Monday, December 24, 2012

While Shepherds Watched...

'While shepherds watched their flocks by night...' - a familiar line from an even more familiar carol - puts me in mind of my visits to the Shepherds' Fields just outside Bethlehem.  There the tat and tinsel of typical Christmas scenes faded as we stepped out of the coach to gaze across the barren hillside towards the outline of the little town of Bethlehem. There was just a cave nearby and a few straggly sheep to mark the scene but it was possible there to imagine that first Christmas night.

As a shepherd myself - for that is what the word 'Pastor' means - I am glad that God chose to send the angels to a group of middle-Eastern shepherds then.  Like pastors today, shepherds in Israel did not hold a high place in society.  They were not really respected or trusted in the wider community and practiced their profession largely away from the crowd. Yet they performed a vital role and especially so in the Christmas story.  For it is likely that these shepherds were looking after the sacrificial flocks for the Temple in Jerusalem. They were preparing lambs for the slaughter. And that is the real reason why God's Son was coming into the world, as over the manger hung the shadow of a cross. "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord".

I took this photo of a shepherd in Israel in Dec 2011
Diane and I wish you a very happy Christmas.  May God bless you and your family this special season and beyond.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Tragedies

Christmas is often marred by tragedy.  Just as in the tragic community in Connecticut where terrible shootings have taken place, Christmas decorations seem out of place when such a thing has occurred. I well remember the Penlee lifeboat disaster that occurred on the 19th of December 1981 off the coast of Cornwall, in EnglandUK. The Penlee Lifeboat went to the aid of the coaster Union Star after its engines failed in heavy seas. After the lifeboat had managed to rescue four people both vessels were lost with all hands; sixteen people died including eight volunteer lifeboatmen. Like the parents of the children shot down in their Newtown primary class, the families of these brave men must have felt like cancelling Christmas that year.

The rosy-eyed nostalgia with which we recall this season in the year has no real basis in Scripture.  The first Noel sounded out in a land occupied by enemy soldiers where blood flowed freely in the streets.  Political discussion was outlawed then and dissent was suppressed violently.  To cap it all, when the visitors from the East had reported their venture to King Herod and then tricked him by going home some other way, the outraged monarch ordered that every baby boy under the age of two be murdered in the vicinity of Bethlehem.  The sobs of the parents and cries of the young must have been very similar to those in Newtown USA in 2012.

No, Christmas is not always merry or bright.  But it is God's response to a broken world.  Into the very midst of evil and suffering he sent his son, so that we would able to come to him in our pain and find one who is 'touched with the feelings of our infirmities'.  Jesus came to a manger not a throne or a palace.  He came to a tragic scene not a Christmas card montage.  He came to save and heal, not to entertain or institute an annual festival.  Above all, he came because he cares - and the dear folk in Newtown are going to need that care as much as anyone in First Century Galilee.  So are we.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Advent or Madvent - take your pick!

Advent or Madvent - which is it for you? 

  • Advent is that special season of the year when we prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.  
  • Madvent is the period before December the 25th when the western world seems to go crazy!  Grown men sport Father Christmas pixie hats and otherwise mature women don antlers.  Children bay like banshees to be given the latest gadget and then act like hyped up bees whose hive has just been disturbed.  The office party causes adults to say and do things which often embarrass them afterwards and personal debt hits previously unseen peaks of snow-covered credit.  And all in the name of Christmas!  Now, I am not being like Scrooge about this - though I doubt if I'll be persuaded to wear antlers myself - but I just pray that our choice will be clear and simple.  As for me and my house - we are going to celebrate Advent, and leave Madvent to others!  

Friday, November 30, 2012

Walking by Faith

Pomeranian Dog
As you can imagine from this photo we are really besotted with our tiny Pomeranian dog - Paprika! She weighs only 2kg but has a much bigger personality than that. In fact she seems quite convinced that she is in charge of our home and that anyone entering it should obtain her permission first!  That can cause just a little stress to folk visiting the Pastor. Paprika is 11 now and in doggy years that makes her well up in her seventies in human equivalent years, so she is an old lady (only don't you dare say that within her earshot).

Recently this adorable little friend suffered a slipped disc in her neck - the week after I cancelled her pet insurance because the premium was becoming too high!  When I asked the vet how long we might have to keep bringing her back for injections she mumbled something about it being until her extension is paid off! Seriously though, the really sad part about this is to see our dear dog struggling to walk and even stand.  The messages are just not getting through to her legs from her head. She has good days and bad days but when things are really poor we have to hold her up to eat and do other necessary things.

We don't know how this will go but are resigned to the fact that we won't have our darling doggy much longer, as Pomeranians don't usually live as long as some breeds anyway. I have thought a lot about her condition and I feel there is a lesson for me in her dilemma.  The Bible teaches that Christ is our head - the head of the body which is his church (1 Corinthians 12) and that we need to be in clear contact with him if we are to be able to walk the path of faith in this life.  Thankfully when we do struggle and fall heavenly hands are there to lift us and hold us up, but God's best for us is to hear the commands of Christ clearly and follow them.  In this, then, as in nature, we walk by good communication with the head.

And I'm still praying that Paprika will improve too.  After all, if it matters to me then it matters to God!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Truth is the First Casualty

The world is watching Israel once again as rockets fly from Gaza to be answered by Israeli jets and drones. Israel's Iron Dome defence system seems to be successful in taking out quite a few missiles but obviously not enough to make their military effort unnecessary. People are suffering on both sides, and it is always the children who seem to suffer most, both by losing much loved parents and homes but also because they are so often the collateral damage themselves.

The first casualty of war is said to be truth. The Bible book of Psalms laments that 'truth is fallen in the streets'. Here in Britain we are watching representatives of both sides of this conflict presenting their version of the truth in the media with equal conviction. For many it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get to the bottom of what is really going on.

As a Christian I am not surprised that the Middle East is once again a flashpoint that could usher in a major international crisis. Old Testament prophecy can sometimes read like tomorrow's newspaper and it certainly foretells the fact that in the last days Israel will be a political hot potato and a centre of unrest. As we pray for peace and reconciliation let's also take heed of the signs of the times. And for a clearer perspective maybe we should open our Bibles and hold them beside the tv screen. At least there would be some chance that truth might get a look-in.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cows Need Bananas!

There is growing concern about the content of the diet that will be consumed by our Guernsey cows this winter. According to a local farmer speaking in a recent radio interview, the bad weather this spring and summer has damaged the crop that is normally put away to feed the island’s cattle during the winter months. He explained that when a cow is giving milk she is using up the equivalent energy to that used by a human being running a marathon each day! He went on to say that such a runner would expect to eat bananas and could not keep going if their only rations consisted of lettuce. That is what we will be doing to our cows this year, he warned. For this reason they will need expensive supplementary artificial foodstuff.

Bananas not lettuce! That got me thinking. An active life demands a good solid diet. The right kind of nutrition is the key to success in work and sport. Our ancestors knew a thing or two about that. No good Guernsey tomato grower would have wanted to work all day in the hot greenhouses on a lettuce leaf. A decent meal was a must and junk food was pretty much unknown.

The life of faith is a marathon and not a sprint. It requires good nutrition for us to be able to persevere through uphill conditions. Adversity, suffering, discouragements and disappointments all slow the spiritual athlete down. If cows need bananas or their equivalent in the bovine world, believers need a good diet. We should beware the lettuce leaves offered in some parts of the media with their soap opera world view and depressingly superficial game shows. Mutual encouragement, kind words, prayer and worship are all powerful, energy producing soul foods. But nothing compares to the bread of life itself, the Word of God, as a source of nourishment that will sustain us over the long haul. Even better than bananas!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Falling Star

To my generation Jimmy Saville was a legend. His wild and wacky ways endeared him to British youth throughout the latter years of the 20th Century. His charity work elevated him to the ranks of almost sainthood in the minds of folk of all ages.  His funeral procession was watched by thousands following a prolonged lying-in-state during which many more had filed past is outlandish coffin. He was a national treasure.

Now, in the space of a couple of weeks, Saville's star has crashed.  Scores of women are coming forward to accuse him of sexual offences against them in the past.  There are allegations of child abuse, indecent assaults and even rape.  Five police forces are investigating his conduct posthumously and today the Head of the BBC described what is alleged to have gone on at BBC Centre in London as a 'cesspit'.

I am amazed that despite being investigated at the time by police in more than one area, he was never actually charged.  Perhaps if he had been, the aura around him would have been dispersed and other victims might have had the courage to speak out.  As it was, the social climate of that day was not prepared to believe the word of young people against that of a star like Saville.  They simply said there was no evidence, when what they meant was that there was only the evidence of the complainant, which today, thankfully, is finally taken seriously.

What can we learn from this?  Well, we cannot take child protection for granted, even in the presence of celebrity.  And the culture of celebrity itself is in the spotlight.  We need to listen to young people and children when they speak to us of abuse, or their conduct gives rise to suspicion in this area. Yes, there have been micarriages of justice in this regard, but the price paid by victims of the actual abuse means that we cannot disregard a cry for help.  And Jimmy Saville?  Well, perhaps he is finding out the actual weight of a millstone right now.  I bet it's a lot heavier than a knighthood ribbon.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Celebrations in Style!

We have just got home after the most exhilarating  and wonderful trip to the Seychelles where we celebrated our Ruby Wedding Anniversary on the 9th September (40 years of marriage).  It was a triple celebration really.  One was of our relationship which feels more satisfying and fulfilling than it ever has.  We love each other more with every passing day. Two was of the miracle that I am well enough to be able to make this kind of trip after 15 years of incredible pain and illness.  Thank God for His mercy and for your prayers too! Three was the joy of seeing the believers in the Seychelles again after 23 years since we left them.  The growth and maturity that has come to the churches since we served there as missionaries in the 1980's is remarkable and it was a great joy to renew fellowship with the folk there.

On the day itself we went off to church in the morning and when we returned to our hotel room we found that the maids had covered our room with flowers, even decorating the bathroom!  They had created beautiful arrangements of hibiscus and lemon grass to wish us a happy anniversary and provided us with a lovely celebratory cake.

Every part of that day was special to us both and we feel so privileged to have been able to share it together.  Marriage is so much more than a wedding - even than a ruby wedding!  It is about learning to give your all to someone you love in the knowledge that they give their all to you.  As I often tell young couples preparing to wed - marriage is not give and take - it is all give!  You give your all and they give theirs and then both your needs are met!  That has been our experience through four decades and we are looking forward to the future that God has planned for us.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Living Without Limits

Joni Eareckson Tada is one of the world's heroes.  She may not be taking part in the Paralympics in London but she has run the race of life with passion, wisdom, determination and courage.  As a beautiful young woman in her mid teens she dived into water that was shallower than she realised and snapped her spine.  Joni has spent her life in a wheelchair since then and undergone countless indignities, overcoming huge obstacles just to live each day.  Her trust in God has been an example to millions and her books have spread the message of 'living without limits' around the globe.  Her example, together with those of the hundreds of so-called 'disabled' athletes taking part just now in London, speaks loudly to me.  Why focus on what I cannot do?  How come my mind defaults so quickly to my weaknesses or pain?  What about the possibilities that are open to me with the boundaries that God has set into my life?  Such is the attitude of the overcomer.  Joni is just one of those and there have been others in history.

Ludwig Von Beethoven, for instance, continued to write wonderful music after he had become completely deaf in his late twenties.

David Blunkett is one of Britain's best known politicians having served in the very highest offices of state - and he is totally blind.  His guide dogs have become familiar faces at Westminster and in government offices.

What each of these faces tells me is that life is meant to be lived with what we have got, not with what we have been denied.  It is also the case for me as a Christian, that the presence of Christ within is the source of strength hope and inspiration. As St. Paul said: "I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength".

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Adjusting our Focus

An Olympic gold medal winner was asked to comment on how long he took running the 7-minute race in which he had just triumphed in London 2012. 'Well, to be honest', he said, 'that race took me 12 years to complete'.  Quite clearly his life has had one specific focus for more than a decade and it was fulfilled in only 7 minutes!  This is the kind of focus that was in the mind of the great Christian leader Paul (aka Saul of Tarsus) when he said 'one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me..'

'One thing I do' is focus.  '40 things I dabble in' - now that's most of us.  The centre of Paul's focus was God's calling on his life. He kept asking himself 'why has God taken hold of me?'  He ran the race of faith and service with this goal constantly in view.  Nothing else mattered as much.  Education, upbringing, tradition, religious duty and trying to please others were all regarded as rubbish in order that he might discover his real purpose and pursue it with all his heart.

Here is Paul again 'I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us.' (The Message)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Investing in Freedom

Diane and I have just returned from spending a few days teaching at the Teen Challenge UK School of Ministry.  They now meet in the their new national HQ called Willoughby House on the main road between Leicester and Nottingham.  There, in what was a Best Western Hotel, they now have a men's rehab unit for drug addicts and alcoholics, their national admin offices, and also the 6 month SoM.  It was a tremendous joy to be in the atmosphere of this dynamic place.  The guys on rehab spend about one year getting cleaned up and set free from life-controlling addiction.  The success rate for this ministry is 80% - a phenomenal outcome for people who were so messed up before.  Once they graduate from the programme they have the option to take a further 6 months in the School of Ministry to prepare for Christian service.  This is a real example of the Bible verse that says: 'If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation: the old has gone and the new has come!' Exciting!

One real concern I have is that this organisation is so heavily dependent on gift income to survive.  Each person they take out of an addicted lifestyle is saving the state millions in prevented crimes, released hospital beds, empty prison cells etc.  In fact, I met one guy newly arrived from prison who had been sent there by the courts. Yet there is very little state funding of the programme. Also, when you consider the millions that are recouped from illicit drugs money by the authorities, how come so little of this finds its way into rehab?  So, when I saw an empty gymnasium with no equipment because of lack of funds, and a broken down minibus that will cost £24,000 to replace and so is lying unusable, I was angry at the lack of vision in our society.

I really hope and pray that businesses and even governments will respond to this challenge and make sure that these young people who are no longer part of the victim culture or even the drugs supply chain itself, have the resources they need to start this new life with a flying start.  You can find out more at their website

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fishing in the Aquarium

Shock horror!  Front page news 3 days running!  Major crime alert in Island community!  The local media are claiming that someone has allegedly stolen a large sea bass from Guernsey's Aquarium and entered it into a Bass Fishing Competition and won first prize of £800.  Can this be true?  Surely this must be a new low in British corruption?  How could this dastardly deed have happened in such a peace-loving society?

The Island Police force is taking a dim view of this event and are following several lines of enquiry.  Their net is drawing in and the scales of justice will soon be weighing in.  Officers have been hooked out of more mundane duties and it is reported that a fish-head has been recovered and is being processed as evidence!  Where the rest of this poor creature has gone goodness only knows - after all, today's front page is tomorrow's fish and chip paper!

Mind you, quite apart from the dishonesty involved, as you would expect a preacher like me spies a moral in this tale.  Fishing in the Aquarium is not real fishing is it?  The warm artificial tanks exist to preserve various species and provide ideal conditions for them to thrive - but not for angling.  Real fishermen ply their trade in the wide open sea where the huge stocks are waiting.  Jesus said 'follow Me and I will make you fishers of men' yet many are doing their fishing inside the equivalent of the Aquarium - the church with its buildings and safe ghetto like glass ceilings and walls.  Maybe we should 'cast our nest on the other side' and start fishing for men where they actually hang out in great numbers?  Tight lines!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Learning to Pace

There is enought time in any one day to do what God wants you to do.  At least, that's the theory, and also the gist of many a bible text.  We are supposed to be people who are led not driven.  Our busy lives need to be ordered in such a way that we can 'catch the ear of God' or hear heaven's whispers, as Diane pointed out last Sunday at our church ( if you want to hear her talk). 

Yet I am not finding it easy to pace myself in these early months of being back in full-time work after some years of pain and ill-health.  I know I need to learn to learn this lesson and learn it well.  Maybe you do too?

Technology was supposed to give us so much more time.  Time to think, to walk around God's beautiful creation, and time to pray.  Instead it has added a host of demanding dings buzzes vibrations and ringtones that cannot go unanswered.  Email is great, but so immediate!  Letters used to take an age to get there and for a reply to be received.  Now we feel obligated to check our emails regularly, even on holiday, just in case someone is expecting an urgent response.

I am determined not to lose ground healthwise by not learning how to pace myself correctly.  I plan in to my day regular breaks and stretches.  I limit my time in front of a screen. I choose carefully before I respond to thoughts of obligation or urgency. But I have a long way to go before I match the standard of Jesus - or even of men like Eugene Peterson in his wonderful classic The Contemplative Pastor.  Still, 'sufficient unto the day' etc... At least tomorrow I can have another go.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Train one: save many

Photo: RNLI
In Guernsey the Lifeboat is more than a maritime institution, it is a prominent local charity dedicated to saving lives at sea.  We who depend upon the sea for  so much are grateful that the RNLI is there when we need them.  Recently the charity ran a campaign called 'Train one: save many' trying to raise awareness of the need to train people for safety at sea and thereby save lives.  When I saw the slogan I thought of another lifeboat I know, only this one is in a land-locked country - Zimbabwe!

When Diane and I lived and worked in that land in the early 1990's we realised the great need for training in the African churches.  There are over a million churches in Africa without trained leadership!  Church growth has outstripped leadership training on a massive scale.  We worked with the Elim Pentecostal Church of Zimbabwe and set up a training programme for young Christian men called 'Project Timothy'.  Today, the EPCZ has just opened a new Bible School in Mutare, the third largest city.  I visited the capital Harare just a month ago and met with the Bible School Board.  The key to the future of this ministry is training.  'Train one: save many'.

Elim Bible School in Mutare
My involvement with the Bible School now is to try and raise the finance over the next 12 months to equip the lecturers with laptops and the College with computer and VOIP facilities.  This will enable the lecturers to teach groups of students in more than one centre at the same time and save long journeys for them.  It will also give them and the students access to rich resources on the Web and enable overseas teachers to have some input.  The medium for teaching is English.  The day of the pith-helmet wearing missionary may be over, but our support and equipping role in the African church context is more vital now than ever. 'Train one: save many'.

Get in touch if you want to know more!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Merry Hearts and Medicine

There must be something a bit odd about us British people - we love to celebrate special occasions in public!  Here I am standing next to Guernsey's Lieutenant Governor (he is the Queen's representative in Guernsey) Air Marshall Peter Walker on my right and church member and friend Trevor Mahy on my left.  It was all part of a tremendous weekend of fun and joy which for us involved a great street party outside the church building in St Peter Port and much hilarity.  The fun continued on Sunday morning as we all tucked into hot bacon rolls and coffee as part of our Jubilee Family Service and welcomed new faces into the building who had been with us at the Street Party.  All this was in aid of Her Majesty the Queen's 60 years on the throne - quite an achievement and worth the celebrating.

It is great when Christians get noticed because of their laughter and joy instead of being against something, isn't it? That was certainly the case last weekend and the more so as we refused to let a little bit of rain get in the way.  It must be quite a while since the Pastor and his wife at Eldad Elim Church were seen dancing in the street outside the building!  Let's hope it won't be quite as many years till it happens again.  There is a Bible verse that says 'the joy of the Lord shall be your strength'.  Even in times of terrible trouble we have found laughter to be such good medicine. In fact the book of Proverbs says that a 'merry heart does good like a medicine'. I know there may not be much to laugh about in your life just at the moment, but thank God for the promise that 'though weeping may endure for the night, joy cometh in the morning!'

Friday, June 01, 2012

Reign Over Us!

Preparations are now well in hand for this weekend’s special celebrations of Her Majesty the Queen’s 60th Jubilee.  I am part of the organising team for a Street Party in Union Street, St Peter Port, the capital of Guernsey which will take place tomorrow afternoon and we are really hoping that it won’t rain!  60 years on the throne is a tremendous milestone and one worth celebrating.  The reign of Elizabeth the Second has seen so many changes but very early on, when the Queen was still in her twenties, she took a remarkable step of preparation.  Speaking in a live broadcast the young Elizabeth pledged herself to the service of her realm and peoples for the rest of her natural life.  In other words, the Queen made a commitment, public and clear, forthright and forceful, that would affect the direction of her whole life and that of the British peoples.

That kind of self-less commitment may be rare in our day, but it is a powerful illustration of what it means to begin a life of dedication to God and to others.  Commitment is still the foundation stone of Christian discipleship.  Those who respond to the call of Christ must make a clear commitment of their lives to His service.  Whether done in youth or in old age, there is no other way to prepare to both serve and then one day meet – our God.  May He help us to make or to remake that commitment this weekend.  Have a wonderful Jubilee.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Why, Lord?

Europe is facing financial meltdown - banks are facing ruin, governments are in fear of a new anti-austerity mood among voters - yet sometimes these major news stories can seem so remote.  When pain or illness or relationship breakdown happen all these 'macro' scenarios pale into insignificance.  As a pastor, and someone who has been around the block a bit when it comes to suffering, I find my heart strangely moved by the needs of people passing through such personal tragedy.  Someone that Diane and I love very dearly has been plunged into serious ill-health in a matter of weeks and is fading before our eyes.  Christians that we care for are passing through the most difficult and challenging trials.  Why?

There was a moment on the cross when Jesus asked 'why?'.  Some call it 'the cry of dereliction' but I prefer to name it 'the cry of faith'.  At first look it might seem strange that the Son of God would shout ''my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'  After all, did he not know his Old Testament theory?  Had he not warned his followers that he must go to Jerusalem and be put to death?  Yet in the sweltering heat of overwhelming pain and sorrow Jesus asked the 'why?' question.  I am glad that he did for it comforts me today, and I hope it will encourage you too.  You are not alone.  You are in good company.

You see, the 'why' question acknowledges that there must be something deeper going on.  I am not just a collection of nerve endings and cells - and neither are you.  Asking the 'why?' question sets us apart from much of creation and enobles the human spirit.  In the case of Jesus the words that he cried out were taken from a Psalm of honest lament - an outpouring of pain in all its stark horror.  Like Jesus we may not get our answers here and now, or in any kind of easy crib-sheet theology, but we can draw strength from the Christ of the cross and go on for one more set of 24 hours.  It may be Friday - but thank God Sunday's coming!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Overflowing Joy

Just back home after a journey of 30 hours from Zimbabwe my natural tiredness is tempered by joy.  It has been such a privilege to witness first hand that the sufferings and privations experienced by Christians in that land over recent years have not destroyed their infectious joy.  They may have little of what we Westerners would regard as wealth or material goods but oh boy do they rejoice in God!  Despite decades of struggle and isolation due to the antics of their political leaders these people are trusting in God not in man.  Their problems get put to one side when there is an opportunity for fellowship and worship.  The opening and dedication of a new church building seating 1,000 people was just such an opportunity.  It was such a blessing to be there last Sunday and to witness the celebrations.

Early on Sunday morning I woke in my hotel room and gazed out of the fourth floor window.  Below me the street was empty of traffic, but across from the hotel on a large area of wasteland, thousands of people were walking along makeshift paths.  They had left their crowded shanties on the outskirts of the city before dawn.  Each one was immaculately dressed and they were singing as they walked mostly in family groups.  Despite the early hour it was already getting hot, but these were Christians on their way to celebrate. Their joy is our joy too if we know and serve the same God.  May their example inspire us to keep praising Him whatever life throws our way.  Mwari Wakanaka (God is good!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Eric's Missionary Journey

Can this be me?  Can it be true?  The guy who this time last year was clawing his way out of a 15 year hole is travelling to Zimbabwe in God's service?  But it is - at least it should be if all goes to plan.  I leave Guernsey for London on Friday morning and then depart Heathrow Friday evening to arrive in Harare Saturday morning.  On Sunday I will be part of the celebrations to open a new church in Prospect Park in the centre of Harare.  Early next week I will meet with leaders of the churches in Zimbabwe to discuss the training and equipping of pastors and leaders in that area.  What a privilege!  What a challenge!  What a turn around!

Diane, Matthew and I served in the great nation of Zimbabwe as missionaries in the early 1990's.  We love the country and pray often for its people.  Throughout the years of my desperate illness there was no possibility that I could be involved there directly again.  Just over a year ago I felt God spoke to me again.  It was in the early days after major surgery to implant me with £30,000 of electronics.  My heart was stirred with news of the re-opening of the Bible School down there and a real desire was born to visit and encourage them.  Then a friend prophesied over me in a Sunday service saying that what was in my heart was from God and I should pursue it diligently and fearlessly.  So I did, and I am, and here goes.

Pray that I might be effective to achieve all that God wants me to do.  Please pray also for the church in this amazing nation.  These are exciting days to be alive.  Yes - still alive and not finished yet!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Christian Time Travel

I am discovering the all new Elim Bible Week at Telford in the middle of the UK, just north of Birmingham.  It is great to be back.  The last time I attended one of these events was 16 years ago and in those days they always happened in Pontins or Butlins holiday camps.  Memories of freezing cold chalets and beer soaked carpets come flooding back as I write!  But now the whole event takes place in a thoroughly 21st Century International Conference Centre and all we delegates are staying outside, mainly in hotels.  Very civilised!

It has been great to bump into people I know and remember well as well as meeting hundreds I don't.  Speakers like Mark Bailey (New Wine, Trinity Cheltenham) Jeff Lucas, R T Kendall and others are a great inspiration even though my limited strength precludes me from attending too much. What strikes me as new and interesting is that everyone is so upbeat.  Elim is on the move again and now has over 500 churches in the UK and thousands more in 50 nations overseas.  Church planting is very much at the top of the agenda and we have been inspired by stories of tremendous growth in areas like Cornwall of all places!

Pain is being managed well by means of my implanted spinal neuro-stimulator so I can contemplate even being here.  Strength and stamina will come in time.  For me, this event feels like a Doctor Who moment - as if I have been transported back to my roots but have found them almost entirely renewed and forward looking.  Christian time travel - in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

For You!

One of the highlights of the last year for me was to visit Israel with our son Matthew.  It was great to spend time once again in the ancient and fascinating city of Jerusalem as well as Massada and Galilee.  Among our many stops in the city we visited 'Gordon's Calvary' or 'The Garden Tomb' where many believe the site of the crucifiction may have been.  Whether the theory is right or not, there are many signs of a first-century garden with its cisterns and a rock grave with evidence that it was a very early place of Christian devotion.

Just down below the rocky hill where it is believed that Golgotha - the place of a skull - may have been situated lies a busy bus station.  There the many nationalities that make up this cosmopolitan melting pot press to and fro in a noisy huddle, all the while in the shadow of the cross.  The very busyness of the place seems to mock the idea that the Saviour of the world died there.  Yet, the shadow of a cross over a bus station seems as right as a king born in a stable.  It was for busy people Jesus died, as well as lonely people and sad.  In fact it was for you - and me!

As I stood in the nearby 1st Century rock tomb I was struck by the inscription on the door. 'He is not here He is risen!'  We did not go there to venerate a site or to see relics of a dead teacher or prophet.  We went because when He died for us He also rose for us and is alive today in the lives of ordinary people - in stables and bus stations and offices and schools.  It was interesting to see where it might have all started, but it is really exciting this Easter to realise where it all ended up.  For us!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Air Freshener or Fly Spray?

We keep our air fresheners in the smelliest places in the house.  There they are, right where they are needed.  Personally I don't like the kind of fragrances they usually pretend to have - lavender, flowers of the field, or lemon.  Why can't they go for freshly baked bread, roasting coffee or Bar B Q?  Mind you, I think some of the good old Anglo-Saxon smells produced in some of the places that we keep them are probably to be preferred to the scented variety!  Never-the-less we do buy air freshener and we keep it right where it is most needed.

Those of us who are recipients of God's grace are called to be grace dispensers right where He has placed us. Like air fresheners we are called to be givers of grace wherever we are.  There is a verse in the New Testament that says that 'Christ through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him'.

Sometimes you might be forgiven for thinking that Christians are more like Fly Killer - they see something moving and ZZZap!  Any previously undiscovered life and Whack!  Sadly our image is dented and some folk think of us as 'the bank that loves to say NO'!  But wait - it was never meant to be this way.  Maybe we need to draw more deeply ourselves from God's well of amazing grace and then we would have enough to give away.  Then we may find that God chooses to keep us right next to the smelliest of places.  So if the whiff where you are is a bit rich, perhaps you have been selected for the unique bit of 'climate change' that only Christ can bring - through you.

Air freshener or fly killer?  Ask those around you.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Does it Matter that we Pray?

Well it certainly seems to matter to these two anyway! Both their faces display such an earnest intensity that I am sure they will get results!  Sometimes, though, we can feel like we are wasting our breath.  When things don't work out as we had hoped - or even become worse than before we prayed - discouragement sets in.  Throughout my long and painful battle with serious ill health I had spells of wonderring if there was any point praying about it any more.  I understood the attitude taken by some (like Jennifer Rees-Larcombe just before she was healed) who say 'enough is enough' and decide not to seek or receive prayer for healing because of their many disappointments.  'Hope deferred makes the heart sick' says the Book of Proverbs and maybe it colours our prayers also.

But wait.  God in His sovereignty has decided to work through the prayers of those who trust in Him.  He didn't have to do that but he did so in order that we might receive 'training for reigning' in this life. Prayer creates a channel for the Holy Spirit to work in both the situation prayed for and the one doing the praying.  It changes things and us!  When I was really ill there were long periods when I couldn't pray for myself.  I was too weak and too sad to do so.  That was when I learned the power of a praying wife!  Also, I was carried on the prayers of loving Christian believers in many lands and churches.  So, let's join dogs and boys to keep on keeping on in prayer.  'People ought to pray always and not to give up'!  Hang in there!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Into the Sunset

A long vigil has ended and the sun has set over the life of a much loved mother and grandmother, Gill.  I spent time with her family around her bed at the local hospice last night, not long before she died. It was impressive to see their devotion to her and their care for one another in their grief.  Their ordeal had gone on over several nights and was preceded by weeks of pain for Gill and increasing awareness that the end was coming. The call that came in the night summonsed me away from my bed and into one of those pastoral situations that are so deeply challenging, especially when the one in the bed is younger than the Pastor!  I think that perhaps the long exposure to serious ill health that I have known has in some ways prepared me to be of more use than some might be in the same circumstances.  I certainly hope so.

One thing has changed this sunset for me, and I know it did for Gill.  Some weeks ago she sent a message to me via her doctor asking me to visit her in her hospice room.  She knew her time was coming and she wanted to get right with God. 'I want to be ready', she said, fixing my gaze with her steady, determined eyes.  She did not need religious ritual or fancy prayers, and I didn't give her any.  She needed Jesus in her trial, and when we bowed to pray she handed her life over to Him, asking for His forgiveness and inviting Him in.  Through our tears it was clear that she understood what she was doing.  She was ready then, because Jesus said 'whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life' (John 5:24).

So, goodnight Gill.  See you in the morning.

Friday, March 02, 2012

The High Price of Pain

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has led tributes from countless people who were shocked and saddened this week by the tragic death of PC David Rathband.  This brave policeman was brutally attacked by a fugitive from justice who had declared war on the police, Raoul Moat. Pc Rathband was shot twice by Moat, in the face and the shoulder, as he sat in his patrol car on the outskirts of Newcastle in July 2010. He spent 17 days in hospital and despite several operations to restore his eyesight he was still classed as being "black blind". Sue Sim, Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, said PC Rathband's life had "changed forever" when he was shot by Moat. "David showed outstanding bravery in what was a terrifying situation," she added. "He was a dedicated officer who acted in the best traditions of the police service."

What strikes me about the case, apart from the fact that David was the victim of a cruel and heartless attacker, was the discovery that he was also suffering immense physical pain since the attack.  I believe that it was this, combined with his devastating loss of sight, that brought him to an end of his resources.  As someone who suffered more than 15 years of chronic debilitating pain I feel great sympathy for this dear man who gave himself in the service of his community.

I hope that the manner of David's death, and the notoriety of his attacker (now also dead incidentally) will not detract from the memory of his self-less bravery and sense of public service.  I also hope that it will not discourage others who are coming to terms with sudden blindness or awful pain and who wonder if they can go on.  Above all, I hope that the publicity surrounding David's case will raise the profile of the problem of chronic pain and bring it back to the gaze of those who control health budgets and public purses.  Certainly in my case, the tens of thousands of pounds spent by my Health Authority to give me pain relief by means of a spinal neuro-stimulator has been a real life-saver - literally.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hope When Your Situation seems Hopeless

Last Sunday evening my wife Diane spoke at the evening service at Eldad Elim Church in the capital of Guernsey, St Peter Port, where we have the joy of serving God at the moment.  Diane is not a preacher by choice, but she is by gift and anointing (so I tell her!).  In any case she is well qualified to speak about Psalm 42 and the impact that it made upon her life during the 15 years we have battled with serious ill health and the many years in which she also fought crippling anxiety and depression.  It was such a joy for me to listen to her tell how God's Word and His promises were the bedrock of her hope and perseverance under immense pressure.

In this message she told of the significant place of music in her own journey and in particular her joy of singing.  This is something that even our neighbours have commented upon!  She also told of her periods of seeking God in the many hospitals we have been in and how the Lord used her in those difficult situations.

Through it all this talk gave real inspiration to hang in there, no matter tough things are for you today.  If you want to hear the message go to the Eldad Elim Church website and click on the message list on the home page, or to download it go to the resources page and click on teaching.  Whether you do that or not, may her story inspire you to keep on hoping.  'Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him who is the help of my sad countenance'.

Friday, February 17, 2012

To Say Prayers or to Pray?

There is a real hooha going on in Guernsey since an atheistic member of the island's government raised an objection to the recital of the Lord's Prayer at the start of sessions in our legislature.  In doing so, of course, he is typically trying to jump onto a rolling bandwagon, since last week a UK court declared it to be unlawful for Bideford Council to begin its sessions with prayer.  We have an election coming up in Guernsey and some Deputies will do anything to get their name in the media!

But does our atheist elected representative have a point?  In the States of Deliberation here, the Lord's Prayer is recited in French (no longer the native language of this community) and at such a rate as to render it fairly difficult to keep up.  Jesus criticised leaders in his community for perfunctory prayers which he described as 'vain repetitions' and which clearly did not express the deepest longings of their hearts!  In fact, the gospels reveal Jesus as a man of prayer, yet record him being scathing of public prayers and ritual.  Should, therefore, the committed Christian join hands with the atheist to decry this anachronism?  What do you think?

Perhaps those States members who want to pray, and who believe that prayer can make a difference, should attend the monthly prayer breakfast for States' members held in a local hotel on the first morning of each monthly session?  Or, if there is a desire to pray in the debating chamber, maybe it would be better to ask someone who does have faith to pray a short prayer from the heart at the start of business, rather like the opening moments of the Grammy Awards last week in Los Angeles.  If that feels uncomfortable for the majority it may be that the present arrangement offers a nod in the direction of tradition and history.  But a nod is probably only as good as a wink - and we all know how insincere that can be!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Second Chance Scenario

My mind was clawing its way slowly back to clarity.  I knew that I was in hospital and that I was desperately ill.  It was February, a few years ago, and I had been to the brink.  Among my early conscious moments after a long period of deep coma I heard two nurses talking.  They were asking each other if either of them had received any Valentine Day cards.  Gradually I caught on, and realised that I had missed this annual opportunity to tell Diane how much she means to me.  I do tell her that every day, of course, but weeks of hospitalisation had robbed us of the daily hugs and reassurance that are part of the paintwork of our marriage.  So I dreamed up a solution.  When my friend Bob came to see me I asked him to buy a rose for Diane and send it to her as if it had come from me.  The only problem was that I couldn't speak.  I tried to write down my instructions and thought I had done so clearly, but years later he showed me the card on which I had scrawled a meaningless array of scratches and lines.  But, he twigged it and realised what I was asking him to do for me.

When Diane received a single red rose later that day she was moved to tears.  I had hardly spoken to her for weeks and was still lying in ICU full of wires and monitors.  'To my darling Diane, from your loving husband' my friend Bob had written.  Through her tears and sobs, she tells me, my wife began to hope that I might come back again from the valley of the shadow of death.  And I did.  God was so gracious to us.  He gave us back to one another  and allowed us to share again in a relationship that has been so special since the very first day we saw one another, February 29th 1968 - leap year day.

So - you can imagine how special Valentine's Day is to us each year.  A simple single red rose tells us both that we serve the God of the Second Chance!  Each year we look at that little flower and remember the One who says 'I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten!'  This year more than ever, we are so grateful for that understanding.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Makeover Over!

The building in which the St Peter Port Elim Church meets in Guernsey has completed its makeover and the scaffolding has finally disappeared.  So, the place is ready for a new lease of life, and a new influx of people meeting Jesus!
Bring it on, Lord!

Eldad Elim Church

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Fruitless Pursuit of Perfection

How are your New Year's resolutions doing?  Are they in tatters yet?  Perhaps not.  Maybe your new found self-discipline is lasting well, but please spare a thought for the rest of us and keep quiet about it!  Both Diane and I would like to lose half a stone each in weight before our son's wedding in May - but hey - in the light of all we have been through it doesn't really matter, does it?  Diane says 'there is hope for any woman who can stand in front of her mirror and laugh at what she sees!'  I think the same is true for men too.  Being at ease in your own skin is such a healthy place to be.  Mind you, I still want to lose that paunch!

Liz Jones, diarist and fashion writer for the Mail on Sunday, took a look back at her diaries since 1978 in last Sunday's YOU magazine.  She noted the same resolutions in many of them.  'Jog, Ex-foliate, Tan, Pluck' she wrote time and again.  'That just about sums up my life.  An endless, ultimately fruitless, pursuit of perfection.'  If that describes you, then I feel for you and for Liz, but surely life is more than that?  What we are in the body is not all that we are.  Whatever size we may be or however ugly we feel, we are made in the image of God and He delights in doing us good.  The greatest good is the experience of acceptance and peace that comes from finding His forgiveness and the inner beauty of a life transformed by His love.

Liz went on to say that in 2012 her list has become 'Filler, IPL, Botox, Teeth Steam, Full set of Lashes, Airbrush Tan, Hair Dye, Brazilian (must be to do with coffee!!), and Gel Pedicure.'  Now that's an expensive pursuit of perfection if ever I saw one.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happy Birthday to a Great Lady!

What a day and a weekend it has been!  Diane has celebrated her 60th birthday in style.  Last Saturday evening she thought she was going to a quiet family meal out with Matthew, our son, and Sarah his fiancĂ©e.  As they welcomed us into the hotel they led Diane through a curtain to where they said their 'table' was.  Behind that curtain 35 relatives and friends lay in wait to greet her with cries of 'happy birthday' and 'surprise!!'  It certainly was a surprise.  Diane and I have never had a secret (except one other - remind me to tell you about it some time) so she turned to me with an exclamation that could have been mouthed by Hattie Jacques in the sixties sitcom 'Eric Sykes' - 'Oh Eric!'  I wondered if I would be spending the night in the shed.  It was very cold that night so I hoped not, and as it turned out all was well!  She was delighted and blessed by so many people who are dear to us both and we spent a wonderful evening just being grateful that we are both still alive!

Today (the 17th Jan) is her actual birthday and so the house is full of flowers, cards, balloons and gifts.  Some very dear friends, knowing her love of all things homely and made of china, gave her this tea set in which each piece is labelled 'joy' 'hope' or 'peace'.  Others have clubbed together to give her a travel voucher, so I don't know where she will end up!  All in all a tremendous experience and a great start to a new decade.

Our forties were really hard, marred by my serious ill health.  Our fifties were just as tough as we laboured together through over 60 hospital admissions and countless operations.  Boy are we looking forward to our sixties!  (You realise, of course, that I married an older woman - but not by much!).

Happy Birthday wonderful lady!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Independent or Free?

I am half Scottish - my late Mum was a Glaswegian.  They say that a Scotsman is a wit, so I am not sure what that makes me!  As a boy growing up in Guernsey I was very proud of my Mum's tartan and all things Scottish.  Hogmanae - what they call New Year north of the border - was always a great time in our family, with Mum making all kinds of efforts to have only a dark haired person crossing the threshold first in the new year - 'first footing' as she called it.  I would never do because my locks were pale, but I could substitute for the real thing as long as I carried in my hand a piece of coal!  Ah, halcyon days of pipers, drums, Scotch pies and Irn Bru (made from real Scottish girders of course).

What my Mother would have made of all this talk of independence if she was still alive I don't know.  Mum reckoned that the UK government was really run by Scots anyhow, and that Scottish oil from the North Sea paid all the bills in London already.  She would have wanted to be able to vote in any referendum on separation from the UK but I don't think she would have voted 'yes' - but I may be doing her a injustice.  You see, my Mum loved the Queen and anything to do with the monarchy.  She would have no time at all for the idea of an independent Scotland under a president, not even an elected one.  Maybe she would have tolerated an idea similar to that which obtains here in Guernsey where the government is independent of Westminster but loyal to the Crown.  Sadly, I can't ask her now.

Independence is the great longing that accompanies democracy, prosperity and development.  We see it manifest all around the world from Latvia to South Sudan.  Yet in some ways the developed world is less free and independent than it has ever been.  Great blocks of nations like the EU and OAU are letting go of huge areas of their sovereignty to have the benefits of belonging to something larger. In an increasingly troubled world we need one another. For me, that's one of the biggest reasons why I seek to be part of a local church, which in turn relates to a wider family of churches.  As one of Scotland's most famous sons, John Donne, said after all, 'no man is an island entire of itself'.

For the Christian, our loyalty to our monarch, Jesus Christ, means that we surrender our independence to Him, in whom we then find real freedom.  The great Scottish theologian and preacher George Mathesan, also born in Glasgow, expressed it this way...

Make me a captive, Lord, 
and then I shall be free. 
Force me to render up my sword, 
and I shall conqueror be. 
I sink in life's alarms 
when by myself I stand; 
imprison me within thine arms, 
and strong shall be my hand. 

My will is not my own 
till thou hast made it thine; 
if it would reach a monarch's throne, 
it must its crown resign. 
It only stands unbent 
amid the clashing strife, 
when on thy bosom it has leant, 
and found in thee its life. 

Monday, January 02, 2012

Fatter but not Fitter

Wow - was I ever that thin?  Diane hasn't changed a bit, of course, but did they feed students at Elim Bible College in the early 1970's?  I think not.

One of the joys of my recovery from the awful pain of chronic pancreatitis is that I can now eat without agony. Great when you are celebrating Christmas but not so great when New Year comes.  Now I definitely feel the pinch as my belt asks 'are you sure about this?' and there is a lot less view of my feet than there used to be. I reckon I am not alone in this.  The millions spent on the Weight Watchers' advert on UK TV testify to the commonality of this problem.  We are all getting fatter - well many of us are - but are we getting any fitter?  The difference is down to an increase in the weight of accumulated fat and fluid as against the weight of muscle tissue.  The former makes flab whilst the latter is 'fab' (still thinking 1970's!).

Then, how about my faith?  Is it flabby and tired or growing in effective muscle-weight?  What causes muscle growth in the Kingdom of Heaven?  Well, I suppose, much the same as in every other human realm.  Exercise and diet, all part of a healthy lifestyle.  Wait a minute though, exercise hurts.  It only does your muscles any good, apparently, if it does hurt.  Maybe that's why the experiences we go through that cause us to grow spiritually are all the painful ones?  Diet is all a matter of self-control.  No easy answers there then, no matter what the adverts promise us.  So maybe a good diet for my faith requires similar self-control: taking care about what I watch, what I read and who I mix with.  Mmm.

I think churches need to ask similar questions.  Are we getting fatter or fitter?  If congregations grow at the expense of other surrounding churches then they may just be getting fat!  What they need is more muscle-weight.  People of robust faith exercising it more!  And doing so in an atmosphere of love and grace.

So - what about you this New Year?  Fatter or fitter?