then? He looks bold and brash and yes, he's even started shaving!  I'd say from that distant look he's just set eyes on his intended.  He's watching her across the room and hoping that she will eyeball him too.  Who'd have thought that they would marry at 20 years of age!  What, so young?  And then, stay together through nearly 39 years of marriage, serving God and other people, believing the God of the Bible and urging others to believe Him too. Just what is it that motivated this young man and his girlfriend to go all out for the gospel when countless others around them were hell-bent on pleasure, money and power?  And what is it that has kept them following after the crazy message of the grace of God through illness, bereavement, sorrow, frustration and pain?

Well, a big part of it is that there is nowhere else to go.  Once when the disciples of Jesus saw that quite a few early followers of Christ were turning away from Him, they were startled by the Saviour's question. 'Will you also go away?'  'Master', they replied, 'Where else would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life'.  Through more than 40 years of discipleship on three continents and in several cultures this young guy and his girl were to find that there really is no other way to find life, joy and peace, nor the assurance that life with Christ never ends.  So much else is temporary, and so much tarnished by flimsy motives and selfishness - but following Jesus Christ really does make sense, even into the 21st Century.

And so the years have taken their toll.  Early enthusiasm and confidence have given way to measured balance and honest doubts.  Things that once were so certain have long since passed their warranty but are still hanging on! The waistline has widened and the hairline taken flight, but down deep it's still me, and I still love Diane and am fascinated by her beauty.  And what's more, if I could do it all over again, I would not change one bit of it.  No, not one bit, because even the bad bits that didn't kill me have made me stronger, and the sad parts have been the shadows that only go to prove that beyond the clouds the sun is still shining.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bon Voyage!

When I was searching for a title for the book that would tell the story of my long battle with serious ill-health and chronic pain it was a 'no-brainer'. Braving the Storm: Survival Tactics said it all.  I felt like I was battling to make headway against a raging, howling wind and a strong tide against me.  To a certain extent I still feel like that, but there is a notable difference.  For most of the struggle I have felt pretty sure about the nature of my enemy - it was a physical fight against a measurable disease.  Now, like the mariners who gathered in convoys to cross the Atlantic during the Second World War, I realise that the greatest danger lies beneath the waves.  The unseen realm of the U-Boat wreaked a terrible toll on the convoys.  For my part, the invisible, insidious and underhand tactic of the attacker that poses me the greatest risk is depression.  'Ah yes, Eric,' you may say 'but you don't have to worry about that do you?  After all, you are a pastor and Christian leader, and they should not get depressed, should they?'  'Get real, Pal' is my response!  Even Jesus was described as 'a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief' and when it came to Satan's tactics against him we also read 'he was oppressed and afflicted' - now that's pretty depressing.

Why are Christians among the last to be willing to admit that they get depressed?  They usually either refuse to take medication or do so ashamedly, afraid to admit to others that we might need some chemical help to overcome a condition that is often chemically based or exaggerated and complicated by the drugs we need to take for pain.

Convoys were difficult to organise, but they worked.  Ships gathered together with others heading to roughly the same destinations, and they travelled as one.  Of course they were limited to the speed of the slowest among them, but the idea cut the death toll drastically and led to a painful though marginal victory in the battle of the Atlantic.  So - I get depressed, and when I do I need others who understand what it means to face this bleak and heinous enemy to make the journey with me. It simply is too dangerous to make the trip alone. It is also sad and silly to reject any means of grace, even if it is received by mouth!

The book which followed on from this was called Storm Force and enabled me to look more closely at some of these unseen tactics of the enemy.  I thought that the next one should be called 'After the Storm' but as I am writing it I am finding that neither the storm nor the lessons from it are decreasing.  So, I'll let you know the title once it has been confirmed, after all - you are probably in the same convoy and we need each other!  Bon Voyage!